CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chávez is known to have expressed little patience for imported leisure pursuits like golf or Scotch whisky tippling. Now he has reserved some ire for another practice that is beloved in Venezuela: breast augmentation surgery.
Blame for the boom in such surgeries here, Mr. Chávez said on state television over the weekend, rested with doctors who “convince some women that if they don’t have some big bosoms, they should feel bad.” He said it was a “monstrous thing” that poor women were seeking breast lifts when they had trouble making ends meet.
“What is this, friend?” Mr. Chávez exclaimed to his viewers.
Mr. Chávez’s comments come at a time when Venezuela has emerged as one of the world’s leading markets for breast augmentation. Between 30,000 and 40,000 women here undergo the procedure each year, according to estimates by the Venezuelan Society of Plastic Surgeons.
Billboards in Caracas advertise bank loans for the surgery. Gossip blogs speculate on the enhancements done to contestants in the Miss Venezuela pageant. Last year, one candidate for the National Assembly, Gustavo Rojas, tried to finance his campaign by raffling off a breast lift (he lost anyway).
“I’ve never seen more silicone anywhere else,” Mireia Sallarès, a filmmaker from Spain who focuses on feminist issues and is working on a project about Venezuela, told the newspaper Tal Cual.
While Mr. Chávez lamented the amount of money spent on cosmetic breast surgery, there is also a darker side to the procedures, with reports of surgical mistakes resulting in the deaths of some patients. One 20-year-old woman, Paola Ríos, died in Caracas this month because of complications from breast augmentation surgery.
Mr. Chávez’s stand on such a fixture in Venezuelan popular culture prompted swift reactions from some quarters, notably the medical profession. “I don’t think there should be any type of discrimination against these aesthetic procedures,” said Dr. Ramón Zapata Sirvent, a leading plastic surgeon here.
In an acerbic editorial on the subject on Monday, the opposition newspaper El Nacional compared Mr. Chávez to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, who regards Mr. Chávez as a friend. “Now comes this antiquated, militaristic, coarse, repressive attitude on the freedom of women to do what they want with their bodies,” El Nacional said.
The president, however, made it clear that breast augmentation did not square well with his revolutionary priorities. He said that among the thousands of letters he receives from supporters, one arrived asking for his help for a breast lift, which could cost as much as $7,000. “Of course I had to reject it,” he said.
State media outlets agreed with the president on the subject. The state newspaper Correo del Orinoco contended this month that plastic surgery was “as common as dentist appointments and it is not unusual for wealthy parents to proudly buy their 15-year-old daughters breast implants for ‘coming of age’ birthday presents.”