In Venezuela, a Maduro-style Christmas toy sparks controversy

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Every year, Venezuela’s socialist government distributes thousands of Christmas gifts to the country’s poorest children, including bicycles, Barbie dolls and plastic trucks imported from China.

This holiday season, officials have added a new item to their roster: an action figure with red tights, a blue cape and a big mustache that fights the American “empire” and is inspired by President Nicolas Maduro..

The character is named “Super Bigote” because of his thick black mustache. For about a year, he’s had an animated series on Venezuelan state television, where he battles a Donald Trump-esque villain who tries to wreak havoc from his base in a distant mansion that resembles the White House.

In the days leading up to Christmas, officials in several regions of Venezuela shared videos of themselves handing out Super Bigote toys to children during holiday parties. Community organizations linked to the Maduro administration also said they distributed dozens of politically charged figurines.

The Christmas gift angered academics and opposition leaders, who described it as a vapid effort to indoctrinate children as Venezuela struggles to recover from years of economic recession, food shortages and of hyperinflation under Maduro’s rule – hardships that have forced millions to migrate..

But many government supporters were happy to receive the toy. In his animated series, Super Bigote also battles villains who resemble Venezuelan opposition leaders, whom the government blames for US sanctions that have also affected the country’s economy.

“I loved this initiative,” said Yasmin Herrera, a nurse who works for a government-funded community council in the town of Carayaca, about a 90-minute drive from Caracas. Herrera said he collected 22 Super Bigote toys from a local government office last week, along with two action figures of “Cilita,” a character who resembles Venezuela’s first lady Cilia Flores.

Community council members in Herrera packed up the toys and donated them to children in a social housing project, where there is no running water and residents rely on water trucks.

“Some parents didn’t like the gifts and the older kids weren’t very interested,” she recalls. “But small children play with them. We put a smile on their faces.

Rosa Rodriguez, who helped Herrera package the toys, said she was happy with the action figures because they helped young children “appreciate” Venezuela’s socialist revolution. She said three years ago she received a free apartment from the government in the isolated housing complex where the toys were distributed.

But others had less benevolent opinions about the new gifts. Belkis Bolivar, a leader of the country’s largest teachers’ union, described the toys as a dangerous waste of money.

“These toys are loaded with ideology and they try to impose a cult of personality,” she said. “Kids who play with these toys may start to idolize Maduro, like they idolize Superman or Spider-Man.”

She said that instead of spending money on ‘ideology-laden’ toys, the government should fix schools that have no electricity and where new teacher salaries are less than $20 a day. month.

Venezuela’s Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said on Sunday the government had purchased 13 million gifts for children in Venezuela, which has a population of just 25 million. It was unknown how many of the gifts were action figures of Super Bigote or his partner, Cilita.

After the gifts were distributed, some Venezuelans also mocked the toy on social media by sharing photos of Super Bigote and Cilita in embarrassing poses.

“The makers of Super Bigote warn that this toy is not suitable for children,” wrote journalist and political expert Pedro Pablo Peñaloza on Twitter. “It produces hyperinflation, devaluation, mass migration, food shortages.”

___

Manuel Rueda reported from Bogota, Colombia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *