No Joke: Comic to Challenge Hugo Chavez
Friday, July 28, 2006; 10:50 PM
CARACAS, Venezuela -- He became a household name in Venezuela as a standup comedian who aims his wit _ rapid-fire, irreverent and loaded with vulgarities _ at everyone from his family to the Roman Catholic Church.
So it's little wonder that few in Venezuela are taking him seriously now that he says he will run against Hugo Chavez in December's presidential election.
Benjamin Rausseo, better known as the "Count of Guacharo," announced his presidential bid in the capital of Caracas on Friday as he registered his new party, PIEDRA, which means "rock" in Spanish.
The jovial 45-year-old says he's not intimidated by polls that show Chavez heavily favored for re-election.
"I'm the candidate of all of Venezuela," Rausseo said in an interview with Union Radio earlier this week as he compared himself to Chavez, with whom he shares humble roots and a husky build.
"He's ugly, I'm ugly ... I talk, he talks. But the difference is I live in Venezuela," he quipped, in a gibe at the frequent overseas travels of the Venezuelan leader, who has been on a three-continent tour since last week.
Rausseo, who is also a successful businessman with hotels and other enterprises, grew up poor and left school at 11 to support his family as a shoeshine boy, street vendor and taxi driver.
On Friday he told supporters that even if he cracks jokes on the campaign trail, he's serious about combatting crime, creating jobs, winning the trust of foreign investors and healing a divided nation.
"Venezuelans are happy people, but since Chavez came to power that's changed," he said. "I've never seen Venezuelans so divided. Chavez has picked fights with the whole world and that's dangerous."
Chavez himself has chuckled publicly about rumors he might face the "Count," who has been known to perform in a straw hat, shorts and flip-flops, both before audiences and on TV. The comedian often makes political satire a part of his routine, poking fun at all sides.
An electoral campaign "doesn't have to be a totally serious thing," he said. "There has to be happiness."
But with at least 12 opposition candidates already throwing their hats in the ring to challenge Chavez, pollster Luis Vicente Leon noted a sober aspect to Rausseo's presidential bid.
"It's a symbol of protest," Leon said. "It's the reflection of a serious problem, of a lack of serious leadership in the opposition (to Chavez)."