Venezuelan lawmaker and opposition leader Maria Corina Machado told supporters in Miami on Monday that their voices are critical in getting a message out to the world: That Nicolas Maduro is not the legitimate president of Venezuela.
"It's so important that we know the power of every voice, of every letter from every finger," she said as the crowd took photos and sent Tweets from their cell phones.
Her words were enthusiastically received in South Florida, where the largest concentration of Venezuelans outside that South American country reside, the majority of them staunch opponents of the late President Hugo Chavez and his hand-chosen predecessor, Maduro.
Machado said the diaspora's chief priority must be to show the international community that democracy does not exist in Venezuela, that human rights are being violated and that the April election results are fraudulent.
"I want us to leave here today with a clear work agenda," Machado, 45, said in a speech at the University of Miami.
Maduro narrowly won the election by a margin of 1.5 percentage points. Venezuela's Electoral Council affirmed the result in an audit in June, but opposition candidate Henrique Capriles and his supporters continue to contest the results. They say the audit was a farce and that a full recount is needed — not just comparing votes electronically registered by machines with the paper ballot receipts they emitted, but with poll station registries that contain voter signatures and digitally recorded fingerprints.
A preliminary report on the election by the Atlanta-based Carter Center found the Venezuelan population, political parties and candidates in general have "demonstrated confidence" in the automated touch-screen voting machines used in the election.
"There is not agreement, however, about the quality of the voting conditions and whether every registered voter is able to vote one time, and one time only," the report states.
Thousands of Venezuelans in Miami traveled to New Orleans in April to vote for Capriles after the Venezuelan consulate in Florida was closed last year. They held numerous protests against the results from Doral, a Miami suburb where many of them reside.
The activity has died down since the weeks immediately after the election, but Doral's government center was full of Venezuelans on Monday who came to support Machado and vowed to continue fighting. Doral Mayor Luigi Boria, Florida's first Venezuelan mayor, presented Machado with a key to the city.
"For me, this is historic," Boria said. "I'm filled with emotion because I know, at this moment, many people are suffering."
He then shared a Spanish proverb: There is no evil that lasts 100 years, nor body that will endure it.
"This is your home," Boria said. "Here you are welcome whenever you want."
Machado ran in Venezuela's opposition primaries for the presidential election last year. She lost but became the national coordinator for Capriles. She recently underwent surgery on her nose, which she said was broken when political rivals threw her to the floor and kicked her in the face.
She said she arrived in Miami on Saturday at the invitation of several Venezuelan and Latin America organizations. On Sunday, she attended a festival held at a large Miami arena celebrating Venezuela's independence. She was scheduled to leave Tuesday.
"The Venezuelans who live outside the country are our voices to the rest of the world," she wrote in a tweet Sunday.
In Doral and later at the University of Miami, several supporters called out to her as "señora presidenta."
Nidia Villegas, the leader of a coalition of Venezuelans in Miami that supported Capriles, said the opposition in South Florida will bring its fight against the presidential election to international tribunals once all efforts have been exhausted in Venezuela.
"Our function is to support them, help them, so that as soon as possible we can restore democracy in Venezuela," she said.
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