Venezuelan dramatists liken surreal turns in Chavez saga to soap opera

Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela - A president who vanishes for weeks in a mysterious battle with cancer. Supporters who chant their allegiance in the streets. And in the midst of it all, an announcement by the government that it detected a plot to kill his chosen successor.

The long and at times surreal saga surrounding the illness of President Hugo Chavez has many Venezuelan writers and intellectuals likening the nation's drama to a soap opera. Venezuela has long produced such telenovelas, and some say no one could have imagined a more bizarre plot than the one that has unfolded in the more than seven weeks since Chavez travelled to Cuba for his operation and disappeared from public view.

"Reality in Venezuela has turned implausible. It's hard to believe that these events are happening, where each one exceeds the last one, and where our capacity to be amazed is being constantly challenged," said Leonardo Padron, a writer of Venezuelan telenovelas and a critic of Chavez's government.

The dramatic turns come after 14 years of a presidency already filled with surprises, conflicts and triumphs, including Chavez's brief ouster in a failed 2002 coup and his rebellious speech to the United Nations calling then-President George W. Bush "the devil."

Chavez has monopolized the attention of Venezuelans by cultivating a larger-than-life image, and many are stunned by the unusual silence from a president who used to make hours-long speeches almost every day.

The split between Venezuelans who admire and revile him extends to this country's artists, dramatists and intellectuals.

"To put it in the point of view of a playwright, of a storyteller, it's evident that in this country the protagonist was Chavez and the theme is that this story has been left without a protagonist," Padron said. "There has been an excess of culminating episodes. We want for them to announce the final week and the final chapter. I think everybody wants the denouement to happen, whatever it is, but it should happen."

Essayist and playwright Luis Britto Garcia, a vocal supporter of Chavez, said it's understandable that Venezuelans are receiving mixed messages as Chavez goes through treatment. He complained about what he said was baseless speculation in the media about the president, which he said intends to "destabilize the country."

"There's a media war marked by a game of lies," Britto said, adding that he thinks the bulk of Venezuelans "trust in the information they've been given."

In recent weeks, Vice-President Nicolas Maduro and Foreign Minister Elias Jaua have assured Venezuelans the president is lucid, sharing laughs and making decisions of state. Meanwhile, Maduro announced last week that unidentified groups have been plotting an attack against himself or National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.

In the president's absence, state television has been saturated with images of a smiling Chavez, and Caracas has been covered with iconography such as the president's eyes and slogans.

Pro-government artists recently mounted an exhibit of portraits of their leader at a museum in downtown Caracas.

Antonio Pasquali, a retired professor and communication scholar, said that the government seems to be trying to make Chavez a political symbol more than ever. Among the spectacles on view this month was a mass swearing-in by Chavez's supporters who raised their hands and took an oath in their leader's place during a street demonstration.

One government billboard atop a Caracas high-rise reads: "You're Chavez, too."

"There is nothing improvised here. The government calculates every word they use down to the millimeter," Pasquali said.

Evangelina Garcia-Prince, a sociologist and anthropologist, said the government's new slogan, "We're all Chavez," reminds her of a famous phrase by Evita Peron that has lived on in Argentina: "I'll return, and there will be millions of me."

"Like every myth, it's rooted in emotion with a strong dose of spirituality," Garcia-Prince said of the Chavez aura.

Many aren't buying the myth. A political cartoon by Rayma Suprani in the newspaper El Universal mocked some efforts to keep Chavez ever-present by displaying documents with his signature, showing Maduro handing a pen to a small Chavez puppet, with the caption: "Give me the pen, I'm going to sign!"

"It's a real farce," said Javier Vidal, a playwright and theatre director. "This masquerade is born from the tragedy we're living through, which is quite big."

Past events and characters in Chavez's presidency have already inspired a soap opera, "Cosita Rica," which was written by Padron and produced in 2003. The character of Olegario Perez, played by Carlos Cruz, was the alter ego of Chavez and captured some of his gestures and unpredictable, colorful nature.

Chavez and events in his presidency have also been fodder for Venezuelan comedians.

The satirical website El Chiguire Bipolar, which regularly pokes fun at Chavez, recently posted a spoof of a report by the president's information minister: "Chavez is stable in that situation, which I won't tell you what it is."

For the most part, though, the saga of Chavez's health struggle is still fresh and hasn't made its way into fiction in Venezuelan theatres, books or television.

Carolina Acosta-Alzuru, a media studies scholar and associate professor at the University of Georgia, said the situation reminds her of her 2007 book about the program "Cosita Rica," titled "Venezuela es una telenovela," or "Venezuela is a Soap Opera."

"This twist of the plot that we are living right now is — wow — surprising, it's surreal," she said. "Sometimes I wish Gabriel Garcia Marquez were young again and Venezuelan so he could write about this, because sometimes it feels like magical realism."


Associated Press writer Ian James contributed to this report.

View Comments

Recommended for You

  • Britain's baby Prince George visits Australian zoo

    Britain's baby Prince George stepped out in public with his parents on Sunday for the first time in Australia, for an encounter with wildlife at Sydney's Taronga Zoo. George, eight months old and third in line to the throne after grandfather Princes Charles and father William, stole the show as his…

    AFP46 mins ago
  • Ohio couple married 70 years die 15 hours apart

    NASHPORT, Ohio (AP) — A couple who held hands at breakfast every morning even after 70 years of marriage have died 15 hours apart.

    Associated Press
  • Get a Chromecast for $35

    Easily connect anything on the web to your TV! Get yours today.

    AdChoices GoogleSponsored
  • Hopkins becomes oldest to unify world titles

    Bernard Hopkins, the oldest world champion in boxing history at age 49, became the eldest fighter to unify world titles Saturday when he defeated Beibut Shumenov in a light-heavyweight showdown. Two judges gave ageless wonder Hopkins a split-decision victory by the same score, 116-111, while the…

  • Play

    Putin attends Easter services in Moscow

    Russian Patriarch Kirill leads Easter service in Moscow attended by President Vladimir Putin. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.

    Reuters Videos
  • Autopsy to ID dead boy; body cast off side of road

    WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) — All Massachusetts authorities could say for sure is that they found the lifeless body of a small boy, apparently cast off the side of a highway.

    Associated Press
  • Baby Can’t Open Mouth in Medical Mystery

    Parents Start Website To Find Out What's Wrong With Baby Wyatt

    Good Morning America
  • House Republicans Might Pass Immigration Bills After All, Just as They Always Planned

    Remember earlier this year when House Republicans said they would deal with immigration reform once the primaries were over? Well, according to The Wall Street Journal, House Speaker John Boehner told a group of donors that they'll pass bills addressing the issue this summer. At a fundraiser in Las…

    The Atlantic Wire
  • Autopsies done on 7 Utah babies found in garage

    PLEASANT GROVE, Utah (AP) — The Utah State Medical Examiner's Office has completed autopsies of seven infants found in cardboard boxes in a woman's garage, but it is unclear when the results will be released.

    Associated Press
  • 10 Coolest Cars Under $25,000

    Style doesn't need to be expensive. We have the definitive list of the 10 coolest cars that will keep you wondering how they are less than $25,000.

    AdChoices Kelley Blue BookSponsored
  • Wie's win snaps LPGA title drought

    Kapolei (United States) (AFP) - American Michelle Wie won her first LPGA title since 2010, firing five-under par 67 for a two-shot victory in the Lotte Championship. Wie had six birdies, and not even a three-putt bogey at the final hole at her home course, Ko Olina, could dim her joy at her third…

  • 5 Unanswered Questions About Jesus

    As Christians worldwide gather for Easter to celebrate their belief in the death and rebirth of Jesus, researchers continue to delve into the mysteries that surround the man. The following are five questions about Jesus that, for now, at least, remain unanswered. In 2008, astronomer Dave Reneke…
  • Philippines' oldest artworks in danger of disappearing

    Binangonan (Philippines) (AFP) - On a small rock wall a short drive from the Philippine capital, enigmatic carvings that are believed to date back 5,000 years are in danger of disappearing before their mysteries can be solved. The 127 engravings of people, animals and geometric shapes are the…

  • Miley Cyrus Remains Hospitalized, Two More Shows Canceled

    Nashville and Louisville mark two more concert stops Miley Cyrus will miss due to her hospitalization — and she’s sick of it. “sick of waking up to needles,” Cyrus tweeted early Friday (April 18) morning. “#goingthruit #floydfriday” The former Disney Channel star has been hospitalized...

    ABC News
  • What the hell is this American plane owned by the Bank of Utah doing in IRAN?

    On Tuesday morning, a plane owned in trust by the Bank of Utah showed up in a very visible area of the Mehrabad Airport in Tehran, the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Under President Barack Obama, the United States has eased some of the long-standing punitive economic sanctions against…

    The Daily Caller
  • The Cheerleader Murders

    For five long and very strange years, death haunted tiny Dryden, NY, a town near the Finger Lakes where a plague of car accidents, suicides, and even grisly murders involving two popular cheerleaders just kept mounting up.

    The Daily Beast
  • Find the Right Tire on the Michelin® Official Site

    Browse High-Quality Michelin Tires. Find Local Dealers. View Tire Specifications & Pricing. Learn about the Michelin Promise Plan™ Warranty.

    AdChoices MichelinSponsored
  • US ground forces to be sent to Poland, report says

    Poland's defense minister has said US ground forces will be sent to Poland to expand NATO's presence there as events continue to unfold in neighboring Ukraine, The Washington Post reported. Tomasz Siemoniak told the Post Friday that military planners were already working on the details and that…

  • New Zealand says yes to Nigella despite US exclusion

    New Zealand officials have granted a special visa to celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, who has admitted cocaine use, in an apparent confirmation she has been blocked from entering the United States, according to a report. US authorities declined to specify why Lawson was stopped from flying from…

  • Ohio teacher fired over comment on black president

    CINCINNATI (AP) — An Ohio teacher has been fired after a black student who said he wanted to become president claimed the teacher told him the nation didn't need another black commander in chief.

    Associated Press
  • Play

    UPS Worker & Nanny Thwart Baby Kidnapper

    The NYPD says Tara Ann McDonald`s allegedly tried to kidnap an eight-month-old from right in front of a retail store. However, a nanny along with a UPS delivery driver, who just happened to be enjoying lunch nearby, protected the child and discouraged McDonald from what the NYPD says was another…

  • SARS-Like MERS Virus Spreads Among Health Care Workers

    Deadly Virus Has Killed 93 People Worldwide

    Good Morning America
  • Social Security to resume benefits statement mailings

    By Mark Miller CHICAGO (Reuters) - Paper Social Security benefits statements, which used to be mailed out every year and then fell victim to budget cuts, are going to make a partial comeback. Starting this September, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will resume mailings at five-year…

  • Do You See Your Future in Pharmacy?

    It is rated #3 best job 2013 by U.S. News. Get information about USciences direct-entry PharmD program!

    AdChoices USciencesSponsored