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Westside Watch

Juan Valdez Look-Alike Contest Gets a Roasting

May 12, 1994

Should Beverly Hills wake up and smell the coffee?

To partake in the World Cup hoopla, the city has decided to hold festivities for each of the countries participating in next month's international soccer championship at the Rose Bowl.

But some wonder if the city couldn't have picked a better way than a Juan Valdez look-alike contest to honor Colombia.

Sure, the image of the fictitious Colombian coffee grower, dressed in a serape and sombrero, marks millions of cans of 100% Colombian coffee and is recognizable from Yuban coffee TV commercials.

But to some, Valdez represents Colombia no more than Colonel Sanders does the United States.

"Why not honor Nobel Prize-winner (author) Gabriel Garcia Marquez?" asked Guillermo Hernandez, director of UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center.

"No one likes to be represented by a commercial figure. It shows a lack of respect by Beverly Hills to their Colombian guests," Hernandez said.

But representatives of the Beverly Hills Visitors Bureau, which came up with the idea for the contest, deny that they are being insensitive. They said they were merely looking for corporate tie-ins and hoped that using Valdez might inspire Yuban to get involved.

"Yuban (coffee) came immediately to mind because of the commercials with Juan Valdez in Colombia. We thought that was a warm and happy association--Colombia has lots of bad connotations," visitors bureau Manager Dan Howard said.

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COUNCILMAN BLADES?: This column suggested a couple months ago that the esoteric pro-business, pro-environment platform of Panamanian salsa star and presidential candidate Ruben Blades sounded just right for left-of-center Santa Monica, where he lived in a condo until several months ago.

His political party, Papa Egoro, an Indian term meaning Mother Earth, defied ideological labels. It called for liberal social programs and a better distribution of wealth but also advocated stronger businesses and private investment. All that plus pleas for ecological sensitivity thrown in for good measure.

Well (not meaning to say we told you so), Blades finished third in Sunday's elections. As if that weren't bad enough, the victor's political party was once controlled by former dictator Manuel Noriega, who was deposed by U.S. troops in 1989 and is serving a 40-year drug trafficking sentence in Florida.

If only Blades were a U.S. citizen. He could have brought his campaign back here, where three Santa Monica City Council seats are up for election in November.

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DAVE ON L.A.: David Letterman's visit this week to Los Angeles, where he is taping his "Late Show" at Television City near Hollywood, seems to have a decidedly Westside spin.

Take Monday night's opener. It included a video travelogue of Dave and bandleader Paul Schaffer. There were Dave and Paul at the La Brea Tar Pits (with Dave "swallowing" a bucket of the famed muck). Dave and Paul cruising in convertibles on Hollywood Boulevard (Paul with a carload of babes; Dave with a pack of fat guys) and Dave and Paul rearranging the Hollywood sign (it read "Davewood" when they were through).

Not to mention his top 10 reasons for doing the show from L.A., which included (No. 2): "Wanted to be first to get speeding ticket on newly reopened Santa Monica Freeway."

So, come on, Dave, what can you say about Culver City?

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