Patricia Gomez moved to Encinitas from Caracas, Venezuela in 2012. “The reason why I left is because the government wasn’t doing what they were suppose to be doing.”
On June 16, she, her husband and two-year-old were playing at the playground in the San Diego Waterfront Park; like many of the other families who just voted about a hundred yards away. Many of the visitors were voting for an unofficial referendum organized by the opposition party to remove Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro from office. This was one of 200-plus locations worldwide.
“Venezuelans [here in San Diego] want to help with whatever they have in their hands to alleviate and help the situation in Venezuela,” said Ana Groening. “The majority still have families there [and] in this case, the way they can help is through the vote.”
Groening is a 36-year-old mother of two girls (who were at the polls) and a math tutor/event organizer. She relocated from Caracas to Oceanside in 2006. “People are tired of living in that disastrous day-to-day situation,” she said. “The people of Venezuela deserve a better government and a restructuring of the public powers.”
Last April, Groening was one of the organizers for the Venezuelan protest in downtown San Diego. This Sunday, she was the general coordinator for the Venezuelan plebiscite in San Diego.
“It’s a lot of work because you have to be in constant communication with a lot of people at the same time; including the group that works with me on the tables, the other coordinators from other cities, and Covenex (la Comisión para los Venezolanos en el Exterior); the organization that is in Venezuela that gives us the instructions that we need for the plebiscite,” she said.
Jorge Reinoza, 53, is a professor and a painter from Merida. He was helping with the plebiscite by coordinating with Groening and the staff on hand and the voters if they had any concerns.
“We used to have a very solid middle class that is suffering now with the invasion,” he said, “in reality Venezuelans are not immigrants; we are displaced.”
Reinoza moved to the U.S. in 1996 via a scholarship from the Venezuelan government to study for his master’s and doctorate in business administration. He now lives in Pacific Beach and explained how many Venezuelans in the U.S. feel about their country of origin: “Cubans and Communists in general destroyed our country on purpose [and] he (Pres. Nicolas Maduro) is not the real president,” he said, “Venezuela is a colony of Cuba [and the] Communists and dealers control all of the economy.”
The three questions on the ballot to be answered were: do you refuse and dismiss the new assembly, do you wish for the armed forces to defend the existing constitution, and do you prefer an early presidential election prior to the ending of Maduro’s term in office (in 2019).
At about 10 a.m., Gomez walked up to one of the pop-up tents located on the North Harbor Drive side of the San Diego County Administration Building. She showed one of the coordinators sitting at the table her identification card, they took her information and gave her a ballot. “I [then] voted a triple yes on the paper, then placed it in the box,” she said. “It’s not about politics; it’s about human rights. Kids like ours are dying because they don’t have milk, [and] its goes beyond any ideology.”
Gomez misses her family and assisting with their fashion-store businesses. She wants to return one day, but for now said that this is one way that she can help her people, despite being about 3500 miles away.
“Everyone that’s Venezuelan, whether you decide to go back or you decide to stay outside of Venezuela,” she said, “you owe that respect to the country that gave you birth and the least you can do is come here and check the [ballot] papers, and put it in a box.”
Families were sporting Venezuelan red, blue, and yellow colored hats, T-shirts, and flags. Some had to get dropped off, then vote, then switch off with the driver so he or she could vote. Parking was difficult to find around the venues, so some parked inside downtown and walked. There was cool sea breeze and slight overcast at the adjacent playground and across the street by the water, Seaport Village or Little Italy to the east.
Carlos Hernández, a former catcher from the San Diego Padres (1997-2000) was present to vote.
“This is the best thing that we can do [from here in San Diego] to get out of the broken government,” Julio Cruz said. He is a 73-year-old father visiting his daughter and grandchildren in San Diego, and will be returning to Caracas next month.
“People are being killed, kidnapped, and robbed at world-record rates,” Groening said, “and in Caracas, the capital city, the murder rate [is about] 150 per 100,000 inhabitants; one of the three highest in the world.”
Reuters reports claims that over seven million people around the world voted on the anti-Maduro poll and that “98 percent chose to reject the proposed new assembly, urge the military to defend the existing constitution, and support elections before Maduro’s term ends in early 2019, according to academics monitoring the vote for the opposition.”
Here in San Diego, Groening tallied a total of 860 votes — 859 yes (on all three questions) and one no (on all three questions).