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.