Photo: EP Mundo, retrieved.
On May 23rd, 1999, Hugo Chávez adopted a political communication dynamic in his TV show Aló Presidente that was new (in Venezuela), profoundly effective and replicated for almost two decades: the “two minutes of hate“ common to all dictatorships, turned into three or four-hour blocks of insidious propaganda against enemies.
Chavismo’s strategy was always communicational rather than political or military. After Aló Presidente, several TV and radio shows replicated the style: La Hojilla, Zurda Konducta, Cayendo y corriendo and Con el Mazo Dando, trash on the official TV station, Venezolana de Televisión, where a bunch of bald men sporting camouflaged jackets displayed their most venomous and “irreverent” communist cynicism to berate, ridicule, harass and threaten the government’s national or international foes.
The greater the censorship they imposed on the opposition, and the more enemies they crushed, the less concrete targets they had left to attack, so they started accusing dissidents of treason and feed the fear-mongering about that metaphysical and Lovecraftian abstraction that lurks in their dreams, called “The Empire”. With almost no audience, their last attention-seeking, hate-breeding strategy was bringing foreign journalists (like our dear Very Silly Spanish Girl) to deny the humanitarian crisis.
In other words, he’s all of chavismo’s nemesis embodied in one person.
However, these strategies have been ineffective. They haven’t halted chavismo’s popularity freefall among its grassroots. Even outlets originally quite close to the regime, like Aporrea.org, are now censored.
That’s when, out of Miami’s anti-chavista hotbed, Franklin Virgüez rises.
Franklin Virgüez is something like the caretaker President’s angry translator, a combination between a family values teacher, an upset Uber driver, a conspiracy theorist, an exiled grandma full of spite in a Doral house, a motivational coach, a rabid Protestant pastor and an uptown middle-class malandro-turned-meme. In other words, he’s all of chavismo’s nemesis embodied in one person.
Franklin started his career in Venezuelan soap operas, one of the nation’s best known products, after beauty queens, oil and dictators, becoming very popular in the role of Eudomar Santos, the good-hearted rascal from the influential anti-political Por estas calles. He earned a place in the minds of Venezuelans as the stereotypical common man, hardworking, charismatic, noisy and cheerful.
Like many Venezuelan actors, he’s in exile in Miami, doing small theatre plays and taking secondary roles in low-budget dramas and narconovelas. And since the protests of 2014, his name and Instagram account (currently at 906,000 followers) have become chavismo’s media nightmare.
He greets us with his “Hola…. ¿qué taaal?” and a shameless and scathing smile, as if reminding his enemies that he’s still there, that we’re still there.
Franklin has become a chronometer for the timing promoted by Guaidó (and the entire international coalition) and he marks it in all his videos with the TIC-TAC-TIC-TAC of the time bomb closing into downfall. Every time he appears, he greets us with his “Hola…. ¿qué taaal?” and a shameless and scathing smile, as if reminding his enemies that he’s still there, that we’re still there, that we haven’t left despite the gunfire, persecution, torture, hunger, failed services and poverty, and that they won’t stop us.
If he has no insults, he makes up new ones (like “Rastafari of mediocrity”) but with his classic #coñosdesumadres, he attacks each and every member of the red elite. He’s taken to comment every official announcement, each of Maduro’s statements, the man is a meme turned into perfect counter-propaganda, determined to dismantle and ridicule one of the most terrible dictators in the world. He didn’t need three hours of screen time, he didn’t need radio or a huge apparatus. He’s the unofficial sponsor of Loblan boots that, according to him, Venezuelans prefer to kick corrupt cronies from power.
Unlike the two minutes of hate in Orwell’s 1984, much of what Virgüez says is true (and he isn’t paid with the state’s money). On February 18th, he took his next meme to a whole new level when he appeared right behind President Donald Trump in his speech at the University of Florida, smiling with a Venezuelan flag as scarf. He’s a master provocateur and he reminds us that everything is about perspective. Although, for many, each day that passes is one more day with Maduro, the truth is that it’s also one more day in the countdown towards his fall…