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Soap Opera Upstages Protest At Vieques

BY Magaly Morales

June 30, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Sun-Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

Soap fan
(PHOTO: AP/Tomas van Houtryve)

Anti-bombing protesters gather around the clock at the Justice and Peace Camp across the street from the U.S. Navy’s Camp García in Vieques, Puerto Rico. They come and go, tending to their homes and jobs before returning to stage their act of civil disobedience.

But lately protest organizers noticed their ranks thinning in the early evening hours, Monday through Friday.

Seems even political protesters have been seduced by Betty la Fea.

Knowing when to give up a losing battle, organizers this week erected a large screen to broadcast the wildly popular Colombian soap opera, or novella.

"Novellas are a big part of our culture, part of the everyday life of our community, we don’t want to organize a protest that interrupts that," said Roberto Rabin, a spokesman for the Committee Pro-Rescue and Development of Vieques.

Betty la Fea (Betty the Ugly) , now in a climactic point of the story, has become such a hit among Puerto Ricans that protesters were leaving the camp to get home for the 7 p.m. episode.

On the first night it was shown at the camp, Betty, whose episodes have already aired in South Florida, lured 40 protesters. But by Thursday, about 50 pairs of eyes were glued to the screen, following the misadventures of the unlikely heroine.

"Now, people are coming in well before 7 p.m., and we all know why," said Lisette Sanabria, 34, a teacher from Guaynabo and a die-hard Betty fan. "The funny thing was that on the first day, most of the people gathered around the screen were men."

The secret weapon has worked in more ways than one. Not only is it helping reduce absenteeism, but also it is releasing stress among those who spend the entire day in the camp, Rabin said.

Marina Moscoso, 26, a student from San Juan who has been at the camp for two weeks, said she’s thrilled she can participate in the protest without missing the novella. Before the large screen was installed, she and others watched on a tiny television set up at the camp.

Betty la Fea premiered in Puerto Rico late last year. An estimated 100 million fans in 22 countries have followed the humorous and lighthearted soap opera about a brilliant but unattractive woman who falls in love with her hunky boss while trying to save his ailing fashion house.

Betty la Fea has put Latin America on the clock. When it aired in Colombia, politicians scheduled speeches during commercial breaks to ensure the largest audience possible.

Now Betty can add to her resume stopping the conflict in Vieques, if only for one hour on weeknights.

Surprisingly – or perhaps not so – police officers and Hispanic Navy personnel patrolling the camp’s entrance have also been caught watching the show from across the street.

"It seems the whole world stops for Betty," Rabin said. "The only thing that doesn’t are the bombings."

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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