A coup is being orchestrated in Venezuela. Under the guise of constitutional authority and a supposed restoring of democracy, Juan Guaidó, the President of the National Assembly, declared himself the interim president of Venezuela, challenging the legitimacy of the elected president, Nicolás Maduro. Although Guaidó was relatively unknown prior to being the president of Venezuela’s legislature, he quickly received the international recognition of many countries, as well as direct material support, with President Donald Trump refusing to rule out military intervention.
Nevertheless, what is happening here not only violates Venezuelan constitutional law, but is fundamentally undemocratic. Guaidó’s decision to contest Maduro’s legitimacy is another attempt to take power away from poor and rural communities, who largely support Maduro, and give it to the wealthy elite of the nation. Guaidó himself has been described as “more popular outside Venezuela than inside, especially in the elite Ivy League and Washington circles.” The opposition is also representative of the growing rise of conservatism in Latin America, most recently visible with the election of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. And the international recognition, led by the U.S., represents a history of imperialist American policies, both within Venezuela and around the world.
The current situation is the pinnacle of the ongoing struggle engulfing Venezuela. To start, even Guaidó’s claim to power is illegitimate; after being sworn in on Jan. 23, he claimed he had the authority to do so under Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution. However, Article 233 states that an interim president can only be called if the president “shall become permanently unavailable to serve.” Maduro does not meet any of the qualifications for being permanently unavailable and the National Assembly does not have the authority to declare that he is. In other words, there is no legal basis for the declaration of Juan Guaidó as interim President, and any action taken to contradict that violates Venezuelan law and sovereignty.
And while this recent event seemed to occur spontaneously, this was actually the result of a well-coordinated, secretive and systematic attack on the Maduro government. As reported by AP, Guaidó was planning his coup as early as December, during which he met with U.S., Colombian and Brazilian government officials to discuss. Within this context, the event seems less like a genuine attempt to supposedly restore democracy and more like a premeditated scheme from the right-wing, pro-business sector of the international community.
This partly became possible through Trump’s outspoken desire to intervene in Venezuela. With this in mind, one must thoroughly question the legitimacy of anyone who has Trump’s support — does anyone truly believe that the man notorious for separating children from their parents cares about human rights? Furthermore, does anyone believe President Trump genuinely cares about the lives of Venezuelans? The same man who refused Venezuelan immigrants and even went so far as increasing the number of deportations of Venezuelans?
The only thing more obvious than the answers to those questions is the U.S.’s historic involvement in interventionism. For the last two centuries, every decade has seen some form of foreign intervention by the United States, with a dramatic increase since the end of the Cold War. Almost all of these fail to meet stated U.S. policy objectives and end up doing more harm than good. Even Venezuela itself has had its share of U.S. interventionism; documents reveal that the U.S. was completely aware of the 2002 Venezuelan coup well before it occurred despite denying any knowledge of the coup and blaming then-President Hugo Chavez.
Research confirms that the primary policy objective of economic sanctions is regime change, and frequently the sanctions end up leaving the country in a worse condition. Ultimately, this situation is another attempt at installing an imperialist democracy. Imperialist democracies are democracies in name only, most of which were created at the request of or directly by the U.S. They claim to represent the will of the majority but in reality, they represent a small business class, with vested interests in a particular region.
As students at a university in the U.S., we have a particular responsibility to speak out against the illegitimate, undemocratic and immoral actions of our government, especially as they begin to posture themselves more towards military intervention. And while the situation may sound bleak, there is still hope. What is most important for any sense of justice to be achieved is for power in Venezuela to be restored where it should belong: with the Venezuelan people, especially those most marginalized.
Email Cole Stallone at [email protected]