“I am filled with my country”

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Before Julio Coco. Before Irene Saez, and El Conde del Guácharo, and Luis Chataing. Before Hugo Chávez himself, there was Renny.

Renny Ottolina was the ultimate political outsider. A cross between Ed Sullivan and Jon Stewart, Renny was a fixture in Venezuelan TV for much of the 1960s and 1970s. In the middle of that decade, Renny decided he would go into politics, and establishment politicians were terrified. Before his political movement could take off, it came crashing down – literally, his plane crashed into the side of a mountain.

Before this happened, Renny had managed to stir something in a significant slice of our country’s population. He was neither left nor right, but more interested in day-to-day civic virtues. He was also a mesmerizing communicator, as you can see in the video above. If you are not old enough to remember Renny (as I am), go ask your parents about him (as I did).

Venezuela is a country whose political system breeds frustration into its population. All the booms and subsequent busts leave us wanting for more, looking for a hero, an outsider to do away with … all of them. And I think right now, the soil is fertile, ripe for an outsider to break through. People feel that both Maduro and the opposition have failed them.

Our leadership – God bless them = would all make excellent leaders. Leopoldo and Henrique would make outstanding Presidents. But there comes a point when we have to wonder if theirs … is a lost cause.

The opposition may well win next December, but there is a significant chance it will be a hollow victory.

I tried to convey this in my latest Foreign Policy piece. The sirloin:

When Datanálisis asked Venezuelans what they thought of the two men, those polled seem to agree: More people dislike López and Capriles than like them. Close to 50 percent of Venezuelans view them unfavorably.

To many of their supporters, this might seem grossly unfair. The jailed López is the country’s preeminent victim, and Capriles has made a point of being the moderate voice inside the opposition. Yet these traits have not endeared them to the public. This is particularly true of independent voters: Large majorities of them dislike both leaders. Capriles has even made a persistent attempt at courting voters loyal to the ideals of Maduro’s deceased predecessor, Hugo Chávez, but his approval rating in that segment is an embarrassing 3.9 percent.

These numbers are no flukes. They have been around for months now. They suggest that a majority of Venezuelans simply aren’t interested in what the opposition’s leaders are selling them. That they are still willing to vote for the opposition’s leaders is more a reaction to Maduro’s deeply unpopular government than a belief in the opposition.

The opposition is the odds-on favorite to win at this point. But the situation presents a perfect opportunity for an independent upstart. Thirty percent of Venezuelans self-identify as neither pro-government nor pro-opposition, and 11 percent of Venezuelans say they would vote for independent candidates.

The MUD leadership will likely live to see another day. But its messaging and its messengers both have to change. Unless the opposition starts responding to voters’ concerns, and unless it does something about the ominous negative ratings of its leaders, victory this December — should it indeed occur — will come with an expiration date.

Who will it be? When will he/she come? It’s impossible to know. But I think the next hero is out there, waiting in the wings, biding her time.

1 COMMENT

  1. Without mass media coverage /substantial money, there will be no independent hero surging to the fore any time soon, unless some unforeseen event launches one into the spotlight, as Chavez with his “por ahora”. Just a nit, in an excellent post, I recall Renny’s plane crashing into the Avila, which crash was “investigated”/covered up by policeman Molina Gasperi (later paid back by his own light plane crash in Bolivar) and his infamous “Gato” group.

  2. I lived the Renny era and I have to say I was fascinated by the man and his smooth talk. I could definitely relate to his viewpoints. I saw life, the Venezuela society, politics, etc the same way he did. He was indeed a great leader, possibly motivated by very altruistic or noble ideas. Having said all that, I also need to say that, with the years, I have come to distrust personality as the main driver of politics. There is an excessive cult to “personality” in Venezuela, perhaps a by-product of the old “caudillismo”. The last greatest personality in the world of Venezuelan politics died barely two years ago. Mr. Chavez was a great communicator, had a very enchanting personality and was a leader. Sure, many would argue that he did not really have ideas. But have ideas -or philosophies, like Renny describes- done any good to the world? True change will not happen because of a personality. True content happens from within the society. Truly, we do not need another hero. And dont get me wrong: I do love Mr. Ottolina and I would have voted for him, if he wasnt killed.

    • Well said. I think the risk is not that no new independent leaders will arise, but that there is a fragmentation of the political space and a surfeit of leaders, and an absence of humdrum people who can build an organization. Ive always thought, without exaggeration, you can go to any BBQ in Barinas on any given night and meet a couple of charmers just like Hugo Chavez. They make great conversation. They are not the ones cooking the meat and cleaning up after.

  3. Sounds like a Matrixonian search for “The one.”

    I can understand the longing for a messiah; the one who leads us out of the wilderness. But, I think it is a mistake. Great leaders come in their own time. Meanwhile, you go to war with the army you have, not the one you wish you had.

  4. It’s a nice article, but times change. If we talk about approval ratings, one could well cite those of Chávez, which are probably higher than anyone else’s. Leopoldo has alienated the people which Capriles has not. And vice versa. Which is why their approvals are relatively low. Maduro is seen (rightfully) as the cause of the country’s ailments, which is why his approval ratings are stuck in the 20’s. As time passes, those numbers will change, as the perceptions of their actions (and later legacies) change.

    I think the MUD, as divided as it is (understandably, since it’s composed of a lot of parties) really needs to get their communication crap together. Have you seen the MUD’s web page? It sucks. The MUD hasn’t released the full results of the primaries of this year. It still hasn’t said who the final deputy candidates are. It’s all just a mess. Chúo Torrealba can’t seem to hide the fact that there is a mess going on at the MUD’s headquarters, and people notice.

    Despite the fact that the MUD is leading and the PSUV is hitting rock bottom for the first time of their existence, I cannot help but to still think that Maduro and his band are just playing games of chess in a room. They get to decide a lot, but can’t control the final outcome. What they do, instead, is moving pieces to have fun around and hope that produces a better outcome for them. The MUD still has no access to that room. Yet. We’ll see if 6D changes that.

  5. Once they asked people visiting a zoo to look at the monkey cage and identify who the alpha male was , a very high percentage was able to identify him , he was relaxed, exhuded self confidence , was phisicaly at ease and yet commanded with his presence and slightest gestures the respectful or wary attention of all the monkeys around him, he could quieten an overexcited monkey by just raising an eyebrow, when he moved people gave him space , he wasnt overtly aggresive but you sensed that if any monkey crossed him he better watch out. he didnt chatter or shriek as other monkeys did , there was something about his phisical stance that made him the centre of attention even if made not the slighest effort to call attention to himself.

    Among humans it appears that a certain element of eloquence and poise is basic to project leadership, the assurance with which a person moves and speaks , the quality and timbre of its voice, the manner in which he sets people at ease by talking to them and asking them to trust him .!! Its something that some people have apparently from birth or which appear in them as they enter adulthood.

    When Chavez made his first visit to a Pdvsa auditorium shortly after becoming president , I asked a friend who hated his guts and who was there whether the guy ‘had it’ and my friends irritated retort was …’yes …..he has it .!!

  6. Juan,
    Don’t you think it is time to break the two century long vicious circle of going for The Man in Venezuela? The time is not there yet? When? We need a movement that does not treat people like idiots but tells them no Messiah will solve their problems but only transparency, pluralism, ccountability and permanent real debate among the different sectors.

  7. This proves that the antipolitics brain eating gangrene is still present and working at full force in too many venezuelans, even after being implanted more than twenty years ago by the communists to ease their taking of power.

    • I think Leopoldo’s and Henrique’s rejection numbers probably point to other things not associated with anti-politics. It’s easy to dismiss it as “people not knowing what’s good for them.” The more sophisticated approach is to wonder what is behind that rejection (which is something the controversial Lovato piece tried to do a few weeks ago) and asking yourself if it can be fixed.

      • Maybe looks do matter for primitive hearts , they both look like cherubic altar boys , they speak with high pitched educated voices, they are both thin of body and naturally white skinned , they have youngish nice clean features , HCR is even a bit ascetic in appearance (you can imagine El Greco doing his portrait) , they are earnest , serious and meticulous in the way they speak, they dont banter much , they are never folksy .

          • Not quite !! Romulo wasnt pueblo , nor was CAP and yet they could command a lot of popularity , it has to do with the image which our culture has developed of who is a boss , a caudillo , a big leader , it has to do with exhibiting an appearance of commanding manliness , with being energetic and tough , with having a deep but clear baritone voice , with the proyection of exhuberant self confidence , with being unapologetically in control , with being capable of making his followers feel that he personally cares for them and is able to care for them , with being able at the same time to create a feeling of intimacy and distance with those who surround him .

          • CAP was Pueblo-ever visit his “supposed” birth town? Romulo was an intellectual, Generacion del ’28, but those were different times, when even Romulo Gallegos could be elected President, and MPJ would step down rather than fire on Military Academy cadets.

          • Agree these are different times and cultural steriotypes have evolved , the origin of the person is not so important as how he acts and looks like , being of popular origin is good but not essential , what is more important is that the leader project certain personal qualities people identify with power and with his feeling towards them . these qualities are associated with ideas of manhood , how tall is the person , how rugged looking , the tempered timbre and firm tone of its voice , whether he can project an aura of easy self confidence , of being tough , masterfully in command , whether he can make people feel that he is connected to them on some personal or emotional level so they can trust and respect and like him , people relate to the leader first and to his so called ideas later , If chavez ideas had been preached by Aristobulo , or Maduro or Jose vicente Rangel would they have become popular leaders like Chavez. of course not , there is something in the way the man presents himself which make people take notice of him and trust and respect and like him . These are qualities which are not naturally projected by all oppo leaders no matter how smart and inspired they are by noble and praiseworthy ideas .

            Lets face it ideas matter less than how they are articulated and delivered in a manner that strikes the emotions of the person hearing them exposed , all Most deas are abstract but beside their strict conceptual meaning they have a rethorically enhanced resonance that makes them convincing.

  8. Renny was the first “national Level” communicator to comment on how we could be more civil to each other, to make life more pleasant for all by observing simple yet profound concepts. He also loved promoting products and being an early adopter of “cool” things.

    In my mind his successor has been Cesar Miguel Rondon, so that those who never heard Renny get an idea of what type of person he was.

    He had a definitively excellent way of knowing what to say and how to say it.

    This made going into politics a rather logical step, people were even back then interested in a possible “third way” that left AD/COPEI in the cold for once. Two relatives of mine that worked closely with Renny on the showbiz side always talked about how he was serious about improving Venezuela, and that political office was the logical way to do so. They were beginning to work on campaign ideas and everything.

    Unfortunately this was cut short by his meeting the Avila in rather gruesome fashion in an airplane. Rumors of sabotage were rife, and many looked towards CAP as an intellectual author but nothing ever came of it. The truth will always be one of those “someone will die and a book will come out” things.

    A true shame his life was cut short, who knows where we’d be today if he’s lived longer.

    He was one of those types of guys.

    • “… and many looked towards CAP as an intellectual author…”

      It was more likely the cuban castrocommies would do it, if it happened after the 60s, it was probably their fault, after all, fider has been trying to invade us since he seized the island.

  9. I’m also very weary about the Great Leader needed concept, but is also clear that a good leader is always necessary. A leader, in minuscule. Somebody that acts as a catalysis for society. That starts debates and conversations, that inspires wishes to participate, connect, build.

    Unfortunately most of the people want a Leader, some kind of demigod that comes and fixes everything for them.

  10. What I find most fascinating is that Chavez would agree with everything Renny said in the video. In fact, Chavez’s project was Bolivarian Socialism as a way to nationalise his socialist-communist political project. He also became a regional and world leader…

    My point is, socialists (in its communist conception) can adjust everything to their causes and make them legitimate. I would imagine chavistas hearing Renny and believing he predicted the grandiosity of the Bolivarian leader that was Chavez…

  11. “People feel that both Maduro and the opposition have failed them” “That they are still willing to vote for the opposition’s leaders is more a reaction to Maduro’s deeply unpopular government than a belief in the opposition.”

    And WHY do you think that is?

    That’s what no one seems willing or able to talk about.

    In every country there is dissatisfaction with the status quo. In most, people hate all politicians, with good reasons. In most, people want “change” at every election, that’s what every candidate always ends up proposing, just about everywhere. Just look at the USA today. Sick and tired of politics as usual, an outsider, even a crazy egomaniac like Donald Trump can have a major impact.

    But most countries are very different from today’s Cubazuela. They don’t have the worst economy, inflation, crime on the Planet, you see. Or the worst Dictatorship since the Castros holding on to power until the end of time.

    In any half-civilized country, against such a disastrous regime, everyone would be willing to vote for any opposition platform that would knock-off the disguised dictatorship. 99% would be pro-MUD, regardless of the MUD specifics. That’s what Minimal Education and basic knowledge of world history can afford, you see..

    Most politically correct politicians, bloggers and observers will never say it out loud : MASSIVE IGNORANCE, enormous lack of Real education, that’s why.

    No, they’ll keep saying that the pueblo is smart and justified, that the, honest, battered, poor Venezuelan working People simply had enough of being ignored by the ad/copey governments.. that they feel abandoned and alienated.. blah, blah..

    Sure, there’s a bit of that but this is Chavismo we’re dealing with!! Any MUD will do, for starters, just to get rid of the Obvious Pest that will not leave. Anyone with Half a Brain would know that, huh?? But no, over 60% of the STUPID Venezuelan people still Loves Chavez.. 25% still supports even Masburrismo.

    Either they are all lobotomized, brain-washed and extremely under-educated, or they are utterly RETARDED. Take your pick.

  12. Forgot to mention: And WHY do these ZOMBIES still LOVE Chavez and Chavismo Imbecile Ideals and Lies? Not only because they are quite stupid and excessively ignorant, but also because the little “alpha-brutization” they got was Malas Costumbres: To get everything for free from the Gobielno. Not to work much but LEECH and STEAL. Get apartments or food or fake jobs and tigritos, no taxes, no accountability.

    That’s what they want: What Chavez promised them: Una Vivienda ‘pal Pueblo, freebies, they remember the stuff they got and all of the fake attention poor people got during those oil bonanza years.

    THAT is the other reason why they don’t like the MUD or Masburro. They Love Chavismo because they are STUPID enough to think that the Government can give them everything for free.

    • “And WHY do these ZOMBIES still LOVE Chavez and Chavismo Imbecile Ideals and Lies? ”

      You could resume that on the “viveza criolla”, chaburrismo is the regime that represents that in the best way in all Venezuela’s history.

    • Yes, co-founder and still surreptitious co-owner– BOTH engines failed soon after takeoff–highly improbable–and, the pilot was a U. S./Venezuela convicted drug trafficker–Nice, killing 2 birds with one stone (both knew too much)….

  13. What is sad is that opposition muppets don’t even have the intelligence to put a plan akin to that of Renny. It’s there, it’s 30+ years old, you can even listen to it on various videos and audio files out there, but the most important thing of all, it is still very much relevant (even in a Venezuela which is 30 years+ post-Renny). Note that I am not just focussing on Renny the person, but on his ideas. So to those who are going down the route of a messianic person and/or personality cult, bear in mind that we are, in the end, discussing ideas. And if they are still applicable today, that tells you something about the thought process behind them. This is far from the current Venezuelan culture of improvisation (of ideas, of actions, etc.) which affects the opposition, the govt., citizens, etc.

    What a bunch of incompetents we have for opposition leaders. And, talking about freedom of speech, which is a hot topic now on the back of govt. censorship and state-owned media, you might want to ask Marcel Granier & Co. how they took Renny offline. Renny was so successful that he didn’t have to adhere to policies of any TV channel as he purchased the air time directly. And what did they decide to push for the next decades? Soap operas para el pueblo mismo and trash TV, nice work! That is in essence, the root of our problem. We have always had cardboard politicians, cardboard businessmen, etc. (chimbos, de carton, etc.) with the only objective of amassing money to buy an airplane and fly to Miami. It is nothing new, the problem has just been magnified as the quantities (money, oil, etc.) are now higher, which consequently, has made corruption practices and attitudes to obtain the money coming from oil more brutal. But most of the time, most of the people, rarely add any value to society or created sustainable businesses. The below article depicts it in a very good way:
    http://prodavinci.com/blogs/raspacupos-y-bachaqueros-ochenta-anos-de-historia-por-tomas-straka/

    But oh well, who is John Galt?

    Long live Renny Ottolina

    • To put it nicely.. Renny was wayyyy way too honest, too well-educated and too “burguesito sifrino” to appeal to the massively under-educated millions of Chavistas mal-educados.

      Our majority of Pueblo-People love Chavismo crap, Populist stupid stuff, Renny would be way too honest, too intellectual or theoretical, too blunt and too realistic for them.

      In sharp contrast, Chavez was one of them. They deserve what they got: one of their own. And now, after 17 years of ultimate misery, they still can’t even figure out that Cuba ain’t that great, and that Chavismo was a total lie.

      They still have not figured that out.

      And some think that same clueless pueblo could would begin to comprehend much, much higher intellects like Renny Ottolina..

      THAT is the problem.

      • Sorry Tony, but the rule of law must prevail at some point. It always does at some point. And I think you are confused, there were no Chavistas when Renny was around, there were Adecos. So maybe you meant Renny’s ideas wouldn’t appeal now to Chavistas, then that is a different story. But this, in essence, is the job of politicians. And we have seen what we have got from opposition muppets. So, not an option.

        With regard to the massively under-educated, I defer, once again, to Renny’s genius:

        “¿De cuándo acá el ser humilde autoriza a faltar a la ley?”

        • Look at Renny.
          Listen to Renny.

          Then look at Chavez.
          Listen to Chavismo.

          Then look at the average pueblo-people. Listen to them.

          Who do they look like, think like and sound like?

          There you go.

        • Exactly, no Chavistas around en los tiempos de Renny.

          One of Renny’s gifts was that he spoke to everybody at the same level, no felt talked down to. Plus he spoke common sense, something completely different from the usual political speechifying crap of those times.

          What was impressive was seeing and hearing people adopt his “consejos”.

          Who can remember the “don’t block the box” campaign that resulted in the painting of large boxes with X’s in them at every intersection with a traffic light in downtown Caracas.

          Tony: Siempre confundes Humilde con Estupido.

          • Los chavistas de los tiempos de Renny se llamaban COMUNISTAS, y se la pasaban secuestrando y matando venezolanos en los 60s.

          • Not the same thing, not by a long shot. Those Communists got hijacked by Adecos Resentidos and Fidel mesmo and that unholy union birthed chavismo.

          • The commies hijacked AD by orders of castro for two reasons:

            1) Revenge against Betancourt’s kick in the ass.

            2) Get Venezuela’s oil.

            No wonder why there were so many reds coming from under the rocks when the putrid mortadela seized the power (Or were just plain sabotaging the country with complete impunity in the years before that)

  14. Apparently in this blog every one is sick and tired of grand brave noble visionary omnicompetent caring leaders who sweeps all hearts into their bossom with their opulent rethoric and bold valiant gestures and who are magically able to give every one what they want almost magically just by dint of tehir powerful and inspiring ideas. Of course its bunk , no one with a minimum of historical knowldege and common sense can believe such men exist except in the realm of legend .. and yet thats what most of our countrymen die to believe in , the wonderful heroic all wise and saintly demiurge who can by himself transform our failures and miseries into a perfect social order where all desires are gratified and every one can feel great and important. !! The emotional force of this superstition is irresistible !! Some men can embody this farcical dream better than others , Chavez was superb at playing this role with histrionic smoothness . But the truth of the matter is that the route towards achieving a more acceptable way of life for most Venezuelans involve a certain kind of organized and well programmed collective effort which is beyod the capacity of any singular leader to achieve . Great men take all the credit but real social achievements are the result of the smart concentrated LUCKY efforts of a legion of men all striving to improve bit by bit their own lives and that of their fellows thru hard work and competent planning . We need not inspiring epical or lyrical ideals but detailed well though out programs with clearly defined goals and objective , we need to prize performance and results above the sprucing of fatuous ideological and moral conceits , we want a govt and society that works, that allows us the conditions to improve our lot thru our own efforts . !! that means not leaders but the building of competent technocratic organizations that know how to accomplish their specific task with a minimum of waste and optimal efficienty . Ideals are so abstract that they are worthless outside the resonating chamber of our emotional minds , we need matter of fact , straight forwards programs and plans , using those resources we have or can create . Programs not Ideals , Systems an Institutions not hoity toity Spiritual Missions , Men of expertise rather than Heroes, a willingness to work with others rather than the cultivation of feelings of rightour outrage against those that we demonize as our chosen enemies. !!

  15. I like the way you are pointing at Maria Corina as the next leader actually mentioning her all throughout the post. But your”biding HER time” gave you away at the very end.

    I remember Renny very well, and the way he speaks and his love and optimism for Venezuela actually reminds me of Laureano Marquez. And we shouldn’t forget that the latest, even though he had made a carreer as a comediant, he is a great communicator and he also has a degree in political science. Too bad he was born in Spain.

    One thing I remember Renny doing at the time was to point out the viveza criolla by embarrassing people. He compared people that didn’t respect traffic signals with cattle, and it worked. I don’t think that will fly nowadays because the viveza and the ignorance have actually been rewarded in the last couple of decades in Venezuela, to the point that many feel proud of that.

    • Actually, I wasn’t. Maria Corina has huge negatives as well. I used “her” just because I didn’t want to write “his or her” – and because I hope it’s a woman.

  16. Becoming a third wave candidate in our current socio-culturalt moment, is a high tangible risk, with a high intangible reward.

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