Millions of Venezuelans may have fled their country to escape a grinding socio-economic crisis, but the country’s embattled president has a novel solution: have more children.
“Give birth!” Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president, said at a televised event promoting a women’s healthcare plan on Tuesday evening. “Every woman is to have six children! Every one! For the good of the country!”
The comment sparked outrage in the country where a deepening economic crisis is felt across society. Venezuela’s central bank said inflation reached nearly 10,000% last year, while shortages from basic foodstuffs to medical supplies are widespread.
Child malnutrition is estimated at 13%, according to Unicef.
Venezuela’s government has not published infant mortality figures since 2017, when a health ministry bulletin revealed that 11,466 children had died the previous year – a 30% jump in infant mortality.
The crisis has caused around 4.5m Venezuelans to flee, with 1m children left behind.
“Hospitals are not functioning, vaccines are scarce, women cannot breastfeed because they are malnourished or buy baby formula because it is unaffordable, and the country faces forced migration due to the humanitarian emergency,” tweeted Manuela Bolivar, an opposition politician.
Women’s rights groups were similarly outraged. AVESA, based in Caracas, called Maduro’s comments “unacceptable”, adding that “we women are much more than a womb, we are citizens with rights.”
Some doubt surrounds the substance of Maduro’s women’s healthcare plan, of which few details have been made public beyond the call for increasing the nation’s birthrate. One Venezuelan health expert told The Guardian that it is unclear if the plan actually exists.
Maduro has previously been criticised for his apparent indifference to his compatriots’ suffering. With one in three Venezuelans struggling with hunger, he was filmed in 2017 snacking on an empanada during a televised speech from Miraflores, the presidential palace. The following year, he faced further criticism after he was filmed feasting on steak prepared by a celebrity chef during a visit to Turkey.
Some analysts see Maduro’s comments as sinister rather than merely insensitive.
“I am not sure if it is tone deafness or a very real effort to create the nation he wants,” said David Smilde, a Venezuela expert at the Washington Office on Latin America thinktank. “Maduro – and Chávez before him – have step-by-step sought to replace existing institutions and symbols with versions more amenable to their revolution – from unions, to universities, to educational curriculum.”
“In normal circumstances, a new effort to attend to pregnancy and lactation should be welcome, but in a context in which he has shown the desire to replace every aspect of Venezuelan society that gets in his way with versions more amenable to to his project, these statements hit a nerve.”