Known throughout Latin America for his role as an adviser to many successful political campaigns, JJ Rendon was given 10 minutes at a recent Tedx event to expound upon the dangers of what he calls “Neo-Totalitarianism.” The Venezuelan political strategist used his time to describe the term while also urging his audience to be politically active and maintain the fight for democracy.
According to Rendon, “Neo-Totalitarianism” differs from traditional dictatorships in that the government maintains a facade of democratic institutions, while working behind the scenes to undermine them. Governments with these tendencies, he claims, will often speak of “the empire” or demonize “globalization.”
Offering a concrete example, Rendon warned of the “erosion of the democracy” in his home country of Venezuela. He claimed that hundreds of media outlets have been closed down and elections have been “unfair” and “illegal.” He also provided a long list of human rights abuses he alleges were committed by the government.
Satire, it was not
While Rendon claims to be committed to free and fair elections and liberal democracy, his actions as a political adviser and public relations guru indicate that he may not be the great democrat he has made himself out to be.
It is worth noting that his profession is, by definition, propaganda. His job is to create images of politicians and manipulate information in order to win elections. His work is, by its very nature, deceptive.
If political campaigns were simply about informing the public of a candidate’s positions on important issues and his/her record of public service, spin doctors like Rendon wouldn’t be necessary.
The nature of Rendon’s work as a strategist aside, his choice of political campaigns and his conduct within them also suggest that his commitment to democratic governance and “fair” elections is, at a minimum, selective.
While independent observers, such as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, have certified Venezuela’s elections as free and fair, Rendon claimed in his Tedx talk that they were riddled with irregularities.
Rendon’s talk made no mention, either, of the elections in which he himself participated. Notably, he has taken part in the successful campaigns of right-leaning administrations in Honduras, Mexico and Colombia, among others.
A military coup ousted the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras in 2009. According to Amnesty International, “hundreds of people opposed to the coup were beaten and detained by the security forces as protests erupted during the following months…[h]uman rights activists, opposition leaders and judges suffered threats and intimidation, media outlets closed and journalists were censored.”
Given the circumstances, the subsequent election was mostly shunned by international monitors. Rendon, however, had no qualms managing the campaign of the conservative landowner Porfirio Lobo — no doubt believing the elections were “legal” and fair.
Questionable campaign tactics by the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) in the election of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, in which Rendon also acted as an advisor, didn’t seem to bother the consultant. Nor did the widespread human rights violations and impunity for state agents — far worse than Venezuelan government abuses — cause him any hesitation when he received the offer to work for Peña Nieto, who has largely continued the state’s security policies.
In Colombia’s 2014 presidential elections, Rendon’s participation as a consultant to President Juan Manuel Santos’ campaign was enough to cause controversy on its own. When it was alleged by an imprisoned drug trafficker that Rendon had received $12 million in drug money to help facilitate the surrender of drug cartel leaders, Rendon had to resign.
And these are just some of the elections in which Rendon has offered his services. His strategy in these various Latin American political campaigns has been fairly consistent. It has been called “rumorology,” an apt description of the manner in which his campaigns smear political opponents and ignore relevant issues that might actually inform voters. It has led one Mexican journalist to dub Rendon the “king of black propaganda.”
While he preaches the gospel of freedom and democracy, Rendon’s political sympathies are clear. He is a full-on supporter of neo-liberalism and an opponent of any Latin American country that does not support it. Honduras, Mexico and Colombia have accepted the liberalized economic policies he favors — along with the poverty, inequality, and violence they bring — thus earning his approval.
On the other hand, he has declared himself an “enemy of neo-totalitarian governments such as the regimes in Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba” due to his “life philosophy and his tough opposition to the Latin American pseudo-revolution,” according to his website.
On a side note, Rendon his website also affirms that he is a “firm and declared Buddhist” — just another curious contradiction from Latin America’s resident king of spin.