Chávez succeeds in killing telenovelas


The Financial Times explores Chávez’s negative impact on Venezuela’s production of steamy telenovelas.

Venezuela doesn’t send much to the outside world apart from its abundant oil – but what it does, it does well. At least it used to.

The beauty-obsessed Caribbean nation was once a prolific producer of steamy soap operas: the 1990s series “Kassandra” won a Guinness record for being the most widely watched and translated in the world, reaching 182 countries including China and Kazakhstan.

Alas, the Venezuelan soap opera, or telenovela, has fallen on hard times, according to a new study by Polinomics. Months went by in 2010 during which not a single Venezuelan-made telenovela was being aired.

How so? To a large degree, this is thanks to the notorious case in 2007 of the “non-renewal” of the broadcasting license for RCTV, Venezuelans’ favourite television station and a pioneer of the genre, but also an enemy of President Hugo Chávez. That in turn took the edge of its main rival, Venevisión.

Other contributing factors include a new “social responsibility” law regulating television content, a collapse in advertising revenues thanks to the recent recession and a dismal business climate leading to a general unwillingness to pour money into making expensive new productions when it has become about 8 times cheaper to import foreign ones, local daily El Nacional reports, thanks in part to a greatly overvalued exchange rate.

One person who does not regret the decline of telenovelas is Chávez, who sees them as the worst possible manifestation of the base capitalist values and culture at large in Venezuela today. He has even gone as far as to blame telenovelas for underage pregnancies, prostitution and violence.

Chávez has said that he would like to see Cuba-style “socialist telenovelas” blossom instead, and has entreated some of Venezuela’s best writers sympathetic to his revolution to get to work. Little progress seems to have been made as yet (and if similar projects are anything to go by it may have a tough time getting off the ground).

The plight of telenovelas is hardly surprising. Businesses across the board are battling to cope with the government’s mounting regulations and its penchant for centralisation. Many are falling by the wayside.

It remains to be seen whether the government is capable of providing viable alternatives.

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