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Venezuelans cast votes for president in Louisiana

Associated Press Modified: October 7, 2012 at 1:32 pm •  Published: October 7, 2012
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"We're tired of the situation at home, and we've come together to make a stand for change," he said.

Cuba, an isolated nation ruled by a communist regime led by Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother Fidel, is in many ways closely tied to the election. Some Venezuelan expatriates fear their home country is going down the same path as Cuba, stifling opposition and pushing people into poverty with communist policies.

Across the Gulf of Mexico in Havana, about 400 Venezuelans were registered to vote. Many are workers for the state oil company, university students or patients from binational medical programs. And several expressed strong support for Chavez.

Dariela Ortega, 25, urged compatriots to get out and vote.

"That's the best thing they can do so our country continues to be what it is now," Ortega said. "May they vote for the best one — and they know who the best one is."

Back in New Orleans, Alexandra Viamonte had a different message. She moved to the Florida at age 17 because she saw few opportunities for higher education in Venezuela. So she moved in with an aunt while studying English and medical technology. She married a man originally from Cuba, and together they have five children. However, most of her extended family remains in Venezuela, and she fears their fate if Chavez wins another term.

Chavez, however, underestimated the resolve of voters in the U.S.

"He thought that we wouldn't drive almost 900 miles to vote, but he was wrong," she said. "We have the opposition we needed."

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Associated Press writers Gisela Salomon in Miami and Andrea Rodriguez in Havana contributed to this report.