Wednesday July 06, 2022

Distorting democracy

May 14, 2019

Writing of the failed US-sponsored coup attempt in Venezuela on April 30, Uri Friedman of The Atlantic (5/1/19) referred to the Venezuelan branch of the coup as Juan “Guaidó’s pro-democracy movement.” The logical contradiction could scarcely be more pronounced: A wave of Friedman’s wand transforms a political force seeking the military overthrow of Venezuela’s elected government into a “pro-democracy movement.”

The Venezuelan government’s current mandate comes from winning an election on May 20, 2018 that was observed by more than 150 members of the International Electoral Accompaniment Mission. In a joint report, the observers said of the agency that organizes the country’s electoral process, “The technical and professional trustworthiness and independence of the National Electoral Council of Venezuela are uncontestable.” The Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America, one of the groups that participated in the observer mission, reported that the “results communicated by the National Electoral Council reflect the will of the voters who decided to participate in the electoral process.”

The Wall Street Journal (5/1/19) performed the same trick, writing that “Venezuela’s democratic leaders launched a revolt against Cuban-backed dictator Nicolas Maduro.” In the Journal’s universe, Maduro is a “dictator” despite heading a country with a legislative branch controlled by the opposition, where in October 2017 the opposition won five governorships, and which has thus far declined to arrest a politician agitating for a military putsch in open collaboration with hostile foreign powers, to the extent of entertaining the possibility of supporting a US invasion and supporting US-led sanctions that are devastating the country’s economy.

Imagine what the US would do with, say, someone acting in concert with a similarly energetic Iranian or Chinese effort to oust the US government. It’s not an exact analogy, since Iran and China have no history of ruthlessly dominating the region in which the US is located, but the point should be clear.

For the Journal, “Venezuela’s democratic leaders” are those who sat out the country’s election, claimed it was unfair and then declined to file an appeal with the country’s National Electoral Council (CNE). One is hard-pressed to imagine a more soundly democratic practice than Guaidó not running for president and then declaring himself president even as 80 percent of Venezuelans had never heard of him at the time. According to historian Tony Wood (London Review of Books, 2/21/19): 'Maduro won 68 percent of the vote, on a turnout of 46 percent -- more or less par for the democratic course in the US, but low by Venezuelan standards'.

Guaidó’s claim to power rests on the idea that, since this vote was invalid, not only is Maduro not the legitimate president but, according to a Transition Law the opposition released on January 8, there is no president. Constitutionally, this is shaky ground. Article 233 of the 1999 Venezuelan constitution specifies the circumstances under which a president can be replaced: death, resignation, removal by the supreme court, physical or mental incapacity, abandonment of post.

The National Assembly has a supervisory role to play in each of these scenarios, but nowhere does the constitution say that the legislature can claim executive power for itself. This is why the opposition instead cites Article 333, a provision that exhorts citizens to help re-establish constitutional order in the event that it is derogated by an act of force. In other words, the opposition is claiming the constitution no longer applies but that in the resulting “state of exception” the National Assembly is empowered to bring it into effect once more, as soon as Maduro -- whom it calls a “usurper” -- is removed. Another significant detail: Article 233 requires new elections within 30 days, but the opposition’s Transition Law makes no such specific commitment.

It’s hard to conceive of a case for considering such actions “democratic,” yet this is the record of those whom the Journal calls “Venezuela’s democratic leaders.”

Excerpted from: 'Distorting 'Democracy' in Venezuela Coverage'.