This past May, with crashing cymbals, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela made a gift of a house to his follower number 3 million on his famous Twitter account, @Chavezcandanga. Giving houses away to low-income Venezuelans has been a common practice of the Venezuelan president, but now he’s up for reelection and opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski is waging an intense campaign against him. So the gifting of houses is being broadcast live and direct over the official television station. Every Thursday that act of delivering thousands of houses in different zones of the country is aired over live TV to the entire country on a show called “Jueves de Vivienda” (“Housing Thursday”). The houses are distributed based on a national registry in which more than 3.6 million families enrolled between May and October 2011. According to the government, last year almost 150,000 homes were given away. This year the figure has already surpassed 70,000 and promises to reach 200,000. The number of houses promised to be given away is 3 million during Chavez’s next administration, if he ends up winning the elections and if his health holds out.
The government’s gifts and the vow that more will be coming are not simply a promise kept, obviously consistent with Chavez’s ideology of a paternal government that provides for its citizens. It could also be interpreted as a bribe, as direct vote-buying not at all unlike what occurred in Mexico with the prepaid gift cards.
The televised spectacle includes declarations of love to the President from those benefitted (generally female beneficiaries) and all types of expressions of support for Chavez. The promise is that if he is reelected, the gifts and benefits will continue, for a sector of the population, using the wealth of the Venezuelan State that belongs equally to all.