AS MILLIONS of Venezuelans cast their ballots in what is being considered the tightest election in recent history, first-time expatriate voters here in Trinidad and Tobago are confident that change is imminent.
"There is a different vibe in the air, you know. You can feel the good energy," says 21-year-old Annabella Deni.
Deni said she flew in from Miami last Wednesday to cast her ballot at the Venezuelan Embassy in Port of Spain after several unsuccessful attempts to register to vote in New Orleans in the United States.
"So I came here," she added.
Usually, Venezuela's consulate in Miami, which serves 20,000 expatriate voters living in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, would be used as a voting station.
But it was shut down in January after US State Department officials expelled the ambassador — who was suspected of participating in an Iranian cyber-attack conspiracy against the US. As a result, Venezuelan officials announced that any expatriate registered to vote in Miami would now have to do so in New Orleans.
The young voters, who turned up at 12 p.m. in their numbers at the Venezuelan Embassy yesterday all had one thing on their mind, and that was to vote out incumbent president Hugo Chavez.
"This election is so important because it means a better future for Venezuelans...and being a first-time voter, I want to say I was a part of the change," Deni said.
Queens Royal College pupil Joseph Joseph said he, too, was happy to cast his vote for the first time.
"Just elated to be a part of this," he said.
Joseph and Deni were part of the record number of Venezuelan expatriates in Trinidad and Tobago who turned up to vote in an election which pits Venezuela's president of 14 years, Chavez, against opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski.
According to Yolanda Morales-Carvalho, 374 people were registered to vote in Trinidad and it was "much higher than any previous election".
"Last time it was about 125 people and this time it's more than double the amount, so this is a good sign of things to come," she said.
The vast majority of Venezuelans have thrown their support behind Capriles, the opponent to Venezuela's incumbent socialist president.
According to some of Capriles's supporters who cast their vote yesterday, Chavez has failed to solve the persistent problems in Venezuela such as the increasing murder rate, increasing electrical blackouts and the poor healthcare system.
"The thing about Capriles as well is that he is promising to bring a much-needed unity back to Venezuela," said Alexandro Gonzalez.
"A disunity that Chavez encouraged...just imagine we now have an issue of racism in Venezuela based on the colour of our skin. We never had that before...but Chavez is encouraging poor people to think like that," added Ruth Albornoz.
Anglican priest and Venezuelan national Jesus Latan prayed with the anxious crowd and reminded them that whatever the outcome, it was God's will.
"This is an impatient time for us...but whoever win the election, it should be respected," he said.
There were, however, mixed views regarding the system in place at the embassy as many felt it was set up to give Chavez the upper hand.
"There is only one representative from Capriles, while the government has two...right now that representative cannot leave because they might do something," said Albornoz.
Nevertheless, Beatrice Joseph, who has lived in Trinidad for 31 years, said she was happy with the overall process.
"The fact is, there is a lot more people here today than there ever was, and that is the case all over, so that is a victory already," she said. See Pages 27 and 28