Hundreds of Venezuelans, many wearing their native country’s flag, gathered in the Tower District on Sunday to vote in protest of President Nicolás Maduro and his government nearly 4,000 miles away.
The scene at Olive and Echo avenues, like many throughout the world, was a symbolic rejection of Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution.
“We are gathering together, all the Venezuelans that are residents of the Central Valley and surroundings, to say that we do not agree with the current Venezuelan situation,” said Maria Fajardo, the coordinator of the polling place at La Arepa, the first Venezuelan restaurant in Fresno.
“This is an electoral process without precedence,” she added, “due to the fact that it is an act of civil disobedience.”
Fajardo said the election was important to her because she is from Venezuela and has family in the country. She came to America five years ago seeking political asylum.
Fajardo said that although this was not a sanctioned election, Articles 333 and 350 of the Constitution of Venezuela allow for protests and a civil disobedience and she, along with the rest of the voters, are hoping the government listens to the results.
She said voters are asking for freedom of speech, free elections and to remove the government currently in power.
“In our country, if you speak your mind against the government, you can get killed,” Fajardo said. “We are gathering together to say, ‘You know what, this is not OK.’ ”
José Faria, 61, is from Venezuela and came to America in 1980 and has since become a dual citizen. He said it was important for him to vote because “what they’re proposing is outrageous.” He also has family who have lost personal property to the government.
“I have a lot of family, aunts, cousins, that work hard and work for their property, and that’s not right,” Faria said.
After Faria handed in this electoral ballot, he stood in front of his native country’s flag with his Venezuelan identification card in one hand and his voting slip in the other and smiled for the camera.
Aura Gonzalez was also working at the polling place and helping voters through the process.
“It’s very important to me because in my country, we have a dictatorship,” Gonzalez said. “He has broken all of our rights and is trying to (take) all of our liberties,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said that in Venezuela, an everyday citizen cannot get food or medicine regularly, and that it is getting worse. She said her mother in Venezuela has high blood pressure and does not have access to medicine that she needs.
Gonzalez said that being in Fresno, it’s “sad” for her to be living here, having her basic needs met, while her family is struggling.
“Sometimes I can talk with my mom through FaceTime and she told me, ‘We have more than three months where we cannot find sandwich bread,’ ” Gonzalez said.
The polls were to close at 5 p.m. and the results were to be sent in an email to Unity Venezuela in Caracas, the capitol of Venezuela.
At 1:10 p.m., voters at the polling place cheered after hearing that nearly 11 million Venezuelans around the world had already voted.
“Human beings deserve to be in a county with liberty,” Gonzalez said. “We deserve a democracy, a full democracy, a real democracy.”