Scene stealer

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Watch your back, Chúo.
Which of these guys would you rather hang out with?

The near-universal praise Chúo Torrealba has received upon accepting to be the Secretary General of the opposition’s umbrella coalition is well deserved. Torrealba brings many assets to the table (pardon the pun): he is an empathetic community leader, a skilled communicator, a wickedly smart analyst, and most of important of all … a fellow blogger!

His up-by-the-bootstraps personal story is also universally Venezuelan. Torrealba is the son of impoverished campesinos who migrated to the big city looking for better opportunities, made sure everyone in a large family got an education and moved up in the world. In spite of this, Torrealba has not forgotten his roots, combining unusual street smarts with a cerebral approach to policy issues. This interview (in Spanish) is a must-read for anyone wishing to get a feel for Torrealba’s thinking.

It’s really hard not to like the guy. They used to say about George W. Bush that he managed to beat Al Gore because he passed the “beer” test – people voted for him because they would much rather sit down and have a beer with him than with Gore. Torrealba? Well … sharing a few beers with him must be a great experience. He brings a much needed sense of – why not say it? – fun to Venezuela’s public sphere.

That … could be a problem.

For all the qualities we see in Torrealba, they are not necessarily the qualities we need for the job he has signed up for, one that he said he wasn’t interested in just a few weeks ago.

Being secretary general of the MUD involves dealing with political parties and their notoriously evil, fickle bosses. It requires negotiating in good faith, and making sure that it’s the candidates who shine, not the backroom guys.

Torrealba is simply too good to work behind the curtains, in the shadows. Notice how most people who comment on his personal qualities talk about him … as if he were our next Presidential candidate! He “speaks to the street.” He “talks to the barrio.”

Having a good public persona is obviously a plus, but it could also run the risk of eclipsing some of our elected leaders. Put Torrealba next to, say, Antonio Ledezma, and who would you rather vote for? How about Torrealba vs. Eveling de Rosales? The more Chuo shines, the worse our actual political leaders look.

The other potential problem I see is that Torrealba’s star might be too bright for him to be an effective negotiator. It’s one thing for the parties to sit down with someone like Ramón Guillermo Aveledo who, for all his qualities, was not looking for the limelight and was not going to outshine the person on the other side of the table. It’s quite different to do this with someone with the star power that Torrealba seems to be accumulating.

Sometimes, in movies or in plays, secondary characters shine because the individuals who play them are a force of nature. They end up stealing every scene they are in, and sometimes they steal the entire piece. This can be good for a production, or it can make everything a mess. You don’t hire Ralph Fiennes to play Reynaldo in your little community version of Hamlet, no matter how good the choice might look on paper. He runs the risk of outshining the main players.

Ultimately, it may all work out. It might be good for our political leaders to have a little competition from the supposed bureaucrat who is in charge of handling them. And if Torrealba leaves them in the dust and emerges as the opposition’s political leader, so be it … we could certainly do much worse.

But, deep down, I wonder if the parties that selected Torrealba knew what they were signing up for.

1 COMMENT

  1. You make a very cogent point. But it’s one that I think Chuo himself is very well aware of. He has emphasised that most of the time he will not be the one doing the talking. He has correctly identified the weakness of the parties as one of the opposition’s main flaws and he wants to put them centre-stage. He told César Miguel this morning that if journalists phoned him for an interview he would direct them to the politicians. That said, he’s likely to have a harder time keeping his mouth shut than perhaps even he realises. As for the backroom part, I don’t think he’s under any illusions, nor do I think he lacks experience. Don’t forget that he was an integral part of the Coordinadora Democrática. After that, I imagine even the MUD seems like a troop of boy scouts.

    • Let’s hope so. However, he has shown himself to be someone who can be swayed by extraordinary circumstances – just this week, he did something he had promised not to do, all because people asked him. What if, in the future, people start asking *him* to run for office instead of, I dunno, one of the other guys.

      The siren calls of power can be hard to resist, even for someone as seemingly good-natured as Chúo.

    • ” He told César Miguel this morning that if journalists phoned him for an interview he would direct them to the politicians”

      … he said that to a journalist that phoned him for an interview…

  2. In a country with dozens upon dozens of political backroom players and a grand total of ONE job that calls for backroom dealing as the central skill they give the job…to a locutor!

    I absolutely agree. Chúo’s going to refer the FIRST interview request he gets to a politician. Then he’s going to sit there twitching as he watches the politician make a total hash of it, saying stuff that hadn’t been agreed, tripping all over himself and generally bringing the opposition into disrepute. Who do you think is going to take that second interview?

    • I know this is premature, but … deep down, it troubles me to think that twenty guys in a smoke-filled room *may* have just selected our next President, no matter how good he is.

      • I give him a one month honeymoon, tops, before the parties realize they’ve blundered into putting a much more attractive figure than their guys in an extremely visible position and that this is a threat to them. That’s when they’ll start conspiring behind-the-scenes to undermine him.

        It will take incredible political chops for Chúo to last in this job. I wish him the best. I don’t think I’d bet money on him making it.

      • Juan, at your prompting, I just added, ‘The opposition may have found a marketable presidential candidate’ to my list of things to worry about every time I wake up in Caracas. It comes in at number 172.

        Joking aside, Chuo is not a man for back-room deals, and that could be a problem. He’s quite clear about the fact that he thinks deals should be made with as much transparency as possible. Much will depend on his force of personality (impressive) and on his ability to bite his tongue (probably less impressive).

        I don’t know how that will go, but it’s encouraging that he has a strong consensus behind him to begin with. The job he has taken on is possibly the most difficult in the country. But it seems a bit odd to worry simultaneously about him failing spectacularly AND becoming the next president.

        Let’s give the guy a bit of benefit of the doubt.

          • It’s as though G. Dudamel was appointed conductor of The Ramones: it would not be regarded as passing judgment on his symphonic abilities if you expressed doubts that he could get them to play Mozart beautifully.

          • LOL, the ramones, that’s classic

            what I think is we are too hung up on what we needed in the past (before Maduro) for the role, the game changed completely and that’s politics too… We saw the polls you guys published, Maduro et all downhill, MUD et all not picking up as much…
            I picked this from Amieres in the other thread,
            “Does he have the skills to mediate and build the required consensus among the political players and get them to coordinate effectively their actions?”

            Guys, we don’t know what can happen a month from now, will Vza default? Will there be anything left to build with if someone decides to get rid of Maduro (metaphorically)? We don’t even have information of what is really going on! How is that a situation where we need a mediator, consensus builder? how is fighting a tropical state dictatorship/cuban colonization a place for a back room dealer?

            We need a crisis management style with a clear end goal (democracy back, not by violent means)

          • You could be right, maybe more than a consensus builder what the MUD needs is someone with character that can rein in the different oppo leaders and get them to work together. Who knows, maybe Torrealba has that ability.

    • Every reputable organization and major company hires a media consultant to prep “voceros”. I expect Chuo Torrealba to be doing double duty.

  3. So is there some sort of “plan” to accompany this new appointment, or is it all in draft stage? Is taking the streets again in October the “plan”? What’s new besides a new charismatic MUD secretary? Or is that enough? Maybe what you need is a tough guy who can force compromises. Is Chuo the guy?
    Are there parallels with Chavez, an outsize personality who forced “compromises” using charisma? A lot of unanswered questions behind this news.

  4. You didn’t give him a day! The guy was able to convince the Salidista crowd that it was time to have a unified front and strategy. Even though, he was an open critic of their strategy, and in the mean time, He managed to force a near consensus after months of a divided MUD. His first move was a good one. He brought the family together.

    I understand that part of what makes you tick is being skeptical, and that is a good thing, but give Jesus a chance…

    Next time around there should be a focus on giving the a clear mandate to the guy. How should we measure his success? by having 100% unity across all posts for the 2015 parliamentary elections? by winning a majority of seats in the elections? or just by being able to have agreement after a year that saw the MUD almost imploded?

    Things got so bad that we are just happy to see the opposition political parties reach ONE decision. Let’s hope they can improve their timing by the time registration for candidates comes ahead of the 2015 election.

  5. In part, I agree with you. But:
    1) I think precisely because so many people like him beyond party lines, the cost for the parties of undermining him or of things not working in the Mesa while it is under his coordination, is higher than it would be if it was coordinated by an obscure figure that nobody knew or liked (for example Fernández Daló). The worst thing that could happen for parties is if Chuo left the Mesa disappointed and thanks to a sort of conspiracy for which he could denounce specific parties or people.
    2) Chúo HAS to be very strict about giving the vocería and the main role to political parties. I agree with that. However, Quico has been saying for a while the Mesa is in many ways, at least technically, a political party. Maybe in some ways they are starting to admit that, by choosing someone like Chúo as their coordinator (alguien que jala!)
    3) I think choosing Chúo is less of a sign to parties and more of a sign to the Venezuelan average José or María. They need someone like that for the Mesa to regain the place it had year ago.

    • Chuo in March:

      –Henrique Capriles no solo es el líder formal de una alianza de partidos. También es (sobre todo) el líder afectivo, el referente emocional del partido opositor. (emphasis added.)

      This quote really jumped out at me…nevermind Henrique, Chuo gets it that the opposition is, whether it knows it or not, basically one party.

          • Not unless you think one party can have factions that are, respectively, social democrat, christian democrat, liberal and democratic-left. I don’t know of a party in the world that fits that description.

          • Also. There is no shared ideology within VP or PJ or UNT. If you pick a sample between any of these parties you are as likely to get a liberal, a christian democrat, a social democrat or anything else. The difference is basically age.

          • Oh, these guys wouldn’t be able to pick an ideology if their life depended on it. Besides, have you seen the US Democratic party? The Republicans? Not much in common in those camps.

          • I agree with Rodrigo and Juan. The Democratic party unites (with overlap obviously) environmentalists, feminists, ethnic minorities, the young, women… The Republican party unites Big Business, libertarians, the tea party, old White men, Cubans… Will you explain the age thing though? I’m guessing the obvious AD & COPEI (old)/ VP and PJ (new). Anything more to it?

          • PJ has some good ten years ahead of VP.

            Not that the first doesn’t have young people or the latter doesn’t have old people, but in PJs board everyone is over 40. In VP only a few.

      • Yes, that’s part of my point: Chúo is more of an external sign to “la gente” than an internal sign to the parties. Some people see him as “Caprilista” (and that quote supports that vision) and that may be against him when he tries to be a deal maker (still VP seems to be satisfied with the decision). But that outweighs the fact that his vision of what the Mesa should be is more advanced and close to what people want (a strong, challenging vocería and an acceptance that WE DO HAVE TO behave like one party, in many fronts, even in periods without elections) than to the version parties (or political scientists) want. In any case, the Mesa has once again to walk the very thin line of having a strong presence, which people need and claim, without undermining political parties. Not an easy thing to do…

  6. I hate to say it because I like thorough, well supported analyses, but Nagel and Toro seem to be the archetypical guys that always see the half empty glass… It used to be that the MUD had a weak presence, no drive, it seemed forceless, its leadership was much too reactive, it had no connection with the lower classes, and so on… Now it’s going to be that the SG doesn’t seem to have what it takes (whatever that is…), he’s OK but not thaaat OK, the member parties are going to regret their decision, Chuo is going to overshadow the rest of the leaders, behind-the-scenes conspiring is going to flourish, and so on. Now tell me something: isn’t that what politics is all about? At all times and places. So, what’s new here? Take a look into history: how many great leaders, for long and short periods alike, came out of nowhere? Real “black swans”. The fact is that MUD’s leadership has collapsed and none of its leaders is in shape to take the stage. And here comes a candidate with very good political AND communicational credentials and you start shooting him down from the start!! You don’t even give him a first chance to show what he’s got… No wonder the opposition has fared so badly all these years. You guys just want to be the first to say “I told you… I said it first… I warned you people…”. For God’s sake, coman mamey… Politics is NOT an exact science, mainly because it deals with human behaviour, both individual (leaders) and collective (the masses). Most political analysts in Venezuela keep expecting and rooting for a PERFECT DREAM TEAM with a perfect strategy to go out on the field not realizing that the game is being won by a bunch of felons whose only asset is that they act together, in unison, no matter what! And while we keep on setting up the team our rivals keep scoring… IN SPANISH: “La peor diligencia es la que no se hace” AND “Lo perfecto es enemigo de lo bueno”.
    And TORO: your cheap shot at Chuo by reducing his resume to being a “locutor”… WOW, that was fascist, opinionated, man! (Are you by any chance a rojo-rojito playing games here…?) You seem to forget that it is a BUS DRIVER who is forcing you to live out of Venezuela (it’s what I understand; may be wrong). You may be a PhD, or the Pope, or Dark Vader, but hell, it’s a bus driver who has the power around here!!! That’s what politics is all about. Apologyze to the locutores, please.

    • The guy introduces himself as a locutor! That’s his self-designation, not mine…

      My tune hasn’t changed in years: the basic problem with MUD is that the heads of the “parties” that compose it (Ramos Allup, Barboza, Borges, Henry F.) all think of their jobs as lifetime appointments. That was the MUD’s basic weakness 24 hours ago, and it’s MUD’s basic weakness right now.

    • Sorry but this this guy doesn’t fit in the concept of political outsider that you are trying to put him in, and even comparing it with the actual president, well, at least maduro held another political positions before becoming president.

      • TK: a soccer or baseball commentator may know very much about the game, BUT he is not a player. Chuo clasifies as a “political outsider” because after his early membership in political parties (PCV and MAD(?)) he abhorred such dedication and never again participated in “party politics”, but he surely knows well of the “how-to’s” of politics in Venezuela. I will refrain commenting on you “at least…” comment… For God’s sake! LOL

        • Sorry, but politics is more than high moral grounds, politics are a dirty play that is has to be known how to be played. We can expect a free open government, with implict truce, but sadly give our own not perfect human nature..well, we have to keep with Sun tzu and Machiavelli.

          But hey, i don’t mind what someone can think about my point of view, at the end reality give to all us a punch in the face from time to time.

        • jaja… si de panas que se paso. O sea… Nicolai esta donde esta porque el fiambre inmortal lo mando a poner alli (igual que con sus cargos politicos anteriores)

      • Here you go:
        Collins Concise English Dictionary © HarperCollins Publishers::

        fascism /ˈfæʃɪzəm/ n (sometimes capital)

        1. any ideology or movement inspired by Italian Fascism, such as German National Socialism; any right-wing nationalist ideology or movement with an authoritarian and hierarchical structure that is fundamentally opposed to democracy and liberalism
        2. any ideology, movement, programme, tendency, etc, that may be characterized as right-wing, chauvinist, authoritarian, etc
        3. prejudice in relation to the subject specified: body fascism

        Please take note of option 3.

        • I take note of option 1 and 2 and more particularly of the expression “right-wing”. This is a crock of sh*t. As Fredrick von Hayek has amply demonstrated, fascism in its original conception under Hitler and Mussolini is a left-wing ideology. Hitler himself stated it throughout his discourses. The “right-wing” canard is being recycled. on and on, probably initially by commies who were fighting the fascists to put under their boot the same lobotomized crowd that the fascists were courting. “National Socialism” contains the expression”Socialism”, nothing right-wing about that. Hitler and Mussolini practiced state capitalism, as did el putrefacto and does el cucuteño. Fascism has become a common insult when it is in fact an ideology.

    • [You guys just want to be the first to say “I told you… I said it first… I warned you people…”]

      That is one point of view.
      I see this post more of a first-impression or a “before” analysis, later we can have the “after” and compare where did Chuo T. did right and exceeded expectations or not.

      In any case there seems to be a lot of noise caused by this. The figure of SG of the MUD is the center of attention. That may be a good thing.

      • You remind me of Rómulo Betancourt’s strategy: “Shoot first and inquire afetrwards”… I would accept a “before analysis” as long as it didn’t point towards an expected foreseen failure and regret. A post-mortem analysis of the Holocaust, for example, did no good to 6 million+ victims… BUT the desire to stop Hitler made all the allies fight together in unison and beat the hell out of the guy! The allies comprised sides that after the war became rivals but they did not hesitate in understanding what the MAIN OBJECTIVE was and join forces to accomplish it.

        • … and I bet they analysed thoroughly before, during and after, the strengths and weaknesses of their own generals and their suitability for their posts. That wasn’t because they were shooting them down but because they wanted to make the best choices and be prepared for the consequences.

          The fact is I do not see any attempt in the post to shoot down Torrealba or cast him in a negative light. It is more like he is saying Torrealba is the right guy … for the wrong post, and backing it up with good arguments. In any case, we will see. Torrealba may prove them wrong.

          • True enough, but that was (is) the MUD’s job!! From out here all we should do is evaluate FACTS & RESULTS and suggest CHANGES, OPTIONS in view of those facts. We should not engage in speculating on things yet to happen… This is my opinion in view of the MUD’s troubled and “injured” condition. We should be letting the players execute and root for them from the bleachers.

    • “And here comes a candidate with very good political AND communicational credentials and you start shooting him down from the start!!”

      Ah, thank you, you have proven my point! Torrealba … IS NOT A CANDIDATE, and yet you see him as one, as do many, many people.

      Having said that, if you had bothered to READ the article, you would have realized that I may be doing many things, but I am not shooting him down. The piece is FULL of praise for Torrealba!

      • My mistake! From your comment I realize I may be seeing him as a future candidate, unconciously in the back of my mind, probably as a consequence of my lack of confidence (?) in any of the party leaders present in the MUD. Yes, you might be right. But, hey, if you wanted to praise Torrealba then the following “what if’s” were unnecessary:

        “That … could be a problem.”
        “For all the qualities we see in Torrealba, they are not necessarily the qualities we need for the job…”.
        “The other potential problem I see is that …”
        “But, deep down, I wonder if …”

        In most of your paragraphs there is a subtle implication that “things are not what they look like” and therefore you think the glass is half empty…. (Yes, this is my INTERPRETATION, I realize that.)

        If you wish to praise somebody you withhold all the “buts”.. I think. (Remember that sketch in Radio Rochela, way back, that centered on the phrase “Lindo chico, lindo chico, peeero…”).

        Sí, se me cayó la cédula… LOL

  7. If you steer your vote towards the bloke you may have a pint with… then you have a problem. The US couldn’t know the depth of the pool of shit they were getting into when they voted Bush (then again, maybe they didn’t, but Gore was nice enough to concede defeat without a full recount… remember anyone in Venezuela?).

    After two failed wars, the worse financial crisis in 70 years and a Nobel prize (for Al Gore) I hope the Americans will think twice before going for the likeable guy instead of the competent guy.

    And the beer test fails anyway. Only someone with a flat encephalogram would go in a pub with Maduro instead of HCR.

  8. I see more positives than negatives:

    1- He’s a great communicator. We have spent years saying that the MUD is lacking a good communication strategy. He has the tools to change it.
    2- He’s a great communicator (bis). Many times it has been said that Chavez knew how to connect, how to engage with his speeches. Chuo has been doing the same with his Radar de Los Barrios.
    3- He doesn’t come from the “rich and famous” families of the valley. Chavistas cannot say that he’s a “sifrinito nalgas blancas del este”, as they have been saying about almost everyone in the opposition for many years.
    4- He has family links to the PCV, 60’s guerrila and later to the MAS. His father could have been a comrade of Jorge Rodriguez Torres, one of the Martyrs of the revolution, so there is no way for Chavistas to say, “we know better than you…”.
    5- He has been involved in politics for a long time, he’s not only a journalist. That should give him some ground in the field.

    I’m optimistic. I hope time doesn’t prove me wrong.

    • “He has family links to the PCV, 60’s guerrila and later to the MAS.”

      That’s a PLUS to you? Girl, you in da wrong blog…

      • LOL.
        His father was in the guerrillas as a militant of the PCV, in and out in a exile. It’s a great background when you want to explain and convinced a population that has been manipulated with communist propaganda, that such system doesn’t work.

      • Sorry, Juan, I’m doing a lot of disagreeing today 🙂 but that’s TOTALLY a plus! Some of the most cogent voices in the opposition belong to people whose trajectory is near-identical to that of Chuo Torrealba. If that hadn’t been his background, Chuo would likely never have moved from spokesman of the Coordinadora Democratica to advocate for the barrios. If you’ve never mixed with the marxist-leninists it’s very hard to understand where they’re coming from and how to thwart their objectives.

  9. Being secretary general of the MUD involves dealing with political parties and their notoriously evil, fickle bosses.

    “Evil”? Ambitious, self-centered, ruthless, jealous, but “evil”? If the leaders of the MUD parties are evil, then MUD is evil.

    That’s a word that shouldn’t be thrown around casually.

  10. Whoa, whoa, “Presidential”? Now that’s jumping the gun.

    The Secretary General of the MUD cannot be a candidate. The MUD isn’t a party, is a coalition, for starters.

    Let’s wait and see. In my case, as long as he doesn’t start with the cynical “protests are elitist and evil” declarations, I’m fine with him. Syndicates are (finally) starting to not get bent to the regime and the one that is taking advantage of it and supporting them is….MCM. Who’s out of touch with the bases again?

    Also, I like Ledezma.

  11. All assesments of the man appear encouraging with a few understandable quibbles. Its really too early to tell where he will go from now , men get tested when they enter a new job , some man grow in their job others remake their job yet others are destroyed by their jobs . Juan assesment is fine , Franciscos assesment is fine but we have to be patient to see what Torrealba makes of it.

    Lets not expect perfection in the man or in those party pols he will be dealing with , comes with the territory of acting in the political sphere.

    My own concern goes beyond the capacity of the man to fill a political role , but in his capacity for working with people better skilled than himself in other areas of the countrys life. The true test for the opposition will come after gaining Power .

  12. In regular media, I’d expect to see all these references to Chuo Torrealba being a “charismatic” character for the job, yet unexperienced. A social activist that might get bitten if put in pit with a bunch of backroom dealing politicians.

    But I’m surprised both Quico and JC have overlooked that Chuo Torrealba was a spokesman for Coordinadora Democratica. That’s the predecessor to MUD, where Enrique Mendoza was the other central figure. I’m going to go on a limp and say that Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, Ramon Jose Medina, Enrique Mendoza and Chuo Torrealba are perhaps the four more experienced people in the country when it comes to coordinating the dealings of Oppo political parties and oppo minded NGOs.

    On another note, I DO like the fact that this guy has a nickname (Chuo). Could seem more approachable to the people than other politicians whose last names have historical ties to the moneyed elite (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

    “Worked alongside Enrique Mendoza heading Coordinadora Democratica” http://www.hinterlaces.com/analisis/politica/chuo-torrealba-de-la-coordinadora-democratica-a-la-secretaria-ejecutiva-de-la-mud

    “The spokesman from Coordinadora Democratica, Jesus Torrealba” http://www.americaeconomica.com/numeros4/212/noticias/mrtorrealbacomunidadma.htm

    • “…Chuo Torrealba being a “charismatic” character for the job, yet unexperienced.” I keep feeling uncomfortable with these suggestions that Chuo is unexperienced in Venezuelan politics. He’s been close to it in many ways and instances, he knows all the actors in the cast, he knows the leaders at both ends, I think he’s far from being naive as to what he is getting in to…

      I like Bill Bass’s comments “…assesment is fine but we have to be patient to see what Torrealba makes of it.” and “Lets not expect perfection in the man…”. I second these motions.

      • But why would having a high post in Coordinadora Democratica not count as experience for a high post in MUD? Why would it be a liability?

        I understand that CD couldn’t regroup after the defeat at the recall referendum, but CD was mostly a step in the right direction for Oppo parties, who began a to have a more unified stance and a better coordinated electoral strategy.

        If you doubt his ability to do a good job at his new post, you should look at his performance in CD rather than consider him unexperienced. It’s not like the guy was a massive fuck up at that job (to my knowledge), to expunge that info from his CV.

        You’ve mentioned Chuo’s role at the time in other articles as well, sometimes in passing. I didn’t mean to imply either Quico or you didn’t know about Chuo’s days in CD. I simply questioned that you didn’t find that experienced valuable, and went so far as to consider him unexperienced for that kind of job.

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