once said. But he is all that at the same time if it guarantees him to stay
in power forever
the above citation is due to manuel Caballero
in an excellent interview by Mori Ponsowy that appeared in March in the argentinean La Nacion. I have seldom read anything that condensates so
well my own perception of Hugo Chavez.
Here’s the translated interview and here’s my post. Enjoy.
CARACAS .- Manuel Caballero is one of the most known and
respected historians of Venezuela. National Journalism Award (1979),
National History Prize (1994) and Simon Bolivar Prize Biennale (2001), his
fame, however, is not due to his academic work, but is rather due to his
continuing work as an essayist and opinion journalist . Always
controversial, his articles generate debate not only about historical
issues, but also about the most pressing contemporary issues. Since 1965,
he has been collaborator of newspapers such as El Nacional, El Diario de
Caracas and, currently, El Universal. Despite his long militancy in the
left, the lucidity of his analysis, the iconoclasm of his ideas, and his
fervent opposition to the paternalism of the state has become a required
Sunday reading for all sectors.
Author of more than 50 books, his
writings combine historical erudition and a witty pen. He is famous for his
sense of humour and his mordacity. Our appointment is at nine o’clock, but
he suggests that it may be earlier. “At eight I have already written my
article, read all the newspapers, and when my wife lived, I had given her
her first beating,” he says, laughing at his own joke.
alone in a small apartment that, like many in Caracas, overlooks the Avila
mountain. In the bright and colorful living room where he receives La
NaciÃ³n there is a table full of ornaments where live together a high Simon
Bolivar in wood, with all Mafalda’s characters. He points to us other
Argentines characters on the table: three small plastic dolls,
representing Evita, Peron and Gardel.
Caballero militated for
eighteen years in the Communist Party, was arrested during the
dictatorship, and was a founder and a member of the Movimiento al
Socialism party until it decided to support Chavez. “I told them
explicitly that if they were going to devote themselves to lick the
ass of the military, they could count me out”. Since 1958, when Perez
Jimenez felt, I have criticized every single ruler”, says Caballero, that
prides himself on not having ever worked for any government.
“That’s what gives me the authority to oppose now. I even told Ramon J.
Velasquez, whom I admire, when he assumed the presidency, that I was not
only in opposition, but that I wanted him to make a bad government so that
we Venezuelans remove from our heads the idea that everything should come
from the State. “
When asked about his political militancy, he
replies that first and foremost he is antimilitarist. “If being
antimilitarist is to be left, as I was always taught, I am on the left; if
it means to be from the right, I am on the right, if it means being in the
center, I will be in the center. But, one thing is for sure, in each case I
am in the extreme: extreme left, extreme right or extreme center.”
– Is there a socialist government in Venezuela?
This government is not socialist nor on the facts or in its approach. Hugo
Chavez is not a communist, nor a socialist or a Muslim, as he once said.
But he is all that at the same time if it guarantees him to stay in power
forever. Chavez is a chavista and what he loves about Fidel Castro
are not things that Fidel did or failed to do in Cuba, but the fact that he
has been almost half a century in power.
– Why do you claim that
Chavez is not a socialist?
- I am tempted to respond by saying that
I refer to the proofs. But I will be more friendly. The problem with the
word “socialism” is the emotional and mythic charge that it carries.
With the same word have been designated very different doctrines and
practice policies. Socialist was Stalin, like Hitler, who was a
national-socialist, and socialist was Pol Pot, on the other hand, Willy
Brandt was also a socialist. The political practice of Chavez resembles the
fascism of Mussolini and his Latin American version which was Peron, with
the difference that Peron was supported by the organised working class,
while the fundamental support for Chavez are the marginal class.
Do you find other similarities between Chavez and Peron?
- As Peron,
and perhaps more than him, Chavez is the largest demagogue in the history
of Latin America. There is a confessed liking by Chavez of Peron. When he
was in full election campaign, when he was nationalizing a group of
argentineans, he ended his speech by saying “Viva el General Peron!” In the
Paseo Vargas he made erect a statue of Evita alongside the “Che” Guevara.
Another big similarity is the use of democratic mechanisms to combat
– Do you think that is why Chavez has much sympathy in
- I would not say that the Argentine people support
Chavez, but the Argentine government does. Unfortunately, we live in a
world in which Christian charity has prevailed for thousands of years and
appreciation for the alms manifests itself in a lot of people who prefer to
reach out their hands to receive, instead of making it callous by hard
work. Over there there are eight hundred thousand dollars roaming that are
not little thing: the one who is willing to receive them is willing to be
– What are the greatest achievements of the current
- I owe three things to the government of Hugo
Chavez. First, having taught me that political parties, as
individuals, are capable of suicide. Second, having me shown that the
people can be wrong. And thirdly, giving me the evidence of how
unable to govern are the military. This is not the first government that
shows these things, but it is the first to combine all three
– Do you think it will be possible to export the
Bolivarian revolution to the rest of Latin America?
- Lenin, who
created a special organization to export the revolution and who had the
support of a nation of two hundred million people did not suceed in that
quest, nor Mao, with more than one billion Chinese people as enthusiastic
supporters, and neither Fidel, despite how well he succeeded in exploiting
his romantic image of a guerrilla leader. Do you think that that could be
achieved by such a politically and ideologically inconsistent
character as Chavez?
- Reading about the country, I am surprised at
getting versions that are diametrically opposed on the same fact, depending
on who is consulted. How can we know the truth in today’s
- One of the most pernicious things that are due to this
government is an absolute division of the society, as it had never existed
in our country. The social hatred is well known, both as the geographical
distribution of the facts and consciences. Here, now, you are absolutely
right because you are my friend, or you are not right because you are my
enemy, rather than you are my friend because you are right. All this makes
it very difficult to know where is the truth. However, sometimes the myths
can be undone by studying the same official discourse. At one point, the
president said that he was going to launch a campaign to eradicate
illiteracy, and that it was a shame that 10% of adults did not know how to
read or write. That single sentence contains a contradiction: if it is the
only government that has been involved in literacy how is it that the
remaining 90% of the population can read and write? On another occasion he
said: “I have never supported or support the FARC. If I support the
FARC, the Venezuelan people would be entitled to throw me out of
– Why Venezuela became involved in the recent
- The intrusion by the Venezuelan
government has two and only two explanations: the first is the alliance
between the Colombian bandits of the FARC and the Venezuelan government,
and the second is the search for an external enemy to allow Chavez, on the
one hand, to redo his virginity in a matter of popularity through an
ultranationalist speech and, on the other, to compact the Venezuelan armed
forces behind him.
– Can the offensive by the Venezuelan
Goverment be interpreted as an attempt to avoid the American meddling in
– Contrary to what the Chavista propaganda
would like us to believe, it is the Venezuelan meddling in the conflict
which could lead to a more open and active interference of the US. There is
no Venezuelan national interest to justify interfering in the matter,
except Chavez’s personal interest of provoking an intervention that could
allow him to stay in power forever using the same alibi as Fidel
– Do you think that, with regard to Venezuela, the
resolution of the border crisis is a final one?
- Neither this
crisis, nor any other similar crisis arising in the future will have a real
and definitive solution while Chavez remains in power. His policy remains
focused on the exploitation of nationalism and the militarization of the
– Has the situation of the marginalized
classes improved with Chavez?
- Yes, it is undeniable. But those are
the social sectors most likely to accept and prefer the bestowal. Due to
their status, they do not think what may happen next week because their big
problem is what they are going to eat this evening. Chavez has used the
bestowal as a policy, especially at times of elections. But the hard alms
lasts what the alms lasts. Chavez has been governing for ten years, and
some people are starting saying that they would rather collect a
salary at the end of the month than continue receiving alms. It is a matter
– Do you think that the balance of the Bolivarian
revolution may have something positive in the sense that it woke up the
middle class to participate in politics?
- I believe that the only
legacy of the Bolivarian revolution is the independence of Venezuela, but I
suppose that you did not refer to our Independence Revolution. It is that
this can not be called neither “revolution” nor “Bolivarian”! That
“Bolivarian” is a sovereign stupidity. Bolivar was not even a Democrat: was
an aristocrat of the eighteenth century, a son of the Enlightenment.
Therefore the “Bolivarian socialism” is almost an oxymoron, like saying
– And “revolution”?
– But is that Chavez
has not even nationalized a grocer’s shop (a bodega) in the llano! Here the
basic industries had already been nationalized, and without
– Are there political prisoners in Venezuela?
course! One example: there are three commissioners of the Metropolitan
Police that have been prisoners for three years, they have not been able to
judge them because they have not found how to do it. And about the
impartiality of judges I will give you just one example: last year, at the
opening ceremony of the judicial year, all the judges began to shout “Uh,
ah, Chavez no se va!” That had been one of the slogans of the
campaign by itself. What independence of the judiciary is that?
Considering that Chavez’s opposition is ranging from the extreme left to
extreme right, what chance of success do you think it may have in the
regional elections in November?
- The opposition has committed many
errors. Perhaps the most serious was to be drifted along by radical groups
flying the promise that Chavez could be overthrown. Just now the opposition
is learning that that is not the way to get rid of ChÃ¡vez. Leon Blum
said that politics is a game where not all hits are collected, but where
all mistakes are paid double. We are paying the mistake of having
elected Chavez. The worst plague that can fall to a people is to have a
military government. I would not know when we will finish paying because I
am convinced that Chavez is not going to leave power unless it is by force,
but that does not mean necessarily through a military coup. We have to
accept the idea that the fight is tough and possibly long, that we screwed
up very deep and that when he goes away he will leave us a country in ruins
and, if that were not enough, ungovernable.