It is perhaps the world’s cheapest mobile phone. It is the latest offering from Hugo Chavez’s socialist revolution. And its name is derived from a slang word for penis. Behold the Vergatorio.
Venezuela’s president launched the handset on his TV show with a Mother’s Day call to his mum and predicted it would conquer all rivals. “This telephone will be the biggest seller not only in Venezuela but the world,” he said. “Whoever doesn’t have a Vergatario is nothing,” he joked.
Priced just $15 (nearly £10), the phone has a camera, WAP internet access, FM radio and MP3 and MP4 players for music and videos. And it has that name.
Why the president chose it remains unclear, but he enunciates each syllable with a grin. Some laugh, others are affronted.
Verga is slang for penis and vergatario is a newly minted word which signifies excellent but retains connotations from its root.
The word verga, and variations of it, are associated with Venezuela’s second city, Maracaibo. Residents are famous for swearing and using Spanish verbal constructions uncommon in the rest of Venezuela.
“It’s gross. I can’t believe they named it something so vulgar,” said Leonor Diaz, 52, a cleaner. Others however consider the name playful and harmless.
The newspaper El Universal issued readers a challenge. “Say Vergatario in front of a mirror. Pronounce this obscenity syllable by syllable, slowly, and note the expression on your face.”
Chavez, a decade in power, is a shrewd communicator who often uses salty expressions to mark himself out as a man of the people. He called George Bush a “pendejo”, a term derived from pubic hair which can be translated as asshole or jerk.
A government subsidy which cut the retail price to a quarter of the manufacturing cost is likely to make the Vergatario an immediate hit. There is a waiting list for the first 10,000 units expected to be released this week.
Production this year has been set at 600,000, rising to 2m in 2011, when the government hopes to export the model to the Caribbean and then further afield.
Parts are imported from China and assembled in a factory in western Venezuela run by a new company, Vetelca, 85% owned by the Venezuelan state and 15% by the Chinese company ZTE.
The government, facing a financial crunch and labour unrest over tumbling oil revenues, said the investment would boost the country’s “technological independence”.
Chavez turned a segment of his weekly TV show into a promotion. “Has your Vergatorio arrived?” he asked his mother. “This is the first call I’ve made with my Vergatorio.”