We thought that after the debacle with the mobster candidate for mayor of Panama City, Bobby "I want his legs broken" Velasquez, the PRD would try to keep it all above board and clean during the campaign towards the 2014 elections. Not so. We're not even close to 2014 yet and things are already being fought in the gutter.
Rigged polls, mud slinging, crude and childish photoshop montages are already part of the game, with Martinelli's trusted "gladiators" blasting their bile on social media platforms. Eric Jackson of The Panama News did a good write-up of all that, here.
But a story in La Estrella alerted us to the fact that the Navarro campaign appears to have engaged the Latin American answer to Roger Stone; the Venezuela-born dirty campaign specialist J.J. Rendon. According to La Estrella, president Martinelli and Rendon were having a go at it on Martinelli's favorite battleground, Twitter, with our head of state accusing Rendon of dirty campaign tricks using a fake Twitter account for CD candidate José Domingo Arías. Rendon replied that he "doesn't do such things".
To anyone with only superficial knowledge of election campaigns in Latin America, Rendon's denial should be cause for fits of laughter, however. Rendon is who sleazy right-wingers hire for their campaigns. He has for a decade now unsuccessfully fought Chavismo in Venezuela, losing campaign after campaign. When he spectacularly lost the 2004 recall referendum against Hugo Chavez, he made a botched attempt at denouncing fraud, spreading rumors, adhering to the theory that Rumor=Importance x Ambiguity. As explained in the magazine Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, in 2001:
"Esta teoría la refuerza J. J. Rendón, psicólogo, publicista, con postgrado en Ontopsicología, quien manejó la campaña presidencial de Carlos Andrés Pérez en Venezuela, al reafirmar que son dos las condiciones básicas necesarias para que un rumor prenda en la mente de la gente: primero, el asunto del cuento deberá revestir cierta importancia, tanto para el que lo transmite como para el que lo escucha, luego, los hechos han de estar revestidos de cierta ambigüedad.
Esta ambigüedad puede ser inducida por la ausencia o parquedad de noticias, por su naturaleza contradictoria, por desconfianza hacia ellas, o por tensiones emocionales que toman al individuo incapaz de aceptar los hechos revelados en las noticias oficiales o reaccionar hacia ellas."
In Mexico, where he worked for the PRI corruption machine, they call him the "Venezuelan Neo-Nazi". On Aporrea, they discovered that he had lied on his CV. He was more successful with Porfirio Lobo, the guy who emerged out of the military coup in Honduras.
Does Rendon work alone? Not according to La Jornada's Jaime Avilés, who in 2001 reported that Rendon is part of a larger group of political consultants that is directed from Miami and operates all over Latin America:
"They belong to a pool of Latin American publicity agencies, grouped together in the Interamerican Center of Political Leadership, with its headquarters in Miami, the United States. The have a monthly publication called Political Marketing, and they shield themselves academically behind the dubious prestige of Florida International University (FIU)….
"You can learn more about them on the page www.centropolitico.org on the Internet, where they present themselves as experts in the management of rumors, 'crisis situations,' and 'negative propaganda.'
"In sum, this is about a vast conglomerate of Latin American businesses dedicated to political propaganda based on terror. But in Mexico, three of its most outstanding members have been made visible: the Venezuelan Juan José Rendón, the Colombian Mauricio de Vengoechea, and the Argentine Carlos Fara."
The image that accompanies this very article, for example, first appeared on a Colombian blog, and Rendon's lawyers immediately threatened legal action for violating copyright, in some absurd reasoning that the copyrights of the name and image of Mr. Rendon are held by his company and unfavorable reproduction of them is prohibited:
"Se comete una Infracción de Violación a los Derechos de Autor, ya que se hace uso del nombre y la imagen del Sr. [Innombrable] haciendo referencia con palabras de calumnia y desprestigio que causan un daño moral irreparable. La empresa [Innombrable] & Asociados posee todos los Derechos Reservados sobre el uso y/o modificación del Nombre y la Imagen del Sr. [Innombrable] Derechos Reservados uso exclusivo, El uso no autorizado constituye un delito. Por lo tanto solicito sea retirado el contenido de este Blog”
It could of course be that the lawyer did not really exist. After all, one of Rendon's specialties is the massive use of fake Facebook and Twitter identities to flood social media with negative messaging against the opponent. Since Martinelli is already doing exactly the same with his gladiadores, the 2014 campaign may very well be fought entirely in the sphere of virtual reality, a sort of a Bananama political version of Second Life. Since the candidates on offer differ only in their avatars, i.e. which part of the oligarchy they represent, having the whole campaign circus play out in some muddy corner of cyberspace might not be such a bad idea after all.
In any case, Navarro's apparent choice to have J.J. Rendon work for him should serve as a warning to anyone who might be fooled into the idea that the PRD candidate would somehow be more "progressive" than Martinelli's candidate or the Panameñista Juan Carlos Varela.