The candidate for people who hate politics


Yesterday’s campaign launch speech to the Primero Justicia party conference by Miranda governor Henrique Capriles Radonski was none too subtle about how he intends to position himself: as the candidate for people who hate politics.

Capriles’s spiel is calculatedly, militantly non-confrontational. His total rhetorical focus on the future implies a militant refusal to even talk about the last 13 years except in the most oblique way.

I think this is canny. People are exhausted with all these years of hyperpolarization. That big, swing-voter rich segment right in the middle of the electorate is full of people who have no interest at all in relitigating the ideological squabbles of the Chávez era for the umpteenth time.

In fact, they were already sick to death of the ideological fight in 2004. They turned off a long time ago, learned to tune out the cadenas and the headlines and the news bulletins and the boring uncle who only talks about politics years ago. They’re too busy making a living (and trying to stay alive) to really pay attention to a squabble that’s as predictable as it is irrelevant to them.

Reaching these people is obviously a major challenge. And that’s a problem, because they will almost certainly decide the election next year.

Capriles is making a carefully targeted play for their votes precisely by positioning himself outside the hyper-polarized back and forth. This is what all that “future focus” stuff is about: an implicit promise to Ni-Ni Nation that a vote for me is a vote to bury, once and for all, the fallow disputes of the Chávez era.

Another way to say this is that Capriles is running a General Election campaign in the primary season. In an American context, that’s what overwhelming front-runners typically do: if you’re fairly sure the nomination is yours, there’s no need to pander so much to the extremes and risk alienating the voters you’ll have to appeal to win the General. But, of course, it’s a risky strategy, because the fire-breathing Chávez-hating right wing is going to be hugely over-represented in the Primaries, and there’s no question who’s dishing out the red meat they crave these days.

The dynamic of a primary fight is going to create strong pressure for Capriles to come out swinging against Chávez in much stronger terms. But now that he’s told us that his campaign’s entire rationale is avoiding that stance, can he do so without shooting himself in the foot?


Update: technically, Saturday’s event was not a campaign launch – or at least they’re not calling it that.

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  1. Maybe, I think, if he detail in the near future, a plan to get rid of all the crap that has been going on in the Chavez era without explicitly attack Chavez, he could win the heart of the extreme right wingers.

    • HD:

      What do you mean by extreme right wingers? And what is their percentage in the total population of Venezuela?


      I think Capriles is playing a good game but for one thing: the local touch.
      Venezuelans are pretty regionalist. You don’t win their hearts by talking about such an abstract thing as “Venezuela”. You don’t do that by talking all the time about Miranda. The real target are not the 1000 Paraparas no one can visit in a year. It’s the 50 cities like Calabozo and Maturín, where, all sum up, have 70% of Venezuela’s population. Other candidates are going there already…and talking in terms of Calabozo, Maturín, Guacara. Capriles should at least start talking about them. Then he could actually reach them.

      It’s not Parapara. It’s Acarigua.

      • Oh I refer to the people who basically want to kill Chavez and see it as their only goal in life. I know a few my self, they of course no represent a big block of the population, but I agree with Francisco they will be over-represented in the primaries. And well, I am sure they are not right wing haha I always thought that it does not exist in Venezuela.

  2. Key words/phrases, many repeated:
    camino, progreso, sumamos, claros, escuela, el futuro, levantamos, reparamos, energía, lo bueno, abrir la puerta al futuro, cerrar un ciclo, abrir un ciclo, el encuentro de todos, trabajar fuerte, gobernar para todos, trabajamos para todos por igual, hermandad, sin violencia, sumar no restar, construir no destruir, mi compromiso es ganar la confianza (de los empleados públicos).

    Of all these phrases, my favourite one was the repetition of work, hard work, starting with himself, and extending that to his party. Needs to be said – clarito – especially in a country where that word has lost its lustre.

    A few more observations: HCR’s energy; his strong, firm discourse; and the irrefutable experience factor from — not a mayor, not the head of an NGO, but a state governor who has achieved proven results — without discrimination. Miranda “encontró su camino, ahora le toca a Vzla encontrar su camino.”

    I think HCR is playing his cards brilliantly. On a superficial level, the last few photo opps have been telling. He appears, as Kepler noted, chavetized (the flag jacket), followed by his wearing a T-shirt in the opposite colour spectrum from red, after a run. As noted by Carolina, I think, como que le picó a Chavez. Hence the last attempts, in Miraflores, to throw a baseball. Like Miguel, I think Ch is going down.

    I hope HCR keeps on the message not to alienate. For now, I give his formal announcement two thumbs up.

  3. He needs not to. And he should not.

    Anybody running besides Chavez himself will be marked by the kind of hyper-divisive discourse dished out by the One and Only Leader. In fact anyone running besides Chavez is running against Chavez and chavismo.

    The vacuum Hugo El Personalista has created around himself is of a nature that there’s no place. There’s no place for a leftist like Henri Falcon. There’s no place for a Chavez substitute in his very own PSUV.

    His break forward is the way to go.

  4. People have overdosed so much with the overwhelming presence of Chavez, that focusing directly on him, even when criticizing is nearly like giving more power to the phenomenon.

    By taking the practical approach, Capriles is focusing on his own strength which is being the leader who has delivered in concrete ways.Unlike Chavez who has NOT delivered in concrete ways…

    However by not mentioning Chavez he runs only on his own record. This way the focus stays on Capriles himself ( more empowering).

    The comparison between Chavez and Capriles will be implicitly made.

    • FP, if you have ever been even marginally dependent on someone that is not mentally balanced, and who is a master of manipulation, you should know that you don’t just go about your business, as though that person does not exist, does not affect you.

      It is a pernicious cycle.

      Criticizing, and finding others with whom to do so, is a natural response, a way to alleviate the status quo. It is also a (delusional) way to slay a seemingly impossible dragon, one that has to run its course.

      Personally, I believe that course is underway and is now easier than before – for several reasons. Others are free to think in opposite terms. But what I have trouble with is with those who try to limit a natural response, who try to limit the criticism, for whatever external reason.

      Outside of these points, I fully agree with your 2nd to 4th paragraphs.

  5. Syd,

    People have been criticizing Chavez non stop for the past umpteen years, and what is done is done, and some of it has been good.But he gets his energy though the attention from others.As long as people give him attention both negative and positive, his power grows. I simply think it might be a good tactic to take away this attention and focus it elsewhere.It is not a matter of saying that nobody has a right to criticize, it is a matter of seeing where the attention takes us.

    • FP, you’ve been visiting these boards for at least 3 years, given your interest in Venezuela. In all that time, you have been commenting with a psychology bent, given the courses you enjoy taking in that subject. Now, all of a sudden, you begin sounding the alarms that we should not be criticizing Chavez, for all the attention that it deflects from other more important matters. On Miguel’s blog, you tell us that you find the rumors boring, that lately, there are childish elements, that the threads are becoming obsessive. You repeat that mantra on Daniel’s blog, adding a cherry on the Sundae: how the Tibetan Book of Dead reminds you of what is happening in Venezuela, and how we are all blinded (except you, of course) by Samsara, or Saranwrap, or something like that. At no time do you inform us what you have done as an antidote to the speculation, et al. At no time, do you suggest a concrete game plan as an alternative. All you do is repeat a hue and cry. And I’m being kind in my description.

      Perhaps you have not realized it, FP, but we are fully capable of discussing any number of topics — directly, indirectly or not-at-all related to Chavez. We are fully capable of directing our attention and focusing it elsewhere at the drop of a hat. And most of us do not delude ourselves into thinking that we can do anything about the situation. That is, outside of voting, in spite of its questionable integrity.

      We are, I think, like the Frosted Mini-Shredded Wheat; we can be two things. Maybe you didn’t see that (comiquita-like) ad, or maybe it’s too low-brow for you. No matter, the storyline is this….

      Mr. Mini-Wheat lies on the psychiatrist’s couch, next to a Sigmund Freud-like character who asks his new patient what the problem is.

      “Oh, Doctor, I’m so confused,” says Mini-Wheat
      “Uh-huh. Yes?” says Freud, absent mindedly. “Go on.”
      “Well my wheat side is wholesome. And my frosted side has much to offer. I don’t know who I am!” says Mini-Wheat.
      Freud scratches his beard (but only for a nanosecond, for after all this is an ad) .”Why not be both?” he says.
      Mini-Wheat knits his eyebrows before exclaiming, “Of course! That’s the ticket!” He bounces off the psychiatrist’s couch and his little legs take him out the door. (One presumes he paid the shrink, or that he was under health insurance.)

      Like Mini-Wheat, we can be two things. We can mentally flip the switch from Chavez to non-Chavez. In a nano-second. Surely you saw that capability while you lived in Venezuela.

      These boards are a ‘tertulia’, FP. Or, a gathering of and a gabbing by the like-minded, mostly on Venezuelan-related topics. There’s an organic flow that is encouraged, as long as it adheres to one condition imposed early on by the founder (of CC): never be boring. In that context lies humour. Chavez makes it easy to fulfill the condition and its corollaries. He also makes it easy to connect with others. I have met some wonderful people, both actually and online, as a result of the Nutcase in office. Had this condition not existed, it is extremely doubtful that we would be gathering here, under the banner of Caracas Chronicles, and other blogs like it.

      Unfortunately, that is the only saving grace that Chavez has provided. Many people also come to these boards to commiserate, because they’ve been deeply affected, or have had a family member suffer, as a consequence of the current regime. They know there’s a place for them to learn about new ways of seeing, or to understand, to exchange ideas, to share gossip once in a while, and to be silly.

      Is that so bad? If it is, what’s your concrete game plan? If you don’t have one, may I suggest that you temper your venting. For it doesn’t make much sense, when compared to what many people have to slog through in their daily lives, in Venezuela. You don’t have that misfortune.

  6. Why do I feel like Capriles has no idea what he is talking about? Why does he come off as something of a dumb rich boy to me? Anyway… I suppose nobody votes for intellectuals. But wait, then there was Obama… Hmm…

    In other news: Why would ni-ni or chavista light converts vote for Capriles over Leopoldo (who is _much_ more ideologically aligned with both groups)?

    • RobertoS-can you give it a break. Youare mucking up the situation again
      with your phony journalistic cartoonish being-non-self..In other news,
      Roberto S is trying to trash the news again…
      A. Caprilles is a good man. ANd, you should apologize for what you
      said above.
      B.Capriles knows what he is talkingabout. You -I am going to open a
      Pay Pal account for you and put some money in it -so youcan buy
      yourself a freaking clue!

        • Thank you for your energetic and angry attacks. This is a post about Capriles. My comment expressed my opinion, my general impression of Capriles. How was my comment inappropriate for this forum?

          • My comments are meant as part of a discussion, just as are yours, I presume. @VenezuelaBlogs was created to draw attention to intelligent discussions on Venezuelan politics.

            Yes, all comments are ReTweeted. The aim was and is to increase international exposure to the tenuous situation in Venezuela in hopes of holding an authoritarian hybrid regime in check. A comment Tweet can bring a new reader to an interesting post and teach them something, regardless if the context is missing upon impact.

            International attention is still important.

          • Robert, you keep referring to your comments, when they were actually questions, posed to stimulate discussion in a RobertSilvers direction. That way, you could post the responses from those who fell for your schtick, as Tweets, in your blog, created to measure a Buzz. let me repeat: your tweets are out of context, and therefore can’t possibly teach. But nice try. You’re also using these blogs to enhance your own.

          • Syd, You are simply incorrect. If having a blog precluded one from participating in discussions elsewhere, the internet would be a solitary place indeed. Questions are a part of conversations. I am interested in what others think and have to say, not only in stating my opinions. Your attacks are unnecessary and based on conjecture and distrust. The only buzz I am interested in generating is an ongoing one regarding the democracy deficit in Venezuela.

    • I think this is a fair question. The answer is that Capriles is more approachable than Leopoldo. He also has more experience than Leopoldo, having been the Governor of a state with a proven record of bringing people together. The final answer is that Leopoldo, sadly, has been forced to talk about the inhabilitacion for years now, and this is not a topic that voters care about much.

      • I hear you and agree on both points. I suppose I just wish–for the sake of Venezuela’s stable future–that someone closer to the “third way” could end up as the opposition candidate. Not that all of them are by any means, but the radicals in Primero Justicia scare me. I would hope for more progressive leadership in Miraflores when the Chavez era finally comes to an end.

          • Bueno, Juan, no lo tomes a mal, pero es que tú eres ultra-ultra radical. Si hubieses sido británico seguro que te habrías pasado el tiempo recriminando a la Thatcher porqué fue tan mano floja, que iba por buen camino, pero que le faltó coraje.

          • After devoting several hours to researching supporting documentation for my claims of radicalism in some ranks of Primero Justicia, I am pleased to report that I did not find much. It was an impression I had that seems to have been incorrect. It is clear that Primero Justicia (like others) has been working hard to position themselves further from the right and closer to the potential chavista-light voter, particularly in the lead-up to the 2012 presidential elections.

            For the record, Borges has expressed that Primero Justicia is a Humanist political party. He has stated that to be a humanist means to reject the extremes of both the liberalism or neo-liberalism of the right as well as the socialism of the left. This, I believe, is an honorable position in today’s Venezuelan political reality.


            Regardless, I will take the opportunity to highlight three areas in which Primero Justicia has garnered less than ideal perceptions and positions vis-a-vis winning a presidential election against Chávez or his surrogate:

            1) Internal Party Democracy;
            2) Private Property Rights; and
            3) Individual vs. Collective.

            I redact my use of the term “radical” in describing their positions and those of Capriles. However, I stand by my claim that he and his political party are too far to the right to make an ideal presidential candidate, particularly when there are other qualified candidate(s) who find themselves much better positioned in terms of political ideology and of their understanding of the complicated and polarized dynamics of the Venezuelan electorate.

            Internal Party Democracy

            While Primero Justicia has made honorable advances in some areas of political party diversification and inclusion (in the leadership of women, for example), they still lack in terms of internal democracy within the political party. The example (albeit a young one) presented by López and Voluntad Popular in the past year is more inclusive and shows greater respect for plural democracy and participation. Developing networks across the country and promoting the use of primaries in deciding candidates (both within Voluntad Popular and the wider MUD unity coalition) are both excellent examples of the “reclaiming” of “citizen participation” in political discourse. While Chávez’ has distorted the term in his tenure, “citizen participation” is still a desirable element of a democratic society and sorely needed in Venezuela to ensure that ALL citizens are invited to the table.

            One need only look back to 1998 in Venezuela, or Egypt and Tunisia this past Spring or at income inequality and the recent and growing #OccupyWallSt protests in the United States as examples of what happens when citizens are excluded or disenchanted with government for too long.

            Private Property Rights

            The focus of Primero Justicia on private property rights has been viewed by many as primarily in support of the interests of the business sector and the middle and upper classes. This perception (regardless of their actual position) negatively impacts Capriles’ electability.


            Individual vs. Collective

            The history of Primero Justicia as a party–essentially–born of former COPEI membership and based–in large part–on liberal economic principals, creates a fear that if given executive power, they could revert to the opposite extreme of the right-left, private-public economic spectrum. In other words, while the expropriations on one hand and abuses of State institutions on the other have done tremendous damage to Venezuelan democracy, a turn to the opposite extreme could do as just as much. More importantly, swinging to the opposite extreme leaves open the possibility for another popular revolt the likes of which brought Chávez to power in the first place.

            A Third Way

            In my opinion, it is time for a “third way”. The reasons for Chávez’ victory in 1998 must be respected still today, some 14 years later.

            I do not believe Capriles to be a horrible candidate. I just don’t think he’s the best we’ve got.

            PS – My apologies for calling Capriles a “dumb rich boy”. Nobody wants to hear their candidate insulted. I suppose that as a non-citizen, I feel more free to let loose words fly. Just calling it like I see it–just as I have often said that John Edwards gave me the creeps and that López has robot eyes. Capriles just doesn’t come across to me as being very intelligent. Just an impression. Never met the guy. Mil disculpas.

          • Your question and request beat me to it, Kep. Based on Silvers’ earlier appearances on a few other blogs, I can safely assume that his interest is not in delving into a topic, but rather, in provoking discussion. That’s the way he can harvest and cherry-pick the responses, in order to post them as tweets. These tweets, in turn, reflect the buzz (or rather the selective buzz) on a particular topic. The Wall Street Journal discusses the effects of this trick in its Interactive graphics (“Twitter’s Global Moods”) *. But based on Silvers’ selectivity, the data that he gathers through our responses, is flawed. It’s also out of context.

            Researchers analyzed 509 million tweets sent by 2.4 million users in 84 countries between 2008 and 2010, using keywords to measure positive and negative emotions. The darker the color appears on the map, the stronger the national mood as measured by Twitter. Note: No data available for countries colored black. Source: Science, Cornell University; Images — Science/AAS

  7. I went to Venezuela last year and had the opportunity to exchange with some civil workers that I was sure were chavistas. To my HUGE amazement they confessed to me that they would like to vote for someone young…like Capriles or Lopez! They underlined Capriles first.

    It was the first time I thought Capriles may have a chance at the presidential race…and that gives you a hint that Capriles may be on the right track to target specifically those that work for the goverment.

  8. I believe Capriles is the only candidate that is taking a conciliatory approach. To what I have seen, he has been very careful not to mention “Chavez” and only refers to the “government of turn” when being attacked directly and mostly to point out over and over that even though the government cut their resources, they kept working in Miranda.
    I think this is a great approach to those that are tired of the confrontation Chavez is always looking for, the insults that we all know, and as Quico says, those that hate politics. I also agree that is looking for those public employees that are scared of losing their jobs for speaking out. I give him full credit for this, but my question is: Would it be enough?
    My fear is that there might be more angry people at the failure of this government than ni-ni’s and his speech might be a little too weak for them.
    I just hope that if he wins the primaries, those angry-ones will tone down, keep it cool at Chavez’s provocative speech and give their support to Capriles.
    I guess there is nothing written on stone with this election.

  9. Glad to hear about Capriles. The vision of a more decent future is what got JFK and Reagan elected and admired.

    – A breath of fresh air.



  10. ps

    If you don’t elect him, send him up here. We could use him. Yes, Obama made the same pitch, and he won on it, but he abandoned it as soon as the campagn was in full swing, and he nearly lost to McCain on account of it. Capriles has a lot more credibility. Let us have him…

    Capriles for President (of the US)!




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