By Associated Press - Sunday, July 16, 2017

BOSTON (AP) - More than a thousand Venezuelans in Massachusetts are expected to participate Sunday in a symbolic rejection of the Venezuela president’s plan to rewrite the constitution.

Venezuelan citizens are voting at polling places in Boston, Worcester (WUS’-tur) and hundreds of other sites in the U.S. and countries around the world.

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro has called a July 30 vote to elect members of a special assembly to retool Venezuela’s 1999 constitution. The opposition says the vote is structured to pack the constitutional assembly with government supporters and allow Maduro to eliminate the few remaining checks on his power, creating a Cuba-style system dominated by his socialist party.

The opposition is boycotting the constitutional assembly. It has asked Venezuelans to oppose Maduro’s plans by showing up at polling sites and filling out ballots featuring three yes-or-no questions. Do they reject the constitutional assembly? Do they want the armed forces to back congress? Do they support the formation of a government comprised of Maduro backers and opponents?

Boston resident Ana Julia Jatar, the sister of Braulio Jatar, a journalist in Venezuela who was detained on money laundering charges after publicizing a protest against Maduro, told The Associated Press that Venezuelans are voting because they want elections.

“We want to go back to a Democratic system in which we can vote and elect those who we think would manage the country best for us and our children,” she said.

Though the symbolic referendum has no legal impact- it will serve as a show of support whose success or failure will be measured in how many millions of people participate -Jatar said she hopes it will lead to changes that result in her brother being released.

“He wants to go back to his job, he wants to make a family in Venezuela,” she said. “And he would like to do so in a country where freedom and democracy is something that all citizens can enjoy.”

The Venezuelan government has called the opposition vote a manipulation aimed at destabilizing the country.

Ricardo Hausmann, a Harvard University economist and former Venezuelan planning minister who is married to Ana Julia Jatar, said the vote aims to express democratically what the government is trying to prevent.

“It will be known how many people voted, (and) that should have a chilling effect on the government’s plan,” he said. “The vast majority of Venezuelans condemn what they’re doing and want to see change.”


Crystal Hill contributed to this report.

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