Look, last May when Sony Pictures announced “El Comandante”, the new Moises Naím-produced series about Hugo, none of us seriously imagined the government here would allow us to see it. As it turns out though, it’s not just that we won’t get to see it…it’s that the government is piggy-backing on this series to roll back our freedom of thought and expression to an unprecedented extent.

The government is piggy-backing on this series to roll back our freedom of thought and expression to an unprecedented extent.

When they announced it, Sony’s Latin American TV unit described El Comandante as “…our most ambitious series on many levels, in terms of budget, cast – some 600 members – locations and the re-creation of 30 major events in Chávez’s life”.

Playing the late comandante eterno is Colombian actor Andres Parra, who took the role of notorious drug-lord Pablo Escobar in Escobar: El Patrón del Mal”, a wildly successful “narco-novela” from 2012. Recently, Parra shared some details with Colombian newspaper El Tiempo:

…in the series, you can see that he is one of the most controversial and complex personalities of Latin American history. When you face these types of complex and difficult characters, it’s key to learn to take them down a notch between scenes, make them lighter, treat them with humor. If you take them too seriously you end up going crazy…

“El Comandante” is far from a straight-up biopic of Hugo Chávez — it’s more a drama inspired by his life. The biggest surprise is its creator: Moises Naim, who’s now making his way into the wild world of TV production. [Full disclosure, Moisés has sometimes written together with our very own Executive Editor on the current state of Venezuela.]

In an interview last month with Colombian magazine Semana, Naím said the reason he wanted to make “El Comandante” is that “…it’s a fascinating story that leaves no one indifferent and deserves to be told.” Asked if the show could mythologize the figure of Chávez, he said:

I believe that those who support and admire him will keep on doing so, and those who oppose and criticize him will continue to do so. I don’t think the series will change people’s points of view.

So, since no minds are likely to be changed, CONATEL is chill with this, right? Not a chance! The broadcasting authority is already warning all cable and satellite TV providers they must not show it here.

Several cable companies which carry the Colombian channel RCN (the first TV channel showing the program) complied with CONATEL’s order by taking it off the air during the broadcast.

According to Carlos Correa, head of local NGO Espacio Publico: “There’s no court ruling or any other reason to order that a TV series of this kind can’t be seen, and it violates the Constitution”.

But CONATEL is just following orders: Nicolas Maduro attacked the program during his address to the Supreme Court, by calling it “A soap opera that is a piece of trash!”

But here’s the truly weird bit: Diosdado Cabello didn’t just denounce it. He took the chance to launch a new PR campaign to defend Chávez’s legacy: “Aqui no se habla mal de Chávez” (We don’t put down Chávez around here). Signs banning trash-talking Chávez are going up in public administration buildings up and down the country as we speak.

The government’s response to a series expected to slam Chávez for dictatorial excess is…a dictatorial excess!

But it’s not just Diosdi. The former first lady Marisabel Rodriguez attacked the producers of the program on her Twitter account and threatened them with legal actions.

For the record, Sony told AP that “El Comandante” wasn’t licensed in Venezuela (and got no offers from local networks, for obvious reasons). Some of the regional rights belong to the cable channel TNT, but they’re going instead with a re-run of “Hasta que te Conoci”, the mini-series about the late singer Juan Gabriel. It’s not like TNT had a beef with CONATEL before or anything.

The government ordered its film production studio, La Villa de Cine, to produce a couple of feature films and a TV series about el galáctico ASAP.

But the governent response is not all bluster. Instead they’ve taken to heart the quote attributed to the legendary New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard: “The best way to criticize a movie is to make another movie”.

Hugo Chávez’s brother and now Culture Minister Adan Chávez announced on Sunday that the government had ordered its film production studio, La Villa de Cine, to produce a couple of feature films and a TV series about el galáctico ASAP.

Pa’eso si hay plata…

[Why was Adan friggin’ Chávez made Culture Minister in the first place? It’s a deep mystery. My guess: he got bored with being Barinas State Governor and trying to censor local newspapers.]

The series is already getting attention beyond our borders: NPR’s program “All Things Considered” made a report about the series (by once-deported journalist John Otis) and spoke with one of the series co-directors Henry Rivero, who grew up in Venezuela. For him, the project has brought up a lot of emotions.

In terms of style, “El Comandante” is bringing the North American addictive-series format to Latin America. That is, fewer episodes over a much shorter run than a telenovela (which usually lasts 6 to 8 months) but with much higher production values. El Comandante and chill…

As the hegemony is doing everything in its power to stop people from watching “El Comandante”, the Internet became its major folly: The first episode was leaked online hours after its dayview. Espacio Publico promoted on Twitter this leaked episode in order to “avoid the censorship”. Whatever happens next, the “Chávez-series” is getting attention at home and abroad.

And for those with no Internet, do not worry: there’s always money in the quemadito stand!

 

30 COMMENTS

  1. I understand that Telemundo has the rights in the US; however, I have not seen anywhere when will it be televised. Does anyone have the skinny?

  2. Where will it be broadcast in South America? We have Direct TV with package that has 100+ stations from South America. So I’d like to see the show

  3. Nothing like censorship to attract viewers.

    Very little has been put out there about Chavez’s personal and family life, or even how he behaved off-screen. You’d think scores of historians and writers would have been poking around Barinas over the years gathering information on the man and his family, and that tell all books would be coming out from people who have since moved to save havens, but that does not appear to be the case. By censorship, self-censorship or otherwise, the myth of Chavez has been protected. I’m looking forward to this. It will be hard to do, no doubt about it, but I hope to see Barinas, or something quite like it, on screen….

  4. For many Venezuelans the mere sight of anything reminding them of Chavez inspires an instant feeling of irritation and revulsion , unless its something that grinds his memory to the ground, so if this series really attempts to be ‘neutral’ and not reflect any bias , they wont be wanting to see it . For those who still remain his idolizers , anything that is not slavishly and sentimentally laudatory will dissapoint so they too wont want to see it ……….so my guess is that the intended audience is not ordinary Venezuelans but people who living in other countries can see Chavez with more emotional distance …in the US and in Latin America ….for them watching the series it will be an entertaining and educational experience…..!! Moises is a noted public intellectual who really understands what happened in Venezuela , it must have been a challenge for him to help produce a film about a person, whose flaws he knew so well , while maintaining a totally neutral vision…!!

  5. For the same reasons Bill elucidated above, I actually don’t have a desire to see this series. However, I am curious to know how they portrayed him and, more importantly, the country of Venezuela, because this series has the potential to affect the impressions the outside world will have of Venezuela.

  6. So the Culture Minister, Adan Chavez, gets to decide what films Venezuelans get to see about his own brother?

    This movie needs a two-minute segment where Hugo Chavez, on his death bed in Cuba, tells everybody that his designated successor is Adnan Chavez! “Maduro can only create disaster” he says. Adnan is then pictured at his simple writing desk, early one spring morning, Labouring for the People. Just then, a blue birdie alights upon his shoulder, chirping the National Anthem.

    Suddenly Maduro and Diosdado Cabello rush in, and, con el mazo dando, club that birdie into feathery mush.

    Cut to evil Cubans plus Cabello and Tareck Al Assaimi doctoring the original Comandante tape to make it look like he said “Maduro should be my successor”.

    One of the Cubans says to the other: “We’re evilly doctoring this tape, but if Venezuelans ever find out, they’ll rise up like the Caracazo!”

    It’s worth doing.

  7. “I believe that those who support and admire him will keep on doing so, and those who oppose and criticize him will continue to do so.”

    Well, more than half of Venezuela’s adult population still adores and venerates Chavez. They think Maduro is to blame.. What do we make of that? Collective amnesia? Clearly, Chavez was the one who destroyed Venezuela in 14 years of catastrophic rule, even when oil prices were at their highest in history. Did he BUILD anything? Heck, MPJ built 20 x more in 5 years with no oil.

    What does the Chavez cult say about most Venezuelan people? Lack of real education perhaps? Most can read, but what are they reading, if anything? Global news, History, certainly not..

    • When there’s an actual will to discredit the chavista myth, that number will go down.

      And the opposition has done NOTHING to discredit the chavista myth in all its 18 years.

      • Because the “opposition” is made of aspiring politicians. Messing with Chavez’s name means losing popularity or potential votes. They know most of “el pueblo” still loves Chavez. Go figure.. and some say people are wise.. and they say our “pueblo” is educated.. Sorry, but how bright and wise and educated can they be if they still venerate chavez?

    • Actually, John Madgaleno was tweeting some Venebarometro figures which state that 55% of those polled now say “Chavez was a mistake, this mess is his doing and his policies should be abolished,” so maybe (even if I take it with a HUGE grain of salt) there’s some room for improvement.

  8. Tried watching 1Ep, all though I lived it up close and personal, and relive it now with trump. but sony doesn’t allow to view for copyright issues… I think it’s great taht they show it. And make George Ciccarello Maher and his ilk, sit strapped to a chair to watch it all from opening to final credits. Ñaca ñaca 😛

  9. I live in Colombia now. When I started to watch the promos for this show (I still call it a telenovela) I said to myself: “Why would I want to live through this again”? And you know, this show has been heavily promoted by the RCN network in Colombia EVERYWHERE: bus stops, billboards, magazine and newspaper ads, Andres Parra’s mug has been in every newspaper and magazine cover available. So I bit the bullet and watched the thing. The 4-F episode was painful to watch for me. I even had trouble sleeping. Why? It faithfully promotes the idea (which is not farfetched and has been quite documented) that Chavez led on a bunch of young military troops, fooled them into thinking they were going to perform some kind of military exercise, and they ended up being killed in a coup attempt they didn’t even realize they were into until it was too late. It is very well-produced, but honestly, why would I want to go through this? The curiosity of seeing how Chavez has been portrayed? Andrés Parra has channeled Chavez up to his nervous ticks. In the end, I switched to Polvo Carnavalero, a funny soap opera on the competing Caracol network.

  10. Have heard thru the grapevine that many top people in govt are now quite clear on the causes of the current crisis , they may continue to publicly offer the explanation that its all due to an economic war and other such nonsense but the notion that the economic war argument serves as credible explanation has been largely abandoned , The idea of what must be done to attempt to correct the problems now facing the country are also understood in its basic outline , different groups have different ideas as to what can be done to attack those problems that wont leave the regime open to corrosive attack but they are unable to sort out their differences so until they do , they are stuck in decisional paralysis while the countries suffering grows worse and worse……!!

    The propaganda machine keeps on churning the same old discredited nostrums , but there is no one even among those that expose them that believes them !! They hide behind the shadow of Chavez to protect their worn out reputation , they dont realize that by doing so they are slowly destroying Chavez reputation even among those that used to adore him ……..!!

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