Venezuelan Show Contestants Compete for Maduro’s Presidential Campaign Jingle

Venezuelan Show Contestants Compete for Maduro’s Presidential Campaign Jingle

The flashing neon lights. The cheering audience. The lively host with slicked back hair in a sea foam green suit. The panel of judges in dark sunglasses. The contestants who share emotional personal stories before belting their songs into a microphone.

It has all the elements of a typical singing competition. But this contest’s winner will not earn money or a recording contract.

Instead, contestants on the show, “M Factor,” write and perform songs in a competition to become the official campaign jingle for the party of President Nicolás Maduro, the authoritarian leader of Venezuela.

Mr. Maduro’s repressive government, which has been in power for over a decade, is under investigation by an international court for crimes against humanity.

But on the home front Mr. Maduro has tried, at times, to promote a softer side, using state-controlled media to portray his administration as goofy, fun-loving personalities working hard to save the nation from what they characterize as imperialist enemies, namely the United States.

In his own weekly television show Mr. Maduro appears next to brightly attired traditional singers and dancers who promote his policies in song. Another series on state television features a cartoon superhero named “Super Mustache” who bears a striking resemblance to Mr. Maduro rescuing the Venezuelan people from disaster.

Such shows are seen by many as a distraction from years of economic struggle that have led more than seven million Venezuelans, a fourth of the country’s population, to leave since 2015.

But the host of the “M Factor” Winston Vallenilla, a longtime television actor and supporter of Mr. Maduro, who is also a national legislator, said this was not true.

“‘M Factor’ was born from a movement of artists,’’ he said in an interview. “It was born from the need of the people to express themselves through music. It is not born out of a call from President Nicolás Maduro.”

“There is no economic interest here,’’ he added. “The only interest is the interest of the homeland.”

The producer of the “M Factor,’’ Camilla Fabri, said in a news release that the show was conceived after Mr. Maduro’s campaign received multiple jingle proposals “spontaneously.”

The program, which was first broadcast on April 28 on the public television station TVES, will feature 35 contestants across eight episodes. The final episode will be broadcast on June 10, seven weeks before the scheduled July 28 presidential election.

“In Venezuela there are so many singers, so many promises,” Mr. Maduro said when he announced the contest three weeks ago. “We have to express this historic moment, express it with their yearnings, their hopes.”

The judges, all of whom are known Maduro supporters with business ties to the government, give little criticism of the performances and much praise for the president, whose approval rating otherwise hovers around 35 percent.

Denunciations of the United States, which has imposed severe economic sanctions on Venezuela, come up frequently — from the host, from Mr. Maduro’s campaign messages that air during the show, and from one contestant whose song included the phrase: “they want to dominate us, that gringo empire.”

“The United States has done us a lot of harm,” Mr. Vallenilla said during one episode. “Always trying to undermine the freedom and the independence, the sovereignty of the people.” Throughout the program Mr. Vallenilla refers to Mr. Maduro as the “president of peace” and “the greatest defender of culture in Venezuela.”

One contestant, wearing a cowboy hat and surrounded by flamenco dancers sang: “Listen to me, Nicolás. I’m going to shout it out loud: With 10 million votes you will have your triumph for sure.” Afterward, Mr. Vallenilla chatted onstage with the contestant, known as Neo Blanco.

“He is not here, but he is watching you on television,” Mr. Vallenilla said, referring to the president. “So what would you say to President Nicolás Maduro at this special moment?”

“Don’t give up, compadre. You have a lot of people out there,” Neo Blanco said. “If we have to hang up our hats someday and go to the toughest battle, count on us, brother.”

Sheyla Urdaneta contributed reporting from Maracaibo.

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