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Latin America

Opposition promises continued action after more than 7 million Venezuelans vote against President Nicolás Maduro

Opposition leaders said 7,186,170 Venezuelans cast votes Sunday. Among them, 693,789 Venezuelans voted abroad, including a record 102,000 in South Florida alone.
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17 Jul 2017 – 12:13 PM EDT

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Venezuelans in Miami voted in record numbers Sunday. At seven polling locations, participants surpassed the number of Venezuelans qualified by the National Electoral Council to vote abroad in the last elections. Crédito: David Maris

More than 7 million Venezuelans voted Sunday against President Nicolás Maduro and his plans to rewrite the country's constitution, according to opposition leaders.

"Mathematically, with the votes we achieved today, (Nicolás) Maduro is revoked," said Julio Borges, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, minutes after announcing the results.

Opposition leaders said 7,186,170 Venezuelans cast votes. Among them, 693,789 people voted abroad, including a record 102,000 in South Florida alone.

"We want to applaud civility, democracy,” said Cecilia García Arocha, the rector of the Central University of Venezuela and one of the overseers of the vote. "The country demonstrated that we want to vote.”

Despite the high turnout, fewer Venezuelans voted Sunday than in 2015 legislative elections, when 7.7 million people cast ballots. Opposition leaders said that was because they were only able to have a limited number of polling places.

The referendum was aimed at expressing opposition to Maduro in the midst of a worsening economic crisis that has boiled over into street protests in recent months, leaving nearly 100 dead.

Maduro publicly dismissed the vote, calling it fraudulent and illegal, and using it to fuel support for his constituent assembly, which would have the power to disband the opposition-led National Assembly and rewrite the 1999 constitution.

Venezuelans are set to elect more than 500 representatives to the assembly on July 30. Maduro has said he plans to “annihilate” his detractors, close parliament and design a custom state.

The opposition-controlled legislature approved the plebiscite vote on July 5, leaving a record of only 11 days to plan. Organizers relied on more than 50,000 volunteers to carry out the vote, which did not have the support and promotion of the country’s Electoral Power. Given the circumstances, opposition leaders say the outpouring of votes was unprecedented.

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In each of the three yes-or-no questions on the ballot, the “yes” vote won by slightly more than 98 percent.

The first question asked voters if they rejected the government’s plans for the constituent assembly; the second if they want the National Armed Forces to respect the Constitution; and the third whether they want general elections before Maduro’s term ends in 2019.

The vote, however, is largely symbolic and will not be recognized by the government. On Sunday, Maduro insisted that the vote was “illegal” and promised to display evidence proving it was fraudulent. Caracas mayor Jorge Rodríguez called the opposition votes "just notes on paper," and said he had proof that one person voted 17 times at various places throughout the capital.

According to Rodríguez, many people voted who shouldn't have, such as youth under 18, Australians, Brazilians, North Americans and Colombians. "In Australia even kangaroos voted," he said.

Violence broke out at one of the 2,030 polling stations around the country, when paramilitary groups attacked a "sovereign point" installed in Catia, a poor area of western Caracas, leaving one woman dead and three wounded.

The opposition condemned the violence, but stressed that the aggression did not tarnish a day they considered "decisive" in their struggle against the Chavez regime. They have promised to follow the referendum with additional actions against Maduro in advance of the July 30 vote.

The Venezuelan opposition announced it will hold a 24-hour strike Thursday as part of its strategy toward what it has called the 'Zero Hour' to restore democratic order.

"This is the most convincing demonstration that a peaceful people can offer," said Carlos Vieira, a 47-year-old resident of El Paraíso, in western Caracas. "This is the way we have to respond to this repression.