J.J. Rendon: "If You Support [Nicolas Maduro], You Support Killing. You Support Genocide."
J.J. Rendón stood out solemnly in the sea of white. Latin America's most infamous political consultant wouldn't have had it any other way. For the 15 years since Hugo Chávez was elected, Rendón has mourned what he considers the death of his native Venezuela. Now that student protests are shaking the chavista government, Rendón is eager to add his two cents.
"If you support [Venezuela president Nicolas Maduro], you support killing," he says. "You support genocide."
See also: J.J. Rendon is Latin America's Karl Rove
Anyone expecting softer words doesn't know J.J. Rendón.
He may be little known in Miami, where he lives in exile, but Rendón is one of Latin America's most important political figures. He's a conservative campaign consultant extraordinaire who has swung scores of races in favor of rightist candidates in countries like Honduras, Mexico, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic.
In 2010, he turned a tossup of a presidential race in Colombia into a landslide victor for Juan Manuel Santos. And last year, he almost helped Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles defeat Chávez's handpicked successor, Maduro. (Rendón says he has "proof" that Maduro actually stole the election.)
Rendón credits his success to hard work and his background in psychology (he has a master's degree in the subject). But critics claim his victories owe just as much to underhanded tricks and smear campaigns. Indeed, his nickname is "J.J. Rumor."
When it comes to the current crisis in his home country, however, Rendón readily admits that things are personal.
"My fight against Maduro goes back to when he was foreign affairs minister and I was working on elections in other countries," Rendón says. "His government was giving candidates money and I was hired as a strategist [by opposition parties] to stop it."
Rendón claims Americans are too preoccupied to realize that "neo totalitarianism" is spreading throughout the hemisphere.
Valter Campanato/Agência Brasil via Wikimedia Commons Maduro with a portrait of his mentor
"You guys are so busy worried about your economic crisis and global warming and 'Oh, the whales are dying,' you don't realize what is going on," he says. "When will the international community look at us? When we have 1,000 killed? When we have 20,000 killed?"
Rendón denies having any involvement in the student protests in Venezuela, and says they aren't puppets of opposition leaders. But he admits that there are "radical" factions within the opposition that want to use the protesters to start a civil war.
See also: What the Hell Is Going on in Venezuela?
"There are people who want to give guns to the kids," he says. "Some people want revenge, but that's less than one percent. Most of the protesters are non-violent... But how long are they going to remain peaceful? How long until the government infiltrates them or breaks them or makes them tired?"
In a 40-minute interview with New Times, Rendón oscillated between hyperbole and hope. He said it's only a matter of time before Maduro is forced to step down, but admitted he's not sure how that will happen.
"This guy is not Chávez," Rendón says of Maduro. "Chávez was a charismatic leader. He could make people be in love with him even when he was fucking up."
"Maduro has an approval rating of 13 percent," Rendón says, citing a poll by Mexican company. "They are losing credibility, they are getting blamed for everything, so how do you think a government like that can rule?"