By Andrea Sosa Cabrios and Denis Duttmann (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES – The German sociologist Heinz Dieterich still has a red beret that Hugo Chavez gave him in 1999. They were times of a close relationship between the promoter of “21st century socialism” and the former Venezuelan president, who adopted this idea as the stamp of his leadership.
The beret dedicated to Mirna, his wife, is intact and shown off at his apartment in Mexico City, where he has been living since 1976. His friendship with Chavez, however, slowly split after 2005.
Today, Dieterich, 74, is a strong critic of President Nicolas Maduro and he predicts a “catastrophic course” for Venezuela.
People say that you were Chavez’s ideologist. How would you define yourself?
Heinz Dieterich: I have always defined my relationship with him as a friendship. One night at the Miraflores Palace, we spoke about whether I was an adviser or not. And I told him: “Look, an adviser charges and an adviser is an employee. I am your friend because I want to tell you what I think.”
And how much did your ideas influence Hugo Chavez?
HD: He was the lieutenant colonel and he had some level of general culture. He was just missing contact with global politics and culture.
I could be of use to him in that respect. The second thing was something more immediate: politics in some way or another is like a business. When you launch a product, you need a “brand name” and a marketing strategy. He loved the concept of 21st century socialism. So he appropriated this concept. The third contribution I had was warning him about the certain illusions people who surrounded him had who didn’t know anything about economics.
In what ways are Chavez and Maduro different?
HD: The difference is that Chavez was extremely intelligent. And he had a vitality that let him work 18, 20 hours per day. The third thing is that he picked things up very quickly. Hugo was dialectical in his thoughts; he used to see a phenomenon from many different points of view. Maduro doesn’t have any of this. He is dogmatic in his way of thinking. He is unable to learn and that is because he doesn’t read. Chavez, just like Fidel (Castro), was always reading. This largely explains the catastrophe we are witnessing right now.
Many people say that Chavez also had much more charisma.
HD: Charisma in politics is essential. When you have charisma, you can convince and excite people. Generally-speaking, all great leaders have this attribute. Maduro doesn’t. He is a poor imitation of what Chavez once was, but he is such a bad imitation that he is a caricature.
How would you describe what is happening in Venezuela right now?
HD: With Donald Trump’s decision to put the squeeze on financially, the situation is on the verge of ending catastrophically. Every private corporation looks to not what only Wall Street does as a reference, but the US Treasury too. Not even China or Russia have global logistics that can be compared to this. This is a regression to the ‘60s, to the Cold War. This is what happened with the embargo on Cuba: you are either with us or you’re our enemy. Maduro and his gang haven’t understood that they need to seek a compromise. Now, they are one step away from falling into the abyss.
What is the abyss?
HD: It’s the repetition of what happened in Nicaragua. [I see] organized paramilitary forces in Colombia, in groups in the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon, who begin to destroy the national infrastructure. And this in turn then leads to an even more repressive situation. The National Assembly has practically been shut down and the internal regression in Venezuelan democracy is pointing more and more towards a tragic and bloody outcome.
What is the objective of US financial sanctions?
HD: The objective of Washington’s policy on Venezuela is to break the military’s solid union, because as the government only remains in power because of the military, if you manage to separate them, the government will immediately collapse. Everyone has their eyes on the military: the government has to keep their unity with it, the opposition has to successfully separate the military from the government, Washington as well. It’s really the key to the whole system’s power.
Is there anyone advising Maduro?
HD: In my opinion, he doesn’t have a quality team. The person really in power is Diosdado Cabello (Chavism’s number 2 man). He is a wizard in dirty palace war. Maduro has been the comic face for the policy that Diosdado Cabello orders.
A few months ago, you wrote that if the crisis were to get worse, the next step would be a military dictatorship. Do you see Venezuela going down this road?
HD: It seems to me that Venezuela is a social-democrat dictatorship. The government has systematically blocked and sabotaged all elections; it has blocked the Parliament which is controlled by an opposition majority. This is a dictatorship in my eyes, based on bayonets. The step to becoming an open military dictatorship is very short.
And then what would happen?
HD: Military men are very pragmatic. When they see that this doesn’t have a future anymore, they themselves will lead the coup. It makes sense because then they become the saviors of the Homeland. They take power, they call for elections and they save their skin because they will say: we are giving formal democracy back to the people on the condition none of us go to jail. And Maduro will go into exile. When things get desperate, this will be the step they take, but this time hasn’t come just yet.
What do you think about the role of the organized opposition in MUD coalition?
HD: The opposition is fragmented. It’s a mixed group, united just by their interest in ousting Maduro’s government and keeping it for themselves. When they won the elections in 2015, they thought that they got what they wanted. They underestimated Maduro’s group. They have lost their strategic initiative. Meanwhile, Maduro and his group have taken this initiative and invented the Constituent Assembly.
Is there still room for a negotiated way out of this crisis?
HD: People only negotiate when they think that they can’t win by any other means, and Maduro’s Government still isn’t convinced that its strategy will lead them to the abyss.
*Heinz Dietrich (Rotenburg an der Wumme, 1943) is a German sociologist and the chief promoter behind 21st century socialism. He has written over 30 books, some of which he wrote with Noam Chomsky. He manages a research center at the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana in Mexico City.