On the three-year anniversary of the former Venezuelan President’s, Hugo Chávez, death I attended a discussion lead by the Massachusetts Peace Action organization at the Community Church of Boston. The discussion was called “Venezuela: Sanctions, Elections, and Attempted Coup” and focused both on the past and present political system of Venezuela as well as their relations with the United States. This community discussion ultimate ended on the topic of Venezuela’s current president, or more so, who should be considered president. Despite the recent reelection of Nicolás Maduro, President Donald Trump has publicly recognized Juan Guaidó as the president of Venezuela. Here, this creates the issue of a state interfering with another sovereign state’s authority.
In order to better understand the current situation, it’s important to acknowledge the troubling democracy and erosion thereof that began with Hugo Chávez. In 1998 Chávez, who was a leader of the Fifth Republic Movement party, was elected as the 45th president of Venezuela. The Fifth Republic Movement party was a socialist party founded in 1997 aptly named as Venezuela had been in the fourth republic of its time, and with this party, Chávez aimed to move it into the fifth by the process of a constitutional assembly. After his election, he quickly adopted a new constitution which promoted social reform as a way of leading the Bolivarian Revolution. However, in 2002, the Venezuelan army attempted to overthrow President Chávez by form of a coup while exiling said President to a secluded island. Within less than two days, the coup was overthrown by the non-violence power of the people who demanded Chávez be returned to them and take place as their rightful president. Chávez created programs that were part of the progress needed to make lives better for the citizens of Venezuela, these programs included ones of literacy, free health care, as well as dental and eye care for all.
The United States has a long-standing history with intervening in South American countries. For Nixon it was Chile, for George H. W. Bush Senior it was Nicaragua, and for President Obama, and now President Trump, it’s Venezuela. Nicolás Maduro was elected President of Venezuela after Chávez in 2013. Maduro was a member of the United Socialist Party which had been founded by Chávez in 2007. Maduro was said to be a continuation of the Chávez reign. However, on January 23rd of this year, Juan Guaidó declared himself president of Venezuela, following Maduro’s six-year reelection which occurred just a few weeks prior. Now how is this possible? Maduro’s first presidential election was won by a small margin of votes of only 1.6 % setting him off for a highly controversial presidency. After six years passed and it was time for Venezuela to hold its next election, Maduro ran again, this time against Henri Falcón. In this second election, Maduro won by a larger margin than previously, however his win has been contested greatly by the opposition. Prior to the 2018 elections, many members of the opposition had been jailed, banned from running, and had even fled the country. These circumstances led to a large boycott from the opposition, Falcón who demanded the people of Venezuela have the chance to vote Maduro out of office, despite the failure of Falcón’s proposed vote, he further argued that this secondary vote had been rigged by Maduro anyways.
Just minutes after Guaidó named himself President of Venezuela, President Trump took to twitter enforcing Guaidó’s presidency stating “The citizens of Venezuela have suffered for too long at the hands of the illegitimate Maduro regime. Today, I have officially recognized the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as the Interim President of Venezuela” Now how can President Trump do this? According to the Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs of States, a United Nation declaration which focuses on the rights of sovereign states, that include but are not limited to the following:
“1. No State or group of States has the right to intervene or interfere in any form or for any reason whatsoever in the internal and external affairs of other States… comprehends the following rights and duties:
(a) Sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity, national unity and security of all States, as well as national identity and cultural heritage of their peoples;
(b) The sovereign and inalienable right of a State freely to determine its own political, economic, cultural and social system”
Though President Trump’s assertion is unjust, as it interferes with the internal political system of another sovereign state, it began a trend throughout the western hemisphere. The majority of Latin American countries, as well as Canada, have supported Guaidó, leaving only “leftist allies” Cuba and Bolivia in support of Maduro. In addition to the issue of state sovereignty, it goes against the core meaning of democracy, which is defined by political scientists Phillippe Schmitter and Terry Lynn Karl in their article What Democracy Is… and Is Not, as “A system of governance in which rulers are held accountable for their actions in the public realm by citizens, acting indirectly through the competition and cooperation of their elected representatives.” The focus on Venezuela’s elected representatives is a main focus of the democratic erosion currently happening within the state, though there have been many other signs over the years.
With the peculiarity of this situation, it’ll be incredibly interesting to see what will transcribe from the recent events. Though there are many aspects of legality at question, as well as major issues of democracy, Venezuela is said to have “spiraled into economic and political turmoil and is nearing total collapse” it’s national currency, the bolivar, is essentially worthless and there are national shortages of food and medicine that is leading to the deaths of many, which are all said to be a result of Maduro’s reign. Whether or not Guaidó remains president or Maduro takes back his elected position, we can only hope for the best for Venezuela’s citizens. The country, and its people, have suffered greatly over the last decade or two, and it’s time they be given a chance the thrive, it’s only a matter of who can save them.