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Venezuelans Who Fled To Florida Participate In Opposition's Symbolic Vote


All right. Steve and Phil mentioned those expats voting. Expats clearly watching the unrest in their country closely - they turned out in big numbers at polling stations in Barcelona, in London, in Buenos Aires - also in Miami, which is home to a politically active Venezuelan community. Here's NPR's Greg Allen.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: More than 100,000 Venezuelans live in Florida. It's a population that's grown rapidly in recent years, as many fled repression and economic hardship of the Maduro regime.


ALLEN: On the University of Miami campus in Coral Gables, the line to vote stretched several blocks yesterday. There were extended families with children and grandparents, many people wearing Venezuelan hats and soccer jerseys, even carrying Venezuelan flags. Kela Paz said she came for a simple reason.

KELA PAZ: We need to rescue our country. We need to have it back. And we want to be back there.

ALLEN: Paz, in her early 20s, came to Miami three years ago so she could find work.

PAZ: I'm here, but I feel like a half of my life is still there because I have my mom there. So we are here, but my life continues there.

ALLEN: The field house on the University of Miami campus was one of seven sites in South Florida where Venezuelans voted yesterday. Across the U.S., there were more than 140 voting locations manned by volunteers. In Miami, Mario Di Giovanni was one of 2,000 volunteers who helped organize the effort. He said the big turnout was expected. Venezuelan expatriates in the U.S. have been very active in supporting the resistance against the Maduro regime. Di Giovanni said although the referendum isn't an official vote, it's a process that's supported by Venezuela's constitution. And it reflects the will of the people.

MARIO DI GIOVANNI: So for us, it's binding. And we are following the Constitution.

ALLEN: Like many Venezuelans I spoke with yesterday, Oswaldo Lafee said, whether it's recognized by the Maduro regime or not, the vote is important.

OSWALDO LAFEE: I think it'll make a clear statement that we are more, that we want a change and that the energy that all of this is producing is going to be beyond the resistance that the government is still putting up.

ALLEN: Carmen Sanabria came to vote yesterday just hours after returning from Venezuela. She visits often to bring family members things no longer available there.

CARMEN SANABRIA: You know, my carry-on was bread and toilet paper. I mean, you see people eating from the garbage. Like, there's no food supply. There's no medicines at all. You go to the pharmacies, and you cry because you ask for a simple - like a Plavix for people that need for - you know, the heart. There's nothing, nothing.

ALLEN: Many of the Venezuelans in Miami have been in the U.S. for decades. But even after 25 years of living and working here as a U.S. citizen, Oswaldo Lafee said he still cares deeply about his home country.

LAFEE: We used to be a great country, and we still are. A country is the sum of its people. And we think that now we're just understanding that, only through the sum of the people, we're going to be able to get our country back.

ALLEN: With such strong anti-Maduro sentiment among Venezuelan expatriates, the outcome of the vote was never in doubt. As one person said, the vote was about Venezuelans raising their voices to make the world aware what's happening in their country. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.


As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.