Secuestro in its social and political context
Secuestro’s DVD menu is set against a background of bills — money — produced by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The image of Bolívar is present even before the beginning of the film, and it reappears shortly afterwards in a significant position. As I noted, the film starts with a brief shot of the Creole roulette scene and a fast montage of images including a bird-eye view of the high-rises of Caracas and the slums that surround them, graffiti “I love you Caracas,” the Virgin, rich golfers, smart shopping malls, riots in the streets, police attacking Caucasian demonstrators, the demonstrators in turn calling for army intervention, an image of Bolívar, the much publicized image of Cabrices firing his gun from Puente Llaguno, “dangerous” youngsters consuming drugs, tattooing themselves, and fighting at night in the slums.
The use of the figure of Bolívar between these images requires interpretation. Bolívar has become the emblem of Venezuela’s Government to the extent that, despite it being a 21st century socialist state, “it doesn’t assume Marxism as the guiding ideology of the process, but rather Bolívarianism.”
In fact, President Hugo Chávez’s interest in Bolívar emerged while he was a student at the military academy, where he formed Bolivarian societies that culminated in the creation of the MBR 200 (Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement 200) in 1982. In 1997, the MBR 200’s national assembly decided to create a political party that brought Chávez to the presidency in 1998 (Chávez & Harnecker). In 1999, the name of the country was officially changed to “República Bolivariana de Venezuela,” In this light, Bolívar eterno, ciudadano de la libertad was the first feature film produced by La Villa del Cine. When Secuestro Express associates the image of Bolívar with chaotic images of Caracas, such a link is highly significant. Jakubowicz may wish to imply that Chávez has failed to bring order and stability to the country since he became President. This image of Bolívar contrasts sharply with a majestic image of the same historical figure depicted in La Clase. In the same line, the director makes a mockery of the denomination República Bolivariana de Venezuela by having a radio host refer to the country as “República Bolivariana de la Marihuana” or “Bolivarian Republic of Marijuana,” with the clear intention to criticize the reforms led by Chávez.
Such indexes of partiality contradict the claims the director makes about his impartiality: “You need the gang members and you need the opposite gang and you need a little bit of everyone. And we shot this also in the center of the political guerrilla and we shot at the center of the opposition like movement, and you know, everybody was thinking and suspecting that we were from the other side but we were always clear that we had a social message and we were not into politics.”
Here Jakubowicz seems to be referring to Chávez’s party when he mentions “the political guerrilla,”even though Chávez has been the elected President of the Venezuelan Government since 1998 and he does not officially support guerrillas. Furthermore, the producers’ comments reinforce my interpretation: “This film addresses the roots of the problem of kidnapping. You know you get to know both sides and I don’t think this had been ever done before. Latin America IS the United States backyard. The more those problems grow and the more those governments turn over to governments that are very much against what the American dream is, the more is going to become our problem.”
The director adds, “I think this film is a very good window for American audience to understand a lot of what is going on right here, in their backyards.” In the same chapter, we are also reminded that Miami is only two-and-a-half hours away from Caracas.
These efforts to help the U.S. audience understand the political reality of Venezuela stand in contrast to the efforts made by Hugo Chávez to spread his version of what Latin America is or should be. From the beginning of his mandate, Chávez has been fighting U.S. hegemony in the region and he often speaks out against the terrible effects of U.S. imperialism in Latin America. In a gesture that attracted international media attention Chávez presented to President Barack Obama in a summit of the Americas that took place in 2009 an history of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent. It is not coincidental that José Antonio Varela uses another text by Galeano to conclude La clase: “Above all, the world is divided in unworthy and outraged people. And it is up to each one of us to decide what side we want to or we can take.”
That is, at the end of the film, a clear stance is taken when spectators are invited to join the riots of the poor to protest against the status quo. This is the kind of realism with a message found in both Venezuelan and many other Latin American films today.