~ This article was originally published by Semanario Zeta on October 6, 2015 ~
Jaime Rodríguez, “El Bronco” seized the spotlight when he became the first independent gubernatorial candidate to triumph in an election. Since then, he has traveled the country preaching his gospel. In Tijuana, the ex-priísta showed up surrounded by bodyguards and in an armored SUV to deliver an almost comic monologue to an audience that had paid 800 pesos per person. A lonely political spectacle in the hands of a man who claims he will put political parties out of business forever.
–“Don’t call me governor, pal, I am ‘El Bronco,” he says, grabbing the hand of the author.
It is difficult to carry on a conversation with Jaime Rodríguez Calderón in this small room packed with small businessmen, failed candidates, and above all fistfuls of fans. This was in Tijuana on Tuesday, September 29, four days before he would take office as governor of Nuevo León.
To see “El Bronco” in flesh and bone, residents of Tijuana had two options: one, be students at the most expensive university in the city, where he gave a conference, or say goodbye to 800 pesos and head to the convention hall at the Club Campestre. In both places, the show was the same.
Nevertheless, El Bronco’s most advertised and talked-about event was the evening program at the social club. There, the governor-elect appeared before his precarious public to tell his story from PRI mayor to independent governor.
Jaime Rodríguez arrives on the stage through the white smoke that is used in bars and nightclubs, a swirl of colored spotlights, to the tune of a corrido norteño dedicated to his feats.
The event lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours and even covered the governor-elect’s musical tastes. Counting on his fingers, he listed: “Joan Sabastian, Vicente Fernández, Maná, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Los Bukis, and that’s it, there’s nothing else in the world, the rest aren’t worth shit.”
Originally, Jaime Rodríguez’s visit to Tijuana was to share the details of the campaign that carried him to victory in the last elections in Nuevo León: “A campaign without exaggerated costs,” the politician would explain, “we didn’t give anything away, not a single hat, people gave money to me and I cry when I am given money.”
Speaking of money, the proceeds from the evening—it was explained—would go to the Association of Female Entrepreneurs of Baja California, headed by its founder, Laura Vitela, the former Party of the Democratic Revolution [PRD] candidate for congress in the last election.
Regardless, the paucity of ticket sales was clearly visible that night at the Campestre. Of the rows of seats in front of the stage, a third were occupied only by air. On the sides, a desert. Lonely. A failure.
The history of the triumph, his ability to gather a crowd, campaign events in Nuevo León filled with people and donations of money from followers to the politician… was not repeated in Tijuana.
“I’m going to really give it to you”
In his tour through Tijuana, “El Bronco” and his committee, among them Guillermo Rentería, the former publicist of the governor [of Baja California], visited the facilities of University Cetys, a stop organized only two days ahead, despite the tour being planned weeks in advance.
That day a professor bellowed into the microphone: “For Cetys this is a super exciting moment, because we are not giving a conference, we are making history.”
In a frenzy, the improvised presenter shouted: “since they say he hates the idea of neckties, [el tema de los encorbatados], I’m going to take mine off!” and he did.
–“Here before you, Memo [Rentería] and ‘El Bronco’!” the presentation concluded.
“I sure inseminated that guy well,” Rentería says, wearing green fluorescent sunglasses and a Blue Demon cap. In front of 300 students, the first joke, “Dance, maestro,” he suggests to the governor-elect.
–“Thank you for inviting us, this gymnasium is great… the truth is, it’s awesome!” are the first words from the man who will govern one of the most powerful state economies in the country.
In the format of a comedy show, the governor and his head of marketing interrupt each other frequently: “The people on this side paid less, here are the VIPs, as always in the front.”
“El Bronco” affirms that his presence was to tell “a great story that today is invading the country. The second independence of Mexico, I want the political parties to retire, but without a pension.”
“How many of you are in a political party… don’t be ashamed,” Jaime Rodríguez asks. A few timid fingers go up and Rentería, who has made a career doing campaign advertising for National Action Party [PAN] candidates interrupts: “C’mon, raise your hands! Oh, not so many!”
“If you look, you’ll see we’re at the point of extinction for political parties, now nobody wants to be part of one,” says the man from Nuevo León, who clarifies, “there’s collective outrage.”
Jaime Rodríguez goes on a different plane. His talk takes a turn toward self-improvement. “Freeing ourselves from those who harm us, it is not about starting a revolution, you think that Zapata had Facebook… and the politicians don’t read Facebook, the politicians read the newspaper.”
“If a public servant read Facebook, he could better resolve problems, I defeated the Zetas using Facebook.”
More minutes are dedicated to the tragedies that have surrounded his life and that he swears have changed him for good, such as when he spent seven hours with the body of his son, a victim of crime: “I spent ten days looking for him and nobody helped me, everyone was scared, the authorities, my friends… thanks to God, I found him. I looked, and I found him dead.”
“My two-year-old daughter was kidnapped, my house was destroyed, everything I had saved over the years was gone, my wife cried every day, and this moved me and it keeps moving me, so we got to work, to work and defeat the violence, and we achieved it,” he says, without detailing how.
The misogynistic comments are equally greeted with laughter. The politician remembers how after the end of his term as municipal president [mayor], during which he survived to assassination attempts, his current wife asked him what was next: “I’m going to enjoy you, mamacita, you are 20 years younger than I am, and you’re still enjoyable, get ready because I’m going to give it to you [te voy a poner una chinga] every day, what I never gave to you, today I’m going to give it to you.”
Later he would say: “And I did give it to my wife, I made three kids in three years, I don’t know if someone helped, but they look like me.”
The same jokes would be repeated that night and on other stages. At Campestre he recalled the same conversation with his wife: “I’m going to enjoy you, mamacita, you’re still too hot for me to waste… my wife is 20 years younger than I am, she’s really damn attractive still.”
“I don’t have my head full of television shit, but you all do, clean it up.”
Jaime Rodríguez tells the students that after his time as mayor, he went to the hills to think: “The first thing I did was defeat the television, that is why now I don’t care what López Doriga or Loret de Mola say, I’m not interested. I got rid of what I loved the most, which was the television, I was an addict.”
There on his retreat, he reflected and convinced himself to pursue the governorship and fulfill the promises to his son: “I am 58 years old, and look what I am doing, and what you are doing, tell me, what are you doing for yourselves, studying? Ooh, that’s great. Behaving well? Damn, that’s extraordinary! What else are you doing for this city, getting home on time? That is extraordinary?
“Do something for this country… don’t be afraid. Are you afraid? Stay home, don’t do anything, stay there, enjoy what you are, smile, laugh, do what you want, is that good? You should struggle, get excited, feel tough, beat the system.”
The self-improvement class goes up a notch: “I visited the city for the first time when I was 15 years old, I saw electricity when I was 15, the television, at age 15,” and despite having admitted that he was addicted to television just a few years ago, he concluded, “that is why I don’t have my head full of television shit, but you do, so clean it out.”
Alongside “El Bronco” a legion of guards and armored trucks invaded the university grounds.
The public relations division of the Municipal Police, state police, official vehicles, traffic cops, and armed men brought from Nuevo León guarded the flanks of the independent, the exits, the entrances. Approximately 20 bodyguards headed the security apparatus. The same who would accompany him to Campestre that night.
Before his conference at the Campestre, “El Bronco,” was in a hot and crowded waiting room. It was like a backstage area for citizens who had won a contest of Facebook “likes” with the most original question for the governor-elect. Finally, officials, journalists, businessmen and women, and fans filled the place where they toasted him with wine and tequila.
Diana Ruvalcaba, a publicist for Alejandro Lares Valladares, the secretary of Public Security of Tijuana, in a fitted sequined dress became the presenter for “El Bronco”: “A social phenomenon… a man of achievement who is accustomed to breaking paradigms and leaving a mark wherever he goes… a man accustomed to riding through life against the flow of the national system.”
But first, a music video, a corrido norteño for the next governor, in which he appears on horseback, wearing a sombrero. Later, the stage disappears in nightclub smoke and colored lights. Memo Rentería begins to sing a song he wrote, that talks about himself.
In his moment, Jaime Rodríguez thanks “the whole crew” [todo el borlote] for the visit. “Do you know why I am here? What did you come for? To see me? Or out of morbid fascination, or curiosity?
Without a pause, he begins ranting about political parties in the middle of the half-empty hall and remembers the thirty years that “I was part of a political party, I am not ashamed, I have a right to a second chance… Nobody has the brand of a political party stamped on their ass.” The laughter sound like a television laugh track: “we are all free, the parties are just vehicles, and this vehicle is old, obsolete, it is not going to take us anywhere.”
“Just so you know, if you want to give me anything, give me a bottle of tequila, if not, no problem,” he amuses the audience with the same story of what he did at the end of his mayoral administration.
Later he asserted that his “government in Nuevo León is not going to pay a single peso to the television broadcasters,” and that he would use the 1.3 billion pesos that Rodrigo Medina spent annually on the “275,000 children we have in the streets” and on the 280,000 single mothers.
The brave politician said that he had not found difficulties with the outgoing administration, save for the nearly 66 billion pesos in debt that he inherits from the PRI government: “If you look, everything I see is positive, you know why? Because I saw death, death is my godmother, she is here with me, and you’re screwed if you don’t know her and you’re afraid.”
“For me, brother, there are no difficulties,” he would respond to the businessman José Galicot, who as part of the presentation would interrupt with a question about what the principle obstacles would be in the executive office.
Of the nearly three hours, he spoke little of the government that he will debut. Save that it would be the first where the bidding for contracts would be public: “The bribes are finished, I have met with the Chamber of Commerce of Nuevo León, and they do not believe me.”
Another “surprise” question that was prepared came from Sandra Dibble, the Tijuana correspondent for the San Diego [Union] Tribune, who asked about his relationship with the media.
“I am not going to pay the news media, the media outlets should do their job well, they should provide information, that is their job, or is it not? Do we have to pay them? No. They have their responsibility,” he responded.
“El Bronco,” added to the journalist, “I totally respect the news media when they say the truth, here in Mexico, they throw out lies, ma’am, I do not know if that happens in San Diego (laughter), here many news outlets are manipulators, imagine it, they say something and then they do not give you the opportunity to respond… I could also write something bad about a reporter, question their lifestyle, it is time that the news outlets are made to respect people and do things well.”
As soon as the event ended, those who were invited fled. At the microphone, the organizers still tried to avoid the drain, since with your ticket stub you were entered in a drawing to take “a selfie” with the governor. Yes, a selfie. But receiving no response, they would have been better off demanding that everyone line up take a photo with the celebrity of independent politics.
Isai Lara Bermúdez is a reporter for Semanario Zeta in Tijuana, where he reports on politics. This article was originally published with the title “Cuando un político se convierte en celebridad” and is available at: http://zetatijuana.com/noticias/zoom-politico/25589/cuando-un-politico-se-convierte-en-celebridad
Translation by Michael Lettieri, Trans-Border Institute