No Caller ID? Chávez falls for Castro prank 'call'
BY CHRISTINA HOAG
Two Miami radio-show hosts known for playing outrageous pranks on the air scored perhaps the most outlandish one of them all Monday:
They called Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and got him to believe he was talking to Fidel Castro.
''We still can't believe it,'' said Enrique Santos, co-host of El Vacilón de la Mañana, (The Morning Hijinks), on WXDJ-FM El Zol 95.7, 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 drop the bombshell that it is a Miami radio station calling.
On Monday, Chávez, who counts Castro as his strongest ally and touts Cuba's communist system as a role model, fell victim to El Vacilón.
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 Lt. Arcia.
The secretary said Castro was on the line and wanted to speak to Chávez. 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 Chávez 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 Chávez's private line.
''Hello Fidel!'' booms Chávez.
''Did you receive my letter?'' asks Castro.
''Of course I received it,'' replies Chávez. ''I spoke with Germán.'' (Germán Sánchez Otero is the Cuban ambassador to Venezuela, but The Herald could not determine if Chávez was referring to him. A spokesman at Miraflores Palace could not be reached for comment.)
''I'm all set to collaborate with you,'' Castro says.
As the nonsequiturs start, El Vacilón fakes trouble on the line to disguise the rejoinders that don't make sense.
''Yes, brother, how's it going?'' Chávez asks.
''I'll do what you're asking me to,'' Castro replies.
''I don't understand,'' a bewildered Chávez says.
''But I'm going to be harmed, I confess to you,'' Castro says.
Silence from Chávez. Castro goes on: ``Everything's set for Tuesday.''
''Everything's set for Tuesday,'' Chávez repeats, obviously befuddled. ``I don't understand.''
Santos then breaks in and announces they are calling from Miami.
Complete silence from Chávez.
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 Chávez.
''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, Raúl Alarcón, whom Santos described as ''not very happy.'' Alarcón is chairman of the station's Miami-based parent company, Spanish Broadcasting System.
Alarcón did not return phone calls from The Herald.
Spanish-language media in the United States and the Venezuelan press, which largely opposes Chávez, soon got hold of the story, and Ferrero, 34, and Santos, 28, were barraged with calls.
NOT FIRST TIME
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.
Miami's Spanish-language radio stations often play outlandish practical jokes on the air, and Castro's Cuba is one of their favorite targets.
Hispanic Broadcasting Corp.'s WRTO Salsa 98.3 FM has a segment dubbed Calls to Cuba in which the morning-drive hosts, known as Los Fonomemecos, call businesses and agencies on the island with some ridiculous request or inquiry.
In a recent segment, a DJ posing as a high-ranking Cuban military officer called a Havana funeral home to request a coffin -- for Castro. The mortician burst into sobs.
Chávez, 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.
On Monday, however, the joke was on him.