Chavismo’s Ginger Hope

Meet Rafael Lacava, the shirtless, shameless firebrand chavismo hopes will be Carabobo’s next executive.

Surrounded by a screaming crowd, Puerto Cabello’s chavista Mayor Rafael Lacava takes off his shirt off and throws it at the enraptured audience. In the midst of this tepid gubernatorial elections campaign, the video has easy managed to make the attention-grabbing rounds on social media. It’s an oddity: a candidate acting as if he actually wanted to win this thing.

Go onto Lacava’s twitter account and it’s not hard to fall deep into the rabbit hole of his endlessly memeable campaign. There are pictures and videos:

Lacava playing basketball:

Lacava driving a tractor:

Lacava enthusiastically pouring concrete over a wall:

Lacava running on a treadmill while promising to fix Carabobo while the Chainsmokers play in the background:

Of course, he is a little crass and over the top (his public persona is similar to Henrique Capriles’), but he has an overeagerness and a desire to be liked that differs from most of the drab chavista apparatchiks who are running for governor and, considering that the opposition’s candidate in Carabobo is yet another indistinguishable member of the self-appointed dynasty that held power in the state from 1990 to 2012, it was hard not to find Lacava’s candidacy an amusing trifle.

Lacava was born in 1968 to parents of Italian descent, his father is a businessman from Puerto Cabello. He has a economics degree from Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in Caracas and dedicated himself to a business career before joining chavismo allegedly because of his friendship with current Carabobo governor Francisco Ameliach, he was elected as member of the National Assembly and then appointed Venezuelan Ambassador to Italy in 2007.

He was elected Mayor of Puerto Cabello, Venezuela’s largest port in 2008, and reelected in 2012. In 2012 he was passed over for running for governor in favor of colectivo-head Ameliach in spite of his popularity among the chavista base in Carabobo. During the rally where the late Comandante galáctico anointed Ameliach as his horse in 2012, the crowd repeatedly yelled Lacava over Chavez’s mention of Ameliach. He even considered an independent run but decided against it.

He cleverly campaigns without mentioning Maduro’s name much and subtly criticizes Ameliach’s tenure, an unusually big no-no. His administration built a skate park in Puerto Cabello, which is popular among young people there.

Lore in Puerto Cabello has it that he is enormously popular in town and knows how to move comfortably between very dissimilar words, he can hang around chavista motorizados and then   converse in eloquent English or Italian with foreign businessmen to close a deal. These type of skills are a rarity among chavistas. He has a frenetic management style of getting things done and an ego that matches his ambitions.

He has an overeagerness and a desire to be liked that differs from most of the drab chavista apparatchiks.

Lacava is married to Nancy González and has four children. He’s a big soccer fan who ran for president of the Venezuelan Soccer Federation in 2015 and is usually seen wearing a vinotinto shirt with the number 10. His oldest son was signed by Barça in 2013. On a darker note, his family lives a very lavish lifestyle in Spain where his sons attend the most expensive private school in Barcelona and where he spends a great deal of time in plain contradiction with chavismo’s socialist gospel. He had temporarily retired from his post in 2016 to get treatment for cancer, and has been in remission since early this year.

Although it may be an unpopular thing to say, I’m usually entertained by Lacava’s antics and persona, but then I’m reminded that Lacava is the candidate of the amoral dictatorship that has destroyed my country and complicit in it’s human right abuses and corruption schemes.

Nevertheless, Lacava is also a reminder of two things we can’t bring ourselves to acknowledge: first, that chavismo won’t go away, even if we miraculously transition to a new government in the short term. it’s most skillful members such as Lacava or Héctor Rodríguez have a good shot of surviving a transition and even getting back into power.

Secondly, that politics is not a moral game and that the opposition can’t just ask people to vote for a bunch of mostly deadbeat candidates who were only appointed as a result of a machiavellian power move just because they are not chavistas. If Maduro weren’t as wildly unpopular as he is now, Lacava would have a good shot of winning this thing, considering that MUD thinks it’s acceptable to appoint the charisma-free cousin and nephew of the last two opposition governors (who are very unpopular among people in Carababo) as their candidate.  

The sterile and fratricidal debate about whether or not to vote this time aside, the truth is that the lack of enthusiasm for these elections is also a result of the obscurity of many of the candidates or the fact that they are only a continuation of regional caudillismo going back to the cuarta. And people are coming around to this realization. Asking people to vote for a bad candidate just because his opponent represents something terrible doesn’t work. It never has. Even in the middle of this debacle we need to sell an idea of a better country beyond chavismo, there is no substitute in politics for hope.