Carlos Blanco's A Time to Talk, released on December 2

"December 16 election does not appear to be an opportunity to create new national leaders"

Saturday December 08, 2012  12:00 AM

One of the handiest anecdotes with respect to leaders who become systematic aspirants to Presidency is the one that tells how, since their childhood, their inclination to grandeur could be perceived. Once they launch their campaigns, there will always be someone -usually their dads- who tells that their fate was evident; it is even possible that they remember their kids telling: "When I'm big, I'm going to be President." In general, successful politicians can have a personal story fabricated that may look like fate. Invariably, signs of their illustrious future will be found when they were still playing with their toys.

What this story does not tell is that, along with premonitory stories about the youth or childhood of the notable ones in politics, you can find the same stories in those who were not successful or ended up engaged in other businesses. In the Venezuelan experiences, it can be rightfully said that it is enough for an individual to appear one single minute on national TV or in a photo in a newspaper for at least 20 people to tell that the he or she deserves to become president of the country. However, nobody will remember these events if you do not effectively engage in politics.

Beyond the anecdotes, what is left is a vision according to which there is an intimate, secret, existential something that provides people with the condition of leaders; it is their ability to communicate and make people enthusiastic, like something that emerges from the soul of the characters in question. Over the past 20 years, the "magic, charm, strength," that certain "je ne sais quoi" has been represented by Chávez and has contributed to glorious mistakes by both the government and the opposition.

CAP. Before getting to the heart of the matter, this storyteller wants to recall (former President) Carlos Andrés Pérez's experience. For many years, he was considered a strong and charismatic leader. For decades, the country witnessed crowds adoring him and electing him president twice. He was unbeatable. Twenty-five days after his swearing in for his second term in office, on February 27, 1989, that leader that had not even had the opportunity to implement "the package" (which came later, except for the tiny increase in gasoline price), began to see his leadership diluted. A few years later and with a little help of the "notable ones," who were an important part of the renowned intellectuals, mass media, the left and the right, businessmen, his party, the other parties and a plot, CAP, as a leader, was not even the shadow of what he had been. He was the same cordial, frequently stubborn, courageous man, who was passionate for reforms, used to be in good mood, and clumsily managed his personal life, but the charm of the leader had vanished.

Had CAP changed? Had that magic thing that made his leadership possible abandoned him? No. The truth is that he had lost his leading skills, which were based on his ability to establish relations, to mobilize masses and citizens; not something intimate that had disappeared.

I remember a pathetic incident that happened toward the end of his mandate, at the marriage of the daughter of one of his ministers. He came punctually, as he accustomed, sat at a table and two of his ministers sat with him. Guests began to arrive; he was acquainted with many of them; they were people that had interacted with him; businessmen, friends; all of them greeted him... but from a distance. Nobody approached him. He stank. He was the President... No. In fact, he was the president's ghost. His speeches, his funny remarks (that of the "self-suicide" for instance), his jokes that everybody used to laugh at, little by little became grimaces for many of those who before applauded them and from the elites that distinguished him.

The same has begun to happen with Chávez. "The grand communicator," the colossal leader whose aura had dazzled many is turning for many into that endless annoyance that has been sitting at our dining room for 14 years. His cronies are beginning to beat a retreat so that the remedy of oblivion does not take its toll on their old red fanaticism. His illness is his personal peoples' rebellion; his own "Caracazo."

LEADERS. Ideas of leadership as an inaccessible substance or fate are opposed by a less heroic, more earthly and effective conception: leadership as an ability to mobilize, as pointed out by Harvard's Ronald Heifetz, the creator of the theory of the adaptive leadership. Anyone can be a leader if that individual is set out to challenge the set of existing conditions, proposes clear ideas, precise objectives and is enthusiastically involved in their attainment. From this perspective, there are not leaders per se, but the exercise of leadership: today, you can exercise it; tomorrow, you do not. Today you are a leader, later may be not. Even though nobody wants to assume the role of former leader, the truth is that leadership is not a condition, but a relation between leaders and those led.

OPPOSITION LEADERSHIP. These reflections are brought up because it has been said many times that opposition does not have leaders; but, in fact, it has had; and many. Some people have played the role of opposition leaders, notably including Enrique Mendoza and Henrique Capriles, along with Carlos Ortega, Pedro Carmona, Juan Fernández, Carlos Fernández, Manuel Rosales, and other regional or sector leaders. October 7th marked the end of a stage that apparently signifies the end of Henrique Capriles' nationwide leadership; although it is possible and desirable that he continues as the leader in Miranda State. Each one of them has represented a time that does not result from their genetic marks, but from the role they have played and that they no longer play. However, nobody can take it for granted that they cannot have another chance.

December 16 election does not appear to be an opportunity to create new national leaders. The democratic leadership space is empty once again and, therefore, it is open. The new forces of freedom, contrary to what happens within Chavezism, have been able to produce leaders for each time when they have been needed; for heroic days from 1999 to 2005 and for the commendable electoral effort from 2006 to 2012, in both periods with victories (Chávez' ousting, demonstrations that somehow changed election conditions; 2007's opposition victory; and victories in past gubernatorial and congressional elections), but also with relevant defeats.

The essential feature of a new leadership now is the proper characterization of the regime and the good sense to answer the key question: how can people replace a regime through constitutional means, when said regime resorts to every legal and illegal, violent and peaceful ways to remain in power?

Twitter @carlosblancog

Translated by Álix Hernández

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