Mexican Soap Opera Presents the Flip Side of Miami Vice

MEXICO CITY -- It's only a supporting role on a soap opera.But the character "Don Johnson" promises to be a lightning rod for the deep anger toward the United States that the drug issue has created in Mexico and Latin America.Johnson is a corrupt agent of the US Drug Enforcement Agency who appears in a controversial telenovela -- or soap opera -- called "Demasiado Corazon" (Too Much Heart), a love story set against the world of drug trafficking that debuted recently on the Television Azteca network.The program presents a different view -- a Latin view -- of the drug problem, says Alberto Barrera, the show's writer."We've always gotten the theme of drug trafficking from the U.S. point of view, from U.S. productions," Barrera said. "The dealers are always named Martinez or Perez. Even though the U.S. consumes more drugs than any other, there's almost nothing touching on that. No one's talking about the Smiths, the Robinsons, the Williams'."Every year the U.S. Congress votes on whether to certify that narcotics-producing countries such as Mexico and Colombia are making significant efforts in the drug war. And every year certification causes uproar -- people resent being judged by a country that consumes more than half of the world's illegal drugs."This is a way of presenting a version different from that of 'Miami Vice' or even Hollywood films. We have a problem with drugs, but so do Americans," said Barrera. "We don't decertify anyone. The U.S. does certify people. It judges. We'd like to see what type of judgment it has over it's own reality."Barrera named his character "Don Johnson" after the character in 'Miami Vice.' "I did it as a joke, to kind of say, 'Hey, that's your version. Here's ours,'" he said. Another nefarious character is a Washington lobbyist, who's actually a front for narcotics money launderers.The program borrows liberally from the headlines -- Barrera is writing Demasiado Corazon in bits and pieces, paying attention to what breaks in the news -- and will include dramatized tales of real drug addicted street children.Demasiado Corazon is one of a new generation of telenovelas that deal honestly with themes that were not permitted on Mexico's airwaves until recently, a change related to the country's dramatic political and social transformation as it emerges from almost seven decades of one-party rule.Television Azteca has brought competition to Mexican television for the first time, and this has forced changes in the telenovela -- Mexico's most important popular culture product -- to change from teary household tales to dealing with such issues as homosexuality, corruption, and now drug trafficking. Characters now drink, they work, they speak a more slangy and sometimes dirty Spanish. Heroines are frequently strong, well-educated, middle class, unwilling to suffer unremittingly for their men."Mexico is oxygenating, politically and socially," said Barrera. "Five years ago we couldn't have done this. I think right now in Mexico there's a kind of an anxiousness for democracy. Before it was a society unaccustomed to competing, in politics, television, in anything. Now it's beginning to get used to it."

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