Benjamín Rausseo

Benjamín Rausseo, the renowned Er Conde del Guácharo

Benjamín Rausseo, recognized as “Er Conde del Guácharo”, is a lawyer, businessman and comedian who has burst onto the Venezuelan political scene as a highly promising candidate within the anti-Chavism movement, according to the results of various polls.

Benjamín Rausseo, the renowned ‘Er Conde del Guácharo’: lawyer, businessman and comedian in Venezuelan politics

Known for his shows in which he wears a straw hat and makes jokes of irreverent humor, Rausseo has surprised with his foray into politics since 2006, when he ran as presidential candidate against the late former president Hugo Chávez Frías and the then flag bearer of the opposition, Governor Manuel Rosales.

For almost four decades, “Er Conde” has become the essence of Rausseo’s career. This fictional character with an accent from Eastern Venezuela addresses the political and governmental reality of the country in his humor. In addition to his humorous side, Rausseo is a lawyer with master’s degrees in criminology and criminal law and a doctor in education. He has also ventured into various business projects, such as amusement parks and a wine brand in Spain called Bodegas der Conde.

In his presidential candidacy, Rausseo sought to attract the so-called “ni-ni”, that is, those Venezuelans who did not support either the Chávez government or its opponents. He used popular Venezuelan slogans, such as “espadrilles kill boot”, suggesting that he represented the authentic in the face of Chávez’s military spirit.

However, due to health problems, Rausseo withdrew his candidacy before the presidential elections that Chávez eventually won. In 2008, he also tried unsuccessfully to win the governorate of the eastern region of Anzoátegui, where he won 3.3% of the vote.

After keeping a low profile in Venezuelan politics ever since, Rausseo has emerged as one of the favorites in the opposition presidential primary scheduled for October 22, at least in the early stages of the process. According to February studies carried out by the firms Datanalysis and Datincorp, he leads the intention to vote together with former deputy María Corina Machado.

Under the slogan “with Rausseo I resteo”, his government proposal includes educational reform, respect for private property, the creation of economic opportunities for all citizens and the “rescue” of the health and dignity of being Venezuelan. Although Rausseo faces challenges such as the lack of a party structure and criticisms accusing him of being presumed close to Chavismo, analysts highlight his notable rise in the Venezuelan presidential polls.

Rausseo, the comedian who challenges political polarization in Venezuela: A threat to the traditional opposition?

Venezuela, a country that has experienced a decline in political polarization since the time of the exclusive electoral contests between Chávez and his opposition but where popular discontent with the political class is increasing, has led to the appearance of an unusual candidacy led by Rausseo.

“Circumstances are encouraging their irreverence and their style of political communication in a Venezuela that does not trust the current messages or narratives of the political class,” says political scientist Piero Trepiccione in an interview with the Voice of America.

Trepiccione points out that “Er Conde” is an artistic figure who has been in the collective imagination of the Venezuelan for years. However, his biggest challenge will be to prove that he can be a statesman far from comedy.

His presence on a list of candidates that includes politicians from the main traditional parties and even the self-styled interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, due to the alleged usurpation of office by Nicolás Maduro, “further complicates the already difficult existence of the opposition,” says political scientist Leandro Rodríguez Linárez.

The eruption of Rausseo, according to the expert, may threaten the need for a united opposition and is similar to that of a politician “alien to the parties”, such as Chávez in 1998 or former President Rafael Caldera in his last electoral campaign in 1993.

In recent years, analysts such as Trepiccione and Rodríguez Linárez have warned of the possibility that an outsider or a figure outside politics could capitalize on discontent with the government and the opposition parties to consolidate their leadership.

In Venezuela, never before has a comedian aspired to the presidency. Analysts highlight that there are successful examples abroad of artists who have managed to win presidential elections, such as Jimmy Morales, who governed Guatemala between 2016 and 2020 and the current president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Controversy and Challenges in the Candidacy of “Er Conde” in Venezuela: benefiting Chavismo and Hurting the Opposition?

The candidacy of Benjamín Rausseo, known as “Er Conde”, has generated controversy and raised doubts about his political intentions, especially due to his public appearance with figures of Chavismo and his business success in a distorted and elitist economy, according to political analyst Rodríguez Linárez.

For some, Rausseo could be generating imbalances in the aspirations of the Venezuelan opposition and, paradoxically, benefiting Chavism led by Maduro.

“Er Conde” is more likely to harm the opposition than to Chavismo, insists Rodríguez Linárez. Another successful and popular man in the polls, Lorenzo Mendoza, president of Empresas Polar, is portrayed as a “counterfigure”, who has repeatedly ruled out venturing into politics.

A recent survey by the firm More Consulting indicated that Mendoza is 57% popular as a “political actor” in Venezuela, despite never having held public office. Therefore, one of Rausseo’s challenges will be to demonstrate to people that his political proposal is not a game and that he can make a credible transition from comedian to politician with presidential potential, according to political scientist and university professor Jesús Castillo Molleda.

In addition, Rausseo must completely rule out any attempt to divide the opposition which would be dangerous in a context in which all opposition sectors will need to unite to defeat Chavismo in the 2024 presidential elections, in which Maduro seeks re-election, warns Castillo Molleda in an interview with the VOA.

However, Rausseo’s main weakness, according to Castillo Molleda of the firm Polyanalytic, is that it lacks a political or partisan structure to cover the thousands of polling stations that are expected to be set up in the presidential primary next October.

Both Castillo Molleda and other analysts, such as Trepiccione and Rodríguez Linárez, agree that Rausseo has before him the opportunity to convince an unmotivated electorate but first, he must face his greatest challenge: to show everyone that his foray into politics is not mere comedy material.

His government proposal includes educational reform, respect for private property, and economic opportunities. However, nevertheless, his rise in the polls highlights the increasing discontent with the political class in Venezuela. With his unique background as a comedian challenging political polarization, Rausseo’s candidacy presents both opportunities and challenges for the Venezuelan political landscape.

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