Ex-pat Venezuelans gather to vote in worldwide referendum

By Ashley Mitchem - Reporter, anchor
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Venezuelans in the Jacksonville area voted in a worldwide referendum Sunday against that country's current socialist regime led by President Nicholas Maduro.

The protesters were expressing their discontent with proposed changes to the South American country's constitution and demanding new presidential elections.

News4Jax went to the La Nota restaurant on St. Augustine Road, where the American-Venezuelan Association, or AVEJAX, held a gathering for hundreds of Venezuelans to join the vote and voice their thoughts on what's happening in Venezuela.

AVEJAX President Rafael Caldera called the vote a “historic moment in our country.”

People who attended the event said they consider it a symbolic act of social disobedience to put pressure on the government after more than 100 days of deadly, daily protests against the current regime.

News4Jax spoke with former Venezuelan navy member Jose Lepervanche about his views on Venezuela’s current regime.

“The armed forces should be with the people, not against the people,” Lepervanche said. “I used to be in the military there, in the navy, and I now can say I'm ashamed to tell I was in that navy because it's not the same when I was in before.”

Lepervanche explained what the vote means to him.

“This vote is unique, made by the people, not the government. The objective of this is to show the government and the international community that Venezuela wants a change,” Lepervanche said. “Venezuela wants to go back to the leaders in Latin America. To be a country where people want to go and not to be ashamed of being Venezuelan.”

Ballots at the event asked voters whether or not they support the government's plan to elect an unpopular National Constituent Assembly that would overhaul the constitution.

Critics fear Maduro would use the assembly to tighten his hold on the country and further delay elections or cancel them altogether.

“We used to be a great country doing the right things. We made those wrong choices,” Lepervache said.
Maduro said Sunday’s worldwide vote has no electoral legitimacy.

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