By Monte Reel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
BUENOS AIRES -- Wearing a hip-hugging leather skirt and nothing above the waist but a strategically coiled artificial snake, Moria Casan shimmied her way to the place she knows best: the spotlight at center stage.
At the Broadway Theater one recent evening, the 56-year-old cabaret star shook through a steamy dance routine and cracked a few equally uninhibited jokes about Argentine politicians. Then Nito Artaza, a co-star in her comic song and dance revue, turned to the crowd and gestured toward Casan.
" She's going to be among our representatives in Congress?" he asked in mock horror.
"Absolutely," replied Casan, posing dramatically. "There, I will be the diva."
If Casan is elected to Congress on Sunday, as recent polls suggest might happen, Argentine politics will get both a strong shot of sequined glitz and a voluble dose of anti-political rhetoric.
"I don't have a political discourse, and I don't believe politicians," Casan said during a recent interview. "I believe the people need someone who will work for them without so much 'blah blah blah.' "
Casan's candidacy has made for endless headlines and jokes -- as well as some serious questions -- about whether the country, beset by chronic economic woes, really needs a feather boa floating among the neckties in the national legislature.
"I don't think she's a bad person, but she has never done anything in her life other than being a showgirl," said Gabriel Cardozo, 25, who runs a magazine stand on the street outside the Broadway, where Casan performs regularly. "What would it say about our country if we elected her to represent us?"
Casan, however, is no stranger to political sparring. In addition to her career as an entertainer, she interviewed politicians and other guests as the savvy, seductive hostess of a pillow-talk TV show, "To Bed With Moria," in the 1990s. She has more than enough wit to compete with heavier-weight candidates in the race for Buenos Aires' 13 seats, including Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa and businessman Mauricio Macri, who owns one of the country's most successful soccer clubs, the Boca Juniors.
More than 50 people are vying for the seats, 11 of which will be distributed among the top three vote-getters and their party associates. Polls show Casan can win only about 5 to 6 percent of the capital's vote, but analysts said that could be enough to snag one of the remaining two seats.
"In a campaign with so many options, the question for political parties becomes how to separate themselves from the others," said Nicolas Ducote, a political analyst here. "So it makes sense to look for candidates with some sort of brand name people will recognize."
Casan's campaign has made full use of her star status. Avoiding stump speeches, posters and policy debates, she has played up her celebrity and even announced her intention to run during a TV talk show.
Even though her medium may be vampy, her message is serious. Analysts said she could tap into a well of national resentment against international pressure for fiscal reforms, which many Argentines believe plunged the country into an economic crisis four years ago from which it has yet to recover.
Casan's current touring show is titled "The Fund Can Wait," a reference to the International Monetary Fund and its demands for measures to reduce inflation and debt. Between lively dance numbers, the show features comic sketches that poke fun at both President Nestor Kirchner and IMF officials.
Her co-star, the comedian Artaza, lost much of his savings during the economic collapse and has since been an outspoken critic of the Kirchner government, which he says cares more about protecting its status with international investors than its own people.
The names of Artaza, two tango singers, an actor, a talk show host and a former showgirl are also on the ballot.
Ducote and other analysts have compared Casan's candidacy to that of Ilona "Cicciolina" Staller, a pornographic film actress who was elected to Italy's parliament in 1987. Casan has never been a porn star, but during her 33-year career as a vedette -- the term used here for the stars of live variety shows -- she has always challenged social mores.
On "To Bed with Moria," her TV show in the 1990s, she chatted with politicians and celebrities while reclining in an overstuffed bed, cavorting in lingerie and encouraging her guests to speak frankly about their sex lives. She also opened the country's first nude beach in the coastal resort town of Mar del Plata.
"I'm an artist, and all artists must provoke their audiences," said Casan, a tall, imposing woman with long black hair, striking features and a generous figure, about which she jokes often. "I will continue to be provocative as a politician -- always."
On a recent Friday evening, Casan staged her closest approximation of a campaign rally to date, at a pizza parlor in the working-class neighborhood of Mataderos. As she stepped out of a bright yellow BMW, she was mobbed by hundreds of fans. She wore a black tank top with the word "Glamour" stretched across the front in sparkling letters.
As Casan's handlers rushed her inside the restaurant, the crowd pressed against the windows for a closer look. Among them was Marta Veloso, 67, who detoured from her walk home to try to catch a glimpse.
"She once did a skit on television set in our neighborhood, so we like her," said Veloso. "She's a person of the people, and she's never been in politics before, so she's more trustworthy. You can't trust politicians."
Sitting at a table, Casan granted a few brief interviews and consulted with her campaign staff. She was supposed to walk two blocks through the neighborhood and chat with residents, but that plan was canceled.
"How can I do anything?" Casan said, looking at the mass of people jockeying for position outside the door. "I can't walk anywhere. There are too many people."
Instead, she was escorted by bodyguards to a waiting Volkswagen that drove her away. But her campaign managers were far from concerned: Casan's appearance alone had been enough.