I heard this rumor that the government was handing out free tablets to public University students as part of the 6D campaign. Here in Ciudad Guayana, you hear that sort of thing every day, and they usually get stored in the “no vale, yo no creo” file.
But I kept hearing stories from my friends in public universities about how they had to sit through hours of mind-numbing government propaganda, stand in line under the sun, and a whole bunch other forms of humiliation, to get their freebie tablets.
At UNEG, people queued from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., during two days. And at UDO in Ciudad Bolívar, the pro-government student movement in charge, made students sign a petition to end the professors’ strike in order to give them the tablets.
Of course, this nice little perk of revolutionary studenthood is not for everyone, as one civil engineering student identified with the opposition found out when the organizers told him: “aquí no hay tablets pa’ escuálido.”
Ok, so my friends were getting freebies, or so they claimed. Since I remained skeptical (no vale, yo no creo), I decided to go to one of those things, just to see what happened.
María, my neighbor, is a student at UNEXPO. She tells me they are going to hand out tablets at her University, and lets me tag along. She knows I’ve got a story to write.
We take the bus to UNEXPO at 7:30 am. At the entrance of the University there’s an old man handing out free bibles.”Food for the soul,” he says to the passersby. Kids these days don’t exactly have Moses in mind when they hear “tablet”, so his freebies don’t find many takers.
Getting in is quite easy. Security consists of a couple normal looking dudes, no Guardia Nacional types here, asking for IDs and sometimes checking bags. I don’t have a UNEXPO ID, but an “I’m with her” was enough for them to let me slip by. Smooth.
Once in, María gives me a brief tour of the place. It isn’t pretty. No wonder they are always protesting. The metallurgy building is especially ugly. It’s poorly lit, and the roof is a chaos of cables and rusted metal that looks like it’s going to collapse any second. It
kind of looks abandoned, but there are loads of people everywhere. Many structures, including the tables and benches, are built with solid concrete, those are intact. A reminder from when they actually had proper budget.
At 9 a.m. people start organizing lines according to their family name initials. The idea is to have a line for every letter, it’s a clumsy ordeal that doesn’t seem to come together. At 10 a.m. the process is interrupted. Now everyone has to go to the football court to be briefed with “relevant information,” before whatever is going on can continue.
Clearly they are handing out something, there’s a little mystery involved, but there is no way of linking the activity to a campaign event.
And then, it unravels.
The entrance to the roofed fútbolito court is guarded by two armed soldiers. Large speakers play loud joropo, there are tables and chairs for the organizers, some CANTV representatives, and Richard Rosa, a Unexpo alumn, who is a congressman and PSUV’s candidate to represent the 2nd Circuit of Caroní in the upcoming parliament elections.
Mr. Rosa hosted the event, clearly being the guy to thank for the free Bolivarian tech.
— Victoria Mata (@MataVictoria) November 26, 2015
As expected, the “relevant information” is just a bunch of “saludos bolivarianos,” “thanks to the supreme commander,” and the like. One member of MERSUV (a chavista student movement) says that thanks to President Chávez and thanks to President Maduro they are getting their tablets today, some other say that they have to remember that on December 6th, when voting.
Not many people are actually listening. They know why they’re there. In fact, one guy says to me “I only applaud when I hear the words “tablets”; “Chávez,” or “Maduro,” I don’t even care.”
At about 11:00 a.m. the speeches end, and they send everyone back to the line at the metallurgy building. And again, they have to organize everyone by the initial of their last name. After some more ID checks, they send people back to the football court, for the fourth or fifth line (I don’t even know why any more).
I’ve lost hope that María will ever get her tablet.
We wait… and wait.
By 2:30 p.m. we are leaving the premises, tablet in hand, and with no major incidents.
Back at home, we tinker with María’s catch of the day.
If you can get over the fact that this crazy tablet giveaway is a slap in the face of University staff protesting for wage increases on the other side of the street, you’d realize that the Canaima Universitaria is actually quite nice.
It is fast, stylish and barely includes any government propaganda. It even comes with a keyboard/case.
On the software side, things are not so great though. It comes with the “Android Canaima” OS, which completely cripples an otherwise decent device. Instead of the Google Play app it comes with the Tienda Canaima, its lame doppelganger. In it you can download normal android apps like YouTube or Gmail, but most of them simply don’t work. As delivered, it’s just a flashy, dead gadget.
So, María got her tablet and I got my story. I was very much satisfied and, at the same time, disgusted with having confirmed the illegal campaigning going on at UNEXPO.
In a context of food and medicines shortages, this nationwide tablet giveaways are definitely salt on the wound.
Let’s just hope that these students, who seemed so happy with their new Canaimas Universitarias, don’t hold up their end of the votes-for-dosh bargain.