August 24, 2006

Roberto Smith withdraws and endorses

Katy says: Roberto Smith withdrew from the Presidential race today, and immediately gave his support to Manuel Rosales. I owe it to Quico to comment on this while he is away since initially he was very enthusiastic about Smith's approach to campaigning.

Over a year ago, Smith embarked on a journey that, in the light of today's events, may appear fruitless. Yet, if we take a closer look, we see many of the issues Smith brought to the forefront being picked up by opposition candidate Manuel Rosales and even by maverick comedian Benjamín Rausseo. Smith never made any headway in the polls, but seldom has right equalled popular.

Smith began campaigning when the abstention movement was at its peak. Traditional and new opposition parties were still stained by the Recall Referendum debacle, and had not found a way to get in touch with mainstream voters and ni-nis. Smith's approach was simply to focus on proposals, on giving people hope of a different future and of not appearing to be "opposing" anything but rather "proposing" something. I've read the transcripts of his public appearances and, including today, I can't find a single instance when he has mentioned Chavez by name other than to say he simply is not chavista nor from the opposition.

His message was clear: I am here to offer a way to develop. I want Venezuela to be a first-world country, and this is the way to do it. Even though the details were vague, the approach was fresh. Ni-nis, opposition voters and even some chavistas were sick of the confrontation, and continue to be sick of it today.

Smith came in at a time when traditional politics was at an all-time low. Venezuelan discussion were either ruled by Chávez or by the abstentionist movement. The debate was centered on the electoral conditions and there seemed to be no way out of it. Whether that was right or wrong is beside the point; we were caught in a maze like Theseus, with no thread to help us out and with the minotaur wide awake.

Yet Smith started campaigning, getting back to talking to people about their real problems and the disappointments from a revolution that seems to promise more than it delivers. He seemed to be the first to say "the hell with the marches, go talk to the voters!"

Smith never really had any momentum, partly because he seemed to be too much of a maverick and did not have a team around him to better support his efforts. The distance he tried to mark from the opposition backfired on him, since it left him with no friends in the political world and no organization to help him reap the benefits of the changes in political tides that he either sensed or, in a way, helped create. The outcome was a sheepish concession today, finally seeing the writing on the wall after vowing to get to December come rain or shine.

Still, his contribution was not minor. I think he has a great future in Venezuelan politics, as long as he remembers that all politics is local, and that you need to walk the walk so that people believe the talk.