“I am filled with my country”

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.

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