Carabobo Wants Four More Years of Dracula

Rafael Lacava is not only an eccentric with a big social media following, but a chavista getting antichavista votes. In a land politically and economically devastated, he just needs to do “at least something”

Time’s ticking towards the election of governors, mayors, and councilpersons on November 21st, and the only chance for change is on the shoulders of an opposition that was reluctant to participate in the election until some weeks ago.

The opposition is trying to give a belated fight in Carabobo, but victory looks elusive.

The alliance is focusing its diminished forces to support Enzo Scarano’s bid for the governorship of the state. Scarano, a well-known opposition figure, was mayor of San Diego municipality twice and is the patriarch of a political dynasty where his son and his wife have both had their time in office. Rosa Brandonisio de Scarano—his wife—was also mayor of San Diego, and the current mayor, León Jurado, was Scarano’s lawyer during his ten months as a political prisoner, when he was accused of stimulating the violent demonstrations in San Diego in 2014.

After being barred from public office in 2017, to block him from running for governor, Scarano went to exile in the U.S, and just recently moved back to Venezuela after Henrique Capriles and Henry Ramos Allup convinced him to do so. Now Scarano faces another former mayor of Italian origin: the current chavista governor, Rafael Lacava, or “Dracula”, as many people call him. 

Lacava, born in Puerto Cabello fifty-three years ago, was ambassador in Italy and mayor at his hometown for two terms (although he had to quit during the second one to go through cancer treatment). He’s been using the Dracula nickname as a personal brand that you can see all over his government programs. His critics have said he has committed fraud, while Lacava displays a frenzied social media activity as colorful as you can expect in the era when leaders have success dismissing the traditional gravitas of authority (think of Chávez, Maduro, Trump, Bolsonaro, Bukele, or Milei).

Lacava had black bats painted inside the La Cabrera tunnel and installed bat-shaped lights close to the luminous cross at the peak of El Trigal mountain. Crazy, right? But in August, during the PSUV primaries, he easily defeated José Vielma Mora, even when the historic chavista leader was covered in 4F memorabilia.  

Beating Lacava is a considerable challenge for Scarano, one that he had to embrace without unity around himself. Several candidates with flimsy support are also running for the governorship, such as Roberto Vernet, Armando Amengual, and the pastor and AN lawmaker Javier Bertucci. 

Armando Díaz

This has happened before in the 21st-century Venezuelan political battlefield. But this election, like the previous ones for the National Assembly, is taking place amid an unprecedented environment of apathy that you can easily sense on the streets. Compared to what used to be a regional election in Carabobo, there’s barely any propaganda. The lamp posts are not carpeted with posters, and you can see billboards only for Lacava and his people, plus a few for Bertucci. There’s little space for Scarano.

You can see the opposition candidate on social media, visiting certain communities. But so far, Scarano hasn’t been able to reignite the political passion of Carabobo, one of the most populated states in Venezuela. 

Knocking at frustration’s door

Enzo Scarano is surrounded by some 50 militants wearing Unidad t-shirts during a stroll at Las Agüitas, in Los Guayos, South of Valencia, by the highway connecting Caracas with Puerto Cabello. 

The group knocks on the door of Janeth Alarcón’s house. 

—You know how San Diego is. This is what I want to do with the rest of Carabobo —says Scarano, handing her a propaganda leaflet.

—Of course —Janeth replies— but I’m not voting for you, I’m voting for the AD (Acción Democrática) candidates.

From that moment on, Scarano tries to convince this woman who identifies herself as part of the opposition but has solid arguments to disarm the former San Diego mayor.

—Not everything in San Diego is as beautiful as you say, sir.

—So tell me which are those places you think are not good —Scarano speaks as if he was mayor some weeks ago, when the truth is he left office in 2014.

Janeth doesn’t answer. Maybe she’s intimidated by the crowd of Scarano supporters at her door. But she’s determined and very direct about it. 

—I’m not voting for you because I will vote for politicians once they start thinking about us the people, instead about their interests.

Scarano chuckles. 

—Well, chica, I’m leaving. I’m not wasting my time here because I can see I won’t convince you.

If Janeth was wondering if she should vote for Scarano for governor, this encounter leaves no doubt. 

—Terrible—she tells me soon after—, I think it’s terrible that Scarano left, not only my house minutes ago, but the country, because if the politicians say we’re facing a crisis and that we have to face it together, well, you gotta stay here and face it. You live here and see how you go through. It’s too easy to move abroad and come back later, declaring “I’m Unity’s candidate.” I have nothing against him in particular, but obviously he hasn’t been living under this situation as we are.

Janeth knows the situation very well: she’s a nurse and a professor at Universidad de Carabobo. She thinks Scarano’s work as mayor was good, but that’s the past; the present is this, where he landed as a paratrooper. 

—How nice! While we waited in long lines at the supermarket. It’s us who endured this crisis. Besides, that one speaks of San Diego as his property, while San Diego belongs to all.

Actually, Janeth says that one of the most abandoned places in the Valencia metropolitan area is precisely that former turf of Enzo Scarano. Janeth is deaf to promises of fixing street holes, or painting walls or reinstalling a fallen lamp post. None of those things will improve her quality of life. 

—What I want is to enter a walking clinic and find the injection I need. I don’t need holes in streets I don’t use fixed. If people have no welfare, people have nothing. And by welfare I mean work, purchasing power, health, education. None of this is possible without jobs and money.

Janeth gets in, but immediately she comes back to tell me this:

—By the way, ask people around about those five bucks they were offered for all this show.

The heir complex

You won’t find Janeth’s straightforwardness towards Scarano in the local media. The political scientist and university professor Calarca Mejías thinks everyone here would admit that a divided opposition vote is making Lacava’s reelection easy:

“But there are people here that refuse to say in public that Lacava is staying thanks to the opposition parties inability to work together.”

Mejías is also critical regarding some messianic attitude in politicians like Scarano, “that belief in every candidate that he or she is destined to inherit the governorship.” It’s not true, this professor says, that Scarano himself can concentrate the non-chavista vote. And pastor Bertucci can’t count only on his church’s votes to become governor; vote intention towards him is about 2 percent in the polls. In October, Datanálisis gave Scarano about 30 percent of the vote intention. Lacava has more than 50 percent.

In Venezuela (as in other places), local elections drive more enthusiasm than parliamentary elections, but way below presidential elections. Notwithstanding the traditional electoral behavior, what we have now is a deep, bitter unease about the big parties, and Venezuelans feel they have many reasons not to vote. Even polarization lost steam; being the designated champion of the opposition doesn’t guarantee votes anymore, and the same happens with chavismo. Those who still vote will vote for those candidates that can make them think that voting still has some meaning.

This is what we’re seeing in Lacava’s case. Even Northern Valencia, as loyal to the opposition as Northern Maracaibo or Eastern Caracas, has been seduced by him. How did this happen? “They’re seeing in Lacava —Mejías says— an opportunity to improve living conditions and public space. His work made him trustworthy for some voters.”

The lure of the “independent” label

Valentina Mieres is one of those people. Until the previous election, she considered herself an opposition voter; now, for the first time, she’s voting for someone from chavismo. She doesn’t identify herself with PSUV, but with Independientes por Carabobo, a movement supporting Rafael Lacava but at a safe distance from the Maduro government’s ideas and images. 

Valentina is not only voting for Lacava: she supports him in public by allowing her own image to appear in the governor’s campaign. You can see her on a billboard, in sportswear, with a man and the slogan “We the Independents Vote for Lacava.” That same billboard is also near Scarano’s parents house.

Armando Díaz

However, Valentina also thinks that her country lost interest in the elections. 

—Many people are not voting. I can understand it, we have been through so many things… Others will vote just because they want to, for the governor or the other candidates, who still have their followers. And there’s people like me, who were not voting and now we decided to do it for the governor. I think that the turnout will be very low anyhow. 

Valentina loved to see someone doing something for Carabobo.  

—It’s a little achievement, and another and another, and I like that. You can see the difference between Carabobo and the other states. Something is being done, and even if people say that this is what a governor is supposed to do and that is nothing out of the ordinary, which I’m aware of, it’s something, and for me, it has its worth.

About Scarano, she says “I’m not qualified to say of he’s good or not, I’m an ordinary citizen.” But she admits that Scarano did in San Diego the same that Lacava’s been doing in the state for four years. 

The cost of taking your finger off your land’s pulse

Enzo Scarano goes around Carabobo pointing at all the problems the “little achievements” of Lacava have not solved yet. On social media, the Scarano campaign focuses on showing what hasn’t been done and any pending task in Carabobo. 

Political scientist Edgar Pérez doesn’t think it’s a good strategy that Scarano is only talking about the past without proposing anything new. “Besides, ruling a municipality is not the same as ruling a state, which is more complex for its reality and the public policies elements involved.”

San Diego is a middle-class municipality, with residential and industrial areas, well connected to the north of Valencia and its downtown. Carabobo, even if it isn’t a big state, has about two million people and is quite diverse: large slums, an important port, national parks, coastal villages, food-producing countryside, a huge jail…

Pérez adds that, without a direct link with the central government, being a governor is even more difficult. Scarano has said, as many opposition local rulers and business leaders, that he would be happy to talk with the government on to improve the living conditions of Venezuelans. The problem, of course, is not that he wants to talk to Miraflores, but that Miraflores won’t deal with him. The voters know it.

Professor Mejías says that “few people are really prepared to lead a mayorship. There are candidates who don’t have a single project to offer, or that don’t even live in the communities they expect to be elected as councilpersons. The parties dismiss the natural leaders of a place and choose their candidates as they want.  Unknown candidates suddenly appear during an election. People don’t like this and it has been damaging politics.”

According to Pérez, only in a one-on-one scenario, Scarano could ruin Lacava’s plans. None of them have lost an election; with all certainty, they will cease to have that in common on November 21st. Scarano would have to pay the cost of spending three years abroad and having his wife, instead of him, as the mayor of San Diego for four years. “Enzo left a vacuum of leadership, ” Pérez says. “He tries to recover it by criticizing Lacava, but that period when he wasn’t able to feel the pulse of the state every day will impact his chances. And we can’t forget that, once again, the opposition is going to an election with disadvantageous conditions.”

From rage to hope

Corina De Sousa is not voting for anyone on November 21st. She doesn’t even know the names of the candidates for the municipalities in the Valencia metropolitan region. 

—I know the guy from the opposition competing for the Valencia mayorship is one of those lawmakers of 2015. I don’t know his name, I just discovered him in an ad in front of a famous pizzeria. 

She’s talking about Carlos Lozano, “el caminante,” a peculiar politician who was elected lawmaker at the National Assembly under Scarano’s party, and now is running backed by MUD. 

Armando Díaz

Corina knows a bit more about the governorship, without looking at the polls.

—Lacava is the winner. Bertucci doesn’t belong here, that guy runs for any post, he must be there to muddle the election. He’s a pastor and is very good at lying, but I’m also a churchgoer and, even if I don’t attend his church, I know very well the shenanigans priests can say.

She thinks Scarano is a good manager, but she doesn’t trust him or his allies: “They have waited for long to suck power and replace chavistas only to be the same.” Regarding Lacava’s popularity, Corina is just disappointed. 

—We don’t know how to vote, we are a circus. Here comes any funny madman and we decide he must rule over us. Why should I care if he painted a sidewalk when the water that comes out of my faucet smells like shit and if I have to spend 30 minutes cooking rice because I must use a little electric kitchenette to save cooking gas, and that’s if I have power at home? In Carabobo, people should get some garlic and a good stick to get rid of that guy. 

Meanwhile, in Los Guayos, not far from Janeth’s home, the Salas family open their arms to greet Scarano. 

—That’s the guy, son—says Clarisa, a stay-at-home woman of 59—. I see what he has done in San Diego and I think it’s possible here. I want us to live well. 

Armida lives with a 19-year-son and a brother who moved with them nine months ago, from Falcón state: he suffers from kidney failure and had to move close to Valencia to get dialysis. Because of the heat, he’s shirtless, and I can see the patch by his clavicle, covering the place where they insert the needle.

—Los Guayos is a mess—says Clarisa—. Look at these streets, useless. I have always believed in Scarano’s project, so I’m voting for him. I’ve never seen Lacava around here. I am and will always be with Enzo.

Read the whole Electoral Fiesta series here

Armando Díaz

Valencia-based journalist. Describing realities through audio, images, and writing.