Cadivi as Chains

CADIVI wasn't just an economic policy. It was really the chain tying Venezuela's middle class to the revolution, and to Chávez himself.

A vintage ball and chain with an open shackle on an isolated white studio background

About ten years ago, some relatives came to visit. The patriarch of this family was a highly-regarded, well-respected member of the old elite. He was one of the founding fathers of Venezuelan democracy, an eminence grise. Pure IVth Republic royalty.

He was also a kind, decent, and smart man. When they came to Chile to visit, I looked forward to high-minded conversations on politics, history and the like.

It didn’t go quite like that. The first two days were consumed by a never-ending quest to raspar el cupo – extracting every last little drop of petrostate largesse from their Cadivi-enabled credit card. An ATM! Let’s go grocery shopping so we can use our Cadivi card! Do you have anything expensive to buy? Do you know where we can get cash for our cupo?

It was depressing.

Time and again, the story repeated itself. People would show up at my doorstep, and instead of enjoying their trips, they’d be consumed by the quest to find one more way to take advantage of this gimme.

And who can blame them?

Cadivi became the emblem of the slavery of the Venezuelan mind. Once Cadivi was put in place, there was no escaping the Revolution. You could go to Timbuktu, but as long as you had Cadivi, you would always have the Revolution within your sight. Cadivi was the cord that made you Chávez’s puppet.

It was hard to convince my guests how unacceptable this was. It was hard to even open that debate. Everyone who came to my doorstep loved Cadivi – money for nothing and your trips for free! In fact, one of my sisters became so adept at working the ins and outs of the system, we nicknamed her “Cadiva.”

Alas, Cadivi is gone. Its replacement, Cencoex, is only really available to the supremely regime-connected. Yet the damage remains. To this day, Venezuelans find it hard to fathom that, no, not everybody in the world understands what “el cupo” means. And no, when you live in a normal country and you travel, you buy the dollars you need and that’s it. Traveling is not something you make income from, but rather, an expense. Travel leaves you poorer, not richer.

I wonder how long it will take for these lessons to be unlearnt.