After failing to win sufficient backing in the Organization of American States (OAS) to have those usually reliable rubber-stampers follow the US lead and recognize Juan Guaido as the lawful President of Venezuela, President Trump met with the leaders of five Caribbean nations in late March and assured them of increased US investments for being on our side. The tempting carrot induced a couple of other island states to switch sides and on April 9th the OAS voted to seat Guaido’s designee as Venezuela’s emissary to the OAS.
The administration likes to tout that some 50 countries have now joined our side by recognizing the pretender to the throne (leaving 150-odd countries which have not enthroned Mr. Guaido!). It’s easy to dismiss small, impoverished nations as simply having been bought off, but there are more substantial members of the US-led coalition for whom bribing would be too expensive. Some of these countries, e.g., Canada, didn’t need to be bribed as they saw siding with Guaido to be in their own self-interest. A Canadian gold mining company has had problems with the nationalistic Bolivarians of Venezuela and its government may anticipate fewer contentious issues with a Guaido-led regime.
Let’s grant that some Guaido-recognizing coalitionists may be acting on principle, believing last year’s election of President Maduro to a second term was illegitimate (a finding contested by the Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America). For their own self-respect, it’s important to these legalists that Mr. Guaido acted constitutionally in proclaiming himself President (In the good old days, when military golpistas overthrew some Latin American president, we never worried about such niceties, but times have changed in this, the age of “the rule of law”). To ease their consciences, such strict constitutionalists cite Article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution as legalizing Guaido’s self-ordination.
Here’s Article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution:
The President of the Republic shall become permanently unavailable to serve by reason of any of the following events: death; resignation; removal from office by decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice; permanent physical or mental disability certified by a medical board designated by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with the approval of the National Assembly; abandonment of his position, duly declared by the National Assembly; and recall by popular vote.
As can be seen, the National Assembly, of which Mr. Guaido is the president, can only act unilaterally if the President of the Republic has abandoned his post. With President Maduro continuing to make speeches to large crowds from a balcony of the Presidential Palace, he can hardly be said to have abandoned his post. (The customary way a Latin American president abandons his post is to stuff some suitcases full of cash and flee to Miami). By the way, if you believe the nonsense about Maduro deciding to leave the country—despite there being no threat to his person or his position—but was talked out of it by the Russians, you might as well stop reading.
I believe there is a third reason we were able to convince other countries to join the coalition, and it is very troubling. I think we assured them that Mr. Maduro was history; i.e., we will not stop until Maduro has been deposed, even if this means intervening militarily. If I’m right, we may have witnessed only Act One of the drama in Venezuela. What, then, can we expect in Act Two?
To win the support of the American people for “sending the Marines”, we will need a casus belli. Just the usual blather about an evil dictator murdering his own people is not likely to be sufficient (too overused). Nor will accusing the Maduro regime of an incompetence that has brought untold suffering down upon the Venezuelan people (According to my conservative-radio-junkie neighbor, there are no pets in Venezuela; they’ve all been eaten!). That charge is confounded by the fact the United Nations ranks Venezuela higher on its Human Development Index than coalition member Colombia, a country which feels qualified to lecture the Venezuelans on good governance despite having the world’s largest population of internally displaced persons—over 7 million—as a result of their half-century-old (and still ongoing) civil war! (Where’s the humanitarian aid convoy for those refugees?).
No, what it’s going to take to get Americans behind another endless war is a good atrocity story—even a bogus one will do. For instance, we might assassinate Mr. Guaido. He’s pretty much outlived his usefulness anyway. Or we might pay homage to a scheme cooked up the Joint Chiefs of Staff to justify an invasion of Cuba and blow a civilian airliner out of the sky, say one carrying school children on their way to a pro-Guaido rally. Or, Syria-like, we might stage a gas attack (for which gagging victims are not even necessary; actors will do). In all cases, the atrocity would be blamed, of course, on the Maduro regime (hence the sobriquet “false flag operation”).
The last option presupposes the existence of an armed insurrectionary group to be the target. You can bet we are already trying to recruit and arm such a group (which explains Trump’s calling Iran-Contra felon Eliot Abrams out from under whatever rock he’s been hiding to engage in his specialty). Proof can be seen in the Venezuelans intercepting a plane loaded with arms in February. In the case of the sniper who shot up an electrical transmission station causing a blackout, we may well have cut out the middleman and infiltrated one of our own marksmen.
While Secretary of State Pompeo threatens a military invasion, I’ve yet to hear anyone speak out in favor of such a disastrous move. But a good atrocity story could change all that. It likely would bring around our hesitant but still unabashed fellow coalitionists, like the Lima Group (Canada, Brazil, Chile, et al.). It would also silence—perhaps even gain the support of—less strident domestic critics, like Bernie Sanders. To forestall such a tragic Act Two—a tragedy for both Americans and Venezuelans, but more so for Venezuelans—I encourage the two sides in the Venezuelan drama to put aside their differences in at least one respect and unite under the banner “No US military intervention”.