Rosario Tijeras Colombians outraged by narco soaps glamorising cartels

New TV series Rosario Tijeras, which features sexy assassins and drug baron heroes, sparks moral outcry

Outlandish tales of shady drug bosses and glamorous women assassins are the staple of Colombian primetime television. But the latest "narco-soaps" about the country's drug gangs have sparked a debate about just how much of that dark reality should be broadcast into living rooms night after night.

The latest narco-show to air is Rosario Tijeras, a TV adaptation of a novel by the same name about a sexy hitwoman at the service of the drug mafia. The show's initial slogan, "It's harder to love than to kill", sparked such protests in the city of Medellin, where the story is set, that advertising posters were taken down.

The main Medellin newspaper El Colombiano said that the show was a "gulp of absurdity, vulgarity, bad manners and a big dose of narco-culture." Medellin, Colombia's second-largest city is best known for the cartel of the same name led in the 1980s and 90s by Pablo Escobar.

Murder, betrayal, fast money and beautiful, buxom women may be vulgar but, according to fans of the show, it makes for riveting television and Rosario has been among the country's top-rated programmes since it began last month.

Rosario is the latest of the narco-soaps to raise a fracas. Over the past two years Colombians have seen The Cartel, about the powerful Norte del Valle Cartel and The Capo, which paints a wily drug boss as a sensitive anti-hero. There was also the smash hit Without Tits there is no Paradise that portrayed the lives of the women who surround the drug lords, as did Mafia Dolls which ended last week.

The main complaint is that such series glamorise the life of criminals and incite young people to emulate that lifestyle. The argument over the narco-soaps has even reached neighbouring Panama, whose president Ricardo Martinelli, complained about the Colombian shows that air on local television there. "They exalt drug trafficking, theft, muggings," he said, adding that the shows do "damage to our country" and corrupt "moral values".

Others think that the central messages of such shows can be positive. In an editorial today, El Espectador newspaper said rather than being "apologists" for the narco lifestyle, the soaps may be seen as cautionary tales. The smalltown girl who thought heaven could only be reached with large breasts ended up dying a lonely alcoholic, drug bosses wind up in tiny jail cells in a foreign country, and Rosario dies the way she lived: by the gun.

German Yances, a media expert at Bogotá's Javeriana University, said that some Colombians "don't like to see their problems reflected on fictional television because the daily drama of the country is on every night on the news. But the high ratings suggest many viewers either see their lives reflected in or are fascinated by the shows, said Yances. Despite the ratings, a powerful group of companies in Medellin has reportedly decided it would not advertise on the show and at least one cable operator is considering blocking it.

"If we don't like the programmes then we should debate that, but we should not try to censor them," added Yances. "What is painful is the reality they reflect and that's what we should think about," he said.

Angela Camacho, an optometrist's assistant in Bogotá, has no connection to the narco culture but she doesn't miss an episode of the narco-novelas: "I watched The Cartel and then Mafia Dolls and now Rosario Tijeras. It is violent some times and they exaggerate but I like it."


Sibylla Brodzinsky

The GuardianTramp

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