Venezuelan state television broadcast a lavish birthday soirée for socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro on Monday, featuring salsa dancing, a full Mexican mariachi band, and a giant cake decorated with the nation’s flag.
Two decades of socialism have turned Venezuela, once the wealthiest nation in Latin America, into a failed state where many dig through trash or eat pets to survive. Most Venezuelans have not had full access to food or key medicines since at least 2016; the nation ran out of gasoline this autumn after Maduro and predecessor Hugo Chávez replaced most engineers at the state-run oil company, PDVSA, with socialist cronies. Given the dilapidated state of most supermarkets in Caracas, it is not immediately clear where Maduro’s staff found the ingredients for an elaborately decorated cake.
Maduro turned 58 on Monday.
Video footage from state-run VTV network showed Maduro surrounded by family — his wife and lawmaker Cilia Flores and son and lawmaker Nicolás Maduro Guerra by his side — while he thanked several musicians who traveled to the presidential palace, Miraflores, to celebrate him. Miraflores was decorated in early November for Christmas, as Maduro has extended celebrations of the holiday to last two months.
— VTV CANAL 8 (@VTVcanal8) November 24, 2020
“I’m turning 58 well-lived years, with bagpipes, poems, and messages that reach me through social media,” Maduro wrote on Twitter, sharing photos of himself dancing salsa with his wife and lighting a large firecracker on his cake. “The best gift, without a doubt, the love, affection, and unconditional support of the Venezuelan people. We will continue the battle with renewed energy. Thank you, God bless you!”
Estoy cumpliendo 58 años bien vividos, con gaitas, poemas y mensajes que me llegan a través de las redes sociales. El mejor regalo, sin duda, el amor, el cariño y el apoyo incondicional del Pueblo venezolano. Seguiremos en batalla con energía renovada. ¡Gracias, Dios los Bendiga! pic.twitter.com/39WVwYoUqc
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) November 24, 2020
VTV applauded Maduro in its official coverage of the event as “a man who year by year grows along with his people and remains firm in the resistance.”
“A man of dialogue, of faith, of ideas, an indomitable and indestructible human being who throughout his second presidential term, in the political realm, has realized more than 600 calls to dialogue and peace to sectors of the Venezuelan opposition, despite the boycott by spokesmen influenced by the United States,” VTV narrated. The boycott is presumably a reference to calls from opposition leaders not to participate in the December 6 legislative election, which the Organization of American States (OAS) has confirmed will be neither firm nor fair given that non-socialist candidates are not allowed to participate and Maduro-era elections have been marked by regular violence and intimidation against voters.
The United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) also celebrated its leader with a post on Twitter, lauding the “boss, brother, friend, son, father … man of a million battles who hasn’t had it easy, but there he is, showing that Venezuelans are strong and we do not succumb to any blackmail or threats.”
¡FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS NICOLÁS! 🎉🎊🎈🎂
Jefe, hermano, amigo, hijo, padre… Hombre de mil batallas a quien no le ha tocado fácil, pero ahí está, demostrando que los venezolanos somos fuertes y no caemos bajo ningún chantaje o amenaza. pic.twitter.com/aRFIAH4DCI
— PSUV (@PartidoPSUV) November 23, 2020
Delcy Rodríguez, a senior Maduro henchwoman who has served as vice president and foreign minister, celebrated her boss with a salsa music video. Maduro is a famed lover of salsa music and hosted a radio program called Salsa Time that debuted at the height of the 2016 protests, which ended largely because Maduro ordered the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) to torture and kill protesters.
— Delcy Rodríguez (@drodriven2) November 23, 2020
The festivities for Maduro on Monday occurred as a tragedy unfolded in the Caribbean, courtesy of the migrant crisis Maduro’s regime created. The government of Trinidad and Tobago rejected a boat full of Venezuelan refugees this weekend, resulting in the boat’s disappearance. Authorities are struggling to find the refugees, a group that included 16 children. The youngest child is believed to be four months old. Maduro has not weighed in on the situation at press time.
The opposition-run National Assembly, the federal legislature, declared a “nutritional emergency” in the country in 2016, stating that most Venezuelans do not have regular access to food. At the time, Maduro placed the nation on a ration system that prevented purchases of food beyond what the government deemed appropriate for each family, creating a thriving black market that has since diminished along with general access to food.
In Caracas, where Maduro’s government does little to properly dispose of food, many Venezuelan families scavenge through the large piles of trash on street corners to find food. In 2018, one NGO estimated that as many as 80 percent of Venezuelans did not have proper access to food. Even before that, in 2016, one study found that 75 percent of Venezuelans lost 19 pounds between the beginning and end of 2016. Reports of Venezuelans eating dogs, cats, and zoo animals have surfaced regularly in the past decade.
Venezuelans have come to term the weight loss triggered by not having food the “Maduro diet.” Maduro himself has joked on national television that the “Maduro diet” helps men with their sexual virility.
When discussing the mass starvation of his country more seriously, Maduro has proposed installing chicken coops in classrooms to feed children, a significant sanitary hazard. Venezuelan schools are largely closed currently due to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, which also requires heightened sanitary measures.