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Venezuela’s Future Uncertain as ‘Slow-Moving Coup’ Plays Out

As of Jan 22, 2019, Venezuela found itself in the bizarre position of having an opposition politician declare himself president even though the man elected president, Nicolás Maduro, sits in the Miraflores presidential palace.

Juan Guaidó, an unknown junior politician from the right-wing Popular Will Party pronounced himself acting president. He did so with the blessing and backing of the Trump administration who have been angling for regime change since the late President Hugo Chavez launched the Bolivarian Revolution in 1998.

His successor, Maduro, remains as head of state for now, although President Donald Trump, National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, are saber-rattling, pushing for ‘regime change,’ threatening Maduro to step down, enlisting the support of several European countries, the Organization of American State and rightwing Latin American nations, like Brazil, Paraguay and Chile, while assembling a force of about 5,000 US military personnel in neighboring Colombia.

Critics of US intervention have been strident in their opposition to US meddling.

Political Scientist and activist George Ciccariello-Maher said the power grab of right-wing elements, through Guaidó, is brazenly unconstitutional.

“No matter how you slice it, an attempted coup is underway in Venezuela,” said Ciccariello-Maher in an article published in The Nation magazine. “ … Guaidó was not elected president – Nicolás Maduro was, in May of last year in a vote that the opposition might have won had they not boycotted it. Guaidó was elected to the opposition-controlled National Assembly, recently assuming the Assembly presidency through an informal power-sharing agreement among the opposition’s political parties.”

“One poll even suggests that as recently as a week ago, more than 80 percent of Venezuelans had no idea who Guaidó even was … So, call it what you want: attempted regime change, a putsch, a “soft” coup — the military hasn’t supported it — just don’t call it constitutional.”

Francisco Tovar, a Venezuelan activist and a Guaidó supporter said the opposition has the right, based on Article 233 of the Constitution to claim power. But as Ciccariello-Maher and other experts point out, the assertion that Maduro has abandoned his office is false. And furthermore, Ciccariello-Maher said, only the Supreme Court can disqualify sitting presidents.

“Despite cries of dictatorship, the opposition did win the last election they contested – taking over the Assembly in late 2015 and using their platform to try to overthrow Maduro,” he said. “

Tovar, who fled to Colombia from Venezuela in 2015 after threats on his life, said what continues to unfold is more complicated than it looks and is one of the most complex set of issues on the planet. He added that those opposing Maduro have no choice but to use whatever tools are at their disposal to unseat him.

“The thing is there are a lot of people on the Left who see it as an invasion, but this is one-time the U.S. is getting a real dictator,” said Tovar, an Afro-descendent rights activist and executive director of the Institute of African Diaspora Studies (IEA). “Maybe this isn’t ideal approach and yes, the U.S. has blood on its hands but in this case, they would be doing a good thing. We have no way to protect ourselves. We either starve to death or hope for the best. No one in Venezuela has the power to take this guy down. This is not an internal problem. We have no way to take him down ourselves. Sovereignty is important but we need help.”

Venezuela has been in a tailspin for years for a variety of reasons including, corruption, mismanagement, plummeting oil prices, and recently, opposition attempts to topple the government, crippling sanctions imposed by the Trump administration and economic warfare by the U.S, designed to weaken and destroy the Bolivarian Revolution.

Although Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world, the country is mired in a slumping economy, spiraling hyperinflation tagged at 1 million percent, severe food shortages, a paucity of medical supplies and long lines to get basic goods.

Patricio Zamorano, an academic, political scientist. musician and journalist debated Tovar on radio recently and forcefully pushed back against his arguments.

“The elections in May were very, very competitive. 46 percent of the people voted,” he said. “Henry Falcone ran during last election. He was a moderate. The most radical opposition, with the support of the U.S. didn’t run. The radical opposition is opening the door to U.S. intervention.”

Latin and Central America has had “a horrible past of dictatorships and coup d’etats,” and consequently people of goodwill should choose negotiation and peaceful solutions, he said.

“The main situation here is that it’s not true to say everything has been tried,” said Zamorano. “There was an effort led by Vatican and the presidents of Panama, the Dominican Republic and Spain, not allied with Maduro, who were trying to establish a dialogue.”

During the roundtable, opposition and government leaders participated and discussed how to move forward, sharing power and lessening polarization.

“But the U.S. put a lot of pressure on the radical section. They were about to sign but abandoned the negotiation table,” Zamorano said. “The U.S. is not willing to support real reconciliation and support moderates. They support the violent, radical part of the opposition. The U.S. is not interested in dialogue or solutions. To say so is a lie. The Vatican is saying let’s find peace, let’s find negotiation. If Venezuela has a horrible economy and if the U.S. wants peace, they should help Venezuela, elimination sanctions and do nothing to create more problems.”

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