A classified cable from the most recent batch of “Wikileaks” suggests U.S. officials were enthusiastic about a quixotic bid by a Venezuelan comedian who challenged President Hugo Chavez.
The cable - which is admittedly quite tongue-in-cheek in tone - dates from 10 July, 2006, and deals with the preparatory stages of an eventually aborted presidential run by Venezuelan funnyman, Benjamin Rausseo.
Rausseo is better known to Venezuelans as “El Conde del Guacharo” (literally, “The Count of Oilbird”) - a downmarket satirical character that’s basically Venezuela’s equivalent of “Larry the Cable Guy.” The writer of the classified document describes Rausseo’s humor as “crude and vulgar,” and urges the reader: “think, ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ meets ‘Cheech and Chong.’”
Despite this, the nameless American diplomat-author writes, “we sure would like to see him run,” and continues:
“We intend to maintain quiet contact with El Conde to see how his campaign ‘stands up.’ He might prove to be the only opposition presidential candidate with whom we could maintain a public relationship without provoking a Chavista explosion.”
The writer concedes that Rausseo’s bid is “probably a non-starter.” However, he supports the campaign nonetheless because “El Conde’s homespun humor could land potshots within the Chavez camp” and “even knock Chavez off balance now and then.”
It was Chavez, though, who had the last laugh. Three weeks before the election date, Rausseo withdrew, having failed to make it into the top tier of the polls. He endorsed neither Chavez nor the main opposition challenger.
The cable may also provoke interest among Venezuelans because of the author’s blunt remarks about the humorlessness of Chavez’s so-called “Bolivarian Revolution.” He writes, for instance,
“Once upon a time, Venezuelans were thought to be a funny group. But years of acrimonious Chavez rants have mutated humor into a Frankenstein fusion of satire, meanness, and revenge. The Bolivarian Revolution, sadly, is not funny.
The writer himself attempts to be, for instance slotting in references to Seinfeld and The Addams Family when discussing Chavez’s fellow “revolutionaries.” “Laughing at oneself,” he writes, “may be a self-effacing act of humility, but to apply it to the sacrosanct Revolution would be a traitorous sign of weakness.” He jokes that this is why then-Caracas Mayor Juan Barreto is not “betting the other Caracas municipal mayors that he is indeed ‘master of his domain.’” The author writes of Venezuela’s then-Attorney General that “an Isaias-Rodriguez-as-Uncle-Fester routine would at least make the Chavistas tolerable.”
However, he concludes that government officials aren’t about to yank out their DVD box sets of American comedies because:
“A healthy dose of light-hearted humor, we speculate, would be like a virus to the cold Bolivarian propaganda machine.”