A Venezuelan website that has poked fun at leftist President Hugo Chavez for two years has become a roaring success on the Internet, where its authors set up their satirical blog to avoid censorship.
Juan Andres Ravell and Oswaldo Graziani, former television scriptwriters, say the main aim of their blog, The Bipolar Capybara (http://www.elchiguirebipolar.com/), is to make people laugh and lighten the polarized political environment.
Their latest creation is Presidential Island, an animated series on the blog that broadens the satire to other Latin American leaders. The series is a takeoff of the U.S. television drama Lost featuring Latin American leaders who are shipwrecked with Chavez on a deserted island.
Chavez and Bolivia's President Evo Morales, the United States' main critics in South America, feast on an American bald eagle, while the king of Spain roasts Chilean leader Michelle Bachelet on a spit.
Presidential Island has been a hit in Latin America and has created an international following on Twitter and Facebook for Ravell, 28, and Graziani, 30.
The first episode has had more than 1 million viewers since being posted in February and doubled the traffic to the Bipolar Capybara blog, which takes its name from a large South American rodent.
In episode two, Chavez, who has succeeded Fidel Castro as the region's most verbose leader, bores his peers with a long monologue as they fish from a tree branch. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva dozes off and falls into the sea.
The series also lampoons U.S. President Barack Obama, who appears at the end of the second episode shooting Chavez with a tranquilizer dart from the top of a coconut tree.
President Chavez's international role is funnier than his domestic one so we are looking for a larger audience, said Ravell, who was inspired by U.S. political humorist Stephen Colbert and the animated television series South Park.
Chavez, facing criticism of his 11-year rule as economic recession and electricity shortages dent his popularity, has moved to silence his opponents who say he is becoming a dictator in the South American oil exporting nation. So what does he think of the jokes?
Chavez is funny but I don't know if he has a sense of humor when the joke is on him, Graziani said. I hope he laughs. The best thing that could happen to this country is that he would laugh about himself but I doubt it.
The former army colonel turned socialist revolutionary refused to renew the license of critical television network RCTV and revoked the licenses of dozens of radio stations. He also has suggested Internet controls may be needed too.
Ravell and Graziani said their brand of brazen political satire is only possible on the Internet today in Venezuela, because no broadcasters would dare risk losing their licenses.
Their first attempt on cable television in 2007 was edited so heavily that their humor lost its punch and they decided to move to the Internet, where no government licenses are needed.
Authoritarian governments can't tolerate humor, said Emilio Lovera, a well-known Venezuelan humorist recruited to imitate the voices of Chavez and other Latin American leaders in the series.
Lovera said political satire disappeared from Venezuelan television since RCTV went off the air.
So far no government official has attacked us directly, said Ravell, whose father used to head the main opposition television network Globovision. But I wouldn't be surprised if they knocked at the door at any moment.
(Editing by Bill Trott)