Hit Colombian TV series breaks cocaine taboo

Thu Sep 18, 2008 12:42pm EDT
 
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By Hugh Bronstein

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombians do not like outsiders portraying their country as a cocaine nation, but that's not keeping many from watching a smash local soap opera about their multibillion-dollar narcotics trade.

Betrayal, murder and the lust for quick riches, while not the stuff of national pride, make for gripping television in "Cartel de los Sapos" (Cartel of the Snitches) about the powerful Norte del Valle drug smuggling organization.

Tracing how the cartel supplanted the once-mighty Medellin and Cali gangs, the series is the first to spotlight Colombia's drug lords, their surgically-enhanced girlfriends, violent lackeys and the dirty politicians and police who permit the world's biggest cocaine trade to flourish.

The No. 1-rated show is tinged with nostalgia for the early days of cocaine trafficking and the explosion of wealth it brought Colombians willing to use crime to escape the country's rigid class structure and dead-end economy.

"We identify with the story," said Diana Ramirez, 24, a waitress from Cali and fan of the show. "Sure it's ugly and violent, but it also has its charm."

The series puts the flamboyant characters of the 1980s and 1990s into historical context and shows how deeply the cartels have corrupted Colombian society, a taboo subject in the popular media until now.

The show accurately points out that many of the founders of the Norte del Valle cartel were former police officers.

Names are changed and the fun for many viewers is in identifying which characters are based on real-life criminals and their cronies, such as a top fashion model whose trafficker husband was famously chopped into pieces by a rival gang.   Continued...

 
<p>Actors Robinson Diaz (L), Manolo Cardona (C) and Diego Cadavid pose in the tv series "El Cartel de los Sapos" (Cartel of the Snitches) in this undated publicity still. Colombians do not like outsiders portraying their country as a cocaine nation, but that's not keeping many from watching a smash local soap opera about their multibillion-dollar narcotics trade. REUTERS/Caracol TV/Handout</p>