On the Clock

Following “Bolivian time” on the campaign trail would seem to be a trainwreck waiting to happen. However, somehow, everything turns out alright. Each day, on a rotating basis, one staff member is assigned to accompany the candidate and to be in charge of that day’s events. These responsbilities include knowing where the campaign event will be held, who is the contact person and to make sure that the group follows the schedule. In one day, there could be up to 10 events, which includes meetings with different organizations, walking the neighborhoods, radio and television interviews and staff meetings.

With so many places to visit with so little time, events are often bumped or cancelled altogether. On the weekly calendar on the wall, each event is assigned a specific time when the candidate needs to be at the location. I have been noticing that we have never arrived at the time indicated on the wall calendar. But there is almost a sixth sense to know when we must absolutely leave to arrive at an acceptable time.

There are staff members who are responsible for securing media interviews. The political advisors often recommend or decline some of the interview requests because of the common-knowledge that a particular journalist is biased or affiliated with another political party and is out for blood. Other staff members are also in charge of looking for endorsements from various organizations. As a result, they always lobby that their event is more important and many events get double-booked. In the end, the candidate has the final call as to which one gets bumped.

For example, today the candidate was invited as the guest of honor at a graduation in a urban neighborhood, which was scheduled months before the candidate even announced intention to run for office. At the event, it was not an explicit campaign stop, but there was time to pass out literature and the other staff members had the party logo and colors. The graduation was slated to start at 1 pm and we did not arrive until 3 pm. Immediately following that event, which ended at 5 pm, we rushed off to another graduation, which was supposed to start at 4 pm.

Fortunately television interviews are almost always taped in advanced and showed at a later airing. Arriving late to those appointments are not the end of the world.

Often the other car (we only have two different cars at our disposition) arrives ahead and assures the contact person that the candidate is on the way. The little white lie of “ya estamos llegando” (we are almost there) is used anywhere from the time that we are just leaving or to a time that we are on the road still a ways away. Cell phones are the lifeblood of a campaign. Communication between all the different staff members coordinating among themselves, with the candidate, with headquarters is easily facilitated by these commonly found gadgets. The only problem is when the cars travel to rural areas up the mountainside where cell phone signal is spotty at best. The night that I met the Presidential candidate, he was operating with two different cell phones, one in each pocket (both rang at the same time non-stop).

When the candidate finally arrives to a scheduled event, those waiting never seem to be disappointed for having had to wait. However, as a result, the candidate feels a bit guilty for not staying on schedule and is determined to give them their money’s worth (a figure of speech, there is no money exchanged). Then, the rest of the schedule is pushed back as a result.

In the end, getting in and out of cars, hearing more or less the same speech, not having time to stop for lunch and/or dinner, and all the travel in cramped vehicles leave me thoroughly exhausted at the end of the day.

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One thought on “On the Clock

  1. Hi Eduardo, that’s awesome that you’re getting to see first-hand campaigning in Bolivia. I’m really interested to read more about how you see cell phones being used in the campaign. Other than coordinating with staff, are they used in other ways? How do campaigners communicate when they’re in rural areas without cell phone service? Do they text message much? Keep the posts coming and enjoy your stay in Bolivia.

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