They came by the thousands, young women wearing their tightest Venezuelan flag tank tops and young men wearing t-shirts that read "Si, se va" (Yes, he goes), "Atrevete a cambiar" (dare yourself to change), and "Lo mio es Venezuela," (mine is Venezuela). Outside of the Orange Bowl on Sunday the expatriates were bursting with patriotism, the vast majority inspired solely their disdain for one man: Hugo Chavez.
A man in a latex Chavez mask with exaggerated ears waved a flag. The event was a family one, so those too young to vote mingled and posed for the television cameras while their parents formed lines under signs posted for a different audience: "Wristband required to purchase beer. Two beer limit."
Coach buses from Orlando arrived to applause from bystanders. Eager volunteers organized parking on the lawns surrounding the stadium. Pretty girls in blue and yellow uniforms handed out flyers promoting phone card companies. A line snaked out of the ice cream truck.
Mariana Marquez, age seventeen, left Orlando at 4:00 a.m. that morning with her parents. The polls opened at 6:00 a.m. Only three months from becoming an eligible anti-Chavista, she touted Manuel Rosales, assured that there would be very few voting for him that day. Together with her younger sister, both in their best Venezuelan flag tank tops, they trotted to the front, where they heard there were television cameras.
Was there really no sense of pessimism? After all, it was pretty much understood that Rosales would lose, in spite of all the challenges and dares to change. Lilia Quadri, a resident of Miami for nineteen years, said only, "I wish that Rosales wins." She stood with a small clump of acquaintances, one carrying a shoulder bag printed with the letters PDVSA — Petroleos de Venezuela SA — the nationalized oil company whose employees organized an anti-Chavez strike in 2002 that culminated in the firing of 19,000 workers.
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Quadri has seen an influx of family members since Hugo took power, and her attitude toward her vote mirrors that of voters in our own elections: the machines, she says, are fixed. But in Miami they are lucky. In Miami the Venezuelans vote with paper ballots. -Emily Witt