Sunday, June 16, 2013

Venezuela: Using State Coercion to Force Love

This is one of the weirdest story I've read this year*, and the first where the Venezuelan government sounds like the Republican Party in the United States, with a fervent desire to tell women what to do in their private lives. In an effort to promote breast feeding, there is a proposal to ban formula bottle feeding. Yes, ban it. Except in special cases as approved by the health ministry.

Odalis Monzon, from Venezuela's ruling Socialist party, said the proposal would "prohibit all types of baby bottles" as a way to improve children's health.

"We want to increase the love (between mother and child) because this has been lost as a result of these transnational companies selling formula," Ms Monzon said.

I'm pretty much speechless--there's nothing that increases love like state coercion! This is not only authoritarian but also unworkable and unenforceable. The black market for formula will skyrocket, thus prompting even more illegal activity.

To be fair, there is crazy legislation proposed all the time at all levels in the United States, with no chance of passage. Hopefully this falls into the "nutty legislator mouths off and is quickly mocked" category. I can't wait to see the debate.

* the Maduro bird thing probably will always win for weirdest.

h/t Evren Celik Wiltse on Twitter


Justin Delacour 9:48 AM  

A dumb law, to be sure, but I don't see how it is any more "authoritarian" than, say, prohibiting marijuana. If every silly prohibition were grounds for calling states "authoritarian," then there would be no end in sight to the name-calling. It is supremely suspicious to single out Venezuela on this score.

Anonymous,  6:22 PM  

Well, if other countries are mandating breast feeding and banning the use of formula, it would be supremely suspicious to single out Venezuela. As it doesn't appear that there are any others, Venezuela has effectively singled itself out.

Anonymous,  10:58 AM  

...I don't see how it is any more "authoritarian" than, say, prohibiting marijuana

There is a huge difference between prohibiting a recreational drug and placing a government bureaucracy in the way of a parent trying to feed a child.

It's not just authoritarian. It's a policy that will increase economic inequality. Poor women who work in the informal sector need to get back to work, but the government ban on formula will force them to choose between staying home to feed their infant and working so they can afford to buy basic necessities.

The rich will buy formula on the black market and poor parents and children will suffer from another dumb Maduro government policy.

Justin Delacour 11:41 AM  

Uh, actually, as Greg already explained, this is not "Maduro government policy," and my guess is that the proposal actually won't be enacted for some of the reasons you mention. [There are problems with Formula, by the way, and mother's milk is certainly healthier for children, but a ban on formula would be counter-productive.] In effect, people are throwing out charges of "authoritarianism" here on the basis of a policy proposal, not an actual law. In other words, this entire post is testimony to a considerable degree of hysteria in the Anglo-American world about the politics of Venezuela.

Moreover, It takes quite some gall for scholars living in a country that incarcerates the most people per capita for petty drug offenses to point to a dumb Venezuelan PROPOSAL to ban formula as an example of "authoritarianism." The hypocrisy is rather mind-boggling.

Justin Delacour 12:03 PM  

Seeing as folks here are supposedly so concerned about the "authoritarianism" of a Venezuelan legislator's mere proposal to prohibit something that many people want to consume, I would be oh-so-curious as to whether you same folks consider it "authoritarian" for the United States to incarcerate the most people per capita in the world for petty drug offenses.

Anonymous,  12:37 PM  

This is indeed a tedious method of argument that I hear on both sides of the political spectrum.

There is no zero-sum rule regarding outrage over bad laws. I can only speak for myself, but I would imagine most of us are capable of being outraged by bad laws in both nations.

Justin Delacour 1:22 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Justin Delacour 1:25 PM  

You can call the line of argument tedious if you like, but the bottom line is that you're incapable of logically refuting it. The issue here is not about whether a prohibition --or a proposal to prohibit something-- is an "outrage." The issue is whether it should be the basis of a charge of "authoritarianism." If we don't call the United States "authoritarian" on the basis of the fact that it incarcerates the most people per capita in the world for petty drug offenses, then we certainly can't logically sustain that Venezuela is "authoritarian" ON ACCOUNT OF THE FACT that some legislator proposed to ban baby bottles. Surely a political scientist like Greg could come up with a more plausible argument than that as to why he thinks we should we bandying about with terms like "authoritarianism" whenever we talk about Venezuela.

When logic ceases to be the basis of how we evaluate the politics of foreign countries, we are moving into the realm of propaganda and hysteria.

Defensores de Democracia 3:55 PM  

Venezuela's "Long March" towards COMUNIST Famine :

Great Chinese Famine 1958-1961, referred to by the Communist Party of China as the Three Years of Natural Disasters or Three Years of Difficult Period

According to government statistics, there were 15 million excess deaths in this period, 20 to 43 millions according to scholars

Brutal collectivization, abolishing of private property, War against Entrepreneurs and Private Initiative

Encyclopædia Britannica estimates 7 million deaths in Stalin's Famine 1932-1933, 5 million in Ukraine, 1 million in Northern Caucasus, 1 million elsewhere

And I am not counting the Great Russina Famine of year 1921

Maduro is preaching fattening chicken for every household, working your vegetables in your backyard ( if any ! )

This is like Mao Tse Tung, The Great Leap Forward and his little red book of thoughts

Justin Delacour 4:06 PM  

Actually, no, the "Tu Quoque" defense is much too vague to resolve the debate (and would also be somewhat embarrassing to you all if that's what you're actually resorting to).

The problem here is one of concept-streching, which Greg knows quite well as a political scientist. Greg is employing a completely sloppy definition of "authoritarianism" for purposes that are plainly propagandistic. If the term "authoritarianism" is defined so broadly as to suggest that the mere prohibition of products that are in demand becomes "authoritarian," then there's barely a government in the world that wouldn't somehow fit the "authoritarian" mold. In other words, the concept of authoritarianism has no specific political meaning when it is employed in this fashion. Moreover, such concept-stretching becomes doubly problematic when it is bandied about in reference to a mere policy proposal.

Justin Delacour 11:44 PM  

And, by the way, it turns that Greg and his source got the story all wrong in the first place. There's no proposal to ban baby bottles in Venezuela. As part of a plan to promote breast-feeding, there's a proposal to prohibit the ADVERTISING of baby bottles and of baby formula products and to forbid the use of baby bottles IN HEALTH CENTERS with children of six months or younger. That's the proposal.

Yet another lesson in why Latin Americanist scholars shouldn't rely too heavily on the English-language press for information about Venezuela. Here we have the chair of a political science department screaming to high heaven about an impending black market in baby bottles, and it turns out that there isn't even a proposal to ban them.

Greg Weeks 6:53 AM  

Wrong. If you really want a Spanish language source, go straight to the Asamblea Nacional, which backs up the English media version.

Justin Delacour 7:42 AM  

No, Greg, you're wrong, and you know you're wrong, but you're gonna try to save face now because this is just plain embarrassing. THERE'S NO PROPOSAL TO BAN BABY BOTTLES, as your own source here suggests. It may be wrong to propose to fine doctors for prescribing baby bottles, but that is light years from proposing to ban the sale of baby bottles. And that's what you claimed was happening. Read the full story, Greg. If you want to show that you're not an out-and-out liar, you will retract this wild conjecture about an impending black market in baby bottles, which is just an embarrassing thing for you to have done. Read the full story, Greg. The proposals are (1) to prohibit the ADVERTISING of baby bottles and baby formula, (2) to prohibit the use of baby bottles IN HEALTH CENTERS for babies under six months of age, (3) to prohibit giving out baby bottles for free, and (4) to fine doctors for prescribing baby bottles for young babies. However, there is no proposal here to ban baby bottles or to take them off the shelves of stores. There is simply no language to that effect, so I would advise that you not run wild with conjecture on the basis of false London Telegraph reports.

Anonymous,  1:39 PM  

It's worth posting this in the original on-topic thread as well.

Here's a video from Venezuelan state TV with the legislator who is proposing the regulations.

Here's the transcript of what she says at the 55 second mark:
"con los teteros, con los biberones, se van a prohibir de todos tipos de ellos."

So Greg and the media outlets reporting a proposed ban are accurately quoting the legislator who is proposing it. It's right out of her mouth and published on a Maduro government website.

She may wish to issue a correction if what she said about her own proposal is incorrect.

Justin Delacour 2:02 PM  

Luisa Calzada and Kaustky García have already explained on VTV that there's no proposal on the table to ban baby bottles and that any such proposal would be impracticable.

You can watch for yourself:

And if you're not a Spanish-speaker, you can read what I translated from Garcia under Greg's latest post.

Anonymous,  2:31 PM  

So there's a video of two NGO activists saying the proposal won't ban bottles that contradicts the video of the legislator sponsoring the proposal saying it will ban bottles. That's one of the challenges of not having a published text.

Hopefully the NGO activists are correct and the legislator misspoke, but the people who reported the original story were not wrong in reporting what a member of the Venezuelan Congress said. She said she was proposing banning bottles. She should issue a correction if she misspoke.

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