The following are excerpts from an interview by Mario Hernández with Argentine economist and political analyst Claudio Katz published by lahaine.org on March 20. (lahaine.org/bU5s) Translated by Michael Otto.
Mario Hernández: You wrote an article in La Haine, “Venezuela defines the future of the entire region.” (https://katz.lahaine.org/) Why?
Claudio Katz: Because it is very clear that what happens [in Venezuela] will determine whether in all of Latin America there is a shift to neoliberal authoritarianism or an opposite process of resuming a course of popular emancipation.
I think that what’s interesting about the current situation is that the coup-plotters’ failures are coming one after the other. The first happened when, upon Guaidó’s self-nomination as president, he said he would call elections in 30 days. Time has passed and this guy has carried out no presidential function at all.
The Venezuelan rightwing is experienced at mounting abortive coups; we can’t forget that it tried and failed five times since 2013, and this one isn’t succeeding either.
What happened on Feb. 23 is the second collapsed coup. It was supposed to be “D” day. All the opposition was betting the trucks would get in. None did, and the farce of humanitarian aid was exposed, because to deliver humanitarian aid you need political neutrality. There has to be a neutral entity separate from both sides of the dispute to help those who are in need. Neither the Red Cross nor the United Nations nor Doctors Without Borders nor any neutral body participated.
If the ones bringing “aid” really wanted to help the country, the first step should be to unblock the accounts that are preventing the financing of Venezuela. It’s the same [U.S.] hypocrisy as the embargo on Cuba.
I believe that this operation has been very well defined as a Trojan horse. It was a military action in disguise, because the humanitarian aid arrived on planes dispatched from U.S. bases in the Caribbean and was coordinated by Pentagon contractors.
Saturday F23 was an incredible farce. The famous bridge that Venezuela was alleged to have blocked to prevent aid had never been inaugurated and opened. The collectives were accused of burning the trucks, but they were burned from the Colombian side. It was a lot like Bush’s farce against Saddam Hussein, using weapons of mass destruction that never existed and that were the main pretext for the attack on Iraq.
Saturday F23 ended like one more guarimba [violent right-wing demonstration], with a group of rightwing provocateurs conducting a meaningless exercise and the hopefuls waiting for a major military desertion, a kind of Berlin Wall that was supposed to fall with the great desertion of [Venezuelan] armed forces crossing over to the Colombian side. It didn’t happen. There was pressure on the barracks and still nothing happened.
‘A third failure’
It seems to me, and I’m being a little more speculative, that we are beginning to witness a third failure, because the Brazilian vice president has already said that he opposes a military invasion. There is a clash with Bolsonaro [president of Brazil]. Military leaders, who are in effect ruling Brazil, are saying, “I don’t like the transfer of the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem”; “I don’t like the Alcántara base”; “I don’t want to get into a military adventure against Venezuela.” So this whole Lima Group is beginning to leak.
That’s why Vice President Mike Pence is complaining to Guaidó that he fooled him, because there was no military desertion, the social base of Chavismo is holding up, the regime is not collapsing.
What happened with Brazil is important because if Brazil puts on the brakes, Colombia will also begin to falter. Colombia alone is not going to be willing to launch a military operation. Colombian opposition leader Gustavo Petro is already campaigning against it, and then there are the other ridiculous countries. Chilean President Sebastián Piñera did an absurd show of going to Cúcuta [on the Colombia-Venezuela border] and came back empty handed, as did Paraguay and Panama.
There are failures in the self-nomination, in the humanitarian aid operation and in the Lima Group. The big question is whether the stakes get raised and whether they [the U.S.] are going to try a military operation.
There are many declarations. There is the U.S. ultra-right in Cúcuta. There is U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Díaz-Balart and these architects of [U.S.] massacres, Elliott Abrams and John Bolton. There are many boorish speeches. But it is very difficult to launch a seizure of territory and set up a parallel government [in Venezuela] following the Middle East model.
It’s even more difficult to arm an entire Latin American military contingent of the type that went to Haiti. I believe that what [the U.S. is] going to try are border operations, terrorism, limited actions, [like the U.S. did supporting and arming] the Nicaraguan Contras of the 1980s and 1990s.
Trump has a lot of problems with a military retreat in Syria, in Afghanistan and Iraq. He’s trying to make peace with North Korea because he doesn’t have the courage to do much more. The possibilities are very difficult for Trump to repeat: the 1983 [U.S.] invasion of Grenada, 1989 invasion of Panama or 2009 action in Honduras. Europe is not following him. There is a very strong crisis in NATO.
Therefore, I think the good news is that the right has problems. And we also have to make an evaluation of the other side.
Economic blockade by U.S.
MH: I was going to ask you about that, because although so far we understand it as a battle won, the economic situation in Venezuela has serious problems. … In your article I mentioned at the beginning, you pointed out that there was a 30 percent drop in [gross domestic product], a 50 percent drop in oil extraction, combined with the phenomenon of immeasurable hyperinflation.
CK: The situation is very grave and will get worse now because the blockade is going to increase. The U.S. has expropriated Citgo, so no one knows what is going to happen to the flow of dollars that Venezuela needs. There is a collapse of the economy that is primarily caused by the economic war, foreign sabotage and the siege; but the government must also bear responsibility because of its improvisation, impotence and complicity with the new so-called “bolibourgeoisie” [elements of the bourgeoisie within Bolivarian Venezuela who are not openly aligned with the right-wing opposition].
There are many Chavista economists who are critical [of government policies], proposing that now is the time to make a turn, because Venezuela needs to respond to the new aggression of embargoes and expropriation of Citgo, and the starting point would be a moratorium on debt. Venezuela has paid some $70 billion in interest on the debt, but now it is left with nothing. Many economists … propose the importance of an immediate moratorium … differentiating clearly the different bonds according to each creditor.
Venezuela needs to maintain a network of international economic alliances, which is indispensable. And it needs an economic policy based in the communes, in the dynamic of the popular economy but with a totally different macroeconomic orientation. And I believe that a turn of this kind is possible because there is a will to struggle.
‘Chavismo encompasses all the Venezuelan people’
What was demonstrated this past month is that there is a people and there is a government, because Chavismo is not only Maduro or the PSUV [United Socialist Party of Venezuela]. It is a political matrix that encompasses all the Venezuelan people. There is a resolve to resist, unlike what happened with Dilma [Rousseff, Brazilian president from 2011 until impeached by right-wing cabal in 2016].
Maduro has called six mobilizations in a matter of days, and he fights for the streets on equal terms with the right. There is a very strong patriotic feeling in the Army that blocks the campaign for defections.
MH: 300 defections out of 300,000 troops.
CK: There is a 20-year-old construction of consciousness of sovereignty in the Army; there is socialist education in the Armed Forces. In addition, the government is acting intelligently, maintaining serenity in the face of provocations. I believe that they learned from the 2017 guarimbas, [when] they launched tear gas against the fascist gangs, preventing them from escalating the guarimbas into an armed conflict and, above all, maintaining the flag of peace.
Nobody wants a civil war, and the government insists that’s what Trump is all about. They say they don’t want a massacre or a repeat of Libya. Eight years have passed since the Gaddafi coup and Libya no longer exists. It was dismembered and the main oil field is closed because armed groups fight over it. Each party has a local sheikh with whom it does business.
So the Venezuelan government carries out measured actions, closes the border, breaks relations with Colombia because the aggression is organized there. It has an intelligent international strategy; there are more countries that recognize its government than those that recognize Guaidó. [And] a military alliance with Russia, the actions preventing the U.N. from repeating the Saddam Hussein story, that is, stopping the U.N. from issuing a declaration that legitimizes an invasion. It is a struggle of David against Goliath. We must not lose sight of this, but the great battles were always like this.
‘It is possible to resist’
And as for Latin America … it’s key, it defines everything. I believe that if the right triumphs, it is like Pinochet’s coup [in Chile that overthrew the pro-socialist Allende government in 1973] … a change of era, 1973 in Latin America. That’s why resistance is so important and overcoming the climate of defeatism that exists among many progressives, while the superficiality of triumphalism that exists on the right fades away.
It is possible to resist. Cuba has been resisting for more than five decades. Iran for four decades. It is a complicated struggle. Of course it is. [As for the U.S.] it is not only a military campaign, it’s an attempt to demoralize “the enemy” using a media campaign in the battle for public opinion.
What Venezuela has going for it is that this war of public opinion is being commanded by a person of supreme ineptness like Trump and all his fascists in Miami.
In addition, the conflict is being internationalized. Banners in favor of Venezuela appeared among the Yellow Vests of France.
[Increasingly] you are either in favor of the coup or you are defending Venezuela. There is less and less space for that neutral world inhabited by some intellectuals who think that we have to be in the middle, that Maduro is as guilty as Guaidó, that a right-wing dictatorship is equal to government by Chavismo.
I believe that fortunately this type of position is losing strength. I comment on it because I have seen a shameful event, that a group of leftist intellectuals in Venezuela had a meeting with Guaidó.
MH: You mean the meeting of the group Socialist Tide (Marea Socialista).
CK: Exactly. It is shameful, unacceptable. It isn’t the subject matter that counts, but the act. Whatever they may have talked about, what matters is the photo op.
Function of a left movement
In addition, the function of a left-wing movement or party is not to be intermediaries, not to be the organizers of a mediation; that is what Uruguay, Mexico, the Vatican are for. A left-wing organization has to say what it is doing, what sector it’s working with. It is important to maintain distance from the counterrevolution, above all because this [position] goes hand in hand with very mistaken ideas, such that Maduro’s government is a dictatorship or a totalitarian government. Totally absurd.
I don’t agree with many things about Maduro’s government. I could write a pamphlet about the things I dislike. But it is not a repressive government. In reality, it’s a government that is more permissive than anything else. Very few governments would tolerate what Maduro endures.
It is a government that does not persecute popular sectors. It puts in prison those who have to be put in prison, who are the fascists who carry out coups d’état. They aren’t imprisoned for their opinions but for organizing coups d’état.
It is also completely ridiculous to say that it’s a dictatorship when every day there is [both] a massive right-wing protest and a huge demonstration in support of the government.
MH: In other words, a situation like that of Guaidó is not acceptable anywhere in the world and moreover without any authority.
CK: Yes. I think it is very auspicious what is happening among the left here because I remember that when the 2017 guarimbas occurred, there was a very big debate on the left. There was a sector that was thinking Maduro was the culprit, not the right. There were many hesitations.
It seems to me that [now] the whole left has turned around and is taking a correct position that not only denounces the coup without hesitation, but they march and they mobilize.
And so we must continue in the struggle, be in the mobilizations and be in the front row defending the Venezuelan people against imperialism.