Socialist Venezuela’s plastic surgery industry continues to thrive and attract tourists from nearby Brazil for cheap operations even as the country’s economic and humanitarian crisis continues to worsen.
Many patients go to the Venezuelan border town of Puerto Ordaz to save money on operations such as liposuction, breast augmentation, and the corresponding buttock surgery, which cost around 10,000 Brazilian real – equivalent to $3,000 – in Venezuela. In Brazil, these procedures can cost up to three times as much.
Operations are cheaper as a result of high demand and the devaluation of the Venezuelan bolívar, which has driven down the cost to the cheapest in the world.
“Most of my patients are Brazilians,” nurse Maia, who runs a retreat named the Powerful Women of Dr. Jorge Balekji, said in an interview with the BBC. “They come here to realize their dream of plastic surgery. In our country, it is very expensive.”
Venezuela has one of the highest plastic surgery rates in the world, with thousands of women undergoing operations year after year.
“Today, I feel like the happiest woman on earth, with these 400ml silicone implants placed in me,” added Vanessa Faria Silva, a surgery patient. “I love my breasts. … My self-esteem is high, and I am a happy woman.”
Yet amid an economic crisis that has led to chronic shortages of basic resources, the country has also experienced a shortage of breast implants, forcing overeager women to take risks with shady products to make up for it.
The country has also come under criticism for the existence of “beauty factories,” as girls as young as 12 receive operations such as butt lifts and nose jobs in an effort to compete at Venezuela’s famous beauty pageants.
There have also been reports of extreme measures to keep children’s weight down, which include tying up girls’ tongues to prevent them from eating solids, cutting out part of their intestines to allow food to go undigested, and injecting them with hormones to delay the onset of puberty with the hope that they grow taller. Unsuccessful operations have also led to serious health – and sometimes tragic – consequences as a result of infections stemming from liquid silicon.
The practice is looked down upon by the Maduro dictatorship, who view it as incompatible with the regime’s Marxist values.