The results of the Colombian elections on May 25th seemed to spell disaster for those rooting for President Juan Manuel Santos. The final results of the day showed that, out of the five candidates, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, the Centro Democrático’s (and ex-president Alvaro Uribe Velez’s) candidate, emerged in the lead with 29.26% of the votes. Behind was Santos, with 25.66%. However, more alarming was that abstention levels nationwide were over 60%, the highest Colombia had ever seen. Many polls predicted a victory for Zuluaga during the runoff elections on June 15th, so how could Santos expect to pull ahead?
Not only was Santos betting it all on the Colombian Peace Process, but he had to contend with an “alleged” viral video where a shop owner decried Santos’ policies, until finally screaming that she would vote for Zuluaga as she forcefully threw an orange at the floor. Santos had never been seen as the most charismatic or people-oriented politician, so it appeared that only a miracle could turn the tables.
And the miracle came in the form of an 85-year old named Ana Mercedes Plata.
After the video of “the madwoman with the oranges,” as the video is now known, another video began popping up on the Internet. In it, Mercedes, or “mechas,” as she is affectionately called, was filmed ranting about the candidates. In the video, Mercedes explains that she will not vote for “Zurriaga,” because he has policies that will hurt the older population in Colombia, and so she explains her vote will go to “Juanpa,” as she calls the President.
The video blew up all over the Internet over the past two weeks, all while Santos attempted to redirect his message to be more effective before the runoff elections.
And on Sunday, after receiving 50.95% of the votes (while Zuluaga only got 45.00%, with abstention at only 7%), Juan Manuel Santos was re-elected president of Colombia. And, unsurprisingly, one of the first people he thanked in his speech was Mercedes, exclaiming that, after he had visited her this past Friday and seen how affected she was by the economy and the violence, she need not worry because “here is your Juanpa!“
As someone who spends too much of his free time on the Internet—watching memes and viral videos be born and using social media as a tool for spreading content and messages—I have been taken aback by the impact of a video and want to analyze what aspects of it made it so effective.
For starters, the video is completely honest. There have been attempts by many to create forced viral videos that look”‘real” (including the video of the lady with the oranges), and those videos fail. On the other hand, videos of cute babies, silly cats, and even this endearing grandmother, catch us off guard because of their sincerity.
Second, many cultural aspects of the video helped Santos. The 85-year-old woman uses a very watered down vocabulary, speaking in very simple terms; even her nickname of Abuelita (endearing term for grandmother), which appears in the video’s title, evokes the image of a quaint and kind matriarch of the family. Moreover, Mercedes hails from Santander, a section of Colombia known for the honesty (see: crassness) and temper of its people. This aspect of Mercedes comes through in the video, not only in her passionate address, but in some other entertainment bits, like when she calls cell phones “that f***ing doohickey that she does the thing with her finger to the one side and the other,” or when she says that her niece (a “Zurriaga” supporter) “can go f**k herself.” This dichotomy between a sweet old woman and her sharp tongue is entertaining and light-hearted.
And speaking of “Zurriaga,” we see the last aspect that caused this video to go viral. Unintentionally, Mercedes was able to rename the candidates forever; Oscar Ivan Zuluaga is now known as “Zurriaga,” and Juan Manuel Santos is now known as “Juanpa” (a shortened and endearing version of the name Juan Pablo). The way she doesn’t bother to correct herself, or even notice her mistake, again makes the vide lively, which was much needed in the midst of a very polarized and divisive election cycle. So powerful was this change of names that many at Santos’ headquarters wrote the name “Juanpa” on their flags, and the President even called himself “Juanpa,” an obvious nod to the video.
Finally, as soon as the video came out, Santos actually visited Mercedes and even thanked her during the speech, changing his image from a cold and distant man to a kind and friendly soul.
Where campaign and PR experts failed, doña Mechas succeeded. Where acid tongues and a combative attitude between candidates failed, the sincerity of an 85-year-old disgruntled Colombian succeeded. And in only two weeks, this video played a large role in not only making people go out to vote, but also in handing Santos the victory.
As ecstatic as I am that the election results mean that I could see peace and the end to a 50-year-old conflict that has claimed countless lives, I must agree, along with many more Colombians, that it probably wouldn’t have happened if not for Abuelita Mercedes, who voted NO for “Zurriaga” and YES for “Juanpa.”
Abuela Mercedes NO Voto Por “Zurriaga” Y SI Por “Juanpa” YouTube, 9 June 2014. Web. 16 June 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGy9RBVUMPQ>.
Curioso Comercial “La Loca De Las Naranjas” Por Zuluaga Presidente. YouTube, 10 June 2014. Web. 16 June 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuShK0szwOw>.
Discurso De Juan Manuel Santos Reeleccion 1 De 2. YouTube, 15 June 2014. Web. 16 June 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeTmSr4O7gU>.
“Elecciones Colombia: Los Dos Videos Que Tienen Agitadas Las Redes.” Semana. Publicaciones Semana, 10 June 2014. Web. 16 June 2014. <http://www.semana.com/nacion/elecciones-2014/articulo/elecciones-colombia-los-dos-videos-que-tienen-agitadas-las-redes/391103-3>.
Guarnizo, José. “Esta Es Mercedes, La Abuela Que No Votará Por ‘Zurriaga'” Semana. Publicaciones Semana, 11 June 2014. Web. 16 June 2014. <http://www.semana.com/nacion/articulo/esta-es-mercedes-la-abuela-que-no-votara-por-zurriaga/391263-3>.
“Juan Manuel Santos Reelegido Presidente De Colombia.” Eltiempo.com. El Tiempo,15 June 2014. Web. 16 June 2014. <http://www.eltiempo.com/politica/partidos-politicos/juan-manuel-santos-reelegido-presidente-de-colombia/14123803>.
“Zuluaga Y Santos Se Enfrentarán En Segunda Vuelta.” Portafolio.com.co. CEET, 25 May 2014. Web. 16 June 2014. <http://www.portafolio.co/economia/elecciones-presidenciales-resultados>.