Venezuelans Voting in New Orleans Devastated by Chavez's Re-Election

PHOTO: NOLA
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With the Venezuelan consulate in Miami closed, an estimated 7,000 expatriates road-tripped to New Orleans this weekend to vote in the Venezuelan presidential election.

The day started in high spirits -- the vast majority hoped for a win by centerist opposition candidate Henrique Capriles -- but ended with a low, as standing president Hugo Chávez was re-elected by a 10 percent margin.

After hearing news of the vote, Venezuelans at the New Orleans convention center stood devastated and, in some cases, disbelieving.

"We just got the news that Chavez got 54 percent of the vote, and we don't believe that's the case," said Siul Narvaez. "You can not be ahead in the polls, and all of a sudden have a 10-point difference."

Narvaez and many others expected the results would arrive sometime early the next morning, and became skeptical when the National Electoral Council announced the results just three hours after the polls closed.

"For years, the government has given the results the next day, in the morning, and now, all of a sudden, they have the results of the whole election? This doesn't make any sense," said Narvaez.

Some Venezuelans drove more than 1,000 miles from South Florida to cast their ballot. After the Venezuelan consulate in Miami was shut down in a political dispute between the two countries, New Orleans was the next closest option.

"Venezuelans organized themselves in a fantastic way," said Lisbeth Philips. "I've never seen anything like this before. We came in massive numbers. I would say it's a historical event."

According to the Venezuelan Consulate, a half of a percent of registered voters are located abroad. Of those voters abroad, 36 percent are located in the United States.

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