PEREIRA, Colombia - Every weeknight millions of Colombians tune in to watch a smash television series about the indignities suffered by a teen-age girl willing to do anything to get her breasts enlarged.
Tired of being poor and going to school with no good jobs in sight after graduation, Catalina decides to do what her friends have done and get breast implants in order to snag a gangster boyfriend who can take care of her.
Actresses (L-R) Margarita Rosa Arias, Maria Adelaida Puerta, Marylin Parino, Sandra Beltran and Jenny Osorio, cast members of the Colombian television series "Without Tits There Is No Paradise" pose for a photo in Bogota, Colombia in this August 15, 2006 file photo. Every weeknight millions of Colombians tune in to watch a smash television series about the indignities suffered by a teenage girl willing to do anything to get her breasts enlarged. [Reuters]
She tries to prostitute herself to get money for the operation but, in a kind of Colombian Catch 22, has trouble winning clients due to her small cup size.
The show, based on a true story, is both loved and hated for displaying the culture of easy money here in the world's biggest cocaine-exporting country.
Convinced that an overflowing bosom will be her "passport to heaven," Catalina continues her quest, which instead leads to episode after episode of treachery and violence.
Some call the series an insult to Colombia, which is trying to end four decades of guerrilla war driven by the drug trade. Others, who enjoy the show's black humor, say it is helping the country confront its demons.
Gangsters, called "traquetos" after the "traqua traqua traqua"-like sound made by their automatic weapons, are known to send their girlfriends for all kinds of aesthetic surgery.
Younger and younger women are getting operated on in the hope of landing a traqueto of their own.
"Vanity is pushing the girls of Colombia to do crazy things. We are addressing this in the show, not celebrating it," said actress Margarita Rosa Arias, who plays Vanessa, one of the big-breasted characters Catalina tries to emulate.
In real life, Arias points to herself as an example of responsible augmentation, having had her breasts done by a well-qualified doctor when she was 28, at the behest of her husband.
The show's main character is based on last year's novel by Gustavo Bolivar about a 14-year-old girl played by Maria Adelaida Puerta, a long-necked, flat-chested beauty from Medellin.
When the book was released, people in the city of Pereira where the story is set were offended. The television show it inspired is like salt in the wounds to local business leaders who were already struggling to improve Pereira's image.
"We will not be defined by this tele-trash!" city spokesman Luis Garcia told Reuters. "All the guys in the story are assassins and the girls sell themselves in order to augment their breasts. It is the stereotype we object to."
For years Pereira, in the heart of Colombia's coffee-growing region, was known as one of the country's top party towns, where drug smugglers, coffee workers and truck drivers could blow money on famously beautiful prostitutes.
Defenders of the show say it reflects the conflicts that girls face in places like Pereira, a short drive from the home base of the still-powerful Norte del Valle cocaine cartel.
While Colombia has become safer thanks to a U.S.-backed crackdown on the drug trade, Pereira's murder rate remains above the national average and many young people still turn to the drug-trafficking world as a way of escaping poverty.
"People are angry about "Sin Tetas" ("Without Tits") but I think it's OK because it shows the reality of a lot of girls," said a woman in Pereira's town square, declining to give her name.