When in September of last year Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro dropped the idea during a party meeting, it was clear it was more like a directive to Chavistas across the country. In the parliamentary election of the following year, Maduro said, no less than half of the candidates ought to be 30 or younger.
"Let’s go the National Assembly to develop the political leadership of the 21st century,” he told the youth sector of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) gathered in Caracas.
A few months later, the so-called Bolivar Chavez Battle Units (UBCH), grassroots cells of the ruling PSUV party, received the express order that at least half of the nominees for the June 28 primary be in their 20s or early 30s.
It was a well thought-out strategy. According to the 2011 census, close to a quarter of the Venezuelan population (29 million total) are citizens between 18 and 29 years old.
During the last year, Maduro has been actively promoting initiatives linked to the youth. Back in October he enacted the Law of Youth Employment which addresses issues such as internships and training, as well as financial help for young entrepreneurs.
He also relaunched the Mission Youth of the Homeland, a program seeking to train and hire 30,000 young activists to command productive community projects. This initiative aims to create 200,000 jobs specifically for men and women between the ages of 18 and 30.
Then, earlier this month President Maduro established the Presidential Council for Youth and Students and announced a special housing program for young couples (ages 21-30). Two days later, he announced that the Bicentenary Bank, a state-owned entity, was launching a new credit plan focused on helping young entrepreneurs, who could get as much as 10 million bolivars at a fixed interest rate of 10 percent for 60 months — a real bargain in a country where the annual inflation rate is currently above 100 percent.
In classrooms all over the country, the Chavismo has been planting its ideological seeds through the Bicentenary Collection, some 70 text books that cover from natural and social sciences to math and language. These books, distributed in all public schools since 2011, have been accused of serving as mere government propaganda.
Young activists such as 25-year-old Rander Peña are the voice behind the task of perpetuating the Bolivarian revolution.
“We have increased the number of university students up to the point that currently Venezuela is the second country in Latin America with most people going to college,” Peña, a nominee to the PSUV primaries, told Fox News Latino.
“The main motive for the young to support the revolution is because we choose life. That’s what socialism has to offer. Other political projects, based on consumerism, offer death. We are in a crusade to save the humanity and make them happy,” he said.
Luis Salamanca, former director of the Institute of Political Studies at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, said it is clear Chavismo is actively pursuing to engage with the young.
“They represent almost half of the total number of registered voters. That’s why you see these campaigns trying to mobilize their support,” said Salamanca, who authored the book “Why Do People Vote?” (¿Por qué vota la gente?)
The political weight of these electors is definitive, he said, and their votes crucial for both the government and the opposition.
The expert highlighted, however, that Venezuelan under 30 grew up in a culture that shows disregard for the political parties. And on the opposition side this means that even when they highly value the democracy as a system, they tend to not engage through a political platform.
This new generation, he said, started to become more involved in 2007 but not through party affiliation but as part of the student movement.
“It’s been their main way of acting in politics, though some of them have chosen to become members of political parties, where they have helped the renewal of leadership.”
Given the current economic crisis, with shortages of the most basic products and a skyrocketing inflation, the opposition might appear to be facing an easy ride. They don’t. Francisco Castro, director of Súmate, an NGO devoted to electoral transparency, warns that the government is using a strategy to favor registering new voters in places where they have more support.
“The National Electoral Council is under the control of Chavismo. They’ve been opening centers to register new voters in a very selective way. In the areas where the opposition is stronger it is very hard to find a center, while they are opening new centers where the governing party has the upper hand,” he told FNL.
As a consequence, he said, the number of registered voters is increasing in an uneven and disproportional way, with a clear tendency to grow much more in the areas where the government has more support.
Gaby Arellano is one the young leaders who started a career in politics as a member of the student movement in San Cristobal, a city west of Venezuela. Last weekend she won her nomination as candidate of the Democratic Unity Platform (MUD), an alliance of opposition parties, to run for a National Assembly seat.
“We tell the youth not to surrender. We can’t give up and accept that the only option for the future is to emigrate. This generation was born to change Venezuela’s reality and to make history,” she said to Fox News Latino.
“Chavismo has been killing the future, the progress and the opportunities for everybody. Now we are in the frontline, ready to fight in order to free Venezuela from this Castro-communist model that has failed and that only has brought poverty and misery,” she added.