Patriotism runs deep among Venezuelan expats living in Canada’s Prairie provinces.
On Sunday, Venezuelans the world over took part in a global referendum on their country’s future, with a voting station at Brandon University serving all of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and North Dakota.
The global referendum was intended to measure reaction to Venezuela Socialist Party President Nicolas Maduro’s pledge to rewrite the country’s constitution — a move that has prompted violent protests across the South American country.
With those living outside the country unable to protest in person, Sunday’s global referendum was set up as a means of enabling expats to do something about it.
"We really want to stop people being killed in the streets and to raise our voice," local co-ordinator Rosa Villamizar said. "This is the only contribution that we can really do."
The ballot asked three questions:
• Do you refuse the attempt by the current government to change the constitution without proper public consultation?
• Do you demand the military and public institutions honour the Venezuelan constitution?
• Do you support the start of a transparent electoral process to re-legitimize and re-establish constitutional and democratic order in Venezuela?
Ivana Corce joined Victor Bautista and Arlexca Corce in waking up at 5 a.m. on Sunday to make the drive out from Regina to part in the day’s referendum in Brandon.
"We always believe in freedom and democracy," Ivana said, adding that she’d do just about anything to ensure the freedoms she’d experienced in her native country continue for future generations.
"Freedom is going to be gone if we don’t do anything, if we don’t act," she said. "If I have to drive 20 hours, I will do it."
The drive to and from Regina isn’t quite 20 hours, but driving approximately eight hours total to cast a ballot is still something that requires dedication.
The Saskatchewan trio made the drive solely for the vote, and as soon as their ballots were notched hit the road again in order to make an appointment they had back at home.
Driving to Brandon from Winnipeg alongside his family for the day’s vote, Renee Merchal said that his participation wasn’t just about letting his government know they’re on the wrong track, but also for the world to know.
The vote took place in Brandon because there was a group of local Venezuelans keen on volunteering their time to host it —a group Merchal commended as being one of the more politically active Venezuelan population bases in the province.
Villamizar said the reality of the situation in Venezuela was enough to motivate her to action.
She has been mailing boxes of food from Brandon to family members in Venezuela due to its increasing scarcity in her native country.
Few people in Canada seem to know what’s going on in Venezuela, which she said makes the day’s vote and its accompanying media attention all the more important.
The end goal, she said, is "to open a democratic window for Venezuela and democracy."
» Twitter: @TylerClarkeMB