Hugo Chávez is back on TV — but banned in Venezuela

A promotional picture from the new TV series ‘El Comandante,’ depicting the life of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
A promotional picture from the new TV series ‘El Comandante,’ depicting the life of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Courtesy: Sony Pictures Television

A much-awaited and controversial TV series about the life of Venezuela’s former President Hugo Chávez began airing this week, but there’s one place where it won’t be seen: his homeland.

According to multiple media reports and social media posts, “El Comandante” — produced by Sony Pictures Television and being broadcast by Colombia’s RCN — is being blocked on Venezuelan carriers.

“Blocking the transmission of ‘El Comandante’ reminds us of theocratic regimes that burned and banned books,” Venezuelan Opposition Deputy José Guerra wrote on Twitter.

The Caracas-based free-speech group Entorno Publico, among others, has been posting links to the series online inviting viewers to “outsmart the censors.”

But even in Colombia, where the show has been heavily promoted, the series got off to a stumbling start. It launched on Monday in a lackluster sixth place, behind the telenovela “Sin Tetas Si Hay Paraiso” as well as “Colombia’s Next Top Model” and NBC’s “Las Vegas,” according to the much-cited Rating Colombia.

Moisés Naím — an author, television host and Venezuela’s former minister of trade and industry — is the executive producer of the television show. The starring role in the Spanish-language production belongs to Andres Parra, who is best known for playing Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar in the series “El Patron del Mal.”

But the new series has been controversial from the start.

Chávez’s fans feared Naím, who’s also a vocal opponent of the administration, would turn the leader into a caricature. And critics of “El Comandante” wondered why anyone would tune in to watch a television series about a man who was constantly on TV during his 14 years in power.

President Nicolás Maduro blasted the TV show before it ever aired, saying the cash-strapped administration would finance its own biopic. State-run television in Venezuela has been running documentaries about the late leader, who succumbed to an undisclosed form of cancer in 2013.

“No trans-national is going to come here and disfigure our Commander Hugo Chávez,” Maduro said in August.

But it’s unclear if and when the Venezuelan version might be aired.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated how many years Chávez had been in power and Naím’s role in the production.