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Chavez vs. “Secuestro Express”

After reading that a low-budget film about a kidnapping had become the most popular movie in Venezuela’s history, and had similtaneously incurred the wrath of the government, I had to see it for myself. So I bumped “Secuestro Express” to the top of my Netflix queue and watched it last week.

“Secuestro Express” was directed by 28-year-old Jonathan Jakubowicz. Based in part on personal experience, it tells the story of the abduction of a privileged, club-going young couple in Caracas. The kidnappers– two from the barrios and one middle-class thrill-seeker– are looking for a quick payoff from the woman’s father, and therefore demand a relatively small ransom; thus the term “secuestro [kidnapping] express.”

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It’s not a great movie– a little too much Tarantino-ish pulp– but it does have its powerful moments. And its focus on the huge class divide in Venezuela seems to have struck a chord with audiences from all segments of society. According to Jakubowicz, “People from the poorest barrios, who had never been to the cinema in their lives, went to see this movie.”

If you get the DVD, be sure to watch it with Jakubowicz’s commentary. He calls attention to a number of things a non-Venezuelan might miss, but which resonate with Venezuelan viewers.

So why did Vice President José Vicente Rangel denounce “Secuestro Express” as a “miserable film, a falsification of the truth with no artistic value”? Why did supporters of President Hugo Chavez try to get it banned from Venezuelan theatres?

And why does Jakubowicz face a lawsuit by a Chavez supporter charging him with encouraging drug use (of which there is plenty in the movie) and vilifying the armed forces (which, along with the police, are portrayed as frequently corrupt and brutal)? If found guilty, he could face up to 10 years in prison, but I suppose it’s highly unlikely the chavistas would want to create such a high-profile martyr.

Equally disturbing is that Jakubowicz, a Jew, has received antisemitic abuse from Chavez supporters.

Jakubowicz was… denounced on the Chavista TV show, The Blade, presented by Mario Silva and Lina Ron, where the film was accused of being part of a Hollywood-Zionist conspiracy. [Perhaps I blinked and missed the scene where the kidnappers and their victims pull out Israeli flags and wave them.] “Ron said she wasn’t anti-semitic,” explains Jakubowicz, “but asked how could a Jew know what was going on in the ranchos. It was the responsibility of the Jewish community to control someone like me if they wanted respect in this nation. The day after, Chavez said he thought the show was too soft on me.”

So why all the chavista rage at Jakubowicz and his movie?

“The film was not conceived as anti-Chávez. In fact, I voted for him,” he says. “But all this has shown me that his revolution is based on social hatred. Secuestro express promotes social evolution, based on dialogue and understanding between social classes. Chávez knows that the moment the rich and the poor get together to work for a better Venezuela, that’s the day the revolution is dead.”

Perhaps it’s that. Perhaps it’s the scene in which a mellow radio disc jockey refers to the “Bolivarian republic of marijuana.” Perhaps it’s that for all of Chavez’s bluster during his years in power, “Secuestro Express” suggests that things haven’t changed for the better in Venezuela in terms of crime, corruption and inequality.

Speaking after Chavez’s visit to London last month, Jakubowicz told The New Statesman, “As English people love him so much, I’m campaigning for Chávez to become mayor of London. Really, you’re welcome to him.”

Meanwhile, back in the noncinematic world, blogger Daniel Duquenal notes the Chavez government has come up with a solution to Venezuela’s kidnapping epidemic: a law to forbid ransom payments.

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