Holy Handouts: Venezuela’s Maduro Woos Evangelical Voters with Gifts and Cash

As the presidential election approaches, the incumbent government seeks to win support with aid to churches and pastors.

In many countries, politicians try to win over religious voters by highlighting areas of shared interest between their agenda and the faithful’s priorities. In Venezuela, candidates are offering pastors cash.

With less than three months until Venezuela’s presidential elections, incumbent Nicolás Maduro is expanding two initiatives specifically aimed at the evangelical community, which represents 30.9 percent of the country’s population.

Bono El Buen Pastor (“The Good Shepherd Bonus”), created last year, and Plan Mi Iglesia Bien Equipada (“My Well-Equipped Church Plan”) offer resources to pastors and their churches, including cash, chairs, construction materials, and expensive sound equipment—no strings attached. Mi Iglesia Bien Equipada exists under Misión Venezuela Bella, a government program that invests in recreation and arts spaces, which has remodeled nearly 3,000 churches since 2019.

At the beginning of March, Maduro gathered 17,000 people in a pastors-only event in the northern city of Carabobo and announced that 20,000 additional pastors had become beneficiaries of the Bono El Buen Pastor program, which would deliver a monthly stipend of 495 bolivars (around $14 USD) to each new member. (Venezuela’s minimum legal monthly wage is 130 bolivars or $3.50.)

Officially, the government says the program aims to give churchgoers dignified spaces where they can develop their faith. There are, however, those who view the state’s generosity with some suspicion.

César Mermejo, president of the Evangelical Council of Venezuela and a leader of the Federación de Iglesias Mizpa de Venezuela, called these efforts by Maduro an attempt to buy the souls …

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