January 14, 2011 / 3:54 PM / in 7 years

Venezuela angry at Colombia TV mocking "Little Hugo"

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's government has urged a private TV station to pull the plug on a Colombian soap opera that features a dog named "Little Hugo" and it says is an insult to national pride.

In the cast of "Chepe Fortuna" is a loud, colorfully-dressed and gossipy secretary named "Venezuela."

In one episode, she loses her dog "Little Hugo" -- an obvious reference to former soldier Chavez -- and a friend consoles her: "You are going to be free, Venezuela!"

That sort of satire, against a backdrop of tense relations between the neighboring Andean countries over the last decade, brought a withering reaction from Venezuela's state telecommunications regulator Conatel.

It demanded the daily soap opera be immediately suspended from Venezuelan TV because of its "denigrating treatment" of the nation.

"Venezuela is repeatedly characterized as associated with crime, interference and vulgarity, showing the shameless manipulation of the plot to demoralize the Venezuelan people," Conatel said in a statement.

Local broadcaster Televen pulled the latest episode of "Chepe Fortuna," which had been scheduled for later that night.

A Televen spokeswoman told Reuters the company had not yet received concrete information from the authorities. Until it did, she added, the show would remain suspended.

"By Monday we hope to have a complete version of the order, which will be shown on screen for our viewers," she said.

The mockery of Venezuela in "Chepe Fortuna" comes at a delicate time given the history of diplomatic ruptures between the ideologically opposed governments in Bogota and Caracas since the socialist Chavez came to power in 1999.

Recently, Chavez and new Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos have buried the hatchet and developed a good working relationship despite their obvious political differences.

Conatel also called on Televen to suspend broadcasts of a racy dating program called "Twelve Hearts," which it said was obscene and featured "people kissing passionately without any emotional attachment, just in order to win the competition."

Televen said "Twelve Hearts", made by U.S.-based network Telemundo, would also remain off air for the time being.

Critics say Chavez has repressed media freedom in Venezuela. But the president and his supporters point to a plethora of daily criticism and mockery of his government as evidence of plurality in the South American country.

Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and Daniel Wallis

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