Venezuelan service members can’t afford to rent a place to live in Caracas: The economic crisis (and their superiors’ orders) increasingly forces them to live in the barracks where they work.
According to the salary table circulating through the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB in Spanish), a general might earn about $30 a month, while rent can cost as much as $20 a month in an area east of Caracas.
Many admit they no longer wear the uniform on the streets to avoid verbal abuse from citizens. “They are rejected by society,” said to Diálogo Rocío San Miguel, lawyer and president of Control Ciudadano (Citizen Control), a Venezuelan nongovernmental organization.
The salary they earn from Nicolás Maduro’s government “is not enough to support a family or even themselves,” and in addition, service members suffer from “grave social security shortcomings, in terms of medical insurance and other social services,” San Miguel added.
This is the “military family” Hugo Chávez spoke of and to whom he tried to grant greater benefits and perks throughout his extended mandate (1999-2013).
Maduro attempted to bribe the military with home appliances and even Chinese cars, according to their level of loyalty and seniority. He also tried to provide subsidized food through Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAP in Spanish). But discontent is palpable: It’s been a year since the military received any benefit other than food.
In mid-June, Diálogo visited the stores of the Armed Forces Social Provision Institute (IPSFA in Spanish) in Caracas, which facilitates loans to service members for the purchase of homes, home appliances, furniture, and also offers medical services. Although IPSFA expanded from a few stores to a four-story shopping center with a movie theater, supply and demand has decreased. Service members, some in uniform, wander the center with their families, window-shopping only to return home empty-handed. Prices are not competitive with those in other stores.
One service member, his wife and two children, walk with a small plastic bag in hand. A home appliance storefront grabs their attention and they linger, looking at cellphones and solar-powered lamps. They don’t buy anything, nor do they even enter the store. The cheapest cellphone costs as much as a general’s monthly salary.
A modest dwelling in the Venezuelan countryside: air conditioning and cable TV are a luxury, but blackouts are common. It’s the home of a FANB commander and “Beiby,” his 20-year-old daughter.
Chinese home appliances distinguish Beiby’s home, but what is more significant than an air conditioner is the other rare perk that arrives at their doorstep nearly every month: a second CLAP box.
Also known as “Soviets’ food,” CLAP send subsidized food to 30 percent of Venezuelans (service members, militants, government supporters, and others who identify themselves as Chavistas) once every three months or less. Boxes of low quality, wholesale food products are distributed as a social control tool, or so denounces Maduro’s opposition. The young woman complains about the CLAP food quality, saying the milk is “very bad,” and variety is scant. “Sometimes we only get lentils,” she says about the box that doesn’t provide enough for a month.
When asked to sum up the benefits her household receives as the family of a high-ranking officer, the list is short: “Another CLAP box and access to the base pharmacy,” she says. That’s all. They own their home, which FANB financed, but her dad spends more time on base than at home. Many of the other service members aren’t so lucky.
No home and on base
Diálogo also spoke to another officer who receives a second CLAP box every month, and which, he says, is little compensation for the work he does as a Venezuelan service member.
The young, educated man is a lieutenant who works in Venezuela’s largest military base, in Caracas. He lives permanently on base and shares the second CLAP box he receives, almost monthly, with his family.
He doesn’t enjoy living on base. He wishes he had a home, or at least a place of his own. But the government doesn’t help him with either. The tendency, he says, is to force service members to live on base. The lieutenant says he feels they’re being concentrated in one spot; they’re quartered — as if in preparation for something big.