During a televised address on Friday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, apparently believing the cameras were off, casually removed an empanada from his desk and took a hearty bite. For Venezuelans, in the midst of an economic crisis that has included severe food shortages, the moment was ripe with grim symbolism.
Inflation in once-affluent Venezuela has already reached nearly 700% by some estimates, and the IMF projects it will more than triple next year. Price controls have left store shelves empty, while wages and employment have cratered in real terms.
According to one survey, three-quarters of Venezuelans lost weight last year. The average weight lost was a staggering 19 pounds – what some have begun referring to as the “Maduro diet.” Many Venezuelans have reportedly resorted to scavenging for food in the garbage, while the crisis has also led to shortages of everything from medicine to toilet paper.
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Maduro’s nibble had some additional symbolic weight thanks to its timing, just days before the November 7 centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. That sea change opened the door to centrally-planned economies worldwide, and loosely inspired the “Bolivarian Revolution” led in the late 1990s by Maduro’s predecessor as President, Hugo Chavez.
Chavez implemented price controls, nationalized farms, and undertook other communist-inspired reforms that, for a time, benefited Venezuela’s poor and working classes. But the advances proved unsustainable, particularly given steep declines in the price of oil, Venezuela’s most lucrative export.
As Venezuela’s crisis has reached new depths over the past two years, strikes and demonstrations against Maduro have become widespread. In response, Maduro has moved to circumvent the nation’s democratic institutions and give himself sweeping new powers – though not, apparently, the power of self-control.