Henrique Capriles: The Prefabricated Leader

This recent opinion article in Venezuelan daily Ciudad CCS examines the private media’s treatment of opposition leader Henrique Capriles, which the author says is “unprecedented in the history of our country”.


Never before in the history of Venezuela has a politician been so promoted and supported by the media as Henrique Capriles has been, and now more than ever. Never before has a politician received so much coverage, and such fawning attention from the media, especially given that we are talking about someone who isn’t even president.

If we were to look to the past we would find Rómulo Betancout, Rafael Caldera, and Carlos Andrés Pérez—all presidents with great media influence. But they were already president when they received so much coverage and still it was not even comparable to what Henrique Capriles receives today.

The fact that the press gives so much coverage to someone who isn’t even the president is unprecedented in our country. Not even in the case of famous opposition leaders of the past like “Tigre” Eduardo Fernández or the very Caldera and Carlos Andrés Pérez before they were presidents, has so much attention been given to a candidate.

Every single day the businessman Capriles appears in national and international media. Only those who are very naïve could believe that someone with so much support is an “independent” politician.

In the case of President Chavez, he didn’t get nearly as much attention from the media when he was a rising leader and presidential candidate. And when he did it was always with a certain slant, from an angle that attacked, criminalized and delegitimized his struggles and his ideas. Chavez couldn’t dream of having the media be so openly servile when he was candidate or when he was president.

Even the politicians named above, like Caldera or Carlos Andrés Pérez, who had a lot of support from the media, always had some journalists that were critical.  But with Capriles, those same media outlets won’t even touch him with a rose petal.

Capriles the “leader”

Objectively speaking, Henrique Capriles as a politician is rather mediocre: he is not a good speaker, he is not a great leader, he is not politically well-educated, he does not have a clear political platform, and he has little charisma. His rhetoric focuses on the daily problems of average Venezuelans, assuring that he can solve them, but without ever saying how. With so few real abilities, it is obvious that without his money and the media’s support he would not go anywhere as a political leader.

The fact that the media and the international press have converted such a mediocre politician into the “leader” of a large part of the Venezuelan population is something that should be studied by sociologists and marketing experts alike.

Conscious of the limitations of their candidate, ever since the 2012 elections the rightwing leadership has prohibited him from speaking openly with any media outlet that is not completely supportive of his candidacy: in other words, no community, alternative, leftist, or state media in any part of the world, no media that is not “normal” for the communication logic of big capital. On the other hand, Capriles speaks freely to any journalist or media outlet that is at the service of big capital. He speaks freely because he knows that they will never ask him an incisive question.

In his most recent campaign, Capriles’ fear of incisive questions was so great that he invented a new technique as far as electoral campaigns go: the “private” press conference. These are press conferences where only media that are supportive of his candidacy are allowed to enter. Every journalist that attends these “private” press conferences knows that the state media is not allowed to enter, and that no one can ask incisive questions, but not one of those journalists and none of the media outlets where they work has said anything about this censorship occurring among those who supposedly support democracy.

Lately, not only Capriles but also high up members of his campaign like Carlos Ocariz, mayor of Sucre municipality, have taken to ignoring any questions from reporters that they do not like, no matter how polite. But in spite of all this, they are presented by the private media, domestic and internationally, as being the bearers of democracy. If this kind of censorship can occur while they are in the opposition, we can only imagine what would happen if they were in power.

A Political Birth Bought And Paid For

Henrique Capriles does not come from a background of grassroots party leadership or community activism. Far from representing a “new kind of politics”, Capriles represents the exact same kind of politics that existed before, or perhaps even worse because he is disguised as something else.

He began his political career with an obvious political negotiation in the heart of the social-democratic party Copei, a party that nominated him as a representative in Congress for the state of Zulia. From there he was elected to represent a state in which he had never lived before, and above hundreds of regional leaders from a party that had had previous governors from Zulia. But Copei preferred to run the son of a business leader and disparage the merits of so many local leaders.

With the backing of Copei, as a Congressman he immediately became the president of the Congress, as the old political system attempted to recover its losses from the hurricane that Chavez’s new leadership represented. In this way, the young businessman-made-politician rapidly took over one of the most important posts in the Fourth Republic [as the pre-Chavez era from 1958-1999 is known]. With enough financial backing anyone can be elected to any post.

However, as president of Congress, Henrique Capriles did not hesitate to throw Copei to one side, declaring that he “does not respond to political pressures from any party”. It is very easy to say something like that when you’ve already been elected, and much easier when you have an economic empire backing you.

That is how the rightwing creates their prefabricated politicians.

The Communicational Strategy of the Parallel Government

The strategy underway on the part of big capital, its political actors and its media outlets in Venezuela is that of a parallel government. With the argument that Capriles lost by a very narrow margin, and therefore the country is divided in “two halves”, Capriles doesn’t receive the media coverage that he should as the governor of Miranda, or as a defeated candidate, but rather he is treated by the media as if he were the very president of the country. Whatever he says, whatever interview he does, whatever comment he makes on Twitter, it is immediately covered by all the private media that are constantly waiting to report on everything he does or says.

Instead of having a equitable distribution of the news priorities, this posture by the media is clearly a strategy of aggression against our country. There have been recent cases such as Calderón in Mexico with a narrow victory over López Obrador, or that of Bush over Al Gore in the United States. In both cases the defeated candidates were given media coverage for the first few days after the elections, but afterwards they were treated as everyday politicians again, receiving little media coverage. Only here in Venezuela do they keep giving more coverage to the losing candidate than they give to the very President.

Translation by Chris Carlson for Venezuelanalysis.com