CARACAS (Reuters) – A bag of rice on a hungry family’s kitchen table could be the key to Nicolas Maduro retaining the support of poor Venezuelans in May’s presidential election.
For millions of Venezuelans suffering an unprecedented economic crisis, a monthly handout of a box of heavily-subsidised basic food supplies by Mr Maduro’s government has offered a tenuous lifeline in the once-prosperous OPEC nation.
The 55-year-old successor to Hugo Chavez introduced the so-called CLAP boxes in 2016 in a signature policy of his rule, continuing the socialist government’s strategy of seeking public support with cash bonuses and other giveaways.
Now, running for re-election on May 20, Mr Maduro says the CLAPs are his “most powerful weapon” to combat an “economic war” being waged by Washington, which brands him a “dictator” and has imposed sanctions.
Mariana, a single mother who lives in the poor hillside neighborhood in Caracas, says the handouts will decide her vote. “I and other women I know are going to vote for Maduro because he’s promising to keep giving CLAPs, which at least help fix some problems,” said the 30-year-old cook.
Mr Maduro’s rule since 2013 has coincided with a deep recession caused by a plunge in global oil prices and failed state-led economic policies. Yet the worse the economy gets, the more dependent some poor Venezuelans become on the state.
According to the government, six million families receive the benefit of the CLAP boxes.Venezuelans, anxiously wait for their monthly delivery.
The government sources almost all the CLAP goods from abroad, especially from Mexico, since Venezuela’s food production has shriveled and currency controls restrict private imports.
Critics, including Mr Maduro’s main challenger for the May 20 vote, Henri Falcon, say the CLAPs are a cynical form of political patronage and are rife with corruption.
The CLAP boxes usually contain rice, pasta, grains, cooking oil, powdered milk, canned tuna and other basic goods. Recipients pay 25,000 bolivars per box, or about $0.12 at the black market rate. Inflation is at more than 4,000 percent annually according to opposition data.
Even though Mr Maduro’s approval rating is only around 26 percent, according to one recent poll, his re-election looks likely as Venezuela’s opposition coalition is boycotting the vote.