Between Rocky and salsa: Venezuelan election campaign jumps to TikTok

By Gonzalo Dominguez Loeda

Caracas, Nov 3 (EFE).- To salsa rhythms, copying the “Rocky” movie myth and with dancing – lots of dancing – Venezuelan politicians have made the jump to TikTok in search of younger voters, although they’re harder to influence, in a country where communication moved some time ago to the social networks.

The challenge for politicians, most of them far beyond the age of TikTok consumers, is enormous and is not going unrecognized. The first thing, perhaps the most complicated for many, is to restrict their messages, often blurred in hours-long speeches, to short videos, as the “rules” of the new social networks demand.

It’s a group of older politicians, some of them much older, looking for the votes of young citizens, many of them very young, who view them as if it’s their grandparents seeking their support. And that is almost guaranteed to be embarrassing.

The local and regional elections will be held on Nov. 21 but the campaign began long ago. The early opposition candidate for Caracas, who ultimately bowed out of the race, Carlos Prosperi, was the one who first went to TikTok to try and garner the support of younger voters.

Like US actor Sylvester Stallone of “Rocky” fame, but significantly thinner, Prosperi recorded his first video to the rhythm of “Eye of the Tiger” running up steps in the capital’s Ezequiel Zamora Park, popularly known as El Calvario, and that was a good example of what was to come.

The opposition, which will participate in the upcoming elections for the first time since 2017, is splitting its efforts in this new media space, and the best proof of that can be seen in the central state of Miranda, which includes a good portion of Caracas.

Two candidates – Carlos Ocariz, backed by two-time presidential hopeful Henrique Capriles, and David Uzcategui, with the support of several mayors in the Caracas metro area – have gotten into heated disagreements while trying to attract the opposition vote.

While their Chavista rival, Hector Rodriguez, rubs his hands together gleefully, they have rather timidly taken their dispute to the social networks.

For now, Ocariz is winning on TikTok, not only due to the number of his followers and videos, very modest numbers actually, but also due to the number of repostings of his messages numbering almost 3,000.

Music is the basis for Ocariz’s effort although he’s not too much of a dancer. To the rhythm of “Ojala que llueva cafe,” by Juan Luis Guerra, the candidate participated in an event in the residential neighborhood of Petare enjoying the steaming beverage, albeit without moving his hips at all.

It was a modest beginning, but he is starting to see some results on the network. To salsa rhythms, although he’s clearly had serious problems remembering the lyrics, he’s also videotaped himself singing and dancing. It’s the first big “hit” by Venezuelan politicians.

Uzcategui, on the other hand, still has not gotten himself onto TikTok, although he does have his own account there. But his girlfriend, actress Dora Mazzone, took him by the hand to make the jump in a video in which he, smiling broadly, obtained his first support from TikTokers.

“Networks, media and walls” is the new strategy laid out by President Nicolas Maduro for his supporters, knowing that Venezuelans don’t look for information on the traditional media any longer and, thus, the message that he’s trying to send there remains limited.

The president already has 264,000 followers on TikTok, which he refers to frequently in his speeches and remarks. He’s not only the most popular of Venezuela’s politicians, but his videos are also the best adapted to the TikTok format.

He dances salsa with his wife, and experts say he does it pretty well, he includes a wide variety of musical tracks on his videos and the presentation is clearly better than anyone else’s. He hasn’t taken part in any “celebrity challenges” yet but, on the other hand, he’s fully involved in the challenge of seeking votes.

What Maduro doesn’t seem able to do, however, is to convince his fellow citizens, and the majority of the comments posted about him and his videos question his management ability. “When are you going to leave once and for all?” they reply to his campaign messages.

Like Maduro, Caracas mayoral candidate Carmen Melendez, 59, is trying to appeal to the youngest voters.

With music accompanying many viral videos but less prone to display her dancing talents – although that is almost obligatory on TikTok – Melendez has managed to create a better communication style with her potential voters, who share her well-put-together clips.

Without any salsa, with very little dancing and almost without any references to the TikTok world, she is the exception to the rule that sees politicians trying to reduce the age gaps between them and prospective voters that, at times, seem only to be widening.

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