Monday, July 31, 2006
Venezuela: The Outsider In Latin America Elections, Can A Comedian Beat Chavez?
RHINO'S, EVITA, SAMURAI, TALK SHOW HOSTS, CRAZY COLONELS
As Venezuela faces the possibility of a Comedian-actor becoming a serious candidate against Chavez, it is just another chapter in South American political history. During the 1959 campaign for municipal elections in Sao Paolo Brazil, the top vote getter was Cacareco the popular Rhinoceros at the local zoo, who Paulistas turned to in disgust with their local politicians. In typical Brazilian fashion, the issue of the Rhino taking his seat was moot even before the election, because the animal had already moved back to his old home at Rio De Janeiro's zoo, due to an outcry from Rio residents.
Don't Cry For Me Cacareco
Cacareco is hardly unique in the short history of protest votes and popular outsiders in Latin American electoral politics. In the 19th Century (and much of the 20th) Latin America Presidents mainly came from the military and the European upper classes, mestizos like Benito Juarez were considered "outsiders," as were some populist caudillos who did not bother with elections. In the modern era, Juan Peron owed a lot of his success and popularity to his wife, Evita Peron a one-time movie and radio actress. His second wife Isabel who herself was elected president was a former dancer.
Living In The Eighties
With the return of democratically elected overnments in the 1980's and 1990's, a shift occured in Latin American politics. Many of the traditional parties who were elected into office seemed incapable of governing, be it because of corruption scandals, drastic economic measures, deadlocked legislatures, failure to deliver basic services, or just plain incompetence. Historically significant political parties in many countries, and the politicians affiliated with them, lost credibility with voters. Far leftists after the Berlin Wall fell were discredited, demoralized, and ineffective. Polls showed that this was a symptom of a crisis of confidence in the entire system.
People were open to alternatives, outsiders who attacked the system, and new political parties. At the same time democratization also opened the door to entirely new constituencies, including indigenous peoples long excluded from major political. parties - at least as a voting block. Mass media emerged from censorship and speech restrictions to become a major influence in how the public viewed the political system. A common thread of many of the "outsiders" was the ability to effectively use the mass media.
In Through The Out Door
Once that opening was created, outsiders and protest candidates stepped right in. In Bolivia, Radio and T.V. host "Compadre Palenque", popular among the indigenous and poor of La Paz, became a national force, as did Max Fernandez a succesful businessman, foreshadowing the rise of indigenous cocalero leader, Evo Morales. Violeta Chamorro was seen as above partisan politicking and was elected in Nicaragua. Failed coup leader, Hugo Chavez, became somewhat of a folk hero, and was eventually elected to office, after bitterly criticizing both main political parties. In Peru, novelist Mario Vargas Llosa had a good run at the Presidency, but was ultimately derailed by another outsider.
Before racking up a sordid record of corruption and abuse,Alberto Fujimori, the Peruvian-Japanese university professor and one-time T.V. host, was the ultimate outsider to attain elected office. He came completely out of left field to defeat the well-financed Vargas Llosa and the traditional political parties. With no attachment to the traditional parties or to the military which had long ruled, he was immune to charges of corruption and from being "in the system." Fujimori could rail against the entire system, with some credibility. As an outsider to Peruvian upper classes who supported Vargas Llosa, he was able to mobilize the indigenous voters, urban poor, and evangelicals who had long felt excluded. As a T.V. host, he knew enough about delivering a message. "El Chino" as he was known by the population, also ran one of the wildest campaigns ever seen in the area. He appeared in campaign ads, dressed as a samurai and wielding a sword. At first he got enough votes against Vargas Llosa to force a run-off, which he won handily.
Will it work in Venezuela?
Chavez, got himself elected by bashing both main political parties nad the Venezuelan elite, and thanks to oil-funded clientilism remains popular. However, there is a palpable sense of insecurity in much of Venezuela due to a crime wave. Chavez makes some Venezuelans nervous with his rhetoric, and corruption is rampant. The opposition has not capitalized due to its own incompetence and division, and Chavez hold on much of the machinery of state. And polls show the electorate has little confidence in the opposition.
Rausseo comes from outside of the mainstream, he is not tied either to the two political parties, Chavismo, the military, the SUMATE people, or the 3 existing candidates. He comes a poor family in a small town, and is literally a self-made man, which gives him the credibility with poor sections of the country that might support Chavismo. Twenty years in Venezuelan showbiz gives him a lot of name recognition, and he has created a buzz in Venezuela's media. His T.V. and club act is widely popular in Venezuela, and he has been in several movies. His stage presence and humor can be an antidote to Chavez oversize personality. And Rausseo continually mocks Chavez and Chavismo with one-liners that could be devastating in a well-run campaign, he is now mocking him for being outside the country. As an outsider, with show-biz experience he can capitalize on the people who are disillusioned with Chavez and the opposition, and conceivably cut into Chavez lead.
He does bring some credentials to the table. He is a succesful businessman who besides managing his own artistic affairs, owns a chain of motels, and a theme park resort based on his own characters, as well as video and record companies. That shows the public, worried about mis-management that he knows how to run things. He is educated, has a degree in fine arts, speaks three languages, and is close to getting his law degree. Outside of his comic persona, he can both talk like the succesfull internationally-oriented businessman he is and the kid with humble roots who remembers where he came from. All those years of show business and law school make him very adept at tossing off one liners as well as 20 second soundbites, as these TV interviews show.
Media Figures DO Get Elected
Rausseo would also fall within a long line of media stars who make it in electoral politics, not only in Latin America but worldwide. Poland's child actor twins, the Porn-star Ciccolina in Europe. The U.S. starting with the Movie Star President and Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, followed by governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and his one-time co-star Jesse "The Body" Ventura from Minnesota. Coaches, quarterbacks, and wide receivers like Jack Kemp, J.C. Watts, Tom Osborne, Steve Largent, joined half of Sonny and Cher and stars from the Love Boat and the Dukes of Hazzard in Congress. If "Gofer" could do it, maybe "Er Conde" can.