efe-epaAna Mengotti Miami

A Venezuelan-born journalist who has followed up his book about the superstitions of Hugo Chavez with one about the influence of late Indian spiritual guru Sathya Sai Baba on Nicolas Maduro says that nearly all recent presidents of that oil-rich South American country have been adherents of witchcraft.

"We're a superstitious country. It's a cultural thing," said David Placer, who has lived in Spain for 20 years and is currently in the United States to present "El dictador y sus demonios. La secta de Nicolás Maduro que secuestró a Venezuela" (which roughly translates as The Dictator and His Demons: The Maduro Sect that Kidnapped Venezuela), published by Amazon.

In that work, a follow up to his 2015 book "Los brujos de Chavez," the journalist compiles the results of his research into a little-known facet of Venezuela's leftist president, Maduro, who is denounced as a dictator by the opposition and is facing a leadership challenge from National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido.

Guaido proclaimed himself interim president in January and has been recognized as such by the United States, most of the major European powers and around 50 other countries, while China, Russia, India and dozens of other nations continue to back Maduro.

In recent days, the ex-head of Venezuela's military intelligence, Hugo Carvajal, who has distanced himself from Maduro and is currently jailed in Spain on a US arrest warrant, said the Venezuelan head of state spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on Cuban "santeros," as priests of the Santeria religion are known.

The dissident Chavista (the political movement launched more than two decades ago by Maduro's late predecessor and political mentor, Hugo Chavez) also said Maduro is a "Santeria devotee" and "follower of Sai Baba," remarks that support the thesis of "El dictador y sus demonios" and also give it a marketing boost, Placer, who will present his book on Friday in Houston after doing so in Miami, joked.

In his research, the 40-year-old journalist said he had verified that besides being a devotee of Sathya Sai Baba (1926-2011) and client of Santeria priests, Maduro - a professed "Christian" - has a brujo (practitioner of witchcraft) in Miami who travels frequently to Caracas to read his future in the cards.

That brujo's name is Cirilo Enrique Rodulfo, a former soldier who charges a hefty fee for his services, Placer said.

The journalist furthermore said that Maduro has publicly recognized his relationship with Sai Baba in two different interviews.

Roughly 1,200 Sai Baba centers are located in 114 countries worldwide, while millions of people are devotees of the late guru, according to sources with the Sathya Sai Baba organization.

Placer, who maintains that every Venezuelan president since 1958 - except Rafael Caldera - has been an adherent of black magic, says it is the product of the "solitude of power" and of "not trusting anyone."

The journalist says Venezuelan leaders not only want brujos to tell them their future and warn them of conspiracies and other dangers but also have been known to task them with crushing their rivals and enemies.

Regarding the famous "pajarito" episode, in which Maduro told the nation shortly after the death of Chavez (1954-2013) that the spirit of the late leader appeared to him as a small bird, Placer said it could be that the Venezuelan president - like his political mentor - believes in reincarnation.

While some claim that Maduro invented the story to win over Chavez's supporters ahead of his first presidential election victory in April 2013, Placer said that "he really believes in those things."

In a curious side note, Sai Baba and Maduro were both born on the same day of the year, Nov. 23, Placer said, adding that the 56-year-old Venezuelan president tells his inner circle that that is not a coincidence.

ar/mc