Volleying for Venezuela

Barry's Leo Vivas went through a long weekend in hopes of making his native Venezuela a better place.

MIAMI SHORES, Fla. -- Leo Vivas was in need of some sleep. To him, standing up for his country meant so much more.

Forget the Zs. He was willing to sacrifice today if it meant a better tomorrow.

Vivas, a junior men's tennis tennis player at Barry University, wanted to make a difference. As did 8,000-plus Venezuelans, who made their way to New Orleans over the weekend to vote in their native country's presidential election.

Vivas, who went 19-5 in singles and 18-9 in doubles in earning All-American honors in 2012, surrendered an opportunity to play in the Nunez Open tournament some of his teammates competed in -- with Tuesday's final set for 2 p.m. at Buccaneer Tennis Center -- to have his vote count in hopes of making Venezuela a better place. He, along with over 4,000 other Venezuelans from the Miami area made the 17-hour trek with Votodondesea, a company, which translated in English means, "I Vote Wherever," to the New Orleans Convention Center to vote. Votodondesea transported 52 buses to the Big Easy all for a subject that wasn't so easy to embrace.

Miami closed its Venezuelan embassy, forcing willing voters to go to all lengths to have their voices heard. As it turned out, 280 Venezuelans who took international chartered flights to New Orleans were turned away at the polls when their flights were delayed. Needless to say, fights broke out in a city where Jazz music's foundational roots didn't offer the best of melodies over the weekend. At least not for the Venezuelans hoping for a better future. Once there in Louisiana, it was no picnic for those who did get to vote, either. Lines were six hours long. Travel costs were high, and food was scarce. Yet these steadfast Venezuelans didn't care because they cared.

They didn't care about the sacrifices they had to make because they cared about their country in the long run.

"I would love to be back there," Vivas said. "It's your country. It's your land. It's where you were born."

Problem is, he, like many other Venezuelans, may not have choice now. Riots and poor economic conditions have made living in Venezuela hazardous. Vivas, who hails from Caracas -- one of the country's most troublesome cities -- refuses to return unless conditions significantly improve. He and his brother, Luis, also a tennis player at Tyler (Texas) Community College, are separated from their parents, who remain, despite the angst and turmoil, in Caracas.

It is a harsh reality of a country trying to do the right thing, trying to find peace in a world that so often turns to violence.

Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela.

"When we were on the bus coming back from the long trip, people were crying," Vivas said. "It's very disappointing with all the efforts we made, all the sacrifices we made, it didn't pay off. Now that chance is gone to go back home."

Instead, Vivas and the rest of his Venezuelan country people made their way back to Miami, arriving at 8:30 a.m. Monday -- in time for the Buccanners left-handed tennis bruiser to make his morning class. Others went on their way, wondering what the security of the country will be like for the next six years until another election is held.

The silver lining in it all: people were united for a common cause. One they hope will one day make a difference to bettering their homeland.

"All the people that went, we realized we're not that far apart from each other," Vivas said. "We're really close. It pulled a lot of people together. You realize how close the community really is."

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