Thursday, January 24, 2019

Venezuela note

Secretary of State Marco Rubio thinks he's engineered a coup in Venezuela, and he's so thrilled he can't stand it, but I want to say that this doesn't mean people on the progressive side should believe him and come out to denounce whatever has just happened as a return to the old banana republic policy where the US government can "make the right decision for Venezuela" as triumphal Eli Lake puts it in the attached Bloomberg article, instead of Venezuela making its own decisions, because it's more complicated than that, and reducing it to a war between Trump and Maduro is exactly the wrong way to look at it (though exactly what Trump and Maduro would prefer you to do).

As indicated by the way the international community is reacting, with all but one of the members of the Lima Group founded in August 2017 to work toward a resolution of the Venezuela situation without the help of the Trump government (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru), as well as Ecuador (which hosts a couple of thousand Venezuelan refugees, see map below), backing the self-declared temporary president, Juan Guaidó against actual president Nicolás Maduro—while the exception, Mexico, is remaining neutral, as is the European Union.

Via BBC.

Maduro has been a truly terrible president—and I say this as someone who has never been willing to condemn his predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, and his so-called Bolivarian socialism—whose mismanagement has helped to create something like three and a half million refugees around Latin America, the US, and Spain, which is a real problem for Peru and Ecuador and above all Colombia (he's by no means entirely responsible for the crisis, but he's been wholly incapable of dealing with it). But the constitutional crisis that began when the 2015 elections put the opposition in veto-proof control of the National Assembly can't be resolved by the obviously illegal means he's used to resolve it, especially the creation of a Constituent Assembly in which a third of the members were elected by "social sectors" instead of municipalities, and which was supposed to be drafting a new constitution but ended up appropriating all the legislative power to itself, leaving the National Assembly powerless to do anything at all, and then last year's presidential election, the irregularities of which (most candidates were barred from running, for instance, and the date kept getting changed, leading to an incredibly low turnout of somewhere between 17% and 46%) caused it to be rejected by the UN, the EU, the OAS, and a host of nations not including Russia, China, Cuba, Syria, or Turkey.

And it can be resolved legally by the means that are now being sort of staged, according to article 233 of the constitution providing that the leader of the National Assembly (who is Juan Guaidó) assume the presidency in the absence of a legitimately elected president until such a time as a new presidential election can be held, and article 333, which "calls for citizens to restore and enforce the constitution if it is not followed."

There hasn't been a coup at all, whatever Rubio may be hoping. Maduro is in power, and the military has been backing him all along, though that could possibly change. The American plan involves lifting sanctions on the Venezuelan government now that there is, in the American view, a legitimate president, and shipping them money (kind of the way they accuse Obama of shipping money to Iran, only for real), and does not seem to envisage any violence, only the distribution of humanitarian aid, which Venezuelans really need, and lots of demonstrations (which National Guard members have been allowing to go on).

Any US intervention other than humanitarian assistance will, in my opinion, be self-defeating, even if it's only money, contributing to Maduro's popularity as he reminds people of the long history of gringo efforts to dominate (as he's been doing in speeches, ignoring the rest of the world and focusing on the honor of being hated by Trump), and Trumpy threats will certainly make things worse:
A senior American official briefing reporters in Washington warned that if Mr. Maduro used force against opponents, the United States could impose new sanctions, and did not rule out the use of military force to stop him. It was not the first time the Trump administration has warned of a “military option” for Venezuela.
But the possibility of a People Power outcome could be a really good thing. I'd hope our government moves really slowly and doesn't try to get ahead of events with a régime change program. The best chances are if the Lima Group completely manages the international response and the US doesn't try to take over. Trump's and the Senate Republicans' incompetence may be a plus here.

For much more on the situation itself see our friend Paul:

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