Venezuela – Maduro’s Power Grab Election

The front page article in Monday’s (7/31/2017) Seattle Times, falsely suggests that Sunday’s (7/30/17) election in Venezuelan was a power grab by Pres. Nicholas Maduro to gain dictatorial power.

This was an election for delegates to a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the country’s Constitution and was called by Pres. Maduro according to article 347 and 348 of the Venezuelan Constitution.  Opponents incongruously call this election undemocratic.  Yet more than 6000 candidates qualified to run by obtaining signatures of 3% of their respective constituencies.  The elected delegates have only eight very vague, general, totally high-sounding and unobjectionable guidelines.  So they have no mandate to make Maduro a dictator or anything like that and are therefore totally free to propose any changes to the government and electoral structure they want.  This open process belies the claim that it is “aimed at giving greater power to Pres. Nicholas Maduro.”  But it was a completely legitimate and lawful maneuver by Maduro.  To claim that the democratic election of an assembly to amend the constitution under provisions of the current constitution is undemocratic is counterintuitive and patently false.

The  Time’s article also misleadingly states that the “new assembly would contain only Maduro loyalists,” without mentioning that the opposition boycotted the election, so naturally the candidates are likely Maduro supporters.  The article goes on to claim that the body would replace the democraticall y elected National Assembly, which is sheer one-sided, negative speculation.  Why would a duly elected body cede power to a dictator?  Let’s wait and see what they come up with.  Finally the new draft constitution will be submitted for approval of the people in a referendum.  That’s an undemocratic power grab?

The flood of negative and distorted news articles and opinion pieces in the press, along with  the US government’s staunch opposition to Maduro, including the imposition of sanctions and even a threat of a military option, makes no sense. What interest does the US government have in intervening in the government of Venezuela? — unless it has something to do with getting better access to Venezuelan oil.  It is not in our national interest to interfere. It’s none of our business. Let the Venezuelan people solve their own very deep problems their own way.

Maduro’s re-election to a new 6-year term in May, 2018, is claimed to be a sham by critics of the Maduro regime, including the United States, Canada  Israel and a few other US allies, but US allies, Turkey, Egypt and South Africa recognize the election as legitimate. An international observer mission led by the Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America (CEELA), comprised of former top electoral officials from throughout the region, said the election was clean.

“Technically, up until today, we have not observed any element that could disqualify the electoral process,” said CEELA President Nicanor Moscoso in a press conference.

“We can emphasize that these elections must be recognized, because they are the result of the will of the Venezuelan people,” he added.

Prior to the election, CEELA observers participated in all fourteen of the pre-election audits conducted by the Venezuelan election body, CNE, in conjunction with all participating political parties, in addition to overseeing the “hot audit” of 54.4 percent of all voting machines mandatorily carried out on election day.

The election has been mainly criticized for low voter turnout, but the low turnout was in large part the result of the boycott of the election by the principal opposition party, MUD.  Other potential candidates were not allowed on the ballot, some for failing to file proerly.  So Maduro was elected.

Why, then, have the US, Canada and a number of other South American (but not Mexico) and Western nations recognized Juan Guido as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, when he has not been elected?  The National Assembly has designated him as interim successor to president Nicolas Maduro, who, incidentally was in fact elected president in a contested election in 2013 following the death of President Hugo Chavez and re-elected in the 2018 disputed election.  The totally bogus legal argument of Guido and his supporters is that since Maduro’s election was illegitimate, under section 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution, he was deemed to have “abandoned” the presidency, thus allowing the National Assembly to name Guido as successor.  But, if that ridiculous interpretation of the Constitution were  correct, that same section of the Constitution requires that the designated successor only serve for 30 days and that elections should be conducted within that same 30 days to name a new president.  Why hasn’t that happened?  Why isn’t the US urging an election do-over, which makes complete sense and is consistent with Venezuelan Constitutional law.  Madero’s critics, who claim devotion to the rule of law, have proven themselves to be hypocrites.

US vigorous outspoken support for Guido’s claims to the presidency and its opposition to Maduro, accompanied by severe economic sanctions against the country’s struggling economy and not so subtle saber rattling, strike me as very similar to — if not much worse than — the current outrage over Russian meddling in our elections.

For an in depth analysis of the Venezuela’s economic and political quandary and its historical context see the talk by Joe Emersberger to the Alliance for Global Justice on November 8, 2018.  He talked about the media propaganda campaign against Venezuela, the crippling sanctions imposed by the U.S., the loss of revenue from the drop in oil prices and some of the economic troubles encountered and mistakes made by Maduro.  It is not a simple picture, but one thing is clear:  the U.S. should stop punishing Venezuela or at least keep out of the conflict there.  Follow this link:

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  1. Mr. Cronk,
    With respect, I must disagree to a given extent, under the objection that this view point fails to consider much of the historical context that has led Venezuela to its current situation of governmental and societal upheaval. The economy of Venezuela, as I’m certain you are aware, is now in utter ruins with inflation at unprecedented levels, a consequence, in part, of Maduro’s inability to lead and poor implementation of economic reform–namely, just printing more money (which, as any individual versed to any extent in history will know, almost never ends up benefiting a country for the better, and most certainly fails to do so in the long term). Aside from the devastating reality that the country, as a result, is starving and on the brink of collapse (witnessing a mass emigration that has left neighboring South American countries with an influx they are unprepared to deal with), the citizens of Venezuela are also dealing with a leader who will never live up to his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, and is well aware of it. In fact, his election was entirely endorsed by Chávez at the utter surprise of much of the country, who would likely never have chosen this individual, clearly ill-equipped to lead them in the brink of a crisis, as their president. Yet how could they disobey the literal dying wish of their strangely folkloric leader Chávez, who relied so strongly on creating himself and his rule in the image of Simon Bolivar that he attained an almost similarly untouchable status, such that even his critics had an air of respect for him? I doubt, therefore, that one might even claim the original election of Maduro was entirely “democratic” in the sense of the word that we like to apply in this country (though, obviously, our own definitions may even be subject to change given our current political climate).
    In the interests of refraining from a long, unnecessary rant, I wish simply to conclude by pointing out that Maduro has entirely lost control of the vigilante police force that began under Chávez’s watch, known as the colectivos, and in an attempt to perhaps retain what shred of loyalty they still have to him, has done nothing to reign in the violence and humanitarian crimes rampant in the country–even, on occasion, condoning them. I am no expert on the constitutionality of this issue under Venezuelan law (though I do see his attempt to reform the constitution, which was very recently implemented in 1999 under Chávez, as a dangerous power grab given his floundering grasp on the control of the nation) but I feel a deep ethical concern for enabling such a ruler to remain in power when it has only aggravated and enabled the corruption that began under the latter half of the Chávez presidency. That is not to say that an interventionist route should be taken by the US–our own medaling in South America under the condor plan clearly led to immense harm that we had no right to instigate in the first place–but it is important to understand that this is more than a mere constitutional question. “Legitimacy” can always be a result of hidden coercion, and while Guaidó is also laying claims to the presidency that may not hold up to a standard of complete adherence to the law, he appears the type of leader that the country may need to get them through the time of crisis. Get him in office, get the people fed, then talk about elections. With all due respect, at this point in time I doubt the parents of the starving children overflowing Venezuelan hospitals are entirely concerned with constitutional technicalities.

    • Jeffjr: I added a paragraph at the end of this article in partial response to your comments. You should also beware of falling into the “legal technicality trap.” That is mostly a rationalization for disregarding established rules of governance — especially when constitutions, that have been established by democratic processes, are disregarded. In the case of Venezuela, it is a blatant disregard of fundamental constitutional principles. Also beware of claims of coup leaders justifying overthrow of constitutional governments based on terrible conditions. That is always the claim of dictators, despots and tyrants. Historically dictatorships have arisen from dire economic conditions and disregard for existing law.

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