“The melodrama is out there on the streets”

Life imitates art for screenwriter in Venezuela, as threats pour in

Supporters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez react to the news of his death.
Supporters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez react to the news of his death.fernando llano (ap)

“Fierce days are coming. We are currently living inside a very large soap opera, which is actually the entire country. The melodrama is out there on the streets,” says Leonardo Padrón, one of the most successful soap opera screenwriters in all of Venezuela, where the genre is an art form.

These statements, made ahead of Sunday’s presidential elections, which will determine the successor to the late Hugo Chávez, come on top of a column that Padrón published recently in the daily El Nacional under the headline “Seeking a country.” The article had considerable repercussion in a society that feels spent by so much political polarization in recent years.

“We are all exhausted from so much disagreement, so much mutual aggression, so much screwing one another. The street is a like a choir singing songs of resentment out of tune. […] All we really want is plurality, wellbeing, reconciliation,” wrote Padrón, a leftist for whom the kind of Venezuela he dreams of is only possible if the winner of Sunday’s vote is Henrique Capriles, the opposition candidate now that Chávez, “the great showman,” is gone.

Soap operas are not sweet little stories; they are a metaphor for populism"

The writer has just reported to the attorney’s office that over the last four days, he has received “over 80 calls a day” on his cellphone and home phone, issuing death threats. “They said, ‘We’re going to break you, you skinny little shit. Leave this country.’ I had to turn off my phones to get any sleep.”

This is not the first time that Padrón has been a victim of this kind of harassment. Two years ago, his email account was hacked, and a few days later the host of a pro-government program called La Hojilla read out some of his private emails in front of the TV cameras.

“For 14 years, Chávez created a rhetoric of love with a grammar of hate,” says Padrón, who never once considered leaving his country.

One million Venezuelans went into exile under Chávez’s rule, including many soap opera screenwriters.

“Soap operas are not sweet little stories,” says the writer Ibsen Martínez. “In Latin America they are a metaphor for populism and the rhetoric is based on the concept of payback. In almost every case, the lead character seeks to rise out of poverty without creating wealth, by recovering the assets that were taken away from him. [...] Now we have a blundering heir [acting President Nicolás Maduro] who is going to squander the legacy left him by his ‘father’ [Chávez] and who faces opposition from a suitor [Capriles] who is courting the heroine [Venezuela].”

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