Merida’s (shady) Player

Next on our tour of wacky 15O candidates, meet Mérida's Luis Zeppenfeldt. A wolf in sheep's clothing? You be the judge...

On October 15th, there’ll be seven candidates running to become Merida’s next governor.

After apathetic primaries, AD’s Ramón Guevara became MUD’s insipid bet to take the state away from PSUV’s hands, represented by Jehyson Guzmán, a former higher education minister with the charisma of a wooden shelf. Guevara and Guzmán are expected to fight the real fight, but they’ll be dealing with five independent candidates too.

Apart from “Chuy Copei”, a former cuarta governor, most of them are complete strangers to the average merideño.

And then there’s that guy.

Luis Alfredo Zeppenfeldt, a 53 years old, Caracas-born engineer, entrepreneur and former director of the regional Commerce Chamber, has lived in Mérida for years. He’s running for the post for the first time, calling himself the “independent option” against the “false dilemma” of MUD vs PSUV. At first glimpse, he’s like any other face that appears before major elections, just to disappear afterwards with nothing but a story for the grandkids.

But he’s also the foul-mouthed-president of a prominent local truck factory, a semi-professional mountain-bicyclist and freelance photographer; a #tropicalmierda mix between Tony Stark and Gianluca Vacchi.

His Instagram account is filled with samples of his work, and it’s exactly what you’d expect:

Yes, he’s modeling too.

An avid social networker, he earned a small following on Twitter, and especially on Facebook, where he posts criticism to both chavismo and MUD while showing off his body (?), claiming his loyalty remains solely with “the industry” as means to develop the country.

An idea many identify with.

That naked guy in the back officialized his candidature to State Governor on September 5th, saying he’s not planning to take Maduro out of the Presidency, just to improve the quality of life in Mérida, taking care of the matters a governor must work on. Plan Z, as he labelled his scheme, isn’t that different from Guevara’s and the others. It focuses on clichés of any election, like improving security, healthcare and productivity.

Some things are okay: Unlike other candidates, including Guevara, who literally asked Maduro to not be mean in case of a MUD victory, Zeppenfeldt acknowledges the need of decentralizing Merida’s economy and make it independent from budgets discussed in Caracas. He’s also interested in developing pro-LGBTQ policies, something not usually discussed around here.

His campaign, however, relies more on social media rants, memes, a spot on youtube and hot girls giving flyers away. Spectacle, without much substance.

Now, soon after launching his candidacy, rumors calling Zeppenfeldt an undercover chavista started making the rounds and, honestly? They make sense.

His open criticism of the recent protests fit the speculations, but the fact that he enrolled as a candidate for the Constituyente on the business sector, give them substance. While asking for signatures to formalize his inscription, Zeppenfeldt said he did it since he didn’t feel represented by either MUD or PSUV, and preferred to stand for himself.


His candidacy was rejected, but the stain remains.

And it’s not only his ideas that trigger alarms, it’s also his commercial links with Maduro’s administration. He cofounded, and currently presides over, Industrias Free Ways, one of the rare cases of industrial success in the 21st century Venezuela. The company was created in 1989 and specializes in designing and producing hi-tech industrial vehicles, from tankers and dump trucks to trash compactors. Giving its reduced market target, Free Ways keeps close ties with the Venezuelan Government and, back in 2005, it became the first national company to provide PDVSA with Venezuelan-made vacuum trucks to collect and store hazardous materials for El Palito refinery. In 2013, Ricardo Menéndez, then Minister of Industries, signed the creation of a joint venture with Zeppenfeldt, meant to produce up to 500 trash compactor trucks, and eventually export them. In 2014, when the Venezuelan Government decided to give 113 million dollars in credits to five national companies, Free Ways was benefited.

Zeppenfeldt acknowledges these contracts, stating that his company exports to several other countries too. Actually, in 2013, Free Ways and the Argentinean Cormetal started a joint venture to provide Cristina Kirchner’s Government with oil-related equipment for the recently nationalized YPF.

The government’s preferential treatment of Free Ways has sparked conflict with fellow businessmen in Mérida, and Zeppenfeldt’s response is classic among enchufados.

There’s more.

Zeppenfeldt is running for Governor under the banner of Unidad Política Popular 89 (UPP89), a tiny left-wing party created last year, taking its name from El Caracazo (hence the “89”), to “honor a mark in the life of Commander Chávez”. UPP89 has 18 candidates, Zeppenfeldt included, running in the upcoming elections, through whom they vow to “create a new political revolutionary reference.”

With such a limited campaign, and lacking the propaganda apparatus of MUD or PSUV, Zeppenfeldt’s message will hardly have the desired diffusion to make his aspirations credible, and will surely take a few thousand votes away from an already weakened MUD. However, his eccentric pavosaurio look has found a space in the minds of young opposition voters, who feel betrayed by a MUD disconnected from its grassroots, and whose leadership seems weaker than ever.

The limited but growing influence of guys like Luis Zeppenfeld is also their fault.