Image: Sofia Jaimes Barreto

Seems like Nicolás Maduro has a lot of free time on his hands.

Days after hosting an international gathering of ideological supporters in Caracas, he used a public event to share his opinion on something he had just watched on Netflix: a 60-episode series about the life of none other than Simón Bolívar. You might have heard of him.

“The series succeeds creating a live Bolívar, a human Bolívar, sensitive. Many other things can be added to the series and it’s a historical series in all the meaning of the word. It’s more like a soap opera of Simón Bolívar, but it’s very beautiful.”

Most of us can’t afford a Netflix subscription because it’s twice the minimum wage.

He apologized to the producers, Colombian TV channel Caracol, whom he had attacked weeks earlier. Funny that he didn’t do the same for taking Caracol International off the air almost two years ago. As for the series’ historical accuracy, I better leave the issue to known Venezuelan historian Inés Quintero, member and current director of the National Academy of History.

Another detail about his thumbs-up review, from Bloomberg’s correspondent Patricia Laya:

In short: most of us can’t afford a Netflix subscription because it’s twice the minimum wage.

And that’s the tip of the iceberg: even if you find a way to join Netflix, or other streaming service, you’d have to deal with a slow internet connection… If there’s power. That goes for anyone trying to watch soccer or going to the movies. Some parts of the country have it worse than others ( just look at Maracaibo).

“This great crisis has deteriorated the country’s infrastructure, like telecommunications, carrying a decline of the cultural consumption. And when people are deprived of culture, that influences directly the national socio-economic development.”

That quote comes from Spanish journalist César Noragueda, recently interviewed by CC for this article he wrote on how piracy has become the last refuge of Venezuelans looking for a movie or a series to watch, as the crisis and the constant electrical woes become monkey wrenches to our entertainment, not saying our lives.

For example, local moviegoers not only have to struggle with having no power at the theater, there’s also a reduced offering, since distributors have less incentives to release films here. Matter of fact, 20th Century Fox and Lionsgate dropped Venezuela from their distribution schedules (it’s still unknown if Fox will return, after getting bought by Disney).

And unlike the Defense minister, not all of us can manage to see a blockbuster on opening weekend.

Piracy isn’t new in Venezuela, as I wrote in 2012, but things have really turned for the worst since then, as the economic crisis has taken its toll, according to Noragueda:

“The legal alternatives to watch media have reduced little by little, as the Venezuelan economy has contracted and the loss of purchasing power has reduced the number of spectators to a third in just two years.”

And unlike the Defense minister, not all of us can manage to see a blockbuster on opening weekend.

This takes me back to the aforementioned show, “Bolívar, una lucha admirable.” Maduro praising this series is the clear demonstration of chavismo’s failure to create a worthy attempt of a cultural industry. Two years ago, his then Culture minister (Chávez’s brother Adan) promised him state-backed projects about Bolívar and the late comandante eterno. The irony here is Colombia beating them at bothAlthough the crisis has bitten the bootleggers (their presence isn’t as prevalent as in prior years, as the discs they use have become more scarce), Venezuelan creators are the ones losing the most, their chances to make content are minimal thanks in part to a state that turns a blind eye to illegal practices: “Legal insecurity is one of the greatest barriers for cultural development in the country, because entrepreneurs can’t work knowing that their effort is going to be useless, that they won’t have any control over their work and that they will lose money no matter what.”

And then some: in recent years, Hollywood has taken a huge interest in Colombia, including filming some major movies there, like the upcoming “Gemini Man,” starring Will Smith and directed by two-time Oscar winner Ang Lee. And Netflix announced earlier this year a Spanish-speaking adaptation of Gabriel García Márquez’s most famous novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” produced by his sons.

Putting aside the wasted opportunity for business or the constant decline of our everyday routines, the larger issue that I would like to address is the growing cultural isolation that Venezuela is going through. Even if it doesn’t sound as urgent as other aspects of our crisis, the lack of cultural products affects us in significant ways: 

“Cultural drought desensitizes people,” Noragueda says, “and that influences our capacity to progress.”

At least, we can count that many here are still doing their best in keeping culture alive not just as a form of resistance but as a way to give others joy. It’s a different kind of solidarity, yet a very necessary one.

This piece is dedicated to the victims of the July 18th Kyoto Animation arson attack.

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