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Red, white and blue... and black and blue
However, this year’s presidential election on December 3 promises to be one of the most colorful ever. As I started to write this, a fight was under way to decide who had the right to use the color blue.
But before we get to blue, think black.
The two major candidates are incumbent President Hugo Chávez and Manuel Rosales, the governor of the oil-producing state of Zulia. Rosales began his campaigning by announcing that, if elected, he would distribute black cards, which he called, “Mi Negra (My Black).” These would be similar to debit cards and would entitle the holder to about two or three hundred dollars monthly. This would be Rosales’s way of giving the Venezuelans a share of the oil income the country is receiving.
It has not been totally clear who would be eligible to receive these cards nor who would get how much, although it was said that women should receive them because they are more responsible than men in the use of money and in the management of a family. In any case, “Mi Negra” has become one of the fundamental promises of Rosales government.
But there is a problem. The word “black” in Spanish can be masculine (negro) or feminine (negra). The word for a debit card (tarjeta) is feminine and therefore “Mi Negra” is grammatically correct — “my black debit card.” However, “Mi Negra” in
Rosales has said that it doesn’t have racial undertones. The black refers to petroleum. But if that were the case, it should have been called, “Mi Negro” since “petroleo” is a masculine word in Spanish.
To me it shows the clumsiness of the opposition as they try to reach the lower economic classes, but have no idea of what these people are thinking. When I asked two women in a small farming community what they thought of the term, they were insulted. A young hotdog vendor told me the whole idea of giving such cards was a lie.
Should Rosales be elected and should the “Mi Negra’s” come into existence, who would benefit most? Not the recipients. First, the banks that would have the money until spent plus the commission they receive for each sale. Secondly, the larger commercial establishments that have the facilities to accept debit cards. The hotdog vendor I was speaking with would be left out of this circle of prosperity, as would the other street vendors and the small neighborhood grocers. And while the opposition criticizes Chávez for handing out money recklessly, (Rosales has even called Chávez supporters, “parasites”), this plan seems even more reckless.
Moving on, I see another colorful blunder in the colors Rosales’s campaign is using in their graffiti on the walls of the city: red, white and blue. One doesn’t have to go along with Chávez’s disdain for the president of the United States, but to flaunt the colors of the flag of the U.S. in a political match where most of the country is in opposition to U.S. foreign policy seems rather stupid to me. Although many countries have these colors in their flags, they are primarily identified here with the
However, the opposition is not alone in its clumsiness with colors. Chávez supporters have long sported the color red. I think it dates back to the red beret Chávez was wearing on 4 February 1992 when he unsuccessfully tried to oust the unpopular president, Carlos Andres Perez. Today, red t-shirts and baseball caps are seen on the streets in abundance. Everyone from sanitation workers to mayors sport them. You can buy talking Chávez dolls on the street—with red shirts and red berets, of course.
But recently, Chávez campaign advisors hired some foreign experts who decided that Chávez should start wearing blue shirts. It’s a warmer color, they said.
I have nothing against blue. It has been my favorite color since childhood. I count more blue in my wardrobe than any other color. As I look at my closet, the only red thing I see is the binding of a dictionary. But I will probably wear a pastel yellow shirt the next time I observe a rally in favor of Chávez. You see blue has also become Rosales’ principal color. So as not to be identified with either group, the safest thing for me walking alone through the streets is to be as neutral as possible. It’s one thing for Chávez to wear a blue shirt—to be warmer—it’s another thing for Charlie to wear one at a Chávez rally.
But just to confuse you a bit more, here is another blue problem. The PPT (Patria Para Todos—the Fatherland for Everyone) party, which is one of the largest bases of support for Chávez, maintains that blue belongs to them and that Rosales shouldn’t be using the color at all. So if you have a blue shirt with PPT on it, you’re ok at a Chávez rally but without the PPT you might be taken for a Rosales supporter.
The Electoral Commission has now said, however, that during the campaign, parties can use whatever colors they want to and thus both the PPT and Rosales campaign can use blue. Big deal!
Chavez supporters marching in Caracas, September 2006
A young Canadian who is voluntarily teaching in a remote mountainous coffee growing area of Venezuela showed me a photo he took a few days ago following a sixth grade graduation. About fifty adults received diplomas. Yes, adults! The pride I saw in the faces of these people, some in their 60s and 70s, is still engraved in my memory.
The other day I called Tony and Nohelia. Tony used to live in the cardboard shack in front of mine in Nueva Tacagua. Nohelia lived in a tenement building not far away. They were teenagers when I first met them. Now they are in their mid-thirties and have two children.
Nohelia answered her cellular phone and said she couldn’t speak at the moment because she was in a class at the university.
If Chávez hadn’t been elected president, the 70 year-old wouldn’t be holding a sixth grade diploma today and Nohelia wouldn’t be enrolled in a university toting a cell phone.
Don’t expect Chávez to lose the election on December 3.
Charles Hardy ©
Charles Hardy is author of a forthcoming book on