CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela is riding its own wave of the fake news phenomenon.
Insisting in its lack of accuracy, President Nicolas Maduro not only has banned the airing of a Sony Pictures miniseries about the life of late President Hugo Chavez – he has ordered the production of an alternate version of the socialist leader’s rise to power.
“El Comandante” premiered this week in several Latin American countries and in the U.S. via Telemundo and TNT, to the ire of Maduro and all Chavistas. This includes Chavez’s ex-wife Maria Isabel Rodríguez, who is reportedly considering a defamation lawsuit against Sony.
In the past couple of weeks, the National Telecommunications Commission (Conatel) launched a campaign on social media to alert Venezuelans of the upcoming “illegal” show, which it said “jeopardizes Chávez’s legacy.”
“Report if any cable operator insults the legacy of Hugo Chavez transmitting the series ‘El Comandante,’ says Conatel in his Twitter account with the hashtag #AquiNadieHablaMaldeChavez (#NobodySpeaksIllOfChavezHere).
“El Comandante,” a 60-episode production, did air in neighboring Colombia on RCN channel. However, the signal went black in Venezuelan border towns for the duration of the entire episode on the night of the premiere Jan. 30 and the two other episodes that have aired so far.
“RCN will be out of the air for an hour. We apologize for the inconvenience,” a message read on the screen.
On the eve of the series premiere, President Maduro came out on TV and announced that “the revolution” will “counterattack” with its own series, and also a feature film.
Chavez, who died of cancer in 2013, called himself the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution and ruled Venezuela for 14 years with a strong socialist fist.
“They are so scared [of Chavez] that they invented a series to try to disfigure a true leader and a Latin American and world hero; and they will not be able to. We have to counterattack with the truth,” he said.
The production of the new TV series and the biopic was announced by Chavez’s brother and Culture Minister Adan Chavez.
The alternate TV series will be named “Chavez for Real,” he said.
“The government’s reaction is not surprising,” filmmaker Oscar Lucien told Fox News. “This is a regime that systematically abuses the freedom of expression rights. But it doesn’t work: when a message is banned it only stimulates the interest to know it. People who were not interested, now are,” he noted.
The actors in the series, which continues to be produced in Colombia, say that the government’s fears are misplaced because those who like Chavez will continue to like him no matter what.
“Is the government afraid of criticism? Is it afraid of people who think differently? History should not be censored,” said actor Vicente Peña, who plays Chavez’s best friend.
“Like it or not, Chavez is part of the history of our country and the world. The government should focus on meeting the needs of the country and not pay attention to a series that, I’m sure, will not change anybody’s political point of view.”
The title role is played by Andrés Parra, the same actor who not long ago played the role of late drug trafficker Pablo Escobar – another sore point for the adoring Chavistas.
Actor Ernesto Campos, who plays Chavez at age 17, said he read books and watched documentaries and TV broadcasts of the late president because he was too young during Chavez’s 14-year rule.
He said his opinion on the late Comandante remains intact. “I just know that he’s responsible for the Venezuela we have today,” he said, referring to the country’s acute polarization. “There will be people who will love the series and others who will hate it.”
Ivan Zambrano contributed to this report.
Alex Vasquez is a freelance reporter living in Caracas, Venezuela.