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“Little Hugo” the Dog Causes Controversy
Venezuela and Columbia in conflict over soap opera

Venezuela and Columbia are two countries that have long had a complicated relationship. Serious matters (such as accusations by one country that the other country was harboring Marxist guerrillas with the intent of overthrowing the government of the first country) strain the relationship. So, too, it seems, do less important problems such as a soap opera made in one country that doesn’t show the other country in a flattering light and named a dog after the president.

 
The Colombian soap opera “Chepe Fortuna” stars two sisters called Colombia and Venezuela. The sister named Venezuela is apparently regularly associated with criminal activities, and is portrayed as vulgar and meddling. In addition, Venezuela has a dog who is named “Little Hugo,” which is presumably a reference to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
 
Venezuela’s National Television Commission issued a statement objecting to the degrading treatment of Venezuela by the soap opera and urging the television station to cease airing it. The producer replied that it is just about humor and that Venezuelan officials are taking it too seriously.
 
In one scene, Venezuela asks, “What will become of Venezuela without little Hugo?” and a man answers, “Venezuela will be free. Lately Little Hugo was defecating everywhere.”
 
I lived in Venezuela for a while back in the 1990s and loved it. It was a warm and welcoming country with some of the most beautiful landscapes and wildlife I’ve ever seen. I must say, it’s easy to see the objection to having their country and president mocked in this way. A person could have a namesake dog and have that be an expression of respect, but it can also be the opposite—an insult.
 
Yet as a US citizen accustomed to free speech, banning a soap opera seems pretty extreme. In this country, we are used to parodies, especially of powerful people such as elected officials. The request to stop airing the show illustrates the tension between Columbia and Venezuela, the different thresholds for determining what is allowed (and what is not) in various parts of the world, and how seriously some people in Latin America take their soap operas.
 
Most interesting to me is the fact that a tense international political situation involves a dog. What does that mean to you in terms of dogs’ growing cultural importance worldwide?
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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.

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