The Oppo Field: Pablo is up, Manuel is out, Leopoldo is on tenterhooks


Now that UNT has just one candidate, the time has come to update our Oppo Field Roundup.

At this point, the Top Tier is pretty clear:

Top Tier

Henrique Capriles

Primero Justicia, Governor of Miranda

Pro: Smart, disciplined politician. Effective governor. Non-polarizing figure fanatically committed to an inclusive message NiNis respond well to. The youngest in the field. Focused on avoiding controversy and dodging bullets. Excellent poll numbers in his home state. Very nearly endorsed by Caracas Chronicles, although we’re not quite there yet.

Con: Not the most exciting speaker. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Can come across as cantankerous. Not as well known in the boonies. Youth may turn off older voters.

The deal: Still the frontrunner by some distance. Guy most likely to unify the opposition, rally NiNis and beat Chávez. Nomination is his to lose.

Leopoldo López

Voluntad Popular, Former Mayor of Chacao

Pro: Born talker, fearsome campaigner, could sell ice to an eskimo. Slick communications team. Has thought about the issues. Understands the importance of going to far away places. Beautiful smile. Very smart. Young. The ladies love him.

Con: Can’t run, barring an unlikely CIDH-ex-machina solution. Not a team player, worrying caudillistic tendencies. Thin resumé. Stinks of Cisneros money. His roll-out has not been seamless. May be trying to appeal to the Twitter crowd a little too hard.

The deal: It’s a testament to his fearsome public communications skills that he’s unarguably top tier even though he’s technically not even allowed to run. CIDH’s ruling is expected August 31st now. My crystal-ball says they’ll order the Venezuelan state to lift his disqualification, the state will ignore them, much huffing and puffing will ensue…and in the end the MUD’s primary organizers won’t allow him to register. But stranger things have happened.

Pablo Pérez

Un Nuevo Tiempo, governor of Zulia.

Pro: Young, telegenic, governor of a huge state. Does not carry 2002 baggage. Non-controversial, easygoing. UNT’s serious party-machine behind him. Strong adeco vibes.

Con: Zuliano – the nation has never elected one, and hasn’t come even close to doing so. Unknown outside his base. Boring public speaker. A younger, hunkier, less experienced version of his mentor, Manuel Rosales. Virtual anointment by Rosales in a rambling speech will probably hurt more than help. Tendencies to abuse his power is an issue. Strong adeco vibes.

The deal: Working hard to rally the neo-Adeco/post-Adeco tribe, and having some success at it. Will start to really worry HCR if Acción Democrática honcho Henry Ramos Allup throws his weight behind him. Viewed by many in the opposition as the only one who can stop Capriles.

Second Tier

Antonio Ledezma

Alianza Bravo Pueblo, Mayor of Greater Caracas

Pro: Tireless politician, a darling of the radical opposition who can also attract centrist votes. Good at the old-style populist harangue. Adaptable, quick thinking Pol. You close your eyes and you hear CAP.

Con: Adeco roots. Comando National de la Resistencia branches. Strong whiff of the jurassic about him. Chavismo would assail him for being CAP’s dauphin. You close your eyes and you hear CAP.

The deal: Only member of the old guard with a real chance, he’ll nonetheless come under strong pressure to hop onto the Pablo Pérez bandwagon. The emasculation of his office has left him with little to show for his years as Mayor-At-Large.

María Corina Machado

Independent, founder of Súmate and National Assembly Member

Pro: Excellent public speaker. Independent from party machinations. Seems to be laying the groundwork for a proper campaign organization. Very smart. Easy on the eyes = lots of free media. The only female in the group.

Con: Thin resumé. No party machinery. Visited Pedro Carmona at Miraflores. Visited George W. Bush at the White House. Upper-crust accent and body-language may not play well in Venezuela’s barrios and rural areas. Faces deep-seated prejudice against beautiful women in positions of power. The only female in the group. 2004 Recall Referendum debacle still tying her down a bit.

The deal: She’s really on tier 1.5. She should be doing better than she is, and with the right amount of pixie dust, she could run away with the thing.

Wildcards & Kingmakers

Lorenzo Mendoza

CEO, Empresas Polar

Pro: Outsider. Young. Telegenic. Smart. Managerial profile. Made of money.

Con: Blood far too blue for what’s coming. Zero political experience. Zero political machine. Fat cat. Few people know who he is.

The deal: A cypher. There’s no sign that he’s really running, but he could totally scramble the race if he decides to spend big. Has been selling us beer and mayonnaise for years, so why not presidents?

Henri Falcón

PPT, Governor of Lara

Pro: Brilliant. Born pol. Wildly popular in Lara. Man of the people. Untainted by terrible Oppo brand.

Con: Badly distrusted by right-wing opposition. Too far left to win a primary. Former chavista ties make him ariascardenas-y. Chavistas view him as a traitor, which may well land him in jail.

The deal: Still one of the most intriguing figures in Venezuelan politics. Almost certainly won’t run: more kingmaker than dark-horse.

No Hopers

Cesar Pérez Vivas

Copei, governor of Táchira 

Pro: Tachirense. Has a real base of support.

Con: Old Style politico. No name recognition or party machine outside his state.

The deal: Campaign = Ego Trip. (Or perhaps, Campaign = Positioning for Cabinet Seat.)

Would take votes from: Capriles, MCM.

Henrique Salas Römer

Proyecto Venezuela, former governor of Carabobo

Pro: Image as a pragmatist. Smart guy with a proven – if regional – party machine.

Con: Massively over-grown ego. Way past his prime. Largely absent from the national debate. Messianic streak. Has already lost to Chávez.

The deal: Another of these old pols who just can’t give up the dream no matter how desperately slim their chances are.

Would take votes from: His son, maybe.

Oswaldo Alvarez Paz

Pro: Ummmm…I’m thinking . . . ummm … ermmm … there has to be something … does “pro-business” count?

Con: Right wing extremist. Highest-profile endorsement is from Luis Alfonso Dávila. Lazy campaigner. Positively Paleozoic. Was past his prime even in 1993. So out of touch with normal Venezuelans it makes your eyes water.

The deal: Former enfant terrible of the ancien regime, yet still a part of it. Briefly jailed last year for talking crazy. Campaign = Raging, raging against the dying of the light.

Would take (few, very few) votes from: Capriles, Ledezma, Machado.

Eduardo Fernandez

Pro: Only opposition candidate Hugo Chavez takes seriously. Tons of experience. Decent and smart man.

Con: People tend to assume he died years ago. It’s as though Michael Dukakis thought he had a chance in 2012.

The deal: The runner-up in the 1988 election, he couldn’t win at the peak of his powers. Classy guy, but the definition of someone over the hill in today’s Venezuela.

Would take (few, very few) votes from: Ledezma, Perez Vivas, Alvarez Paz.

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  1. My bet still is Henrique Capriles and Maria Corina winner and place.

    Leopoldo is just too power hungry, the guy has scheletons in the closet and I just do not trust in him at all. Thanks god he cannot run because he would probably win.

    I think Pablo Perez was killed by Rosales making the announcement.

  2. I agree with Jau, Perez is only known in Zulia state.
    HCR and MCM however, are know not everywhere(llanos?) but they are more out there.
    I’ve even seen MCM’s propaganda here(the one that says “Viene Maria”) in Maracaibo.
    And i think HCR has got some voters already, MCM was the most voted deputy in the country and well, that’s about it.

    • I don’t want to criticize MCM, but she was the most voted deputy also because she was in THAT electoral circuit. Take a look at abstention percentages per circuit. 90% of María Alejandra López’s relatives still living in Venezuela vote in that circuit.

  3. You point out that MCM may not be accepted in the pueblos however in a country in love with their beauty queens I think she would be well received. I’ve also seen the videos of her in the pueblos & the people, especially the women, seem to adore her.

    I give her a much stronger placing. A lot can happen in 5 or 6 months.

    On a side note I was listening to the local radio station on a short trip & the consensus that Chavez is planning for a coup or illegal takeover is being talked about strongly. The move of the gold & liquid assets is the first step.

    He won’t leave democratically.

  4. This about it… in a Mad Maxian scenario very posibly developing in Chavez’s mind he can see himself giving out pepitas de oro to those willing to keep on fighting to defend the revolution.

    Not very rational, but it’s the Kadafi script for sure.

  5. Thank you for this article. We outside observers hear the names, but don’t necessarily have a good grasp of the nuances. I think your judgments on these things are generally excellent.

    One quibble: I don’t think you should buy in to Chavismo-think by saying that Alvarez Paz was “briefly” jailed for “talking crazy”. He was jailed for a couple of months, which (try it some time) is a significant deterrent, and departure from democratic norms. Secondly, I believe the “talking crazy” was when he said that Venezuela was becoming a trans-shipment point for drug traffickers. Yet two days ago we heard of the narco-plane which apparently flew out of a Venezuelan military base loaded with cocaine.

    Maybe shutting down comments about narco-Venezuela is more important to Chavez than first appears.

  6. I ask again: Was Enrique Mendoza that burned out by the 2004 referendum debacle that he won’t even be considered for a run next year?

  7. I mention him because he was considered to be a highly efficient governor of Miranda a decade ago. Had the calle, had the relative charisma.

  8. Just one thing. You forgot to mention that Lorenzo Mendoza has been selling us Harina Pan and sponsoring every single sport, being of major importance the Baseball league and the National Football (The real one, not the American thingy), that besides the beer and mayonnaise. He might be more known that you say, however, does not stand a chance. I heard him in a conference, and he is definitively preparing for the Presidency. Not for this election though.

  9. Choice quote regarding your views on Pablo Perez: “Con: Zuliano – the nation has never elected one, and hasn’t come even close to doing so.”

    Seriously Francisco? Can the rest of Venezuela despise Zulia so much? My home state has supplied oil wealth, lots of platanos and good cheese, music, great ball players, and the largest foundry of dirty jokes in any spanish speaking region. That on top of entertainment, gaitas, and Zulia also being fiercely anti-chavez?

    More seriously, I could come up with lots of serious reasons why Pablo can’t be a successful candidate. But the first thing you could come up with is that he is from Zulia?

    Kinda of diminishes the value of your blog post buddy. Just saying.

    • Listen, it’s a fact. Bavarians can’t seem to win the german chancellorship. Geordies never get to run Britain. And out of the last five Zulia governors, three have run for the presidency and lost. Something about the accent? Something about regional machines from Maracaibo finding it hard to scale up? I don’t know. But it’s a fact.

      You don’t have to like that to accept it as a fact.

      (Funny thing is that it was 100% Maracucho Juan who wrote that line.)

    • It IS a real perception among most Venezuelans and such perception is not unique to Venezuelans.

      For one, it IS the accent. Real-ly.

      For another: the wealth is not going to give sympathies for a candidate, much less if people from that region are rubbing it against everyone else’s faces.

      Music? For every person that likes gaitas zulianas, there are 10 who don’t; There was even a radio in central Venezuela that promoted itself with “la radio donde nunca oirás gaitas”. Your gaita is very much like a mariachi thing: Mexicans don’t understand how most people just run away in droves. It’s fine: de gustibus non est disputandum, but let’s not force others to like what we do.

      Above all: it’s that regionalism that so loudly says “WE ARE THE BEST VERGAAAA” that simply puts off millions of people. The best candidate is one most people can relate to and that is someone who is not too pushy about his origins.

      Bavarians can understand that about their Land. Last time they tried it, with Edmund Stoiber, they failed miserably. Bavarians were saying: “a, mai, why is he trying to speak standard German? Looks stupid. What’s he doing in Berlin trying to behave like a Berliner, dancing in a club with Berliners? What does he have to look for outside Bavaria?” (and believe me: Bavaria is not just one of the most beautiful regions of Germany, it is particularly well organized, very wealthy – out of own effort and out of own brains- and it has some of the best education centres in the country).
      I won’t tell you what non-Bavarians were saying. And mind: Bavarian is considered by many -not all- non-Bavarians as a cute accent, which is not what we can say about maracucho. But their Bavarianness is too much for most people. This strong regionalism does not need to be bad but it is not good for uniting people outside your own tribe.

      Look: it will already be a huge huge challenge to get a Caraqueño elected.
      The last Caraqueño who became president of Venezuela, if I remember well, was ANTONIO GUZMÁN BLANCO. In fact: before him you have to look at the very beginning. One of the issues candidates from particularly important demographic centres have – and that is more so in Venezuela than in a lot of countries – is to feel real empathy for other regions. We do have – in every region – a particularly strong feudal attitude. In spite of our flag-waving, our attention span for things that are outside our wee, wee region, is almost close to zero.

      That is one of the reasons why such a pathetic figure as Chávez could win so many hearts, he knew – like other presidents, by the way- that Sabaneta was not the centre of Earth: “ah, Caicaaaaara, cónchale, Caicaaaaara del Orinoco, con sus petroglifos que mostraban que los de aquí eran artistas, astrónomos desde siempre”
      “Ah, Falcón, tierra de las bellas caquetías, del valoroso José Leonardo Chirino”

      You know what? We have a problem and that is not just Zulianos. People from Valencia or Caracas (and I am from Valencia) tend to say:
      “Sí, gente, porque aquí vamos a traer el progreso que tenemos en Caracas/Valencia/MIRANDA”
      That is also an issue for Capriles. Even if he can certainly use his experience in Mirandas to show he can manage things, he has to be very careful not to go on too much with “aquí haremos como en Miranda, donde construimos blablabla”.
      Unfortunately, people have to get an adapted message , specially in Venezuela. “Aquí, en Calabozo, vamos a hacer X y Z y W. Eso lo hemos hecho también en Miranda. Aquí en Calabozo, y de aquí hasta El Sombrero, podremos construir…porque AQUÍ en GUÁRICO, carajo, podemos…”

  10. Then Juan Cristobal and you are confusing the facts with your own prejudices:

    – Your prejudice is that a native of Zulia will have difficulty being elected given the Zuliano origen.
    – Your fact is that there has never been a president from Zulia.

    The other fact is that what both of you have written reflects a prejudice. An extreme version analogy would be saying about Obama, as a candidate 5 yrs ago: “Con: black– the nation has never elected one, and hasn’t come even close to doing so.”

    The other problem you have with the post is that effectively you are saying that voters will go through a thought process that says “hmm, that guy Pablo is from Zulia — can’t vote for him”.

    I don’t believe that about Venezuelans. Show me the opposite so I can become a self-loather like JC. Or, dunno, maybe I’ll root for secession 🙂

    • It’s not his prejudice. It is his knowledge about a well-documentd prejudice in Venezuela. And you will have to realise that prejudice has reasons to be, as I pointed out in my previous comments.

      Voters never never go for such mental processes. It’s all guts to them.

  11. oap, arias cardenas and rosales… zulia governors who ran for president and lost… good point… but have you considered how many of the oppo candidates are from caracas?… i cant even remember the last caraqueño president…

  12. Hmm, the argument seems to boil down to saying that loudmouth governors from regions with weird accents and fiercely independent streaks never get elected to national office?

    Must be why Rick Perry is doing so poorly in polls: (

    Guys: Pablo, like Manuel and OAP before him, is a sucky candidate. That’s why he won’t be the chosen one.

    (and for the record, Perry is just an example: no way I want anything else to do with the guy)

    • Humberto,

      The States are pretty different in this sense and you see there have been some Texan presidents.

      Zulianos are really-really-really different. There is nothing wrong with them, really…but they are different.

      And DON’T underestimate the gaitas zulianas. This is something no one analising South America’s geopolitics should forget. The fear is strong that if a Zulia were to take office…oh, I just shudder at the thought.


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