Lecturing Venezuela

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Think of how it grates with the non-interference doctrine enshrined in the UN Charter. Article 2(4) makes it clear the principle prohibits the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. Such interference, goes the canonical text Oppenheim's International Law, 'must be forcible or dictatorial, or otherwise coercive, in effect depriving the state intervened against of control over the mater in question'.

Juan Guaidó delivers a speech during a demonstration on 26 January 2019 in Caracas, Venezuela (Marco Bello/Getty Images)But many countries, most purporting to be of the liberal democratic mould, have been very happy to make Venezuela the exception. President Nicolás Maduro must go, and the Venezuelan opposition leader and President of the National Assembly Juan Guaidó, appointed in his stead. The latter's own bogus theory on usurpation is to claim he is merely dealing with a usurper himself. 'I swear to assume all the powers of the presidency to secure and end to the usurpation.'

On 15 January, the president of the National Assembly was permitted space in The Washington Post to claim his country was witnessing something without precedent, a point that should immediately cast some suspicion on any claim. 'We have a government that has dismantled the state and kidnapped all institutions and manipulate them at will.' Various US publications, in traditional imperial voice, have also been supportive.

But even Guaidó had to concede that his case for Venezuela was not conventional: it could not, for instance, be said that his country was your classic run-of-the-mill dictatorship with packed prisons and death camps. 'The regime may have ties to drug trafficking and guerrilla groups, but we also have a functioning, democratically elected parliament, the National Assembly.'

It did not take US President Donald Trump long to acknowledged Guaidó's declaration as legitimising an interim presidency, one that will ensure a transition of loyalty to the United States. 'The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law.' Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Peru and Argentina have similarly pitched in, accepting Guaidó as the appropriate interim replacement. More to the point, it is an acknowledgment that the mood is proving increasingly friendly to Washington in these circles.

Other states in Europe have also shown a brazen tendency to lay down timelines and advance demands in favour of Guaidó. 'Unless elections are announced within eight days,' suggested France's unpopular President Emmanuel Macron, 'we will be ready to recognise @jguaido as "President in charge" of Venezuela in order to trigger a political process.' A pretty rich thing coming from a leader whose own legitimacy and aloofness has been mocked in recent months.

Similar demands issued from Spanish Prime Minster Pedro Sanchez, yet another figure who has decided to make Venezuelan politics his beef. 'The government of Spain gives Nicolás Maduro eight days to call free, transparent and democratic elections. If that doesn't happen, Spain will recognise Juan Guaidó as interim president in charge of calling these elections.'

 

"The schismatic spectacle of two governments seeking to pull the strings has become an absurdly disruptive prospect — and many a countries' self-appointed business."

 

Maduro's response has been predictably sharp. 'We've had enough interventionism, here we have dignity damn it.' Unfortunately for the Maduro regime, the issue of dignity has little part in the regular foreign incursions, mainly by the United States, that have marked the affairs of Latin America for decades. He can count on some support, though opponents will scoff at the choices: China, Russia and Turkey take the view that non-interference should be the rule.

None of this should be taken to be an endorsement of Maduro. His interpretation of the democratic mandate has been shoddy. The country is going hungry. An initially promising socialist agenda has unravelled. He is of a firm tradition in the Americas: authoritarianism breeds revolt, which breeds authoritarianism.

But Maduro has good reasons to deride opponent and the warm embrace by US officials of the movement seeking to remove the Chávista. The memory of 2002 and the failure on the part of Washington to remove Hugo Chávez remains strong and persistent. Chávez, while resisting the urge to initiate a cleansing bloodbath and broad police measures, neutralised the power of his opponents, be they in the Supreme Court or the corporate media. Maduro has merely been one of Chávez's more enthusiastic students in that regard.

Maduro's fate may well fall to the dispensing grace of the army. So far, the country's defence minister Vladimir Padrino is holding firm, as are other state functionaries who do not feel that Guaidó has made a good enough case. They will not recognise the choice of an opposition leader 'imposed by shadowy interests… outside the law'. Such stances, as history shows, change, but the schismatic spectacle of two governments seeking to pull the strings has become an absurdly disruptive prospect — and many a countries' self-appointed business.

 

 

Binoy KampmarkDr Binoy Kampmark is a former Commonwealth Scholar who lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

Main image: Juan Guaidó delivers a speech during a demonstration on 26 January 2019 in Caracas, Venezuela (Marco Bello/Getty Images)

 

Topic tags: Binoy Kampmark, Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, Juan Guaidó, Donald Trump

 

 

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Existing comments

I agree with your opinion Doctor Kampmark. The US has a very long history of sponsoring or supporting leaders in Latin America which sing to their songsheet. While I do not support the policies of Maduro and the obvious failure of his economic policies, it is up to the people of the country to end his rule, not outside forces. The hypocrisy is apparent; one rule for us , another rule for you. If the US intervenes militarily as Trump has threatened to do, it will be yet another failure for the United States as has been to case since their failed involvements in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The days of such forays are now well and truly over. How long will it take them to learn?
Gavin O'Brien | 30 January 2019


Why is Venezuela the business of other countries? Because what happens in Venezuela doesn’t stay in Venezuela but spills over as people outflows into other countries?
roy chen yee | 30 January 2019


Does the announcement that Spain, France, Britain, America will not recognize the corrupt government of Venezuela constitute a threat or a use of force ? The USA is imposing economic sanctions via temporarily withholding payment for oil. Britain the same temporary premise with its actions. China and Russia are also receiving oil and not paying for it. What a surprise they want this process to continue. Oil sales to China and Russia will never see a return of payment to Venezuela rather, these funds will find their way into foreign banks with a Maduro or military general name on it. Let’s ask : Do the actions of these western democracies cause a faster or slower change in government ? Are faster changes likely to be more bloody or less bloody? Are they likely to provide a better future for the country or not? These are the questions we should be asking in the context of the laws and resolutions cited otherwise we risk falling into the trap of intellectual discussion and dare I say it, a prideful one that argues a point to the misery and suffering of a people. Bring on the change. Good luck to the good people of Venezuela. Might the future be brighter than the dark days of the last decade.
Patrick | 31 January 2019


I think it is a pity that ES did not take the opportunity of commissioning a second article to balance that of Dvid James, rather than just another from the same anti-American, pro-socialist stable. It is surely a reasonable case that Chavez`s Venezuela is dying through its own quasi-socialist contradictions and corruption, and that the suffering of its people needs to be brought to an end; an article arguing this would be more than appropriate.
Eugene | 31 January 2019


I find it very annoying that Socialist (not Communist) regimes are labelled undemocratic, authoritarian and repressive where as Right wing regimes, often themselves repressive and undemocratic dictatorships backed by the military and vested interests such as big business, as have often been the case in Latin America in the past century or so are seen as desirable forms of government, despite their history of repression of the working class, indigenous people and anyone else daring to oppose their anti libertarian policies . I pose the question to those supporting the overthrow of governments they don't like; would you like to live under one? I would very much doubt it!
Gavin O'Brien | 03 February 2019


What is Maduro's legitimacy given he would not let anyone credible run against him? I don't care what is done against socialist dictators.
Bob | 13 February 2019


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