An Imitator of Chávez: He May Be Sincere, but Is It Flattering?

Por Venezuela Real - 4 de Noviembre, 2007, 11:10, Categoría: Imagen gobierno / Chávez

Simón Romero
The New York Times
November 04, 2007

VALENCIA, Venezuela, Oct. 30 — President Hugo Chávez has his own weekly television show in which he expounds on Socialist virtues. So does Luis Felipe Acosta Carlez, the governor of Carabobo, a state here in northern Venezuela that is home to a major oil-refining complex.

The president woos his followers with recordings of boleros and other romantic songs. So does Mr. Acosta Carlez.

The list of similarities is long, Mr. Acosta Carlez proudly acknowledges: the red shirts, the military background, and on and on.

“Chávez is our maximum leader,” Mr. Acosta Carlez, 50, said in an interview at his office in the governor’s palace here, seated under a portrait of the president, who is three years older than he is. “I consider him my father,” he said, “my political father.”

Amid an expanding cult of celebrity that has governors and mayors across the country erecting billboards with photos showing the strength of their ties to Mr. Chávez, the exceptional zeal with which Mr. Acosta Carlez adulates the president presents a quandary for Venezuela’s government: Is it possible to imitate Mr. Chávez too much?

That may depend on who is doing the imitating, but some staunchly pro-Chávez activists here think so. They have clashed repeatedly with Mr. Acosta Carlez, claiming he is subverting the president’s political style while hewing to reactionary policies associated with the old moneyed elite.

For instance, Mr. Acosta Carlez gained national prominence over the summer after putting up a billboard here with photos of bikini-clad women and the phrase, “Inciting sex leads to rape.” Women’s groups complained that he was suggesting women were asking to be raped because of the way they dressed.

Mr. Acosta Carlez replied that his goal with the billboard was to lower Carabobo’s high number of sex crimes. Then he replaced that billboard with another criticizing the news media; its phrase, against a backdrop of front pages from the state’s newspapers, read, “Scandals cause terrorism.”

These incidents came after an episode of “Hello, My People,” his television show, in which he defended the right of “revolutionaries” to own Hummers, which have become popular affectations of the rich business class here. “If we earn money, we can do it,” he said.

Reaction to such positions from both supporters and critics of Mr. Chávez has not been kind. “General Acosta Carlez is a buffoon, not a revolutionary,” said Argenis Loreto, the pro-Chávez mayor of a district of Valencia, the capital of Carabobo. “He is a member of the old guard disguising himself as a Chavista.”
Undaunted, Mr. Acosta Carlez has pressed forward with initiatives inspired, he says, by Mr. Chávez. Such is his gusto for displays of loyalty, however, that the president himself has seen fit to give the governor a dressing down for taking things too far.

After Mr. Chávez announced in January that he was nationalizing telephone, electricity and oil companies, Mr. Acosta Carlez floated the idea of a decree by his administration to nationalize Los Navegantes de Magallanes, a professional baseball team based here.

“Leave my team alone,” Mr. Chávez, a Magallanes fan, told the governor in televised comments. “Put yourself to work on Socialism.”

Mr. Acosta Carlez, dressed in a red-striped Lacoste polo shirt and wearing a pair of cowboy boots, said he had indeed put himself to work on Socialism since the start of his term in 2005. He said he was completing his third book, his ruminations on “love and revolution,” tentatively titled, “Unprecedented Socialism of the XXI Century.”

Guiding a visitor on a trip through Valencia’s most desperate slums in a convoy of sport-utility vehicles led by his armored Nissan Armada, he talked about the housing projects he is building here for the poor. A billboard with a photo of Claret del Corral de Acosta, the governor’s blond wife, hung over one slum called La Guacamaya.

“First, I thank God for what we have, then Chávez, then Acosta Carlez,” said Maria Alejandra Nieto, 25, an unemployed mother of two who lives in La Guacamaya. An aide with a notebook followed the governor on his tour, taking down residents’ demands for a sewage system, paved roads and more police patrols.

Standing 6 feet 4 inches in his boots, Mr. Acosta Carlez looks more like a pampered cattleman than a crusader for the poor. His bodyguards call him “catire,” (pronounced kah-TEE-reh), a term for someone fair-skinned with light hair.

But he said he grew up in poverty, one of 15 children whose father organized cockfights to make ends meet.

Like President Chávez, Mr. Acosta Carlez saw the military as a way up in life. As a general during a strike in early 2003, he became famous after a televised raid on a soft-drink warehouse in which he gulped from a warm bottle of malta, a nonalcoholic malt beverage, before burping loudly before the cameras.

“Acosta Carlez is the most vulgar of the Chavistas,” said Pablo Aure, a law professor at the University of Carabobo who is an outspoken critic of the governor. “But he is also among the most ambitious.”

Exceso, a news magazine in Caracas, even devoted its cover story in October to Mr. Acosta Carlez, musing about whether he had presidential ambitions. The question hangs in the air: Could his extreme hunger for attention signal a desire for greater power?

No, Mr. Acosta Carlez insisted as he wound down the interview at his home, puffing on a Cuban cigar as a servant offered drinks on a patio overlooking a sprawling garden and a swimming pool. “Being president is an idea that has never passed through my mind,” he said. “I am devoted to Chávez and to our Socialism of love and inclusion.”

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