A little before noon on a spring day, J.J. Rendón wakes up and dresses as usual in a Jedi-like black frock. He takes a drag on a cigarette and rubs sleep from his dark eyes. Golden statues line his shelves, and water burbles over a Buddhist shrine that’s a centerpiece of his bayside condo in Brickell’s Jade Residences, a 48-story tower with private elevators activated by thumbprint readers.
“My entire career, I’ve fought for democracy, equality, and civil rights,” he says in a quiet, sandpaper voice. “That’s made me unpopular in some circles.”
Rendón is virtually unknown in Miami, where he lives in exile from his native Caracas, but he’s become one of Latin America’s most important political figures, a Karl Rove-esque gun-for-hire for right-leaning candidates from Mexico to Honduras, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Aruba.
His biggest triumph yet came last month in Colombia’s presidential race, when he transformed a tightly knotted two-man race into a landslide victory for Juan Manuel Santos.
Rendón says he pulled off the win with shrewd management and a mastery of psychology. But Colombian journalists complain that his knack for gossip-mongering and engineering underground attacks — a skill that earned him the nickname “J.J. Rumor” — tainted the election.