November 13, 2015 / 7:59 PM / 2 years ago

Banned 'narco' soap overtaken by Venezuela's real-life scandal

Judge James Cott (L), attorneys John J. Reilly (C) and Rebekah J. Poston (R) with defendants Efrain Antonio Campo Flores (foreground, R) and Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas (foreground, C) during a hearing in U.S. district court in the Manhattan borough of New York in this courtroom sketch from November 12, 2015. REUTERS/Christine Cornell

CARACAS (Reuters) - It reads like a typical Latin American soap opera: two relatives of Venezuela’s president were caught in their Haitian hotel and whisked to the United States to face cocaine charges.

As the pair sit in a New York jail awaiting their fate in a case that has made global headlines, a real narco-telenovela drama is also causing controversy back home.

Four days before his wife’s nephews were arrested, President Nicolas Maduro’s government banned U.S.-based Latino network Telemundo’s soap “Queen of the South” for “glorifying” the drug trade and harming family values.

But with Maduro’s own family now dragged into a drug controversy, critics are having a field day poking fun at what they deem the socialist government’s hypocritical moralizing.

First Lady Cilia Flores has been dubbed the ‘Queen of the South’ in a flood of internet memes that joke about the banned show morphing into a ‘reality’ show featuring the Miraflores presidential palace.

In one, the 62 year-old lawyer’s face has been superimposed on a promotional photo showing glamorous Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, who plays the ‘Queen of the South’, sitting in a short black dress with her legs crossed.

In another, a video has been tinkered with to make it seem like Flores and Maduro are merrily dancing merengue to the lyrics of the soap’s theme song, which go “Queen of the South/ A very famous trafficker/ Born out there in Sinaloa.”

In the Spanish-language drama, a Mexican woman from the drug-rife state of Sinaloa rises to become a top cartel boss in Spain. The plot line is infused with passionate love stories, bitter betrays, and undercover agents.

“If Cilia Flores’ nephews had watched the ‘Queen of the South’ they would have learned about undercover agents, but no, the telecoms regulator didn’t let them,” quipped Venezuelan political commentator Marysabel Cadenas on Twitter.

To be sure, there is no indication Flores herself is involved in trafficking. The government has not commented on the arrests.

Venezuelan telecoms regulator Conatel did not answer calls seeking comment on its decision to ban the show, which has been a hit in big TV markets like the United States, Mexico and Spain. Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal, which owns Telemundo, did not immediately respond to e-mails seeking comment on the show’s suspension.

GLAMORIZING GANGSTERS

In an oil-rich country with an alleged bustling drug trade and one of the world’s highest murder rates, most crime experts argue that profound policy change, rather than censorship of entertainment, is the top priority to turn the tide of violence.

Both Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez have taken aim at hugely-popular ‘telenovelas’ - once a successful Venezuela export industry - for romanticizing guns and gangsters.

But amid U.S. investigations into alleged drugs and money-laundering crimes linked to Venezuelan officials, the Socialist Party is sometimes finding itself alluded to on screen.

National Assembly boss Diosdado Cabello, reported by U.S. media to be under investigation there for links to drug trafficking, accused the “The Lord of the Skies,” another Telemundo soap, of modeling a narco boss after him.

“You know what one of their corrupt drug-trafficking generals is called?” the former soldier said in May during his weekly show. “Diosdado Carreno Arias!... Oh sweet Lord!”

Cabello refutes allegations he is involved with drugs, saying the Venezuelan opposition and U.S. government are spreading lies, including via entertainment, to subvert and discredit the ruling Socialists.

“Do you think any similarity with this scandalous fabrication is pure coincidence?” he said.

“I don’t think so!”

Editing by Mary Milliken

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