On Friday the 13th, two days before the regional elections, Nicolás Maduro appeared en cadena from Ciudad Bolívar, giving out the house number 1,800,000, under the Gran Misión Vivienda Venezuela. The event was to award professional athletes and their families apartments, built on land donated by the military. What’s that show like up close?

Well, families are taken by bus to the housing development at 9 a.m. They stayed there waiting for eight hours, until the president arrived at 5pm, in a bulletproof SUVs. The team makes sure to hand out apartment keys so families can lift them for the cameras. But no food or drink is provided, and when the cameras finally appear, everyone is sweaty and tired, especially the children.

The audience is organized hierarchically:

The fat military officials sit in front. Here they all had the latest iPhones, and you could hear the distinctive message tone coming from them during Nicolás’ speech.

The next row belongs to managers of Guayana’s basic industries; most of them are exactly like the guys in the front-row.

Then come the athletes and their families, the people the event is supposed to be for. There were six families in total here (just six), with name tags, so the president can address them by name. It’s all improvised, and folks just smile and nod at what the president says.

The fat military officials sit on front. Here they all had the latest iPhones, and you could hear the distinctive message tone coming from them during Nicolás’ speech.

Lastly, there are those who aren’t receiving anything and just make a crowd. Several are workers of the Ciudad Guayana’s basic industries, sent here during working hours.

This group has the most devoted chavistas. They sing the chants and ask the president for help when the cameras point their way with written messages ready for delivery, in case they get close. Two “model families” are taken to the complex’s entrance, to receive Maduro and Cilia (one of the men wore a blue cap, quickly replaced with a red one that had “1.800.000” printed on it).

And when Maduro starts talking, it all gets repetitive. He blames everything on the economic war, criticizes the opposition governors for not constructing houses, and approves resources for urban projects.

“We have demonstrated that chavismo knows how to govern. Only we know how to do this!”

I even caught an electoral crime that might help Andrés Velásquez’ case, when Nico promotes Justo Noguera (en cadena), even recognizing he isn’t allowed to do so. While smiling.

There was also the infamous “Venezuela is Venezuela, screwed but happy.”

After unveiling a plaque honoring his efforts in fulfilling the Supreme Commander’s dream, Maduro dances calypso with the band. Why not?

That Friday, there was a model apartment prepared. It was the only suite actually finished, and had the basic furniture: kitchen, fridge, dining table. It didn’t come with pictures of Chávez, but his eyes are painted outside every building. All others apartments are missing ceramics, power plugs and, in some cases, even doors.

The family gets the apartment, anyway, and they thank Maduro. But, mind you, the key is a prop that doesn’t open anything and no contract is ever signed. So, after listening to Nico for two hours on empty stomachs, the families are sent home with their toy keys and the promise of a phone call that, one week later, still hasn’t come.

But, with a bit of luck, elections for mayors may come soon, so, you know, a contract might be signed then.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.