Photo: Panorama

The carnet de la patria gives dissidents a wide range of options in terms of the reactions it causes and the perspectives from which it’s seen.

Rejection is the most natural reaction, which usually leads to indignation. People resent the carnet de la patria as a humiliating instrument that forces them to bow their heads in exchange for scraps: food, services or medical attention. Supposedly, getting the carnet means submitting to the regime; a commitment that silently erodes the soul and the will to oppose them.

According to this line of thought, accepting the carnet also means accepting an already normalized—and intolerable—political discrimination. It means admitting that Venezuelans can be split into two categories: those who have their carnet and those who don’t. Those who got it would be, as the stale expression says, “first-class citizens.” The rest would be “second-class.” This, of course, according to the government.

People resent the carnet de la patria as a humiliating instrument that forces them to bow their heads in exchange for scraps.

On the other hand, getting the carnet means playing into the government’s political control schemes. You stood in line, you answered the questions they asked when you registered, they added you to a list: you’re under control.

Additionally, and from this perspective of control, you provided information. About you, about your family, your income, the size of the place you live in, the available rooms in it. It’s worth noting, from this angle, that the Cuban political police, where these tactics come from, was trained by the Stasi, East Germany’s political police, whose motto was: “Know everything about everyone.”

All of these considerations are valid foundations for the rejection inspired by the carnet de la patria, among those who haven’t gotten it—and say they never will—and also among those who did get it even though they oppose the government.

This last part leads us to other paths. For many Venezuelans, getting the carnet is no more than a pragmatic decision they make because they have true needs. The carnet actually helps to mitigate problems. Or perhaps, getting the carnet comes from a broader sense of pragmatism, people sometimes get it because it could help with who knows what, who knows when, who knows how.

In the current circumstances, such action carries no greater meaning for many Venezuelans, neither in terms of personal dignity nor in terms of political loyalties. However, it can have an unintended effect, increasing rejection against a government that forces people to do things they would’ve never done willingly, just to fulfill the imperative need for medicine, food or anything else. The carnet is something that would have no place in the country we have the right to live in.

For many Venezuelans, getting the carnet is no more than a pragmatic decision they make because they have true needs.

We can go further on this. A great deal of citizens have gotten their carnet de la patria. Many more than the number of people who, according to every poll, still support the government. According to the always reliable information offered by Víctor Salmerón, the number of carnet holders is close to twenty million people. That must contain almost all government loyalists that are left along with a much larger number of dissidents. The government would lose elections held in that universe. It’s possible that the total number will keep increasing, with the pace marked by shortages and suffering, with more and more dissidents with their carnet in their pockets. For a State as ruined as Venezuela’s, this means an unmanageable amount of people and information. Perhaps in the hands of the well-organized East Germany State, the Stasi’s files were a formidable instrument of control, but not in Venezuela. The more the carnet de la patria turns into a kind of alternative ID card that almost everyone has, the less useful it is as an instrument of control.

The same goes for the point of discrimination. In the current situation, the government can only discriminate in favor of a few people. It lacks resources for more. If only government supporters had gotten the document, the discrimination would work. But if the amount people with the necessary credentials to be considered “first-class citizens” is larger, the credential stops being useful, since holders won’t get the service they’re supposed to get with their carnets. As I write this, I have to underscore the sad irony of talking about “first-class citizens” in today’s Venezuela.

This suggests practicing reductio ad absurdum with the notion behind the carnet de la patria. As I believe, some people already shared the idea on social media: what would happen if all of us got the carnet de la patria? Strictly speaking, it would be ridiculed. It would simply stop working as a means of control, as an instrument of political discrimination, burying our public administration—if we can call it that—under piles of information, rendered useless by its sheer volume.

But let’s stop with the mind games. Let’s allow Venezuelan citizens to react according to their situation and their possibilities, following their natural inclinations.

Let’s allow Venezuelan citizens to react according to their situation and their possibilities, following their natural inclinations.

Nobody’s going to get the carnet to neutralize its usefulness, starting with me. Nobody’s such a “strategist”. All those who can afford not to get it, won’t get it. Those who are crushed by a pressing need—we all know the cases—will get it and it’ll become increasingly more dissident. The same goes for people who feel vulnerable and seek out ways to allegedly protect themselves, even with the justified suspicion that it won’t do any good or perhaps in the ignorance surrounding what the hell it might be useful for.

I think we can conclude that the connection between the carnet de la patria and some sort of support for the regime is broken. The fact that the government parrots carnet holder figures as some kind of “success” is just one more example of their limitations. We Venezuelans know very well what to think about the matter, as shown by the figures of the regime’s popular support.

But yes: the carnet de la patria is insulting. It’s insulting that the country has a government capable of conceiving such an instrument. It’s insulting that the country has reached a situation where such an instrument was created to control and discriminate. The fact that we’ve rendered it pointless or might do so, was something the government didn’t consider.

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Lawyer and political scientist. Founder of the School of Political Studies of the UCV, where he taught History of Political Ideas and the Venezuelan Political System. Individual of number of Venezuela's National Academy of History. Visiting Professor at St. Antony's College, Oxford University. Since 2000, he has been conducting the radio program La Linterna at RCR. He was Director of El Diario de Caracas and Deputy to the National Congress. He has published several books on Venezuelan political history, oil history, analysis of the Venezuelan political system.