The mayor of a Santiago district has put on a peculiar show. The character created by La Florida’s Rodolfo Carter is using public sentiment to play the media like a fiddle. But he also leaves some flanks open, which could lead to his character’s demise.
Rodolfo Carter, was, until a while ago, a lawyer, Catholic, literature buff, and head of Santiago’s La Florida district.
He became mayor because his predecessor resigned due to health reasons. Back then, Carter garnered sympathy even from opposition center-left councilors.
Carter describes himself as a populist and has always been attracted to cameras and explored areas his right-wing colleagues are uncomfortable with, such as the use of marijuana for medical purposes or sex education and support for sexual minorities. Unfortunately, society is not interested in these topics anymore.
Not too long ago, Carter turned into a show character. He underwent Botox treatment and drastically changed his appearance. The media hyped him as viable presidential contender. He capitalized on Chile’s deteriorating public security, which has been in dire straits for years but only became a political problem when the right had to go into national opposition and started telling a revisionist version of the 2019 social uprising.
Carter then turned more quarrelsome and aggressive, even when talking to journalists or national authorities. He positioned himself on profitable national issues like crime rather than local ones in La Florida.
Previously, Carter also said he’d like to run for president, even though the current president has still three years to go. But to be competitive, one needs to be well-known, so the more controversy, the better. This controversy is well conveyed during Carters daily press conferences, where he attacks ministers and the president, hoping to elicit a response.
Instinctively, he positions himself when he knows a camera is around while his answers are clearly practiced and don’t relate to the question asked. He manages his voice and uses short sentences, easy to follow and reproduce in the print media. Carter marries astute marketing and the exhibitionism of El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele, whose crackdown on gangs and attacks on democracy earned him many admirers in Chile.
Carter’s conclusions are illogical, reckless, and angry, in tune with popular sentiment on crime and migration and attitudes toward contrarian views. His appearances are designed spectacles, with police and security guards in the background and always coinciding with news or morning show schedules.
One snake oil solution he sells to confront crime is the demolition of homes of alleged drug traffickers. These demolitions are broadcast via social and traditional media. Carter doesn’t care that the houses are almost certainly legally acquired property – drug traffickers seldom steal houses – nor that some of the homes he destroys belong to criminals’ extended family or that the traffickers are low-level criminals as the top dogs reside in uptown districts.
Carter doesn’t mind potentially breaking the law or at least pushing the envelope if it makes for a good show.
But while Carter’s communications strategy has been successful, his lack of political management is starting to backfire. The Comptroller General is investigating him after councilors filed a complaint related to abandonment of duties. Apparently, Carter hasn’t had time to do a mayor’s work amid all the cross-country trips and interviews.
This is an open flank. And going all in on the far-right vote is a dangerous bet. If one thing is clear, it’s that lack of skill and unforced errors can kill the best character. Including the one built by media mayor Rodolfo Carter.
Germán Silva Cuadra is an expert in corporate communications and a regular commentator on Chilean politics. His latest book is ‘No te reconozco Chile. Cómo entender al país que noqueó a la elite.’ Germán tweets under @gsilvacuadra.