Hello, this is Fidel. Have I got a story for you!

January 08, 2003|By Christina Hoag | Christina Hoag,KNIGHT/RIDDER TRIBUNE

MIAMI - Two Miami radio-show hosts known for playing outrageous pranks on the air scored perhaps the most outlandish one of them all Monday: A phone conversation between a taped Fidel Castro and a befuddled Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"We still can't believe it," said Enrique Santos, co-host of El Vacilon de la Manana (The Morning Joker), on WXDJ-FM, a Spanish-language salsa station. "He fell for it."

The joke was part of a segment called Fidel Te Llama or "Fidel's Calling You," in which Santos and co-host, Joe Ferrero, call various people and play snippets of a controversial conversation between Castro and Mexican President Vicente Fox that Castro made public in 2001.

Hearing Castro's distinctive rasp, the unsuspecting recipients of the call usually believe it is the comandante himself on the phone. After a few minutes of a disjointed conversation in which the same nonsensical sentence fragments are repeated, the victims get suspicious.

Santos and Ferrero then acknowledge it is a Miami radio station calling.

On Monday, Chavez, who counts Castro as his strongest ally and touts Cuba's communist system as a role model, fell victim to El Vacilon.

The irreverent DJs said they started calling Miraflores Palace, the Venezuelan White House, on Friday. About 8 a.m. Monday, using a Cuban-accented woman posing as a Havana operator, they got through to an aide who identified himself as Lieutenant Arcia.

The secretary said Castro was on the line and wanted to speak to Chavez. Castro's taped voice can be heard in the background, leading the unwitting officer to believe the dictator was really on the line.

The officer offered to have Chavez call Castro back, but the secretary explained that the Cuban was in a secret location and could not be phoned. The officer gave the radio station the number of Chavez's private line.

"Hello Fidel!" booms Chavez.

"Did you receive my letter?" asks Castro.

"Of course I received it," replies Chavez. "I spoke with German."

"I'm all set to collaborate with you," Castro says.

As the nonsequiturs start, El Vacilon fakes trouble on the line to disguise the rejoinders that don't make sense.

"Yes, brother, how's it going?" Chavez asks.

"I'll do what you're asking me to," Castro replies.

"I don't understand," a bewildered Chavez says.

"But I'm going to be harmed, I confess to you," Castro says.

Silence from Chavez. Castro goes on: "Everything's set for Tuesday."

"Everything's set for Tuesday," Chavez repeats, obviously befuddled. "I don't understand."

Santos then breaks in and announces they're calling from Miami.

Silence from Chavez.

Santos launches into a tirade: "Terrorist! Animal! Murderer!" plus a few choice four-letter nouns. "You're finishing off the Venezuelan people!"

Santos then hangs up.

Apparently stunned with their success, the duo, both second-generation Cuban-Americans, lost their radio composure. They broke into banter in English and put on two CDs at once.

Ferrero said the import of what they had done started to hit them during the dialogue with Chavez. "We didn't know what to do," he said. "This was a conversation between two presidents. We're waiting for the men in black to show up."

The station's switchboard lit up with a flood of callers, including the owner, Raul Alarcon, whom Santos described as "not very happy." Alarcon is chairman of the station's Miami-based parent company, Spanish Broadcasting System.

Alarcon did not return phone calls from the Miami Herald, and a spokesman at Miraflores Palace could not be reached for comment.

Spanish-language media in the United States and the Venezuelan press, which largely opposes Chavez, soon got hold of the story, and Ferrero, 34, and Santos, 28, were barraged with calls.

This isn't the first time the radio personalities have ruffled feathers. Last April Fool's Day, they announced an upcoming concert with Julio and Enrique Iglesias and that the first people in line at AmericanAirlines Arena would get free tickets.

After the stadium was inundated with fans, the pair received a three-day suspension - with pay.

Chavez, known for his folksy manner, isn't above playing jokes himself.

For the past Day of the Innocents, Latin Americans' version of April Fool's Day that is celebrated Dec. 28, he announced on the radio that he was tired and going to resign. He then changed his tone. "Ha ha! You fell for it!" he laughed.

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