Sunday, September 25, 2011

Leopoldo Lopez throws the gauntlet at Chavez

Leo's lectern
Leopoldo Lopez today announced officially his candidacy for president of Venezuela, for October 2012 vote. And he made it clear that his adversary was Hugo Chavez, not the opposition primaries. As the event would go on he would often enough remind people of his commitment to a new Venezuela, to opposition unity, to the decided challenge to Chavez (not necessarily chavistas).

Having covered the travails of Lopez with the IACHR extensively gave me an invitation to cover the event.  Not to mention that I was already at the start, when Voluntad Popular was launched as a movement.  I suppose that being the last English writing blogger in Venezuela made it my duty to go and cover the event today instead of a well needed rest.  But it turned out to be quite interesting and worth the time, my first ever candidacy launch!

Going to mainstage
The day was cloudy which was as well.  Saturday being shopping day in Chacaito parking was hell as attendants let people over-park.  I was thus stuck in a basement for half an hour besides a car of cheerful VP guys waving a flag.  But I got enough of waiting for a spot to open, left in a huff and went to park several blocks away.

Vendors ready!
The event was on Tamanaco street of El Rosal, a rather small venue, but then again it was not a mass rally.  Indeed, what I attended was a rally of the faithful, of dedicated people who in two years managed to cobble together a political party and get a candidate with world wide exposure as the guy that took on Chavez in-justice system, and won.  Well, won the credit anyway, the material victory still up in the air, depending on whether Chavez will risk blunt repeal of the IACHR.

El Pueblo of Voluntad Popular
The rally must thus not be judged on the extent of the crowd but rather on the enthusiasm.  After all it was Leopoldo speaking to the faithful and a turn out of several thousand (maybe 5?) was good enough as long as they were all cheery.  They were.

My first observations as slowly but surely I made my way to the stage were on the very mixed crowds, clearly cutting across social lines,and, shall we dare to write it, racial lines.  I think chavistas must be starting to feel scared that so many of what passes for its captive electorate is now showing up at opposition rallies.  In fact, it almost felt like a chavista rally of years ago...  I am including a few shots of thew crowd for you look by yourselves at the great mix of folks.  And as usual, by the way, click to enlarge and get the details.

The atmosphere was festive indeed, with plenty of interesting folks to look at such as this drummer from Zulia?  Barlovento?  I did not ask, too much noise already.  Elsewhere folks organized impromptu dancing, or something.

But the atmosphere was also festive in a different way when I finally climbed on the "VIP" stand: plenty of opposition figures were at hand, from all colors (except Primero Justicia who should start getting over the desertion of Leopoldo by now).  There was the mayor of Baruta, Gerardo Blyde, UNT.  There were several Assembly folks (Cocchiola of Valencia, Stalin of Caracas, etc..) and even another candidate, Diego Arria.  Apparently they all came not only for courtesy but to show the strongest support to Lopez in his fight against the regime in forcing it to abide by the IACHR ruling.

The view from the grades was good enough and it helped me accept the fact that once up there, I could not escape until the speeches were over.  But in the end I did not mind, the allergy that I developed to political speeches under Chavez turning out to be a Chavez allergy.  Leopoldo does not do small talk.

Street Dancing
The show started with a long motivational video that reminded us all the troubles of Leopoldo and the program of VP.  Well done, with proficiency.  As the array of cameras held by long beams roved all around to film the crowd and its reaction.  VP seems to have the means to rent stuff now.  Or is it that Venevision is trying to make a come back by helping Lopez, as rumors have it?  At this point I really do not care as to who finances whom now, the time of virginal politics is long gone and anything is good enough to get rid of Chavez, who on his side has absolutely no qualm in using all the state apparatus and finances for his campaigns.  Let's keep that in mind, shall we?
The view from my stand (Globovision's Roland Carreño on top)

Leopoldo made his entry after the video, alone with wife and daughter.  Big ovation, and then he was alone on his pulpit (seen above, as I went backstage at the end).

The usual chavista chopper
His speech was really more geared at the press and public opinion than to his followers and thus there was a an occasional lack of synchronicity between Leopoldo's sometime fancy words and the reaction of the crowd.  Thus not as much roaring as I was expecting (though it started well when Leopoldo repeated his "Chavez, are you afraid of me?").  Or maybe it was some lack of experience yet: after all Leopoldo has been building VP almost one to one and only now he is starting to address larger rallies.  There is training curve, even in politics.  But besides this qualm of mine, the speech was solid, maybe with a couple of unnecessary and untenable promises but with other strong points that really had an impact.
More "pueblo"

The first one is the announcement that Leopoldo Lopez, if elected, will be a one term president, will seek to go back to the traditional one term presidency of Venezuelan democratic history.  This is big for me because Leopoldo has indirectly admitted that an eventual governemt of him will be plagued by hard decisions and as such he is already aware that reelection will not be possible.  I like very much that realism as to the Venezuelan situation.  I have to praise him for an almost  self offering as a sacrificial victim.  This is a statesman speech such as they are woefully lacking among other candidates, as I already noted.

Confetti rain
The second highlight was the real show stopper, the roaring moment.  That came when Leopoldo addressed the injustice now prevalent in Venezuela and he must have touched a raw nerve with the attendance. Indeed, even though he has become himself the poster boy of those who have no option but seek justice outside of Venezuela, it is also true that chavismo abuses are now having a toll at all levels.  Not only the abuses of the public workers who now are unaccountable of their actions, but also the everyday abuses by chavistas at the Communal Councils, or the Reserva, must be hitting a lot of people in the crowds that attended today.  Amen of the utter lack of justice for the victims of the high crime rate of Venezuela.  VP could do worse than have its focus group centered on this.

Once the speech was over, in good US style, a confetti rain fell over Leopoldo who was joined again by wife and daughter.  After that Leopoldo got down to press the flesh, something he has got excellent at, what he does best in fact.  I even made a short video of the moment.

PS: On an unrelated note.  When I was leaving I found Diego Arria giving an interview to state media guys.,  I think it noteworthy because they came without badges or anything that could identify them, even though the guy with the mic is a well known prankster of sorts that came from Avila TV, I think, and who does infamous shots for La Hojilla.  As far as I was told, they never went in to cover the event.  Then again they might have heard how the surveillance chopper of Chavez was booed and preferred to stay put, hunting in the back.  For a hint at how the launch of Lopez will be covered by state media you may read this RNV snippet....

Yet Arria had no qualm talking to that guy and keeping his cool.  Still, a couple of minutes later some woman started bitching at them.  I am sure she will be on VTV but not Arria who did not say something outrageous (for their taste).  While the women bitched, Arria was calmly buying an ice cream cone to a street vendor and I went to talk to him.  Maybe another political event for VN&V to cover soon?

Diego Arria "cornered" by VTV


  1. England Calling12:58 PM

    Another excellant post. I do wonder though when you use the term "world wide exposure" regarding Leopoldo Lopez and the IACHR. Ive seen nor read nothing here in the English press or t.v. Apart from this morning when the BBC website had an article about this rally and a small mention of the IACHR decision. Otherwise , nothing apart from "the cancer"!
    Sunday 25th. BBC TV...A South American Journey featuring tonight Colombia and Venezuela. Available later on BBC iplayer

  2. Yes, an informative, excellent post. The photo of the chopper was useful, too.

    I do think Lopez achieved world side exposure in his court fight, though perhsps as narrow casting rather than broadcasting.

    Small stories appeare in many papers, but a full aummary of the court decision came to me rough several legal profession list serves which I subscribe to. on one of these ere was a decent discussion of the principles the court rested its decisn on, and the unfairness of the now-illegal practice of exclusion without proof.

  3. OK, you caught me---- please, replace "world wide" by "americas wide + Spain".

    Let's say that the IACHR ruling got noticed where it counts.

  4. I really really really really really hope once the candidate is chosen the others spend at least some decent time traveling through Venezuela endorsing him. That would be the first time in Venezuelan history. We need that.
    Imagine Capriles getting elected and López going then to Calabozo and Guacara and Puerto Cabello to talk about the MUD and in support of Capriles and Machado goes to El Tigre and Maturín and Punto Fijo

  5. Uy, es verdad: de este lado no hay nada. En alemán no veo nada (salvo lo que escribí yo mismo en mi blog) y en francés lo que hay es de Quebec.[tt_news]=2761&cHash=3327c0ed1a

    Anyway: what counts is where it gets in Venezuela. I do hope López doesn't become - once more - just a divider.

  6. Boludo Tejano4:39 PM

    Thank you for the informative report. Whatever happens, this report will be an important historical document of the Chavista era in Venezuela.

  7. Roger5:34 PM

    Good work Daniel. It will be interesting to see how Chavez and Co respond to this.

  8. "His speech was really more geared at the press and public opinion than to his followers and thus there was a an occasional lack of synchronicity between Leopoldo's sometime fancy words and the reaction of the crowd."

    This is bound to be a big ongoing issue: a Harvard-educated, rather upper-class new guy, talking to our "pueblo", --that 60-70% who can hardly read or write, and connected with Chavez with his popular, street or caserio language..

    Rest assured, the Chavista machinery will soon exploit this deep dichotomy in Venezuelan society: Los "burguesitos" , sifrinitos", capitalistas, pro-imperio, speaking fancy words no one understands, they will forget you, the humble Venezuelan, el campesino, el trabajador.."

    That's pretty much how Chavez won and has stayed in power for over a decade: Cacique hablando indio, el idioma que la mayoria entiende. Chavez is almost as uneducated as the majority of our citizens. So most people listen to him, and understand his idiotic crap.

    Lopez and MCM, and other "elite" candidates will have a tough time convincing Chavez's pueblo that they also love a greasy arepa as much as a fresh salmon bagel. They speak like we did in el Cafetal, Altamira or los Palos Grandes, not exactly as in Guatire or Catia or Barlovento, or even los barrios de Maracaibo.

    Lopez and MCM should start practicing slang words, popular expressions, easy analogies, and cut down on the educated rhetoric which flies way over most people's heads. They have to act more like 60-70% of our pueblo, while maintaining some credibility with whatever's left of our middle and upper classes.

    Historically, when things work best, the elected leaders are Elite, IOW, better educated than the average person. Smarter. Less currupt. Yet charismatic and able to connect with all levels of society. In Vzla, this is particularly important, since such social dichotomies are enormous.

  9. Anonymous8:21 PM

    I agree with a lot of what Sledge says. A launch in El Rosal? Give me a break! How about a launch in La Pastora, Cariquao, La Candelaria, el 23 de Enero, Catia o Antimano?

    Pelao Manrique

  10. Anonymous8:50 PM

    Brilliant strategy by LL and his party to behave as if the IACHR decision is a fait accompli. It will make a possible Chavez decision to not let him run so much more difficult and "dirty" in the eyes (national and international) of those who don't understand the whole process.

    But, as stated by several already, unless LL and HCR can come to an agreement so that only the one that polls better runs and the other supports him, maybe with a dreamteam: President & VP, the vote will be split and Chavez wins.

    But Chavez may take that gamble based on past oppo behavior. Plus who knows to what dimension he can cheat that even the dreamteam cannot win.


  11. RabbiBulla9:12 PM

    Very, very exciting. Man, I've got to put on my sunglasses!!
    Very cool -C-O-O-L.
    I am impressed.
    As of last night-I spoke with some who surprised me-they knew about
    Leopoldo Lopez and liked him.
    (I was listing other candidates and they had not even heard of most of them.)

  12. Pelao Manrique,

    Or some place in between like Museo de Bellas Artes or Plaza Venezuela so we can integrate both worlds.

    Sledge ,

    I agree with you.One thing that strikes me as interesting is the fact that if a person can learn the vocabulary to be graduated from Harvard, he could certainly learn how to communicate with his average fellow citizen in their own language.

    The fact that he doesn't, shows me that he is not interested in doing so.Perhaps he thinks that even by cultivating a smart image he can still obtain votes from the uneducated majority.

  13. Thank you Daniel for covering the event, for your excellent comments and for the video. It really gives us the feeling about what is going on.

    I really appreciate it.

  14. I would not be critical on the place the meeting was held.

    I mean, that's just below Chacaito! believe me, it's located in the middle of everything and the metro station is very handy.

    Thanks for the report Daniel.

  15. It's not as much about the location of some of of these meetings, a few hundred or thousand attendants don't make much of a difference, and they would be primarily in favor of the candidate to begin with anyway.

    It's about what they say to the media which reached the masses of uneducated Chavez fans all over Venezuela, radio, tv, papers.. If these "elite" candidates use fancy words and elaborate socio-economic concepts to earn the popular vote they will fail. If they behave like "sifrinos" or "burguesito" superstars, not as "pueblo" they will be ostracized by a majority of the average populace.

    Lpez, MCM and others will need to put up an act for the media and in most large meetings reported nationwide throughout the poor communities. Wear blue-jeans and alpargatas, speak the local argot, dance to the salsa or the merengue or the arpa llanera, (imagine MCM on a horse con un lazo entre las vacas, or Leo en plena pelea e gallos jugando domino..) That's what I'm talking about.

    If they come across as the too refined, part of the hated bourgeoisis Caraquena, "hijos de papa y mama con billete", el pueblo will not identify with them, will not even understand a fraction of what the hell they are trying to convey when addressing a vast array of complicated issues with those "fancy" and strange words.

    A jugar bolas criollas, subir cerro (con las camaras de TV), a comer mondongo con arroz. They have to put up a (false) image so that the the common Venezuelans can better relate to them.

  16. Anonymous11:56 PM

    Thanks Daniel. I agree with Firepiguette: I sense that, by now, "el pueblo" knows deep inside that it just didn't work with "one of them". They might be ready to say goodbye to the "comandate que se inmoló" for them, punish the "derecha edógena" that "kept the comandante in the dark all this time", and maybe even give a chance to the educated candidates, who know how to speak and are all doing a better job at governing in their turfs. El "pueblo" will detect BS from this candidates if they are not genuine. Maybe the "pueblo" will want these brains to work FOR them, even if they do not always understand HOW they work.


  17. Anonymous12:45 AM

    Come on people, get a grip. Now, the guy is over - educated for "el pueblo" and he must talk ridiculous crap in Barrio slang, because otherwise "el pueblo" doesn't understand him. So what do you want, another Chavez like Clown yet dangerous dictator at the same time, or a leader that represents Venezuela with dignity and respect in the eyes of the world? And if only a Chavez clone can win from now on, then Venezuela is eternally f...ed.

    But this first rally and speech was more than anything for the media, for Chavez and his inner circle (message: "I am here and I will beat you and don't you dare not let me run") and of course to drum up enthusiasm among his followers, but not so much for ”el pueblo".

    Btw, doesn't the oppo believe they are the majority anyhow by 60 - 70 % total voters vs. hard core chavistas of approx. 30%+? and they would win were it not because of voter intimidation and consequent high abstention and cheating and lack of a good, charismatic candidate and who knows what else? So what goes? I have never heard the oppo saying it is losing because the candidate doesn't speak barrio slang.

    But sure, any candidate in the democratic world will have to wear different hats during a campaign. E.g. look at how different US candidates behave when they address Ivy League students vs. people in a poor black neighborhood. Or in the conservative Little Havana in Miami vs. San Francisco. That's just politics!

    Also, who cares where he starts his campaign, the goal here was to get as much exposure as possible and he more than accomplished that. There is plenty of time to get to the barrios and equally important, to other cities.

    So please, give the guy a break. The stamina and courage he had fighting Chavez in an international court and win combined with previous political accomplishments plus his EDUCATION more than qualifies him to be a candidate for President of Venezuela.


  18. Boludo Tejano3:15 AM

    Sledge has brought up an interesting point about a politician’s modifying his speech to connnect more with his audience. I don’t know enough to either agree or disagree with him regarding Venezuela. Politicians in the US have been known to modify their accent to their audience: President Obama and Hillary Clinton are but two examples. They have gotten some negative press for it, but not necessarily from their targeted audiences.

    When George W. Bush ran for Congress in 1978- and lost- his opponent had some success in portraying Dubya as an Ivy Leaguer out of touch with West Texans. Dubya decided that playing down his Ivy League degrees and doing some good ol’ boy would subsequently gain him some votes. It did.

    My cousin in Oklahoma had a trainee from Massachusetts one year. My cousin saw that the trainee was having some trouble fitting in with lower level employees, and suggested to the trainee that he might try speaking some “good ol’ boy.” The trainee’s response was - a response VERY unlike Massachusetts speech- “But it ain’t gon’ do no good no how.” My cousin’s response: “Now you’re talking.”

    In closing here are some words from Bob Dylan’s "I Shall be Free":

    Now, the man on the stand he wants my vote
    He's a-runnin' for office on the ballot note
    He's out there preachin' in front of the steeple
    Tellin' me he loves all kinds-a people
    (He's eatin' bagels
    He's eatin' pizza
    He's eatin' chitlins).

    Nelson Rockefeller, a plutocrat’s plutocrat, played the game well enough to get elelcted Governor of New York fout times.

    I suppose in Maracaibo he might throw in a “vergación” or two. Or would Marachuchos consider that pandering ? What say you, Juan Cristobal?

  19. All successful politicians have to be good actors, anyway. But in countries like Venezuela with deep socio-economic and cultural divides, they have to be even more versatile in modifying not only their speech, (form AND content) but also their demeanor and even their appearance.

    Hoever, some candidates may need to work more on their public performances than others: Rockefeller or the Kennedys, as you mention, needed to act down to look more like the average American. For Clinton is must have been easier, since he was a redneck of sorts to begin with anyway, same as Bush, who happened to get an education afterwards.

    In Vzla, it was easy for Chavez, with his natural popular charisma: he is one of the "pueblo people" in the first place: not much class, zero sophistication, low on education, street-smart. He had to act too, but the other way around: to appear more sophisticated, knowledgeable and educated. To sound less "pueblerino" at times, trying to grab some middle/upper class votes from people better educated than he will ever be.

    Lopez, MCM and others will need to act-down, to connect better with the average Venezolano de barrio y de pueblo. They'll need to dress down, (no fancy jewerly, expensive watches or cars, dress-down..) use some slang or popular expressions in certain venues, and simplify the socio-economic or philosophical concepts they are trying to sell.

    Not that both candidates couldn't be better educated and become better public speakers ( watch a Leopoldo or Maria corina speech, they are far from perfect luminaries with impeccable command of the language or the logic behind it). Not that they are overqualified for the job, Anonymous. There are countless numbers of much smarter and better educated Venezuelans out there. However, unfortunately, that's all we've got right now, and they need to "popularize" or tone-down their act to reach our masses and steal votes from Chabruto.

  20. Guerra avisada no mata soldado:

    El Procurador General de la República Carlos Escarrá calificó de injerencia la decisión de la Corte Interamericana de los Derechos Humanos sobre el caso de Leopoldo López.

    “Viola principios claramente establecidos en el artículo primero de la Constitución”, dijo agregando que el contenido de la acción de la corte está llena de vicios en varios órdenes.

    Dijo que la sentencia “es de imposible e inconstitucional ejecución en el marco del ordenamiento jurídico Venezolano.

  21. Anonymous10:53 PM

    Thanks Daniel,
    A simple notification both were not wearing a watch Leopoldo nor his wife and any jewelery except their weddingring. The crowd was mixture young and middle age people
    And I loved his speech perhaps they prefer someone who's speaking several languages.

  22. Liz and others,

    This is not about "finding the middle of the way in Caracas". It is not about talking like Chávez either.

    1) There is absolutely no point in wasting a single minute in Eastern Caracas. Whom do you want to convince there?

    2) Being accesible doesn't mean you have to be rude. In fact: I have seen the creme de la creme of Venezuela and the poorest. I haven't found the better off on average a tiny bit more refined than the worse off.

    Instead of
    "pretending" to be what they are not, our politicians should try to grasp who the others are. What do they know about people in Acarigua? What do they know about people in La Guajira that is different from the rest of the country and that is similar to it?
    What do they know about Barinas city that is also different? And what does Barinas have in common?

    You don't have to be an anthropologist to know that. You need to have a minimal interest for Venezuela and a team that gives you some high quality information about the regions you will be visiting.

    Let's not focus too much on our capital navels.

  23. RabbiBulla2:35 AM

    Whomever is elected- I hope they do not spend any more money on the military and the purchasing of weapons. I want to hear candidates say they will cancel contracts made by Chavez. Shut down the machine gun factory. Can the candidates attach themeselves to a vision of Venezuela without weapons?
    Put the military to work as a Peace Corps-helping clean up poor neighborhoods, planting trees, building roads, building housing-something productive,Fire all Generals and send all Cuban advisors home. Follow them home and free Cuba!!

  24. RabbiBulla2:45 AM

    O/T but best deal I have seen in
    a long time. (We just paid double that in August from Florida.)

    $728-$736 -- Venezuela from Across the U.S. (R/T, incl. Tax)
    This price is available for select departures Oct. 10 - Nov. 23.

    Depart to Caracas from:

    •New York's JFK ... $728
    •San Antonio ... $734
    •Chicago, Las Vegas ... $735
    •Los Angeles, San Francisco ... $736

  25. Kepler my dear,

    Tu tienes raaaaato que no vienes pa' Caracas! Chacaito is not the east!!! Believe me, even during the day is a dangerous area. Very dirty place if you ask me. But the most important thing about the location, is the many bus routes that converge there. Making it a very good place to congregate people.

    I concur with you in the need of reaching to the people inside the country. Small towns and monte adentro are filled with people with lots of troubles, very much forgotten by the general politicians.

    But, -there's always a but- Leopoldo had to do this thing in Caracas. Lets see what he does next. I imagine that he -or someone on his team- reads this and other blogs. Also they do their own research and polls, they'll change and accommodate their behavior along the campaign.

  26. Liz,

    So now Chacaito has converted into a middle point where the worlds converge ?Yes, other friends of mine have mentioned this before.


    What you say is true and not true.It is not a matter of money, but there is a difference in culture.There are many people with a University education with money who use slang and/ or off color humor just as in the barrios.

    However, and this is important, there are people in all financial situations, who have a more refined sense of language, and propriety.

    I think Daniel's point about the press vs the people makes sense.

  27. Liz,
    I haven't been in Chacao for quite some time now, but it was not a posh area decades ago. Still: for me, it is a bit too East. I agree we have to start with Caracas but at the same time we need to realise how much time we need to spend there and elsewhere.
    I like that Machado and López have been very going around...and unlike what many people think, they are not focusing now on villages, but on cities...cities we call "monte" but which have 100 000 inhabitants and more.

    In any case: I hope once THE candidate is selected, the others go on spending time in those secondary cities, supporting him, talking to people, listening to them. Then Chávez won't have a chance.


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