Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela anger at 'mocking' Colombia soap opera

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez watches children use computers (Jan 2011)
Image caption Mr Chavez's critics say he is trying to muzzle the media to prevent criticism

Venezuela has told a private TV company to stop showing a Colombian soap opera it says is insulting to the country.

Chepe Fortuna stars a character called Colombia and her sister Venezuela, who owns a dog called Little Hugo, the same name as Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

In one episode Venezuela loses Little Hugo, prompting Colombia to tell her she is better off without him.

The spat comes as the countries are making efforts to improve their historically strained relationship.

They restored relations last August, shortly after President Juan Manuel Santos took office in Colombia.

Venezuela's telecommunications regulator Conatel said the secretary character named Venezuela was "repeatedly characterised as associated with crime, interference and vulgarity".

Her gossipy and unscrupulous manner, it said, showed "the shameless manipulation of the plot to demoralise the Venezuelan people".

Conatel ordered the Televen channel to take the programme off air on Thursday night. The channel has not yet commented on the demands.

But the show's producer, Miguel Angel Baquero, denied the programme was promoting political intolerance.

"It is a folkloric tradition with the sole intention of entertaining the people and showing how the humour of the people of Colombia's coast lets two sisters be called Colombia and Venezuela," he said in a statement.

It is not the first time Televen has come under fire from the authorities.

In 2009 it was one of several channels ordered to stop showing episodes of the US cartoon Family Guy, over its apparent endorsement of the use of marijuana.

And in 2008, the channel was forced to broadcast public service films as a punishment after it broadcast episodes of The Simpsons - a cartoon the authorities consider inappropriate for children - in the morning.

Mr Chavez maintains tight control over the media in Venezuela - opposition groups accuse him of trying prevent coverage of political discontent.

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