Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Venezuela: To Celebrate Free Expression, Chavez Shuts Down Media

by Anna Mahjar-Barducci

In Venezuela, a popular Colombian-produced soap opera, Chepe Fortuna, has been taken off the air: its script allegedly contains derogatory material against President Hugo Chavez. The Venezuelan government intimidated the local TV broadcaster Televen into not showing the series.

This popular TV show was aired in prime time and contained a comical character named "Venezuela," a talkative and highly emotional secretary, who owns a dog called Huguito (Little Hugo). Any reference to the Venezuelan dictator is not accidental. The script of that soap opera used these names to create sentences with double meanings: in one episode, the character "Venezuela" loses her dog "Little Hugo" and, while crying on the phone, she asks a friend what will become of her without "Little Hugo." His response was: "You will be free, Venezuela...Hugo is messing up everything in the house...he is making you look bad."

Another important character in the TV show was Venezuela's sister, Colombia. The two sisters have a tense relationship. Colombia is a good-natured woman, full of virtues, whereas Venezuela is at times unbearable. To complete the picture, Venezuela is pregnant with a boy whom she intends to name Fidelito (little Fidel). "Oh! What a lack of respect for Venezuela! How terrible that soap opera is!" thundered Chavez, and immediately asked that the series be removed from the air. In a discussion on Chepe Fortuna, the Venezuela's National Telecommunications Commission added that the series was a blatant effort to "demoralize" the people of the country. "After careful analysis, we found that these contents promoted political and racial intolerance, xenophobia and incitement of crime," the statement concluded.

EloĆ­sa Infante, producer and co-script writer of Chepe Fortuna, said that she was very disappointed that her work, which had as only aim to " amuse people," had been censored from Venezuelan television. She acknowledged that her scripts had some political connotations, but said she thinks that "as writers we need freedom. I do not think that Hugo Chavez cares about it, a country like Venezuela should have more important things to take care of [than a TV show]."

Dictators do not like satire except for their opponents. Ever since his ascent to power, Chavez has not missed any opportunity to silence whomever did not align with him. Last March, Guillermo Zuloaga, the owner of Globovision, an influential anti-government channel, was briefly arrested, then released, pending investigation, by Venezuelan military intelligence. The "crime" of Zuloaga, now at large, was to have made remarks "offensive to the President," saying that Chavez was suppressing free speech. In June, Venezuela placed a request with Interpol for an international warrant for Zuloaga's arrest.

In a sense, there is something ironic in Chavez more than in the little dog, Huguito: to prove that Venezuela enjoys fully fledged freedom of expression, Chavez finds nothing better than to censor and ban unfriendly TV channels and imprison political opponents. There is so much freedom in Venezuelan media that, on January 2010, at least six cable channels were taken off the air; and, in 2009, Chavez closed 32 privately-owned radio stations and threatened the closure of more than 200 others.

Last December, the Venezuela's National Assembly approved draconian regulations on the internet and telecommunications, giving more power to the government to regulate the sector. Further, the law seems aimed at forcing Globovision off the air, as well,

The Miami, Florida-based Inter-American Press Association has condemned the move. "With the new rules for the Internet, among fines for service providers and the requirement that users not write anonymously or touch on issues that the government might not like, we are witnessing a deep and generalized censorship of news content and personal communications which goes against journalists' and media's right to publish, and amounts to contempt of the public's right to communicate freely," said IAPA President Gonzalo Marroquin.

The banning of Chepe Furtuna is just one of the many symptoms of the Venezuelan political deterioration. The country has been taken hostage by an autocratic regime that leaves no space for freedom of expression and axes anything that can even remotely be considered a threat for the Venezuelan satrap.

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Anna Mahjar-Barducci

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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