The challenge is the challenged

My flock is not for the taking

An excellent article from the Miami Herald’s Jim Wyss, on the enthusiasm of the Capriles campaign, including its challenges. The money quote:

“But not everyone is under Capriles’ spell. Just a few doors down from a gymnasium in Quiriquire where Capriles was addressing a throng of supporters, David Zapata, 53, a construction worker, was sitting on his porch with his wife and children.

He said the last time that Chávez visited this town in Monagas state was in 2005 when he laid the first brick of the Cerro Azul cement plant that is being built with help from Iran. Seven years later, the factory is still not functioning, and Zapata said he’s been disappointed by the administration’s string of broken promises. But he doesn’t hold Chávez personally responsible.

“Chávez is the only one who has ever really cared about the poor,” he said, as he used a Capriles T-shirt as a sweat rag. “His mayors and governors and the people who surround him are worthless but I am definitely voting for him.”

As I was thinking about Mr. Zapata, my first reaction was probably similar to yours: screw him. The guy can’t think logically. We’ll never reach people who are completely enamored with Chavez even as they recognize his government is worthless.

Then I stopped myself just long enough to wonder what’s going to happen to guys like that when Chávez passes away. They’ll be political orphans, ripe for the picking. They’ll want answers, and they’re definitely not going to vote for Elías Jaua.

It pays to take the long view. People like Mr. Zapata are the heirs of generations of Venezuelans who’ve never really had a meaningful opportunity to get ahead. Climb up his family tree and what you find are the peasants that were the vast majority in our country a century or so ago. Climb up further and you’ll find people conquered either in Africa or right here where they were all along.

Two or three generations ago his ancestors moved from the hacienda into a small town or, perhaps, a city. Some of them were probably drawn to the country’s oil fields, where they tried to labor in whatever work was available. Others probably moved to their State capital, or to Caracas, looking for government work. All the while, they were living in makeshift homes along with thousands of migrants, internally displaced people scrambling for a bite of the Venezuelan dream.

They stayed on the fringes, always on the outside looking in. As the years went by, they enjoyed the crumbs of the country’s wealth – a subsidy here, a threadbare school there – while the fat cats and the foreigners grabbed the big money.

They were the guys sweeping the floor of some oil company social club while the Dutch and the Americans smoked their cigars and talked about how lazy Venezuelans are. They were the guys serving coffee at some Ministerio while bloated kleptocrats discussed the latest deal which would net them millions.

Their experience is that when the oil busts come, the government always cuts where the rope is thinnest: them. The fat cats keep getting fatter, and normal people see their living standards plummet.

And then comes Chavez, and says “you count.” He looks like one of them, and he starts giving them stuff: Mercal, Barrio Adentro, Mision Ribas.

And the wealthy are furious.

Of course Zapata will not even consider voting for anyone else. His is a romance, not a political affiliation. It’s a religion.

These followers will be orphaned once Chavez passes away, because they hate chavistas. The challenge is not to get the Mr. Zapatas of this world to vote for Capriles – those are the lost sheep.

The challenge is to take their cause up and make it our own.

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  1. two comments:
    first, it matters much HOW Chavez goes. IMO better for him to go with a bang! that to fade away.. (Nirvana?) His martydom in a guaranteed money maker. Cubans know this and will play this card as soon as they think its their best option ahead.

    Second, If the opposition is not well preared to construct a narrative to explai to Mr. Zapata, how badly he was taken on his trust and romance for Chavez, they will not be able to deal with all the despecho. Mr. zapata needs to know how Chavez cheated on him from day one. How it only took him to the cheapest restaurants, while entertaining the cubans, the persians, and the russians etc. at the good night clubs, it need to know how much money Chavez pilfered, embezzled and burned with out anything to show for, Mr. Zapata needs to know waht other countries have done in the last 14 years with much les revenues, how much a school costs in colombia, costa Rica, or the good old US, or little Canada, en fin…

    La proxima gran batalla, I agree, its for the construction of the myth, and the use of the figure in the long run. Are we prepared?

  2. At a certain point people such as Mr. Zapata may be unreachable. The connection that the PSUV core feel for Chavez is emotional on a deep level. Emotional voting doesn’t respond to logical arguments very well, it’s why poor whites in the US vote Republican even if logically they probably shouldn’t. It’s emotional and these connections to a politician which are forged during a crucial political moment in a nation’s history are very hard to break.

    We also have to remember that, as politically incorrect as it may be to mention it, Mr. Zapata doesn’t have the educational background to fully grasp the structural causes of Venezuela’s problems. This is the audience Chavez speaks to when he accuses saboteurs of causing blackouts and hoarders of raising food prices. These narratives are ridiculous to the well educated but when you have no idea what causes inflation or that oil isn’t this limitless source of wealth, it’s very easy to become committed to an otherwise lousy leader.

      • But that is the only form of analysis we know!!!

        Also here’s a lolcat

        So…what happened to your promise of not wasting more time answering comments?

      • You’re right Quico, you caught me at the time of day I devote to self-aggrandizement. Funny, lately that seems to be most of the day.

        But on a serious note, how would the opposition go about creating its own discourse to reach the historically excluded? Humans tend to take the path of least resistance and a post-Chavez government could potentially just settle back into old routines quite comfortably rather than actually devoting itself to reaching the poorest and not perpetuating the conditions that led to this mess in the first place. In the worst case scenario rather than change society for the better a new government would just promote its own brand of clientelism, its own brand of oil-funded populism and the most damaging traits in the Venezuelan political system would simply persist. How would a post-Chavez government break through this institutional persistence?

        • Speaking as someone who has run for office but only of small organizations, you can’t please everybody, so don’t try. Do your best for the majority and don’t waste too much time and efforts on the ones who will never support you.

      • I believe your 2nd paragraph is right on! Reality has nothing to do with self-flattery. “Political Correctness” be damned! It’s truth (I hope) that we’re looking for on this Blog!! Chavez’s core audience is what it is. Those non-believers– come to Venezuela and talk personally to the “Juan Bimbas”.

        • Well, my 2nd paragraph was my gut reaction but thinking from a more rational standpoint I get what Toro is trying to convey. Point is, Chavez will die one day whether or not he gets voted out of office. Chavez’s core audience won’t be won over in this election but the real challenge will be to create a discourse for the extreme poor so they don’t feel marginalized or somehow ‘left out’ of politics in general. That’s kind of what allowed Chavez to flourish in the first place.

          • Chavez’s core audience won’t be won over in this election but the real challenge will be to create a discourse for the extreme poor so they don’t feel marginalized or somehow ‘left out’ of politics in general.

            Agree. The alternative is anger, repressed or otherwise. And we’ve all seen manifestation of that, in Venezuela, over the years.

            But here’s the rub. Can Capriles or any of his team reach out to the disenfranchised in a genuine manner? Can Capriles or any of his team educate and inspire these disenfranchised to pull themselves up a little out of their misery?

          • Well I’m sure they can. However the realities of governing in a developing country come to the fore and it’s all too easy for them to just lie back and govern in the same way everyone has before. Real reform and real changes are hard to pull off, it’s been done before in many places but they’re going to really have to want to do it. I mean, look at Pepe Figueres, former president of Costa Rica. The guy basically single-handedly pulled the country out of banana republic status. He didn’t turn CR into a first-world nation but he did create notable improvements which they still enjoy to this day. If Capriles were elected he would have a mandate to implement reform, but the political will to do so will have to be extremely strong.

          • They don’t need to reach out to the hard-core poor. All they need to do is make sure it can never again be said that Chávez is “the only who cares about the poor.” If they can do that, then all the Zapatas will either stay committed to their cult or see the light. But at least Caprilistas will be able to sleep at night.

  3. Wasn’t the Chavez connection with mr. Zapata the same of Betancourt and AD with the millions of Juan Bimba’s?

    It is not true that only Chavismo has made people matter. Since 1945 the popular vote, and the economic reapings from that, have mattered. People like Mr Zapata´s parents were definitely better off… Until they weren’t: but after centuries of poverty and decades of relative riches… You know.

    Saying it otherwise plays in the historical aim of Chavismo: nothing ever was done before 1999. Ever.

    • My answer to your question is: it wasn’t though both look alike. Type is key.

      Both Betancourt and Chavez understood what the low layers of Venezuelan society were about and what they needed. However, context is important here.

      Betancourt was around when the notion of democracy was something new and undecayed. He ended up being a full-on statesman who would talk to people in the terms of their time but wouldn’t dare use them for his own benefit. Chavez, on the contrary, embodied an image: the fixer of a broken promise, who became likable by challenging elites but ended up crossing all the lines to transform needs into dependencies.

    • It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. What matters is that it’s true to Mr. Zapata, and that this vision of the truth has its roots in legitimate grievances,

  4. “Their experience is that when the oil busts come, the government always cuts where the rope is thinnest: them. The fat cats keep getting fatter, and normal people see their living standards plummet.”
    Indeed JC, but your analysis fell short. People tend to relate the oil boom with the name of the guy living at the time in Miraflores. That’s the reason why you still find people enamored of Perez Jimenez and the people give CAP their votes en masse for a second term. That also aplies to Chavez’s current term as president.
    The equation is simple:
    oil boom = president is the best
    oil bust = president is the worst
    Yes, it’s pretty simplistic, but it is, what it is.

  5. “They were the guys sweeping the floor of some oil company social club while the Dutch and the Americans smoked their cigars and talked about how lazy Venezuelans are.”

    They might not look sympathetic but… were it not for them elitist foreigners, there would not have been much loot to be had. Also, they were known to value Venezuelans and to offer them the nicest salaries and careers so long as they were hardworking and/or skilled. Somewhere along the way a country should be reminded of the stark reality: To have all that oil money for kleptocrats to steal or trickle down, there must be people who can find, produce, pipe and ship oil. The same implied ignorance and resentment were used against pre-2002 PDVSA employees with joyous results. As for the past and current kleptocrats, guess who voted them into office.

    Besides, I don’t know any of “the wealthy” who would be livid at the fact that a school is opened and education offered, or that better nutrition for the disadvantaged is secured. Only that that is definitely NOT happening. The fury comes from seeing chavismo turn resentment and rapaciousness into a creed.

      • I chose to miss the point completely. If Hugo Chavez and acolytes and all the Zapatas had started a movement towards real empowerment and construction of something worthy… If they had failed at building something nice for themselves… If they had asked for help instead of confronting… not everyone that did not submit to their (or rather Chavez and close associates’, so unthinking they were) whims was an “oligarch”…

        But they started with resentment and greed towards anyone producing something. That they need and consume. Both have been accomplices or factors of the looting of money produced by other people for their benefit. That makes them definitely not innocent, and not worthy of any kind words for their present situation.

        This “narrative” has to go. It’s immoral, besides it’s unsustainable.

  6. Chavez “the legend” worries me as much as Chavez alive. Perhaps more. Case in point: Argentina is still living with the myths created around Juan and Eva Peron. Evita’s virtue is that “she cared for the poor” and … she died 60 years ago and is still revered today! Look, there are populist/demagogues lurching around waiting to claim the mantle of sainthood that some people see in Chavez today. Cristina Fernandez anybody?

    The ideal scenario is for Chavez to lose and live. Venezuelans should learn from the experience of Chavez mismanagement so we can pick better next time. If Chavez lives, he will not be elevated to Evita-like sainthood and all may see the warts of his ineffective and hopelessly corrupt government.

    My 2c.

  7. Pre-1999, Juan Bimba was an arm’s length fiction, a symbol, a cartoon, used by AD’s Partido del Pueblo. JB was certainly considered while the party built housing, and did so well, certainly far, far better than what we’ve seen from the Chávez years. But come election time — and was this a chavista narrative? — AD would roll its trucks into towns, the alto parlantes providing the “vote-for-me” recording, while someone in the back of the truck would throw sandwiches. Una falta de respeto, pues.

    Chávez scrapped the old Juan Bimba symbol and created a pueblo, a HUGE pueblo out of flesh and blood. He connected with that pueblo through the gut, and I’m not talking sandwiches here. He talked to the pueblo about this and that — never mind that it didn’t make much sense, never mind that the poetry didn’t always put food on the table — he showed the pueblo that he knew what it was like, what it was like to be them. And the pueblo responded in kind — with affection and votes. No matter what the screw-ups, Chávez could count on mesmerizing the pueblo with his maudlin routines, lasting hours, while the country’s operations crumbled and a narco pipeline solidified.

    In sum …
    AD had no affection for Juan Bimba.
    Chávez = corazón = pueblo.
    Capriles has affection for the pueblo, but deep down, the pueblo knows that he isn’t remotely like them.

  8. Mr Zapata should get off his backside and start to look after himself and his likely large family.

    With Chavez he has been screwed. With Capriles it will more than likely be the same too. Promises are fine but rarely are they fulfilled in Venezuela.

    This election is about joining, or not, the ranks of Cuba, North Korea or any like failed state. Although Mr Zapata’s social situation may be noteworthy it is of no significance whatsoever.

    There are many other Venezuelans from all social levels who will take a stand against the Dictator. These are the people who will make a difference.
    Mr Zapato will more than likely spend the rest of his life on his porch.

    • True enough, hehe… The day Zapata becomes skeptical and vocal, is the day he becomes a citizen. And might, just might possibly avoid being thoroughly screwed. When he gets his ass unstuck from that porch.

      But we will be our own kind of failed State unlike Cuba or North Korea. The Venezuelan version of national failure seems to be even more horrible than Cuba or North Korea’s.

  9. have any of you seen “tiempos de dictadura yet”?? or have the chance to see it?? last night a young girl was riding up the elevator in tolon going to the movie, wearing a chavista red shirt. a lady in the elevator asked her about it. she was a public employee “escaping” from the catia rally to see the movie. the older lady sai: “well you can wear any shirt as long as you vote from the heart. the young woman winked.
    the very well made documentary’s parallelisms are incredible, even though PJ and chiabe are the alpha and omega of an autocratic and militaristic regime: one wanted to build a new vzla and envisioned a first world country, the other to destroy it. PJ had no personal charisma whatsoever and chiabe had tons. neither cared for the poor, they just used them, PJ by ignoring rural poverty in the midst of urban growth and prosperity, while chavez has seduced the poor as a pedophile does, handing out candy, to later F* their expectations by ignoring all their needs
    ( check out what happened in chiabe’s catia rally yesterday = which is zero + cacerolazos) you guys should see it, up close and personal to understand the belly of this beloved beast called “venezuela mi patria querida”. did you see chiabe crying in apure?? my only p.s. is that it only took 6 years of PJ’s iron fisted dictatorship to turn the country against him vs the 14 years of desencanto de que te pisen y te pisen bailando el bolero of chiabe’s religious following.. y de tener bailar pegao’con el. patria o muerte?? noooo mijito… demassiao’ muerto, hueco, inflacion y carestia mi hermano…mr zapata is a remnant of that link. but more of a minority.each day. IMO

  10. I don’t like this narrative. I know that as far as inflicting pain on chavistas is concerned a win, plus Chavez’ death, plus a Capriles win would be the most dramatic emotional roller coaster. But it sucks. Capriles needs to win. Those “romantic” voters need to be swayed not allowed to sit in self-delusion about the almighty Chavez. The best thing to happen for Venezuela’s future is for Chavez to lose at the polls and to die quietly in a hospice as Capriles runs the country. Yes, even with the raiding of the funds that will undoubtedly happen if Chavez loses. A post-Chavez death Capriles win would not be seen as legitimate because “the Chavista’s won!” and I don’t even know if such a transition could even be possible (who knows they might try to legislate away the “must have elections again” constitutional thing).

  11. Religion cannot be argue with.
    And another religion is needed to be able to convert people to your side, without touching too much previous beliefs. The first roman christians did exactly that: they built churches on top of pagan temples, exchanged pagan gods for christian saints and included old pagan rites in christian rites. As a result, they were amazingly successful.

    • Very true. Build on previous foundations. Incorporate elements of systems that are believed by those you want to bring over to your side. Keep doing this and you’ll gain converts and expand your base.

  12. Chavez’s “achievement” has been making the Mr. Zapata’s of Vzla count and also make them politically active. You are not going to convert him going for the heart. While Chavez CARED for the poor and has their emotional love, you have to go for the mind instead. So, Capriles has to DO and IMPROVE the situation of the poor. He might not be one of them but he has to make their lives better.

  13. There is still a line of thought you can tell to a guy like Mr. Zapata. The key here is that Mr. Zapata thinks the government is not functioning, so you can reason with him like this:

    1.- If you vote for Chavez, you are basically telling the people in the government that it is ok for them to continue being the way they are. You are sending them the message that they can continue not caring about insecurity, or about the blackouts, or about the collapsing infrastructure, etc., that you are continuing to support them no matter what. You are giving them a blank cheque. That way, the people in the government will have no pressure to perform, and things will continue to be as bad or worse as they are now. Your only tool to make the government wake up is to vote against them.

    2.- Just because Chavez cares about the poor doesn’t mean you have to vote for him. It’s not like you owe him your vote. Maybe other people care about the poor as well, and are more efficient. Why no give them the chance?

    3.- If you give new people a chance, and they don’t deliver, you can always call a referendum in 3 years time. With Chavez this possibility is closed after what happened last time (Tascon list). So you’ll be stuck for six more long years of inefficiency and corruption. Again, why not give new people a chance?

    I have argued like this with a couple of chavista friends who, like Mr. Zapata, still love Chavez and were going to vote for him, even though they think things are not going well in this country. Now they are saying they will not vote at all.

    Ok, I didn’t manage to make them vote for Capriles, but they are not voting for Chavez either, and that’s already something.

    • Reasons 1 and 3 are strong! No. 2 not so much. I’d restate as follows:

      2.- Chavez talks about caring about the poor. But does he deliver efficient help to the poor? Has the level of poverty decreased during his years in government? Does he want the poor to become independent, or does he want the poor to stay dependent on his government? Whatever your answers, remember that even if Chávez truly cared for the poor, it doesn’t mean you have to vote for him, if you think he has not done a good job of reducing or eliminating poverty. It’s not like you owe him your vote. Maybe other people care about the poor as well, but can deliver services more efficiently. Why no give them the chance?


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