Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has made some bold promises during his time leading his struggling country. Most of the time, he has failed to follow through.
But now Maduro is putting his money where his mouth is – or, to be more specific, where his mustache is.
The socialist leader promised during his weekly television show to construct one million public housing units by the end of the year. And he pledged to shave off his trademark facial hair if he didn’t get it done.
"I'll make a bet," he said, according to the Washington Post. "If we don't deliver 1 million homes by December 31, I'll cut off my mustache."
Now, Maduro's mustache is no hipster trend or fly-by-night fad. It is a core part of the leader's look – something that had been almost just as key to the Maduro working-class persona as his former career as a bus driver and union leader. Grainy photos from the 1980s even purportedly show the future world leader with a full-on Fu Manchu while playing bass in a rock band.
So the bet he made with the nation is big, especially given Venezuela's dicey economic situation and the fact that his political party, the United Socialist Party, looks to take a drubbing in the upcoming parliamentary elections on December 6.
For years, Venezuela's economy was buoyed by profits from its booming oil industry, allowing the country under late socialist leader Hugo Chávez to invest heavily in numerous social projects, both at home and abroad, and parlay the OPEC nation's position as one of the world's top oil exporters into that of a regional power.
But as social spending increased, Venezuela's windfall profits soon began to run dry thanks in part to falling oil prices, rampant inflation, corruption and the nationalization of key business sectors – leaving Chávez's successor, Maduro, struggling to deal with a floundering economy, rampant crime rates, isolation on the world stage and widespread discontent at home.
Venezuela's economy is predicted to contract 10 percent as it copes with widespread shortages and the world's highest inflation, around 200 percent, the IMF said. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said that she "hopes and prays" for Venezuela to regain its footing, but said the fund's outlook is hampered by the lack of information from authorities, who haven't published price or growth data since last year.
Many observers say that these problems are due in large part to Maduro government's reactionary politics and lack of any meaningful economic plan.
"The government doesn't have any form of economic policy," Sonia Schott, the former Washington D.C. correspondent for Venezuelan news network Globovisión told Fox News Latino earlier this year. "We are in the middle of a major crisis."
For all his posturing and talk, there seems to be some signs of worry behind Maduro's mustache that the country could finally be falling over the edge.
"I say to you, brother and sister construction workers and engineers: work hard so I don't have to cut off my mustache," Maduro said. "No, that's not it. That's a joke. Work hard so our people can have a home."