Two weeks before Venezuela’s Dec. 3 presidential election, political campaigning on the part of the two frontrunners is heating up in the capital.
Puntos Rojos, red tents used to organize people in favor of incumbent Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution can be seen on every other street corner of Caracas. Supporters of the opposition candidate, Manual Rosales, are also trying to round up support with their Puntos Azules. These blue tents, which are outnumbered 10 to 1 by the puntos rojos, function as a place to sign up for the Mi Negra or "My Black Card". Mi Negra is a plan which forms the basis for Rosales campaign. The plan’s name is apparently derived from the color of crude oil and intends to directly distribute approximately 20 percent of Venezuelan oil revenues to the middle and lower classes.
According to information available at the Puntos Azules and Manual Rosales’ website, atrevetevenezuela.org, this plan would give all eligible persons around one million bolivares per month. The Mi Negra card would have a function somewhere between a debit card and food stamps. Approximately 600,000 bolivares ($280 USD) of the total could be spent any way the recipient chooses, while 400,000 bolivares would be exclusively for purchasing food. This is a sizeable quantity of money for the ordinary Venezuelan considering that the minimum wage is approximately $250 per month. The eligibility requirements for this card have yet to be quantitatively established but everyone is encouraged to fill out the form. The opportunity for this money draws a modest line of Venezuelans to the puntos azules but considering that these tents are far outnumbered by their counterparts the number of people signing up in advance for the Mi Negra card is relatively small.
Jose Vargas, a Rosales supporter manning a Punto Azul, claims that currently the country’s oil money is being used to "fund the necessities of other countries while here at home people are begging in the street, hospitals are in complete disarray, indexes of unemployment are on the rise and hundreds of companies are closing every day through the Mi Negra card this money would be passed to the Venezuelan people directly and used for anything from feeding the family to starting up a small to medium sized business." When asked about the origins of the plans name, Gabriel Romero another Rosales supporter and Punto Azul worker is adamant that "although some of our detractors have said the name of the plan, my black, is racist it has nothing to do with skin color, it is derived from the color of crude oil."
In a small coffee shop across the sidewalk from the "punto azul" where Vargas is encouraging people to fill out the application form for the Mi Negra card, the patrons do not consider the name of the plan as an issue of racism. Rather, their concerns are focused on what the possible effects of the Mi Negra program are distinct. Angela Iglesias believes that "if that plan goes into effect no one is going to leave their house to work. The quantity of money he is talking about giving away is nearly twice the minimum wage. I prefer to earn my own money and let the government use its money to help the people through the various missions offered by the current government."
The sentiment of many people in Caracas’s poor and middle class neighborhoods reflects that of Iglesias. These people, who work jobs ranging from bus drivers to street cleaners, say that the various missions created by the Chavez government have helped them immensely. Cheo Torres works the front counter of a small bakery and says that "in the last eight years [of the Chavez government] unemployment has dropped, there is less begging in the street and the doors to education have been flung wide open for all Venezuelans." He added that he prefers the current plan of helping people succeed through social programs to the Rosales plan of "giving people so much money they won’t have to do anything."
The true conundrum of the Mi Negra plan lies in the fact that in January of this year, when Chavez detractors in the wealthy neighborhoods of Caracas were asked, "what do you see as the biggest problem with the Chavez government?", the vast majority responded by saying that he was giving the poor too much and that if people didn’t have to work for what they had, they would never appreciate it. However, Rosales is in little danger of losing the support of this wealthy class considering their disgust for the Chavez government.
While Rosales seeks to gain the support of poor Venezuelans by offering them nearly twice as much money as they can make working low-end jobs for a private corporation, Chavez and his supporters are trying to destroy the culturally constructed idea of low-end jobs by socializing the Venezuelan economy.