U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the world to unite to find solutions to the hunger crisis in Venezuela at the World Food Prize Laureate Announcement Ceremony, arguing that “we all have an obligation” to get the country off of the “Maduro diet.”
The “Maduro diet” is the long-time nickname Venezuelans have used to describe severe food shortages in the country, an homage to socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro.
The 2019 World Food Prize went to Dutch agricultural scientist Simon Groot, whose work spans years designing disease-resistant wheat and rice, according to Pompeo. “Some estimate that he saved more than a billion lives. That’s with a ‘b,’ ‘billion.’ There’s no prize big enough to recognize this amazing work,” Pompeo noted.
Groot will receive a $250,000 award in recognition for his work. He is the first laureate from his native Netherlands.
Speaking at the award ceremony, Pompeo noted that food security is a significant challenge for much of humanity and threatens to destabilize even the developed world. He used Venezuela, once the wealthiest country in Latin America, as a cautionary tale.
“In Venezuela, for example, more than 60 percent of the country goes to bed hungry each and every night, and many have resorted to rummaging through garbage bins to feed themselves and their children,” Pompeo said. “Malnourishment is so widespread that Venezuelans refer to it as the ‘Maduro diet.'”
“We all have an obligation to work each of these problems. It isn’t just a human tragedy when we see hunger. When it takes hold of a country, it can perpetuate a destructive cycle of crime and violence and instability,” he noted.
According to Pompeo, over 820 million people on earth endure chronic hunger. The State Department, he said, is working with the private sector to send aid to some of the most troubled regions.
“Our diplomats work with local leaders, local governments to respond to food crises all across the world. And recipients of U.S. food assistance include the war-weary people of Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, and Yemen,” he noted. “We’ve stationed aid in Colombia for the Venezuelan people. We’re ready to do more in each of these locations.”
Pompeo said that, while the State Department is trying to help, “the solution probably won’t come from government.”
“Unlike government, innovators don’t view problems as obstacles, they view them as opportunities,” he noted.
Pompeo notably mentioned that the State Department has sent food to Colombia, but not to Venezuela, to help starving Venezuelans. The Trump administration did try to send humanitarian aid to Venezuela, but Maduro’s regime has blocked it. The regime has repeatedly denied the existence of a humanitarian aid problem in the country and claimed that American aid is meant to embarrass the regime. Maduro’s current Vice President Delcy Rodríguez, claimed on television in February that the United States’ food shipments to Venezuela were a nefarious, genocidal plot to kill Venezuelans. She referred to American food as “carcinogenic” and a “biological weapon.”
When the United States tried to send much-needed food and medicine to Venezuela via Colombia in March, Maduro’s government placed giant trailers on the main bridge connecting the two countries to prevent it from entering. On Palm Sunday, Pompeo visited the bridge, demanding Maduro allow the U.S. to help him feed his people.
“Mr. Maduro, open these bridges, open these borders. You can end this today. I hope that you care. I hope that you will care enough when you see the horror, when you see the tragedy, to change your ways and to leave your country,” Pompeo said in the Colombian border city of Cúcuta.
The $213 million in aid that the U.S. has sent for Venezuelans is largely being distributed to refugees in Cúcuta. Maduro closely regulates border crossings and only intermittently allows them. When he opened the border this weekend, the first time in four months, an estimated 18,000 people crossed into Colombia for food and medicine.
A currently circulating Senate bill would increase U.S. aid to Venezuela to $400 million.
Venezuela’s food situation has been alarming for years. Under late dictator Hugo Chávez, and later Maduro, the socialists “nationalized,” or robbed, the nation’s major farming industries and took over most farmlands, replacing experienced agricultural experts with their socialist cronies. The result has been a near complete halt in Venezuela’s agricultural production and reliance on aid from countries like China. Venezuela has similarly run out of medicine and gasoline, the latter despite having the world’s largest known oil reserves except for the United States.
In 2017, studies found that 93 percent of the country could not afford three meals a day. Only 32 percent said they could afford two meals; most only ate breakfast. Another 15 percent of Venezuelans relied on digging through garbage to find sustenance. By the end of 2017, the average Venezuelan had lost 24 pounds involuntarily, a product of not being able to secure enough food.
Venezuelans began to call this the “Maduro diet.”
Maduro himself has joked about the “diet.” In 2016, he said on television, “Maduro’s diet gets you hard … no need for Viagra!”