Some final thoughts on Capriles in Chile

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Picture: Gilda Iturriaga
Picture: Gilda Iturriaga

As some of you know, Henrique Capriles was in Chile last week as part of a tour that took him to Peru. (My take in Prodavinci here, and my analysis over at Foreign Policy’s Transitions blog – including a reference to Melanie Griffith that came totally out of left field – here).

I had never met Capriles before, and had only seen him in person once, a long time ago, during a speech he gave to Primero Justicia.

The first thing that struck me about him is that, indeed, he is “el Flaco.” He is surprisingly thin, almost painfully so. His facial features – the beady eyes, the angular face – pop out at you in a way that TV does not do justice. The guy really needs to eat a cheeseburger.

He is also remarkably deliberate in his gait and in his stare. His body language is slow, methodical, precise, economical almost. I don’t know what that means, but it’s something that popped out at me.

Capriles did great here. Even though he was swarmed with media, opportunist politicians, and even bloggers (!) he never lost his composure. He was exhausted from the long trip, but he was always personable, right on message, remarkably even-keeled. His manner was professional and optimistic, even in the face of the controversies that surrounded his visit.

This was evident in the speech he gave the Venezuelan expat community. He made his case clearly, and for the first time I got a sense that he knows where this is going, or at least where he wants to take this.

I also got a front-row display of his rhetorical talents during a press conference he held on Friday. For example, he was pressed on the Snowden case, but he used the question to divert attention to the issues that matter the most: crime, economic catastrophe, illegitimacy. Basically, he would say something like “I don’t know if Mr. Snowden qualifies for asylum or not. What I do know is that the government is using the Snowden affair to divert attention from the horrific crime wave, from scarcity, etc. Let’s not forget that, prior to the Snowden affair, the thing the government was famous for outside of Venezuela was because there was no toilet paper in the country.”

Capriles is by no means perfect. From what I personally witnessed, I have serious doubts about his ability to pick the right people for specific jobs (let’s just say that, when I posted this, I fell far short). I also feel like he could have been a bit more forceful and less congenial on some of the things he said.

But overall, it was fun to see this guy up close. I was exhausted after two days of working on his tour, but I left proud of having voted for him twice.

1 COMMENT

  1. His way of treating the expat comunity was way below decent. Along is his speech alltogether. His way of traveling around traying to gain pitty on the Venezuelan case is worthless.

  2. A little off topic but Capriles presumably speaks English well. Have you ever see him use it with the foreign press, or is that regarded as a potentially career stopping move? (Like John Kerry and his French)

    • It’s likely Capriles can’t speak English. Capriles got his academic degrees in Venezuela. Most Venezuelans of his generation who are proficient in English acquired the language by having gotten an academic degree in North America or Great Britain.

        • He did. Although in that part of Harlem, Spanish works just fine as well.

          I’ve been told that his English is competent, maybe not Sebastian Pineraesque, but not much beneath it either. He likely just doesn’t have common need to use it, given that he’s roving South America.

  3. Juan, I think this is a very fair/accurate description of Capriles, who would certainly put all post-Betancourt Presidents to shame, were he eventually to assume the Presidency.

    • With a few words, and better than most, you’ve summed up Capriles’s shot at the presidency, should he have the opportunity.

  4. Unfortunately, the flagrant mistreat of Carlos Ortega – which I personally witnessed- ended up being a political gaffe that made the headlines, and opened an unnecessary flank of attack for all the opportunistic fauna looking to undermine Capriles leadership. As Juan said, the affair was the entire responsibility of the MUD’s Lima field squad, and not HCR’s or the people traveling with him.
    And when I say the ”MUD’s Lima Team” is itself a gross understatement: In Peru, the MUD is rather a one-man-show (one girl, to be precise). Let me just say that the local “team” organized the HCR-meet-Venezuelans event in a rather small venue in a by-invitation-only basis. The process to get invited was not transparent, or fair, or at least public, they were reluctant to even disclose the location til’ the very last minute. Unfortunately for them, the press leaked the exact place and hour of the meeting, and what followed was a really sad spectacle of hundreds of fellow Venezuelans trying to get to see their political leader only to get bounced by a “I’m sorry, tú no estás en la lista mamita”.
    I personally worked my way inside the venue –I was not on the list either- but I witnessed the costly Ortega gaffe and thought OMG, if it would have been Rosales, the MUD freaking implodes. I´m very sorry more Venezuelans did not get to see HCR´s speech: It was very good in tone and content, HCR looked relaxed, charismatic, empathetic and heartfelt, but more importantly, to me he was able to depict a roadmap for us, with crystal-clear vision of what is ahead. For the very first time for me, I´ve got the sense that he finally reach a state of self-awareness of his role as a Leader, in an historical sense, he now embrace his role and leads. He leads big time. Overall, it was the very best speech I´ve listened from the guy.

    • In her defense, I have to say that it’s difficult to estimate just how many people want to show up to one of these things.

      Here in Santiago, we were lucky to have access to the Salón de Honor del Ex-Congreso, which seats about 400 people. We were pretty sure we would fill it up, but were not ready for the flood of people that came, as many could not enter after a certain time because the building had reached maximum capacity. We would have rented a larger room, but the cost was really high and we were not sure we could recoup it by asking people for donations (we certainly weren’t going to charge people).

      But the Carlos Ortega thing was a major gaffe.

      • I agree, Juan, I just think that the fair thing to do is make the capacity of the venue be the binding constraint, and not some murky “lista de invitados”. As far as I know, you in Chile the invitation was open to all the Venezuelan community and publicized in Facebook and so…

      • Another gaffe: the *organization* of the event. (The process to get invited was not transparent, or fair, or at least public, they were reluctant to even disclose the location til’ the very last minute.).

        Did the Lima-based MUD organizer want to keep all the marbles/glory for as long as possible? Who knows how much synergy might have developed had she shared the news, earlier, and been more transparent. Perhaps one of the people could have come up with a venue that would not have excluded the large crowd.

        The exclusion of Carlos Ortega is unforgivable. If I think like a pin-head, I can understand the exclusion from a political strategy point of view. But in the end, it’s pin-head thinking.

        #StupidPlanning
        #What’sWithWomenWhoDon’tWantToShare?
        #AsBadAsTheOldBoysClub

  5. The Lima gaffe may appear important in Lima, but in the great scheme of things, it isn’t. Ask any organizer of a political campaign about series of unfortunate events; they happen. Hopefully it will be a learning experience on the way to getting rid of the PSUV government.

    • Actually, I don’t think it does appear important in Lima. Perhaps it appeared important to Venezuelan expats living in Lima; I don’t know how significant a part of the limeño population that would be, but I don’t think it’s very large. I didn’t see any media coverage at all in any of the newspapers I read. It does seem to have received some coverage in Caracas, though.

  6. For things like Omar says, this “personalities” –> The woman <—overseas, that want to be the only voice of the expats, we don't have a better leverage overseas. There are some organizations that want to be the only ones running the show!!! el pescueceo!!!
    Even if You don't agree with Carlos Ortega, he is in exile, and I'm sorry but that was a mistake…we have to have some accountability, and well he did something wrong but the government is persecuting him for thinking in a different way… The same happens in other countries, so in a way, anything you want to do to help, either gets diluted because it has to be done from Caracas, or the internal fights between groups of expats…

  7. Regarding the “flaco” thing, he does indeed train a lot. I have seen him a couple times at sabas nieves. He has quite a pace to go up and down, so he does keep himself fit / flaco. Does he actually eat healthy? That’s a whole other thing entirely.

    • I know for a fact that during his first year in office as Gobernador de MIranda his lunches consisted entirely of a can of tuna, a bag of chicharrones, and a Diet Coke (Dr. Atkins would be proud).

    • Have never seen him in person, but have read about and seen enough of him in the media to know that he’s an avid hiker/runner, and as Mario attests, works out on Avila.
      I think that like most people I’ve seen scurrying up Avila, he’s probably not a huge consumer of cheeseburgers.

  8. I am flattered that you went digging into old archives… Ah! those were the days….

    Nice you added this tidbit to Capriles curriculum. The weird thing is that his shortcomings maybe what is helping him in his fight. He is no intellectual but he is not stupid and that is the only way he can resist the onslaught of chavismo.

    PS: now we are two for two since I had one ahead of you after attending the primary debate of Globovision. 🙂

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