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Does Venezuela's Smiling Tourism Cartoon ‘Cheverito’ Ignore the Country's Grim Realities?

Strip

Image published on the Ministry of Tourism's web page.

Cheverito is a cartoon character created by Venezuela's Ministry of Tourism to promote travel to the country. Cheverito and his friend Eco's adventures to Venezuela's important geographical points of interest have aired the past few days on the ministry's television channel. The name Cheverito comes from the colloquial term “chévere”, which is used to describe a pleasant, terrific or good person, thing or situation.

The response from social networks was furious. In just one weekend, people flooded the web criticizing the lack of awareness about social and economic conditions of Venezuelan citizens. In the last few years, the country's economy has suffered strong setbacks visible in food plights, a very serious scarcity of resources in public institutions, currency depreciation and a strong rise in inflation. To all this, add a deep and deadly urban violence crisis. 

On YouTube, the majority of the comments on the video reflect the hostility directed towards the campaign, while on other sites, several other memes have been created to share the struggles that are dealt with while traveling in Venezuela due to urban violence.

Anabella Abadi and Daniel Raguá from website Provadinci analyzed the costs necessary to follow through with the cartoon's suggested itinerary. According to their article, “How much would Cheverito's adventures in Venezuela really cost?” it appears that the Venezuelan minimum wage (4,251 bolivars per month, or about 675 US dollars) would not be sufficient:

¿Qué hace falta y cuánto cuesta viajar dentro de Venezuela al estilo de Cheverito? [...] Si Cheverito contrató una habitación sencilla [en la isla de Margarita, por ejemplo], le costó BsF 9.734 o 2,3 salarios mínimos. Pero toca estar pendientes, pues Venetur aclara que las “Tarifas están sujetas a cambio sin previo aviso” y son “No reembolsables”. Recordemos que Cheverito debió pagar sus almuerzos y cenas. Y todas las demás excursiones que decidiera hacer, se consideran como “opcionales”, por lo que se debe pagar extra.

What's missing and how much does it cost to travel Venezuela in Cheverito style? [...] Cheverito rented a single room [in Isla de Margarita, for example], and it cost him 9,734 strong bolivars [about 1,550 US dollars] or two to three minimum wage paychecks. But, as [state tourism promotion agency] Venetur states, you must be aware that “prices are subject to change without notice” and are “nonrefundable.” Let's keep in mind that Cheverito also had to pay for his meals. And, all excursions he chose to participate in were considered “optional,” which cost extra.

The article lists prices of tickets and gear seen in the series. Also included are the hardships of traveling in Venezuela. Finally, the authors also speak of other elements that may make it difficult to follow the character's touristic suggestions:

¿Qué falta por saber sobre Cheverito? Aún faltan muchos datos por conocer de Cheverito. No sabemos si se trata de un joven estudiante. Si trabaja, no sabemos si es o no su primer empleo o si labora en el sector formal o informal. Tampoco sabemos si gana salario mínimo o si es empleado de una empresa privada o estatal. [...] ¿Será que Cheverito es cabeza de hogar? ¿O Cheverito depende económicamente de sus padres? Aparentemente vive en Venezuela, pero muy pocos pueden costear aventuras de estas dimensiones.

What else should we know about Cheverito? There are still many other factors we should know about Cheverito. We don't know if he is a young student. We don't know if he works, and if this is or isn't his first job, or if he works in the formal or informal sector. We also don't know if he earns a minimum wage or if he is employed by a private or state firm. [...] Is Cheverito the head of his household? Or are his parents supporting him? It is apparent that he lives in Venezuela, however, not many [who live in Venezuela] can afford adventures of this magnitude.

Website La Patilla conducted a survey asking participants what the worst thing they thought could possibly happen to Cheverito in Venezuela? With more than 2,000 votes, the top voted is “He is murdered on the Valencia – Puerto Cabello” highway.

On Twitter, people responded to the campaign #DestinoChévere and #PerídoVacacional2014. Some reactions had similar characteristics to Venezuelan black humor:

A man shot down at the Rey David in la Boyera… Cheverito.. Tell me it's not you…

Meanwhile, other tweets were much more direct:

Cheverito is the institutionalization of governmental cynicism.

As a parody, the account @HeySoyCheverito was created, which uses images of the character to strongly criticize the government's management. Amongst the most recent posts is a response to the Venezuelan government's offer to take in 10,000 Palestinian children who have become victims of Israel's military offensive:

#Cheverito is driving the corrupt insane, Well in my country, things are not going well, THE ORIGINAL #Cheverito shouldn't tell lies.

[Image reads, "These poor children are having fun and playing while they wait for their 10,000 friends to arrive from Palestine"]

In the same manner, numerous memes and images criticizing inefficient projects carried out by the government have circulated. Jenny Jimenez shared the following public image on Facebook of the Centro Sambil La Candelaria, a planned shopping mall to follow the opening of the Centro Sambil Caracas, the fourth largest in South America. Just as its construction was nearly complete, the Venezuelan government under then-President Hugo Chávez expropriated the building,citing concerns about traffic congestion. As of February 2014, the building remained unfinished and unoccupied:

Cheverito Sambil

Hello, I'm Cheverito. Today I am visiting one of my commander's success stories at Sambil de la Candelaria.

Democracy Underground published many of the images also shared by #OpVzla (@GeorgeArtwell), a Twitter account dedicated to sharing images of art as protest of the government. In this image, Cheverito is seen standing in front of groups of police officers in charge of stopping student protests:

Hi, I'm Cheverito with the police who are very “panas”! Venezuelan tourism.

Pana is Venezuelan slang for “good pals” or “pleasant.”

But while comments and reactions on the blogosphere addressed what was being said on traditional media, the reaction of those in charge of the campaign, expressed through Cheverito, became a concern for many people. An article on business news website Producto explained the politics:

Lo curioso del caso es que a través de la cuenta en Twitter @CheveritoTours, que parece ser la oficial ya que cuenta con más de 2 mil seguidores, incluyendo al propio ministro de Turismo Andrés Izarra, Cheverito ha asumido la personalidad que tanto se le critica a ambos sectores políticos: chavismo y oposición, y ha comenzado a enviar un mensaje que apuesta a la división entre los venezolanos.

The peculiar thing about this is that on the Twitter account @CheveritoTours, which is seemingly the official account with more than 2,000 followers, including Andrés Izarra, the Minister of Tourism himself, Cheverito has taken on a personality that both political sectors [the followers of Chavez's movement and its detractors] have been criticized for, and has begun to send a message that draws a line between the Venezuelan people.

Several of these images where Cheverito is seen responding to his critics were published on this page:

Cheverin 4_0

- Eco, there is a fake Cheverito going around. Don't be fooled.
- Easy, you can spot a Chavism opponent just by looking at them.

Additional images can be found on Hispanchan.org. It is important to mention that some of the images shown may include graphic scenes of violence.

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