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Laughing in crisis, Venezuelan acts out dissident Ortega's tale
September 2, 2017 / 4:37 PM / 3 months ago

Laughing in crisis, Venezuelan acts out dissident Ortega's tale

CARACAS (Reuters) - Laughing at their own tribulations, Venezuelan theatergoers have been enjoying a new satire about a senior official who broke with President Nicolas Maduro and fled the socialist-ruled country in a boat.

Mercedes Benmoha gets her make up done to perform Venezuela's former chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega before the play "La Fiscal" (The Prosecutor) in Caracas, Venezuela, September 1, 2017. Picture taken September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

Former chief state prosecutor Luisa Ortega has been one of the protagonists in this year’s political crisis in Venezuela, denouncing rights abuses and corruption before finally going into hiding and moving to Colombia in mid-August.

Dressed in a blonde wig and Ortega’s trademark office suit, actress Mercedes Benmoha recreates some well-known scenes - and imagines others - in a 15-minute show called “The Prosecutor,” which is proving popular at a small venue in a mall.

Benmoha, who happens to be a lawyer like her subject, acts out a news conference and an imaginary phone call with Ortega’s nemesis, state election board head and diehard Maduro ally Tibisay Lucena.

She also recreates the once-powerful Ortega’s attempt to re-enter her office after authorities fired her and security forces surrounded the building.

Jokes fly about corruption, Maduro, and Ortega’s own precipitous fall from power.

“We use humor as a defense mechanism,” Benmoha, 35, told Reuters on Friday night, minutes before going on stage for her sellout show. “It’s our way to survive, to breathe, to entertain ourselves but also to reflect.”

Mercedes Benmoha dressed as Venezuela's former chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega speaks to a colleague before the play "La Fiscal" (The Prosecutor) in Caracas, Venezuela, September 1, 2017. Picture taken September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

Venezuelans have had little to laugh about this year.

A fourth year of recession and runaway inflation have pummeled households, with shortages and hunger widespread.

Months of opposition-led protests led to about 130 deaths and thousands of injuries.

Slideshow (10 Images)

Having first fled to Aruba in a speedboat, Ortega has been traveling round Latin America denouncing the Maduro government, which in turn has accused her of corruption.

While Venezuela’s opposition has applauded her stance against Maduro, activists also remember she was until recently a pillar of the socialist government and that her office had spearheaded its jailing of political foes.

Benmoha, who co-wrote the script for her show, said she watched more than 800 videos of Ortega to study her gestures and mannerisms. But with her subject still making news almost daily, the play is regularly updated.

When the show started in early August, a producer actually invited Ortega, but she was never able to attend.

After Ortega left the country, however, one of her assistants sent a “Lady Justice” statue that had been in her office. Now, it adorns a Caracas stage every night.

Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn

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