The Perfect Blackmail

Last sunday, I went to different voting stations to see how the “Puntos Rojos” influence elections. Chavismo is betting on fear, implicit threats and your empty stomach.

Photo: Agencia Escalona, retrieved

According to Sandra Oblitas, CNE board member, the Puntos Rojos must be 200 meters away from voting centers. In reality, these political beacons can be in the same block or across the street from where you vote. The Puntos have always been key tools for the chavista machinery during elections and, this time, they’re demanding the carnet de la Patria after voting.

“Abstention is the enemy, not only for (the opposition), but for us too. That’s why we need this Punto Rojo,” Xiomara, the woman in charge of the Punto in a Catia school, told me.

Chavismo has presented these spots as “Puntos Tricolor” in an attempt to disguise what they’ve always been. Full of chavistas, they’re a gentle reminder that Big Brother is watching.

“The process is easy and fast” said Xiomara, “after you finish voting you come here and present your carnet. We’ll ask if you already voted, because, remember, you need to vote first, and then come here. Two minutes and done.”

There’s no line outside this voting station, but there’s at least 10 people waiting in the Punto, everyone with their carnet de la Patria at hand. “I almost forgot to do this” a woman in line said, “I was already walking home.”

Each person must present their carnet; the QR code in the back is scanned with a cellphone, your name and phone number are written down and you’ll get a text message as proof that your carnet is registered. Xiomara admits that she has lists and “you can call folks or go to their houses and say ‘hey, let’s go vote.'”

At the Tricolor school, Xiomara did some calculations: they have data with 792 names from the community, all receiving some benefit from the Government, each with a valid carnet de la Patria. By mid-day, 200 people are registered as “already voted.”

“Nobody is forcing me to be here with my Carnet,” said a young woman. “So why not? I rather wait here for a while today, than not receive my Clap next month.”

“Those Puntos are useless” candidate Eduardo Samán explained to me. “They can’t know who you vote for, this is just a way to scare people, playing with the need for some food or medical assistance.”  

For Rosa, who’s in charge of another Punto in another school, the registration is a way to prove “that you are with el proceso, a logical part of receiving a benefit. A lot of people receive help and now they have to do their part.”

“The carnet is like our second ID. All the data from the Punto is going to the PSUV, and it’s our responsibility to call and ask people to come and vote. This is not about denying you the Clap if you don’t vote. Because, in the end, we don’t know who you’re voting for.”

And just like they maintain the secrecy of the vote, people at the Puntos insist that what they’re doing is not illegal; since they’re just keeping a log of who has voted (instead of, say, making you vote for a particular candidate), this is not a violation of the CNE’s dispositions. I mean, they have the name of Erika Farías, one of the candidates, written on the back of their shirts, but they’re not promoting candidates explicitly.

“Nobody is forcing me to be here with my Carnet,” said a young woman at Rosa’s Spot, “so why not? I rather wait here for a while today, than not receive my Clap next month.”

It’s true: there’s no one outside voting centers forcing you to register at the Punto, but a little fear goes a long way if you have a lot to lose. Betting on your empty stomach, chavismo knows you feel watched and you won’t risk it. It’s the perfect blackmail, the one you do to yourself.