(CC Disclaimer: Emiliana is volunteering for the Capriles campaign, so this is her last post for the week)
For some reason, I keep coming back to this theme of how the current campaign just feels different.
Basically, there are three obvious factors at play. First and foremost, Chávez is no longer (physically) present. Second, the oppositions’ tone has taken a marked turn for full-frontal, unabashed attacks on the personal and administrative fronts of the incumbent. Third, and consequently, the government’s candidate is himself a target for attacks, something we haven’t seen in a while.
My take is that said factors are not symptomatic of a genuine sea change, but underlying contributors to it. The fact of the matter is, a new breeze is flowing through Venezuela with regards to outward expressions of support or dissent; expressions that might seem trivial at first glance, but that taken in context reveal great significance.
Gone are the days, for example, when the MUD stifled its criticism of shady CNE goings-on for fear that public outcries of foul play could dissuade voters from turning out on election day. Timid manifestations of dissatisfaction, usually voiced by marginalized, often-berated opposition figures, have been replaced with goading condemnations by the MUD’s firebrand CNE liason, Liliana Hernández, who has been anything but shy in challenging Tibisay Lucena to defend herself in the public arena.
Vanished, also, are the feeble, impersonal reproaches that have in the past characterized Capriles’ discrepancies with the status quo. Capriles has done a complete 180-in-message. One that took us from “The President did some things well, but I will make them better,” to “Nicolás is inept, corrupt, deceiving, and driving our county to ruin.” (I paraphrase)
If that wasn’t enough change, there’s also the unprecedented ease with which the opposition now publicly ridicules the government candidate. This new license to mock renders anything fair game: Maduro’s companion Cilia Flores, the President-in-Charge’s paranormal conversations with fowl-from yonder, not-so-subtle allusions to his weight and his work ethic (I’m not an objective observer, but, damn, the guy kind of makes it hard to inspire respect).
Though taken at face value, these attacks are certainly puerile, frivolous, and thus speak to the low depths to which political discourses sometimes fall to, they represent a welcome, even refreshing, change in free-speech dynamics.
The most symbolic defiance of political-correctness, a liberation of sorts, was Friday’s massive celebrity endorsement of Capriles. The event was only carried by Globovisión, and thus reached a minuscule scope of TV viewers. Even so, for the first time in 14 years, public figures revered in our soap opera-obsessed nation – who previously only expressed their political allegiances privately by either touting the “entertainment and politics don’t mix” argument or fearing reprisals from the self-censored private media that might still hire them – openly declared their support for regime change.
This signals a momentous break in political culture. I can say from personal experience, that in previous opposition campaigns, even as recently as October, we tried in vain to obtain celebrity endorsements, and with some very marginal exceptions, always received a polite refusal, usually followed by an even more polite “pero sabes que voy a votar por ustedes igual, no?”.
Friday’s broadcast (Juan and Quico should probably skip this paragraph since their most recent national pop-culture reference is Ligia Elena) featured wildly popular figures such as comedian Emilio Lovera throwing equal jabs at Venevisión owner Gustavo Cisneros and at 21st century socialism. It featured sex-bomb and beauty queen Norkys Batista complaining that all hotels in the world host orgasms, except for State-owned Venetur – this in reference to her latest monologue, Orgasmos, being cancelled last minute by government authorities. It featured late-night host Luis Chataing condemning exclusion, local heartthrob Guillermo García expounding the virtues of civic duties, and telenovela fixture Gledys Ibarra insisting that Maduro is not Chávez, and that Capriles is not CAP.
These are not the usual disgruntled ex-RCTV mainstays of El Cafetal opposition rallies. These are working celebrities openly proselytizing to the detriment of their street-cred – a very rare occurrence indeed.
I use the word symbolic because I doubt this celebrity endorsement will have much, if any, impact on the electoral outcome. It’s also worth mentioning that Chavismo has been actively lauding newly-welcomed stars to its cause in the past few weeks. My point is that these endorsements represent a bigger, more pivotal phenomenon: a shift in the political expressions we now allow ourselves to have.
It remains to be seen if this overcoming of self-censorship is present in government employees and others not exempt from the State fear-mongering apparatus. But it’s a start, right?
Much has been said about how, in order to defeat chavismo electorally, we must first feel capable of defeating it politically, of truly assimilating that we are an active force and not a squalid minority. I don’t know if this new-found pride in affirmations of dissent is exclusively attributed to Capriles’ campaign, or to Chavez’ looming shadow finally being lifted, or just to Maduro being an easily disparaged buffoon by comparison. Perhaps it’s a combination of all three.
I do believe that regardless of what happens next Sunday, this new campaign has left an indelible mark in the opposition’s psyche. For the first time in a long time, rather than circumstantially banding together a group of individual interests, this campaign might just outlive the coming election day.