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‘Super Mustache’: Venezuela’s newest superhero battles Americans — and looks very familiar

In a red jumpsuit and blue cape, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is shown as a cartoon superhero who fights domestic and international enemies. (Video: VTV)
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CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s newest superhero is tall and muscular, flies over Caracas in red tights and a blue cape, and destroys enemies with an iron fist.

He also bears an uncanny resemblance to authoritarian leader Nicolás Maduro.

The first episode of “Súper Bigote,” which aired this month on Venezuela’s state-run television, opens in the Oval Office, where a rotund leader with a shock of blond hair — he appears to be a cross between “The Incredibles” villain Syndrome and former president Donald Trump — plots an attack.

Pressing a red button, he launches a drone that attacks Venezuela’s electrical grid, causing a nationwide blackout. A woman cries for help. A patient wakes up in the middle of surgery screaming. Characters resembling Venezuelan opposition leaders Henry Ramos Allup and Julio Borges, dressed as chickens, laugh and celebrate.

Then Súper Bigote — the name is Spanish for “Super Mustache” — arrives.

“Team,” he says, “we’ll destroy them together. I’ll take care of the bad guys.” He smashes the drone and restores electricity; the episode ends to the tune of salsa legend Ray Barreto’s “Indestructible.”

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The episode, which illustrates the government’s claim that sabotage caused the four-day blackout here in 2019, has drawn both praise and derision online.

“Imagine all the haters looking at this,” one admirer tweeted. “The revolutionary originality and its Hollywood models,” mocked another.

But beyond the laughs, analysts see an effort to improve the image of a leader in need of support in a country struggling through a years-long humanitarian crisis.

“Cartoons are a classic medium of propaganda for authoritarian regimes,” said David Smilde, a sociologist at Tulane University who focuses on Venezuela. The new show “effectively provides an interpretation of Venezuela’s governance disaster where the people are the victims, the U.S. is the villain and Maduro saves the day.”

No one has taken credit for the creation of “Súper Bigote,” and it’s unclear whether more episodes will air. But the cartoon appears at a fraught moment in Venezuelan politics. Maduro’s government claimed victory in regional elections last month, but turnout was the lowest in two decades, and international observers detected problems with the vote.

“In the context of a more successful authoritarian project, this type of propaganda might be worrying, ” Smilde said. “But polling suggests that the great majority of the population blames Maduro for the humanitarian emergency they are experiencing and do not believe his conspiracy theories.”

Venezuelans have seen national leaders made into icons before. Hugo Chávez, the founder of Venezuela’s socialist state, was turned into an action figure, complete with his signature red beret and military uniform. His face continues to watch over Venezuelans from murals and posters. After his death, a member of his party memorably prayed before his image, turning “Our Father” into “Our Chávez.”

Chávez picked Maduro to succeed him. But the protege has never enjoyed the founder’s popular support.

Sociologist Anaís López says the cartoon suggests a need to “flatter and exalt” Maduro.

“The point is to position the Chavista narrative that everything that happens is the product of a conspiracy between a group of very specific opposition leaders and the White House, in a format that is less heavy than his speeches, that fewer and fewer people want to hear,” she said. “The government knows that they need to promote themselves in all formats possible.”

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Maduro has threatened to wield his mustache against adversaries in the past. In a 2019 speech, he noted that Ecuador´s Lenín Moreno had accused him of fomenting unrest in the country.

“President Lenín Moreno said that what is happening there is my fault; that I move my mustache and knock down governments,” Maduro said in a live message on national television. “I’m thinking about which government I can knock down next with my mustache.” He then showed a picture of Súper Bigote on his cellphone.

The government has not commented on the new cartoon.

“It is an interesting strategy,” sociologist Maryclen Stelling said. “Possibly its purpose is to reinforce the image of Maduro as the president of a country subjected to a blockade. The idea that somehow in a country subjected to this, there are heroes: Those of us who stay and overcome the crisis.”

“It explains the crisis from a political perspective and geopolitical causality where there are good and bad.”

El Chigüire Bipolar, a satirical news site, posted a picture of the new character responding to a mustache in the night sky in the style of the Bat-Signal.

The headline: “Súper Bigote covers vacations for Batman and Gotham City suffers 4-day blackout.”

“One thing is for sure,” Stelling said. “At least in the world of humor, it had an impact.”

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