Maduro challenger promises US dollar giveaway for Venezuelans

Henri Falcón is running for President of Venezuela. (Reuters pic)

CARACAS: Opposition presidential candidate Henri Falcón’s campaign vowed on Tuesday to implement a US$25 (RM98) monthly giveaway to Venezuelans as part of plans to help the crisis-hit economy recover and alleviate the citizens’ suffering should he win the May 20 vote.

Former state governor Falcón, 56, has broken with an opposition boycott to stand against President Nicolás Maduro in a vote critics say is rigged in advance to perpetuate a socialist “dictatorship” in the OPEC nation.

Falcón says he is a natural transition candidate with appeal to a majority fed up with political polarization and economic chaos, and some polls have put him ahead of Maduro.

But the government is linking loyalty at the ballot box to welfare handouts, including a food bag many poor Venezuelans rely on, and benefits from a compliant election board accused of fraud in two recent elections.

During an event at Falcón’s “National Salvation” campaign headquarters in Caracas, his economic policy adviser Francisco Rodríguez said adults would receive a “solidarity card” giving them US$25 (RM98) a month and children US$10 (RM39) under their new government.

Venezuela has for 15 years maintained currency controls that make it difficult to obtain foreign exchange and prohibit merchants from charging in US currency. A black market does exist, however, where one dollar (RM3.93) goes for 231,000 bolívars (RM18.14).

Falcón proposes abandoning the increasingly worthless bolívar in favour of the US dollar to attack hyper-inflation.

“Today our future begins,” Rodríguez, a Wall Street economist, told a rally to present Falcón’s campaign team.

“We find ourselves in a ruined nation. There is only one person to blame: Nicolás Maduro.”

At Tuesday’s event, Falcón taunted Maduro as “the candidate of hunger” and “the candidate of disaster”, and announced plans to begin his street campaign in eastern Venezuela on Wednesday.

Falcón’s populist “solidarity card” mirrors an existing “fatherland card” set up by the Maduro government through which Venezuelans can access welfare programs and sometimes cash giveaways. Falcón, however, mocked the amount given people in bolívars, saying it was not even enough to buy a box of eggs.