Venezuelans in South Florida can get ready to vote in New Orleans

The exact place has not yet been announced, but the more than 19,500 Venezuelan voters registered in South Florida can get ready to travel to New Orleans to vote in next month’s presidential election, the campaign of opposition candidate Henrique Capriles said Wednesday.

“Do it, get everything ready, the fastest the better. This election is a go,” said Anselmo Rodríguez, campaign chief of the opposition, candidate in a telephone interview from Louisiana.

With the Venezuelan consulate in Miami closed, Venezuelan citizens in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina who once cast their ballots there must now travel to the New Orleans consulate instead. They cannot vote by mail.

“We had a meeting yesterday with the interim consul [in New Orleans] and the group in charge of preparing the election,” Rodriguez said. “It is a fact that everything is in order. We saw and inspected the electoral material, and everything is in optimal conditions.”

Rodríguez said Venezuelan elections officials would soon announce the New Orleans voting center’s location. He said it might be the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, where South Floridians voted in the October election in which Hugo Chávez was reelected. Chávez died of cancer March 5. The April 14 election will be held to select his replacement.

Capriles will face interim president and Chávez protégé Nicolás Maduro in the election.

This week’s announcement was intended to erase any doubts that Venezuelan authorities would be able to prepare in time for expatriate Venezuelans in the U.S. to cast their ballots.

“There is an excellent relationship between the Simón Bolívar Command [on Capriles’ side] and the Consulate [in New Orleans],” said José Hernández, general coordinator of Capriles’ campaign in Miami. “The boxes containing the voting ballots have already arrived, so there is no reason to think the process will not be completed.”

In October, more than 8,500 people traveled to New Orleans to vote in the election in which Chávez defeated Capriles.

Venezuela closed its Miami consulate last year after the United States expelled chief diplomat Livia Acosta because of her alleged participation in a spy scandal.

At the time, the Venezuelan government said the closing was in reaction to Acosta’s expulsion, but some saw it as an act against the Venezuelan community in South Florida. In the October election, 97 percent of the votes cast outside Venezuela favored Capriles.

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