Venezuela’s war on cuteness

VENEZUELA has a hunger crisis, with 12% of children suffering from acute malnutrition. But the country’s socialist president, Nicolás Maduro, has a cunning plan. Under Plan Conejo (Plan Rabbit), poor settlements are to receive cages containing baby rabbits which, when fattened up, will provide the protein and calories many people lack. Freddy Bernal, the urban agriculture minister, recently delivered the first consignment of bunnies to 15 communities.

It makes more sense than some of Mr Maduro’s other ideas. They “will breed like rabbits”, he predicted. While shops run out of bread, butter and other staples because of price controls and scarce foreign exchange, the rabbits will reproduce, oblivious of market forces. The “imperialist” United States, which is waging “economic war” on Venezuela, will only be able to watch and fume.

But the hutch-based solution that Mr Maduro has hatched has run into a hitch, as Mr Bernal discovered when he visited the beneficiaries. “People were naming the rabbits and taking them to bed,” he told Mr Maduro in a cabinet meeting broadcast on state television. Some had put bows on them, Mr Bernal complained. “People must understand that a rabbit is not a pet, but two-and-a-half kilos of meat with high protein and low cholesterol.” Re-educating them is not easy. “We’ve been taught that rabbits are cute,” Mr Bernal lamented.

The government has launched a campaign to persuade them that the love of bunny is, if not the root of all evil, at least contrary to the spirit of chavismo. Government websites and social media spread the word that rabbit meat is tasty and nutritious. The opposition, as ever, is sceptical. “Do you think we Venezuelans are stupid?” asked Henrique Capriles, the governor of Miranda state, who narrowly lost the presidential election in 2013 to Mr Maduro. He was equally rude about an earlier plan to install vertical chicken coops in the cramped apartments of poor city-dwellers. The failure of that plan to alleviate hunger suggests to many Venezuelans that this one, too, is hare-brained.