Maduro challenger promises U.S. dollar giveaway for Venezuelans

CARACAS (Reuters) - Opposition presidential candidate Henri Falcon’s campaign vowed on Tuesday to implement a $25 monthly giveaway to Venezuelans, as part of plans to dollarize the crisis-hit economy and alleviate suffering should he win the May 20 vote.

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

Falcon 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 Falcon’s “National Salvation” campaign headquarters in Caracas, his economic policy adviser Francisco Rodriguez said adults would receive a “solidarity card” giving them $25 a month, and children $10, 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 U.S. currency. A black market does exist, however, where one dollar goes for 231,000 bolivars.

Falcon proposes abandoning the increasingly worthless bolivar in favor of the dollar to attack hyper-inflation.

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

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

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

Falcon’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. Falcon, however, mocked the amount given people in bolivars, saying it was not even enough to buy a box of eggs.

Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Alistair Bell