Large Venezuelan Turnout in NY for Plebiscite

Karlyn Pulido, with her son and husband, went to vote early in Astoria. (Photo via El Diario)

Carrying her 2-year-old and a tricolor Venezuelan flag, Karlyn Pulido arrived at Arepas Café in Astoria, Queens, early Sunday morning to vote on the plebiscite organized by the country’s opposition to reject the National Assembly installed by President Nicolás Maduro with the purpose of changing the constitution.

“I am here to vote to change my country’s situation so I can return without fear and so my son can meet his family,” said Pulido, who moved to New York over two years ago after she had to leave Venezuela because of the serious crisis ailing the country.

Venezuelan residents in the tri-state area were reportedly turning up in large numbers for the referendum, which was being held in 536 cities in 82 countries besides Venezuela. Long lines began to form since early in the morning at voting centers such as El Cocotero Restaurant in Chelsea, Manhattan, the Arepas Café in Astoria and the Oscar Da Silva Salon and Spa in Jackson Heights.

“Even though we have high hopes, many of us come here with a heavy heart because our families have been forced to split due to the situation there. Many of us had to leave, and we want to change things so we can return home,” said the 30-year-old mother.

The Saavedra Family wore matching outfits to show their unity for Venezuela. (Photo via El Diario)

One family that has been able to stay together but has been forced to live far away from their homeland is Víctor Saavedra’s. The 65-year-old went to the voting site in Astoria along with his wife, two daughters and grandchildren, wearing matching outfits to demonstrate their unity in this struggle. “We came as a family because we all want to make a change and see people go back home and live freely.”

After having lived abroad for two decades, Saavedra is especially concerned that people back home are no longer able to buy medicines. “What kind of Venezuela is this?” he wondered, adding that “the medicines issue is one of the things that worries me the most.”

At the Oscar Da Silva Salon and Spa – on 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights – the lines were long since early in the morning.

Kevin Ceballos, 27, who has lived in New York for less than a year, left his house promptly to be able to vote before going to work and make sure he did his part.

“We need to demonstrate the commitment we have with the country and that, even though we are far away, we continue to contribute to improve Venezuela,” said the accountant, who currently works at a restaurant.

The plebiscite was called by the National Assembly of Venezuela on July 5, the country’s independence day. In addition to consulting the country about the assembly, it asked whether the armed forces should abide by the Constitution and whether to renew administrative powers, including Maduro’s presidential term.

Keeping the process transparent

At around 11:30 a.m., the East Harlem voting site – at 109th Street and Madison Avenue – was quiet as a few voters went in and came out and the voting process took merely a few minutes.

“Some 200 people have participated, and it has run quite smoothly,” said playwright Aminta de Lara, who has lived in New York since the 1980s. She served as a coordinator at the East Harlem voting center. “The commitment is to stay here until everyone votes, until 5:30,” she said.

Attorney María Alejandra Díaz, a legal monitor at the same site, said that her job was to see that the process was executed according to rules established to ensure transparency and legality in the people’s exercise of their right to vote.

“We have had highly-motivated Venezuelans come by [to vote] who were lacking their official identification document or their national identity card or passport, bringing other documents certifying them as Venezuelan citizens. However, we explained to them why, according to the rules, they would not be able to participate and how they would be making a better contribution by helping keep the process transparent.”

According to Eduardo Lugo, one of the coordinators and the co-founder of nonprofit SOS Venezuela in New York, by 12:30 p.m. more than 300 people had cast their ballot at the voting center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, located at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament at 147 West 70th St.

He added that the process went on peacefully and quickly. We were able to count over 120 people standing in line outside the church at 12:30 p.m. Under the sun and despite temperatures surpassing 80 degrees, they awaited patiently for their turn to exercise their right to vote. Their enthusiasm was evident.

María del Rosario Rivera, 79, was among them. She was visiting New York from the city of San Cristóbal.

“I came here to vote because my country is doing very badly and we want to come out of that situation. I am very hopeful that things will change, and that is the reason why I was motivated to come and vote,” said Rivera, whose daughter and four grandchildren live in Venezuela.

(…)

The plebiscite was also held in two different cities in New Jersey and in one area of Connecticut. Organizers were expecting to see some 10,000 of the more than 15,000 Venezuelans who were estimated to be eligible to vote in the tri-state area.

El Cocotero was packed

By 2:00 p.m., over 1,500 Venezuelans had already voted at the El Cocotero Restaurant in Chelsea, Manhattan. The queues to check in at the two tables set up on either side of the eatery’s entrance ran along 18th Street all the way to the corners of 7th and 8th avenues. The average wait time to vote at that hour of the day was approximately two hours.

“It is worth the wait. This is to show support for the cause. We want change,” said Tatiana Martín, as she said hello to other voters and wiped the sweat off her brow. (…)

Queens resident Lissette Almao, 47, arrived at 11:00 a.m. with her mother, Ana Almao, 71, and they ended up voting at around 1:00 p.m.

“My family is over there [in Venezuela] and the situation is very difficult. This dictatorship does not let anyone move forward, but I have faith that we will come out of this. Today is the beginning of the end of this nightmare,” said Ana, who left Maracaibo four months ago due to the economic crisis. She moved out of her home of over 40 years to live with her daughter in Queens.

One of the organizers, Abraham Ortiz, a 34-year-old political refugee who has lived in Brooklyn for the last two and a half years, said that the day began punctually at 8:30 a.m., voters were in high spirits, and the process went on without incident.

“People have been coming and going since this morning. The energy is impressive. I call on everyone to come out and express themselves. We will be here until the last person in line casts a vote,” said Ortiz.

Lucho Moronta, owner of El Cocotero, said that the reason many people chose to vote at his restaurant is that it is a staple for Venezuelans in New York. “Because of all the events we have here with the community and in support of our country, people know El Cocotero as a meeting place,” said Moronta, adding that, although he expected many people to turn up to vote, he “did not imagine it would be this packed.”

Grecia Palomarres was one of the volunteers who helped organize the long lines. (Photo via El Diario)

Grecia Palomarres, one of the volunteers helping keep the long line in order, said that they were encouraging people to go to other voting centers around the city where it was less crowded, but admitted that people have a connection with this place. “They don’t mind waiting; they want to vote here,” said the volunteer, adding that, thanks to that, “we will exceed 3,000 voters here in El Cocotero alone.”

Venezuelans who voted at one of New Jersey’s two sites showed a sense of community and patriotic spirit, particularly in Hudson County, at the corner of the Les Orchides flower shop in West New York.

Carlos Barrios, the voting site’s general coordinator and the owner of the shop, has lived in the United States for more than 20 years. He was very excited about the response he saw among his compatriots. (…)

“This is a queue you can enjoy. It is a line worth standing in for the future of Venezuela. I hope that all Venezuelans will all agree today, because that is what we need,” said Iván Casola. “Let’s see if we can get rid of these rogues who have only destroyed the country.”

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