Howard-Hassmann, Rhoda E. “The Right to Food Under Hugo Chávez.” Human Rights Quarterly. 37, no. 4 (2015): 1028

            Nicolas Maduro has enabled a weaponization of hunger to happen in Venezuela by implementing restrictive social policies that have allowed his regime to operate a state-orchestrated monopoly on food. While founded in the best of intentions, price controls were put in place in 2002 on staple goods such as flour and vegetable oil during Venezuela’s economic boon in an effort to protect its citizen’s access to food[1]. Eventually, the state created markets that sold goods that undercut prices in private markets, effectively eliminating their competition to purchase increasingly scarce foods[2]. Secondary markets filled the void left by the disappearance of legitimate markets as the government slowly began seizing private lands owned by farmers and ranchers to consolidate control over where the food was being grown and produced[3]. Once Maduro had acquired control over the three different facets of his countries food supplies – production, distribution, and pricing – Maduro would punish his opponents by not distributing food to where they lived[4]. By withholding food as a means of social control, Maduro was infringing upon the 1948 UDHR’s declaration that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of themselves and of their family that Venezuela agreed to in 1978[5].

            The article written by Dr. Howard-Hassman is straight to the point and clearly delineates the processes necessary for food production and distribution that are exploitable by an elected government official. Howard-Hassman draws extensively from referencing the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and primary sources from the time of the monopolization to articulately construct a model capable of explaining the process of withholding food from those demographics of citizens that were of lesser interest to Maduro’s regime. Dr. Howard-Hassman clearly and convincingly makes the case that Maduro used hunger and food as weapons for social control.

            This reading contributes ancillary historical and operational context to explain the greater incompetence of the Venezuelan government to respect, protect and fulfill its population’s access to food. Howard-Hassman points to the violated human rights and categorically annotates Maduro’s moves towards purging adversarial state administrators and executive officers from positions of authority that had challenged Maduro’s policies. In Chapter 9 of Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina, Robben makes the assertion that Argentinian authoritarian regimes strove to break the hearts and minds of their adversaries by using violence and the threat of violence to coerce. Similarly, Maduro is using violence in conjunction with hunger to break the hearts and minds of his opponents. After reading this article with the knowledge gained from our class readings of Robben’s work, I am starting to speculate on the tendency for Latin American countries to swing authoritarian and if there is a common thread shared by all these occasions. Dr. Howard-Hassman’s The Right to Food Under Hugo Chávez is an important inclusion to the greater argument posited by my group’s research and will serve as excellent precursory information.

Explanation of Selected Image:

            The image depicts a fat and gluttonous Maduro feasting on all sorts of meats and tasty treats, declaring that “socialism is great” in front of two obviously starving Venezuelan citizens. This image shows the cognitive dissonance held by Maduro in terms of how the juxtaposition between the “haves” and the “have not’s” in Maduro’s social hierarchy. The empanada in Maduro’s hand is a nod to a recent fopaux wherein Maduro, while he believed himself to be off air on a television show, is seen reaching under the table and eating an empanada immediately after addressing the nation regarding the need to consume less. I believed the cartoon to be both poignant and humorous.


[1] Howard-Hassmann, Rhoda E. “The Right to Food Under Hugo Chávez.” Human Rights Quarterly. 37, no. 4 (2015): 1028.

[2] Ibid, 1026.

[3] Ibid, 1032.

[4] Ibid, 1035.

[5] Ibid, 1025.

Cartoon by A.F. Branco ©2017.

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