Venezuelans from across Manitoba and beyond gathered in Brandon on Sunday to vote in a symbolic opposition-sponsored referendum on government plans to rewrite the country's constitution.
Venezuelan-Canadians from as far away as Winnipeg, Regina and North Dakota descended on the Wheat City. The city was among more than a dozen Canadian centres to host voting locations and the only location between Ontario and Calgary. Upwards of 600 Venezuelans live in Manitoba.
"I feel very frustrated. It's very hard for us living out of Venezuela," said Rosa Villamizar, a Venezuelan-Canadian living in Brandon who organized the city's polling station. "We Venezuelans around the world are really excited to participate because this is the only contribution that we really can do."
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The proposal by Venezuela president Nicolas Maduro has led to more than 100 days of escalating tensions and anti-government protests in the South American country of about 31 million people.
"My family personally is marching, friends that are in the country trying to do their best to change the current situation," Villamizar said.
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More than 90 people have died and 1,500 have been wounded in clashes between protesters and police in what has been described as a severe social, political and humanitarian crisis. Food and medicine shortages have left some without basic supplies.
"They don't have access to food, to medicine," she said. "I needed to send food here from Canada in boxes because it is hard to find some supplies."
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A vote on July 30 will elect members to a constitutional assembly that, under the proposal, will revise the country's 1999 constitution. Sunday's referendum, while not legally binding, aims to gauge the opposition to the plan.
Supporters say making changes to the constitution will bring peace and stability to the country, while those opposing say it will create a Cuba-style system dominated by Maduro's socialist party.
Carlos Castillo and his family drove from Winnipeg and were among those who lined the stairs to the third floor of a Brandon University building on Sunday waiting to vote.
"It's the least we can do to help our country," Castillo said as Venezuelan song and dance filled the hallway around him. "Being so far away, the options of being able to vote are very limited."
"It is definitely ... encouraging to see everybody is really coming together to possibly make a change," he said. "We hope that it's going to be peaceful."
Venezuelan government supporters called Sunday's vote a manipulation aimed at destabilizing the country even further.
Castillo said he's happy to try and do something that could restore peace to those in the country.
"To be able to put our little grain of sand towads a greater good, you can't say no," he said.