Photo: Retrieved from Carmen Meléndez’s Twitter account
Saturday mornings are pretty calm downtown Caracas, but last December saw huge lines from Plaza Bolívar to La Marrón (two Godzilla-sized blocks) breaking the trend, with chaos and racket. I arrived before 7:30 a.m., and lost count of how many people were waiting, arriving and losing their patience.
Old and young, mothers (with babies) and paperboard on the floor, evidence that someone got there the night before. At the Plaza Bolívar, a small group waited on chairs, heckled by the National Guard.
“You can’t be here, ma’am, move along” a soldier said to me.
“I’m sorry, but what’s this line is for?”
“The Carnet de la Patria.”
“I’ve been here since 4:00 a.m.” a man in a baseball cap told me. “There were a lot of people already, a group for the Bono Navideño that we are not getting, but we hope to be included in the next if we get our Carnet now. Before the end of the year, we’re going to have that bonus.”
Although soldiers said people would stay for mere hours, one of the hopeful aspirants told me this was “hasta que el cuerpo aguante.” Truth is, the line isn’t about getting some money, it’s about having less worries when going to sleep at night.
I know because this, sadly, isn’t my first report on the subject. Almost a year ago, most folks had no idea on what to do with their Carnet. It was all driven by faith, from people who expect to receive some benefit and from a government who expects this type of patronage to work.
They trust the government to feed them more than they trust the opposition to give us prosperity.
This time, faith was mixed with a fear for the future. Beyond the inevitable opportunists, there are people suffering a crisis with no way to earn hard currency, and for them not having the Carnet means not having medicine or food. Ideology is irrelevant if you have no options. Fear, be it of guns or abandonment from the state, works. When you see people laughing in line about getting money for nothing, it is infuriating, but there are also many people in this crowd who see no indignity in these lines because they have no tools to understand the conundrum. For them, patronage has always been a way of living. They trust the government to feed them more than they trust the opposition to give us prosperity. Eighteen years in, and this is how little we have grown.
“I was too lazy and didn’t get the Carnet the first time,” a 56-year-old lady says. “But then you hear about your neighbor getting money. It’s worth it. We are not getting the Christmas bonus, but maybe we’ll get it for Carnavales. I’m getting old and medicines are scarcer every day. If what they say is true (that you won’t get any meds without the Carnet), it’s better to do this line now.”
President Maduro, meanwhile, described the process as “phenomenal,” extending the operation for days. More than 15 million people, allegedly, have a Carnet de la Patria and everything will be done through it. “With the Carnet,” Maduro says, “we’ll govern from the bases, the towns, the missions.”
If what they say is true (that you won’t get any meds without the Carnet), it’s better to do this line now.
The fear that existed when the Carnet de la Patria was created is now a reality. Venezuelan culture makes it that, on December, expenses increase. The Government knows it and takes advantage of the season to give a little aguinaldo for those who get along with the show. Getting the Carnet means that you are enrolled in the PSUV? No, it just means that chavismo has all of your information.
You know what this is. There’s a plan for production and a plan for consumption. People must stick to it regardless of their actual needs, so you create a system to ensure that they feed themselves the way you want them to. Of course, nobody in the Party is subjected to the plan, the same way they are immune to all the other ailments affecting the verdadero pueblo. This is an old tale, and consequences may be slow, but they’re inevitable.
“People say that if you don’t have the Carnet, you won’t receive the CLAP bag. That won’t solve my food problems for a month, but it’ll help, and I’m not risking it” said a thirty-something woman with a baby in her arms.