During a broadcast this weekend promoting new socialist food distribution policies, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro jokingly referenced a popular nickname for the nation’s dire food shortages, telling a crowd, “Maduro’s diet gets you hard – no need for Viagra!”
During the aforementioned broadcast – meant to highlight the introduction of a magazine dedicated to the new Local Committees for Supply and Production (CLAP) – Maduro noticed a socialist officer appeared thinner than he remembered. “Why are you so thin, Gustavo?” Maduro asked, following up his question with “Maduro’s diet gets you hard,” a statement met with uproarious applause from the supportive crowd.
Maduro interrupted the applause to clarify his meaning: “no need for Viagra!”
The CLAP are local members of the United Venezuelan Socialist Party (PSUV) chosen for their loyalty to the party to distribute emergency food supplies in their neighborhoods. Opposition members have protested that CLAP leaders have leveraged their access to food to coerce citizens to attend party functions, support Maduro, and participate in attacks on opposition leaders. Maduro insists the groups are necessary because supermarkets have run out of food, forcing Venezuelans to spend up to eight hours on a line to buy their rations at their local market and often being turned away.
Opposition leaders have condemned Maduro’s joke. Henrique Capriles Radonski, who ran against Maduro in the last two presidential elections and continues serving as governor of Miranda state, renewed his call for a referendum vote for another presidential election. “Is it funny to you, Nicolás Maduro, that people refer to the ‘Maduro diet’?” he asked. “Thousands of Venezuelans are starving! They eat out of the garbage! Get out!”
Opposition legislator Miguel Pizarro noted the gravity of what is developing into a famine in Venezuela: “14.5 million Venezuelans – that is to say, 47.9 percent – eat twice a day, many without having protein and only carbohydrates, which fill the belly but are not nutritious.” Prominent screenwriter and opposition supporter Leonardo Padrón also expressed offense. “Every Venezuelan who wakes up today, opens their refrigerator, and finds it empty should think of Maduro’s joke,” he said on Twitter.
Maduro has previously made similarly insensitive comments about the food crisis in Venezuela, though none of such a lurid nature. In January, addressing growing food shortages, Maduro encouraged Venezuelans in urban centers to grow their own food, claiming that he and his wife keep a chicken coop and only eat eggs they produce. Both the dense population of urban centers and their rampant crime problem – Caracas is considered the world’s deadliest city not in a war zone – make such a plan impossible for most Venezuelans.
Venezuela has suffered food shortages for years, though they have worsened dramatically since late dictator Hugo Chávez died in 2013. Maduro implemented a ration card system in 2014 to control supermarket supplies. Finding basic goods like flour, vegetable oil, milk, and sugar outside of the black market became nearly impossible for the average Venezuelan. By 2016, however, riots on supermarket lines became a common occurrence. In May, for example, the government recorded 52 mass looting incidents. Among the most violent in recent memory, a 17-year-old was trampled to death and 400 people arrested as a crowd waiting for hours on a supermarket line stormed the business, chanting “we want food.”
“What happened yesterday is a situation that happens in towns and cities every day,” Sucre state governor Luis Acuña said of the incident.