Like fellow citizens worldwide, Venezuelans in Utah go to polls Sunday

Like fellow citizens worldwide, Venezuelans in Utah go to polls Sunday (Photo: Cristina Flores / KUTV)

(KUTV) Antonio Ortega is one of thousands of Venezuelans in Utah expected to cast a ballot in this Sunday’s referendum which is intended to send a message to the oppressive government of Nicolas Maduro.

“This is the people of Venezuela’s most heroic act of resistance,” said Ortega.

Since April, people in Venezuela have been protesting President Nicolas Maduro whose leadership has sent the country into an economic disaster. Food and medicine are scarce. National security forces are reportedly attacking protestors – not protecting them.

Dozens of protestors have died in violent clashes on the streets.

In Utah, there will be 3 voting locations starting at 8am, Sunday July 16:

  • Friendship Park, Ogden
  • Ameritech College, 2035 N 550 W, Provo
  • Ameritech College, 12257 Business Park Drive, Draper

Ortega, who is helping coordinate the vote in Utah, said there are between 10,000-15,000 Venezuelans living in Utah.

They are eager to vote he said, because they still have family and friends in Venezuela who are suffering.

International Observers, people who are not Venezuelan, will be on hand at polling places to make sure there is no fraud and that the votes are counted accurately before they are sent to Caracas, Venezuela.

Sunday’s vote will ask Venezuelans to answer three questions:

Do they refuse Maduro’s effort to scrap the constitution and rewrite it?

Do they demand that national security forces protect the people and the Asamblea Nacional which is like the country’s congress? Maduro wants to dismantle the Asamblea – which opposes him.

Do they want to empower or sustain the current constitution and the Asamblea? Maduro wants to dismantle it.

No doubt, the vote is a referendum on Maduro.

“I feel he needs to be removed as soon as possible,” said Ortega.

Two years ago, Ortega, his wife and children fled their native country after Maduro supporters broke into their house and set it on fire.

Ortega said he and his family escaped and fled to a neighbor’s house. Soon after they were on their way to the U.S. where they received political asylum.

Ortega said he was targeted for campaigning for Maduro’s opponent Leopoldo Lopez.

This is the first time in Venezuela’s history, that people are fleeing a once prosperous country rich in resources like oil, water and minerals.

Ortega said he still hopes to return to Venezuela someday.

“I know that if Venezuela will change, we have to go there and rebuild the great nation that it used to be,” he said.