Venezuelan government to issue 'Chavista cards' to identify, reward loyal followers

A father and daughter near a supermarket on March 8, 2014 in San Cristobal, Venezuela.

A father and daughter near a supermarket on March 8, 2014 in San Cristobal, Venezuela.  (2014 Getty Images)

As the opposition makes arrangements to call a referendum on President Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuelan government has launched a preemptive strike that looks to reinforce the ailing Chavismo by rewarding loyalty.

Focused on securing power, the socialist ruling party will start issuing so-called “Bolivarian cards” – with not yet disclosed privileges – to its followers, as well as “socialist cards” loaded with a monthly allowance of approximately $70; that's more than the minimum wage in Venezuela.

The third tier of the survival strategy is a full-blown campaign with the motto that can be translated to “Nobody surrenders here” (“Aquí no se rinde nadie,” in Spanish).

The Bolivarian cards will be handed out to self-proclaimed Chavistas during a national house-to-house survey to take place in early April, Maduro announced last weekend.

While party officials haven’t detailed the functions of the card, Maduro said they will help provide instructions in real time during rallies or during the campaign season.

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“I haven’t received any specific orders, but I think that this will allow us to know the exact number of followers we currently have and how many are willing to fight for the government,” said Isidro Figueroa, a party leader in eastern Venezuela.

Officially, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) party has around 8 million registered members, but that number is probably overestimated considering that only some 5.6 million voted for the party in last December’s legislative election.

Meanwhile, the “socialist cards” are already being issued. On Friday 25,000 money cards were given away to families living in the housing complex La Gran Misión Hogares de la Patria, a government’s flagship since 2012.

“They are already preparing for an eventual election. They will issue the cards depending on the nature of their followers,” political analyst Luis Salamanca explained to FNL. “Those ideologically committed will receive the Bolivarian one, while the ones focused on cronyism will get the socialist card.”

The “socialist card” will provide families access to 14,000 bolivars (around $70) every month to buy products in state-run grocery stores and pharmacies. That’s more than the monthly minimum wage, 11,578 bolivars (around $57).

All this, analysts say, is reminiscent of 2004, when the opposition called for a referendum against then-president Hugo Chavez — the government launched the so-called Misiones (missions), a battery of social programs for the poor that many say was a lifesaver for Chavez’s popularity – he won the referendum by 60 percent.

But it was a different reality back then, Salamanca noted.

“In 2004 Venezuela had just come out of a crisis and the oil prices were high, now they are low and we are in the middle of the crisis,” he said.

Even the advertising campaign recently launched by Chavismo resembles one Chavez used in 2004, when he asked people to vote “No.” In the current motto, the word “No” in “Aquí no se rinde nadie” (Nobody surrenders here) is highlighted in black.

In the case of a new referendum, of course, Chavistas will have to vote “No” to Maduro´s early exit.

However, some point out that PSUV´s campaign seems to be underestimating the large number of former Chavistas who are disgruntled with the current government. In a sarcastic tone, Maduro on Saturday said the new Bolivarian cards will just be issued only to “true Chavistas.”

“I don’t know how will they determine who is a real Chavista and who is not. This is really an exclusionary call”, said to FNL Nicmer Evans, who was a PSUV member until he dropped out two years ago and joined the dissident group Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide).

Evans said he fears the new Bolivarian card will accentuate an already existing culture of exclusion toward those who do not back Maduro.

This is a particularly sensitive issue given the acute shortage of basic products that Venezuelans are facing.

Some weeks ago, for example, the government announced a new food distribution system in which house-by-house delivery will be conducted by groups of party loyalists.

“Even if that’s not the main and official objective, it could happen if a party member starts asking for the card before giving some kind of benefit,” Evans said.

Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.

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