Venezuelans cast votes at the Orange Bowl
Venezuelans living in Florida and other parts of the American South flocked to Miami to vote in their home country's Venezuelan elections.
BY ALDO NAHED
Thousands of Venezuelans cast their presidential ballot Sunday at the Orange Bowl. Some came by car, others on foot or bicycle and still others by the busload -- quite a few as early as 4 a.m., two hours before the polls opened.
Those who voted here overwhelmingly backed the lead opposition candidate Manuel Rosales with 10,679 votes, over only 242 for President Hugo Chávez, according to volunteer pollwatchers who said they tallied results from individual booths at the stadium. Miami Venezuelan consulate officials did not confirm those results but did not dispute them either late Sunday.
In Miami, the largest voting district outside Venezuela, there was little wait for most voters to cast paper ballots in 37 voting tables.
But there was also a number of voters who were turned away. Problems ranged from not presenting proper ID to not being on the voter rolls. Another 40 people were not allowed to vote because they showed up after booths closed at 4:15 p.m.
By 4:30 p.m., more than 11,000 Venezuelans had voted, according to the pollwatcher figures.
In all, about 17,000 people were eligible to vote in the Miami consular district, which serves Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina.
José Luis Anamuno, of Orlando, led a group of cyclists down to Miami. He left Orlando on his 240-mile journey Friday morning, accompanied by a safety crew and two other cyclists. In Weston, a group of about 15 cyclists joined him for the last leg of the trip.
''It was a hard trip, but I did it for the democracy of my country,'' Anamuno said. He planned to return home by car. ``Venezuela is going to be born today.''
Liliana Antonieta Lozano de Buschini, of Aventura, was among more than 300 people who were turned away -- a small number compared to the thousands of complaints two years ago during a referendum seeking the recall of Chávez.
Lozano de Buschini showed paperwork that she had registered a change of address in May with the Miami consulate, but for some reason, the Venezuelan government did not change the information in voter records.
Venezuela's Miami consul general, Antonio José Hernández Borgo, said that the Venezuelan government in Caracas handles final changes on voter records.
''When the people registered in the consulate in Miami, we got the book and sent it to Venezuela. We made sure they got the book, I have proof of that,'' he said. ``The people had to go to the website and check it out. Of course, if they do it today, there's no way they can show up in this book.''
Patricia Andrade, president of the Venezuela Awareness Foundation, volunteered to monitor and document complaints.
Her group will send notarized complaints to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, she said.