HBO’s Last Week Tonight Tackles the Venezuelan Crisis

HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver focused on the Venezuelan crisis. Far from perfect, at least it’s a good introduction to Maduro and his government.

Photo: Youtube

Last Week Tonight, HBO’s half-comical, half-serious weekly news program, hosted by John Oliver, featured Venezuela as main story on their last show, particularly covering Nicolás Maduro’s presidency:

The segment is uncomfortable to watch at times. Oliver’s brand of humor feels tone-deaf when it has to deal with a humanitarian crisis instead of, say, the latest gaffe of the Trump administration. It also suffers from the usual generalizations — not talking about the weakened private sector during the Chávez years, for instance — which fail to provide a proper understanding of the causes and inevitability of the current crisis.

Nonetheless, if John Oliver’s reports fail to add anything new to the table, at least it gives a necessary and sourced recap of Nicolás Maduro’s rule to those who might have seen the occasional article on the New York Times, but ignores how this government shamelessly disregards laws, institutions and human lives in Venezuela. You know, the show’s target audience.

Oliver displays Maduro joking about people losing weight due to starvation, debunked conspiracy theories about U.S. interference and “economic war”, the illegality of the National Constituent Assembly and the banishment of opposition leaders, ending it all with Wilmer Valderrama dressed as the famous pajarito; not particularly funny in Venezuela, although it must have raised some eyebrows abroad.

This is not the first time Last Week Tonight has talked about Venezuela. They did a short segment that time Maduro got hit by a mango without major censorship incidents, so let’s see if this time it generates some reaction from the government — they may let it pass, after all, as the one-time covering it probably is, especially since Vice released in the past segments on our crisis with no repercussions.

Still, the memory of CNN en Español and Colombia’s Caracol TV, and how they were taken off the air after continuously covering what’s going on here, is a bitter reminder that, while more foreign media is covering our problems, domestic journalism is closely watched.

And that’s no laughing matter.

José González Vargas

Freelance journalist, speculative fiction writer, college professor, political junkie, lover of books and movies and, semi-professional dilettante. José has written for NPR's Latino USA, Americas Quarterly, Into and ViceVersa Magazine.