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Why children’s growth is stunted in Venezuela

By Enni Li
web posted October 17, 2022

When I was a child, I was always a picky eater. One time, my mother made a dinner which I was absolutely determined would not eat. However, in our house, we have a “waste not want not” policy so my parents told me I couldn’t leave the table until I finished my dinner. I must have sat at that table for two hours. But still, I had made up my mind: I absolutely refused to eat my dinner, no matter what happened. However, I didn’t exactly want to spend my entire night at the dining table, so I came up with a brilliant scheme to pretend to fall asleep. It worked. Soon enough, my unknowing father had carried me up to bed and the next morning, that dinner was nowhere to be seen. 

When we’re children, our parents always urge us to eat by telling us about all the unfortunate poor children who would be oh-so grateful for even a sliver of our privilege. Typically, we roll our eyes. But however little we like to think about it, what they say is true. In fact, forty-two percent out of 46,000 Venezuelan children suffer from malnourishment. This equates to about 19,320 children unsure about when they’ll eat next. 19,320 children that are little more than skin and bone. 19,320 children whose mental and physical potential could be damaged permanently. When Venezuela is a peaceful nation with fertile lands and plentiful oil reserves, it appears strange that such an outwardly abundant country could lead to such crippling poverty. The root of the issue seems to be Venezuela’s corrupt, authoritarian government which is killing the country from the inside. While Venezuelan citizens receive aid whenever the president experiences a sudden tendency towards morality, Venezuela must ultimately experience governmental reform to truly progress towards prosperity. 

So first of all, what began this economic crisis in the first place? The root cause can be found in Venezuela’s corrupt government, which severely mismanaged its resources. One example was the government’s implementation of price ceilings beginning in 2003, which forced firms to sell their products below a certain price. In this case, the product was food. Perhaps, the government actually had good intentions in wanting to offer lower prices to consumers. However, price ceilings first undercut supermarkets’ incentives to supply their shelves, and then, as the controls spread, damaged farmers’ motivations to produce that supply. Consequently, Venezuela dealt with producers supplying less and less food. 

However, this wasn’t where the government’s blunders ended. Starting from the mid 2000s, the government instituted a policy called nationalization, which refers to when the government takes over a private company. Although this generally has issues anyways, it proved especially crippling to the Venezuelan economy as the government started seizing major amounts of farmland. As the Venezuelan government began invading the agricultural sector, farmers had even less incentive to produce food. After all, they were now only held accountable by a corrupt government and not the actual market. The government’s thefts grew and grew and consequently, Venezuelan production of food fell and fell. Obviously, this created a severe food shortage as demand for food continued while supply crashed. To compensate, Venezuela began importing more food as well, which they were able to do due to their high exports of oil. However, this only worked until 2014 when the price of oil collapsed. Consequently, Venezuela no longer had the funds to produce so many imports when they received less and less from oil sales. This issue only grew worse when the United States instituted an oil sanction on Venezuela, halting their trade. As the United States is Venezuela’s top customer of oil, this understandably had severe effects. In short, the Venezuelan economy began to crumble. 

In an attempt to recover from this catastrophe, the Venezuelan government offered citizens food boxes. While this might seem like a rare gesture of kindness, in reality, it only helps further government control. The Venezuelan government created this economic disaster and now, they only can remediate its effects. This puts the citizens in a position of if you don’t support the government, you will starve. Furthermore, even if the government is not intentionally holding back food from its people, they still are. Among a survey of 17,000 people, 60% said that food boxes were only arriving once every three months, or even less frequently. In the end, the government’s helping hand is only another stinging slap to the Venezuelan people and economy. 

What are the results of this government and consequently, economic failure? As one can imagine, starvation rates have been devastating. The United Nations states that one in three Venezuelans—which approximates to around 9 million people—were food insecure. That means nine million people who either eat less than three meals a day or don’t even know if they’ll get a meal at all. As for the children? Pediatrician Dr. Guerra expressed her concern when weighing a boy in her office. While the average seven year old should weigh around 46 or 51 pounds, her patient weighs a mere 37 pounds. When Venezuelan children do eat, they partake of cheap foods such as grains and cereal instead of the meat and dairy that they require. Even if Venezuela’s food shortage is resolved, the effects of malnutrition on Venezuela’s children can never be fully reversed. If you do not receive proper nutrition up until age six, the impact on your physical and mental development are most likely to be permanent. This devastates Venezuela further not only on an individual level, but on an economic level. If Venezuelan children cannot develop properly, when they become adults, they will not be able to contribute to the workforce as beneficially as they could.  This will harm Venezuela’s human capital and only worsen its already decaying economy. 

Is there hope for Venezuela? President Maduro recently agreed to provide meals for 1.5 million of pre-school children and children with disabilities in Venezuela’s most poverty-stricken areas. While this is a step in the right direction, Venezuela’s government is still steeped in corruption, which includes their president. Furthermore, only providing for the most disadvantaged pre-school and disabled children is not nearly enough to remedy the nationwide epidemic of malnutrition. As long as Venezuela’s corrupt government stands, their people cannot hope for salvation.

However, there is a chance that the tides could turn. Beginning from 2019, a presidential crisis began when Juan Guaidó and the National Assembly challenged Maduro’s right to presidency. However, controversy about Maduro’s election stemmed all the way from 2013, when protests first began. Over time, Maduro’s popularity ratings have drastically declined whereas Guaidó’s has only continued to climb. Could Guaidó save Venezuela? With policies urging humanitarian aid, he could give the country a fighting chance. However, it is possible that Guaidó could also have malicious intentions which would end up plunging the country into further downfall. Nevertheless, something must change in Venezuela or it will only continue to decline. As of now, Guaidó seems the best beckoner of that change. 

When Venezuela has so much potential for prosperity in its natural resources, it is shameful that it should so struggle with poverty, hyperinflation, disease, crime, and starvation solely because of a dishonorable government. The government’s installation of price ceilings and nationalization caused a national food shortage which plummeted the country’s economy and wrecked the lives of its citizens. If I had known about all the poor unfortunate children in Venezuela back then, maybe I would have finished my dinner. But one American child eating her food and sending all her love to Venezuela won’t solve the country’s crisis. Only when Venezuela’s government overcomes its festering corruption, can Venezuela’s people be saved. ESR

This is Enni Li’s first contribution to Enter Stage Right. (c) 2022 Enni Li

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