During his career, the Pulitzer Prize winner George de Carvalho reported on the landslide win of a surprise contender, Cacareco, in neighbouring Brazil, who ended up being an unlikely international inspiration. “Suburban sewers were in bad shape, prices were high and there was a serious shortage of meat and beans. There was no shortage, however of candidates – 540 of them running for 45 council seats,” the well-travelled, Hong Kong-born correspondent wrote in an article for Time-Life.
Charging into a council election with the hefty hide of a true politician, and unhindered by ubiquitous charges of misconduct, nepotism and foreign citizenship, the inscrutable victor proved impervious and implacable to the volley of criticisms and vicious insults about her obvious bulky girth, gender and lack of looks, garnering a then record 100000 votes or 15 percent of the tally, enough to swamp 11 opposition parties. With a pleasant enough personality and real animal magnetism, she pulled off the stunning success without so much as a single speech, a smile or a smidgen of self-campaigning, but was swiftly denied the dignity of stylishly spreading across her seat.
As Carvalho recounted, “‘Better elect a rhinoceros’ somebody said, ‘than an ass.’ And so they did.” In October, 1959, the disillusioned electorate of the country’s biggest city, São Paulo symbolically chose Cacareco, meaning “Rubbish,” a fat, four-year-old black rhino, born in Brazil, as their local representative. Borrowed from the zoo in Rio de Janeiro, for the opening of a sister facility in São Paulo, she was getting ready to return home, when a group of students had the brilliant idea that the popular Cacareco might prove a greater star attraction in the upcoming municipal polls. Faster than the phrase “Hold your horses,” stacks of printed ballots appeared in tens of thousands, stirring slogans were slapped on to slum walls, and a proud tradition of protest prevailed.
As dissatisfied Guyanese prepare to return to the polls later rather than sooner, many rapidly losing faith in their successive elected administrations, still stuck with uninspiring candidates from the major parties, and desperately hoping for genuine alternatives, animal or otherwise, those intending to campaign would do well to note the widespread revolt by the frustrated, during which Cacareco’s closest rival only managed about 10 000 votes.
Another defeated nominee, mortally infuriated and humiliated that he had been rejected in favour of a rumbling four-legged animal, shot and killed himself. “It was just a spontaneous whim,” one of the beaten party leaders grumbled. “A ridiculous vote for a ridiculous rhinoceros. Nowhere, and never before, have 100 000 literate adult voters cast their ballots for a silent, absent, and nut-brained quadruped, Diceros bicornis,” the mad-as-a-hornet nominee fumed, according to Carvalho.
Other pig-headed voters in the same election, apparently unimpressed by the rhino’s too clean record and worried about widespread declining intellectual capacity across the mammalian order, expressed disgust with the rhino’s human opponents, by placing precious black beans in the official voting envelopes instead of legitimate ballots.
The Zoo Director who knew her well, thought Cacareco, at least, deserved a cunning Councilman’s salary. However, election officials nullified all her ballots and a new election was held the next week. In an unusually candid opinion, the Director sympathised, “She’s an ugly beast,” openly admitting the candidate was “Very stupid. You could put her brain in a Brazil nut.” Carvalho concluded, “This was precisely the point the citizens of São Paulo wished to make: she still looked better to many of them than the candidates who were already running.” Four years earlier, the voters of the industrial area Jaboatão really got their goat when they elected another two-horned creature, this time a sweet-smelling hircine specimen christened Fragrant.
Macaco Tião, the Chimp finally ran for Mayor of Rio two decades ago. Tião attracted mass support for his “bad” temperament, being in the habit of throwing mud and faeces on zoo visitors, including politicians. In 1988, a magazine, Casseta Popular, jokingly created his extra official candidature, before the release of electronic voting machines. It is estimated over 400,000 ballots were cast for the simian. The ambitious ape climbed to third place in an election with 12 candidates, entering the Guinness World Records as the most voted chimpanzee.
In the words of the American journalist and scholar, H. L. Mencken, “Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage” while the comic George Carlin retorted, “Just ‘cause you got the monkey off your back doesn’t mean the circus has left town.”
Cacareco died in 1962, but her memory and magic live on in the dog-eat-dog world. Days ago, I was reminded of the rhino after reading about the incredibly-named Federal United Party (FED-UP), newly launched by three well known Berbice lawyers, Chandra Sohan, Ryan Crawford and Horatio Edmonson, who pledged to campaign for long-awaited reforms to Guyana’s Constitution, and electoral system, including through the direct selection of parliamentary representatives, and the creation of a federal government apparatus.
Former magistrate, Sohan declared at a press conference to announce FED-UP “When we look where Guyana is compared to where other countries are, we really haven’t made … (any) progress in this country,” explaining the party was created because “we felt disgusted with what we see.” As “we got more disgusted” and “we are now just fed up,” the trio realised that citizens were obviously “fed-up” too.
Recently a charge of witness tampering against Sohan was dismissed. Last June, he was found guilty of failing to render assistance to a road accident victim he struck along the Williamsburg, Corentyne Public Road and was charged for drunk driving. Crawford, who became a sensation on social media for an explosive expletive-laden tirade against a policeman during a traffic stop, ironically confessed he was rather nervous to speak at FED-UP’s launch. However, he managed to charge that Guyana has always been a police state where the government uses the force for its benefit and to persecute citizens.
“Voto Cacareco” has since become an immortal term within Brazil signifying a protest vote, and is well known internationally, leading to the infamous Rhinoceros Party of Canada, whose artist members insisted they were Cacareco’s spiritual descendants and appointed the powerful namesake specimen from the Granby Zoo near Montreal, Cornelius the First, as their leader, in 1963.
During their 30 years of delightful existence, the Rhinoceros Party used as its logo, a detailed woodcut of the slow-moving odd-toed ungulate by the Renaissance painter and printmaker, the German thinker, Albrecht Dürer, since politicians, by nature, are “thick-skinned, slow-moving (and) dim-witted,” but “can move fast as hell when in danger, and have large, hairy horns growing out of the middle of their faces…”
Distinguished for being the only known organisation publicly making “a promise to keep none of our promises” they upheld the rich tradition of political satire that goes back two millennia, starting from Incitatus the favoured horse of the “Mad Emperor” Caligula, who supposedly appointed the steed, his esteemed Consul of Rome.
The Rhinoceros Party vowed to build more nuclear power plants and to provide monthly coverage of lead underwear to every Canadian. In 1984, they spoke of destroying all small businesses and replacing them with “very small businesses” with less than one employee.
Their candidate, Stardust the Magician said he would build a roof over the Olympic Stadium from a single (Can)$25M handkerchief, while Bryan Gold indicated the party’s platform was two feet high and made of wood, pointing out: “My platform is the one I’m standing on.” Supporter, Ted ‘not too’ Sharp wanted to tow Antarctica north to the Arctic Circle for “Once we have Antarctica, we’ll control all of the world’s cold. If another Cold War starts, we’ll be unbeatable.”
ID is waiting for the irresistible Guyanese equivalent of Bosco the Dog, Dustin the Turkey, Billy Gumboot the Goat, Pigasus the Immortal and the Stubbs the Cat, to vote.