Thursday, January 24, 2019

Informed Uninformed Thoughts on Venezuela

I am not particularly uninformed on Venezuela. But I feel decently informed about what I don't know about Venezuela and, more importantly, what that uninformedness should yield (hint: not sweeping confident endorsement of any particular move or action). So here are my informed, uninformed thoughts:

1) Nicolas Maduro is an authoritarian thug. Nobody should pretend like he's anything else.

2) I don't really know anything about Juan Guaido. I suspect I'd like him more than Maduro because, well, how could I not? But I've been burned before.

3) Coups are bad. They don't become good just because I think I'll like the incoming leader more than the deposed one.

4) I don't know if this is a coup, because I don't know enough (read: anything) about Venezuelan legal structures to know if Guaido's actions track valid legal pathways available to the General Assembly. Put differently, is this "coup" the equivalent of Trump/Pence getting impeached (a perfectly legally-validated pathway for changing America's head of state) and that being labeled a "coup" by Pelosi?

5) Just as a lawyer, I am well aware that pretty much any position can be justified to an uninformed lay person via too-cute formalist arguments that nobody who actually knows anything about the law would swallow. But -- since discerning if that's what's happening here requires that sort of deep enmeshment in the Venezuelan legal tradition that I don't have and can't realistically get -- there's no way for me to know which side, if any, is being cute like this.

6) It's very likely that Maduro was fraudulently elected. That doesn't mean his ouster can't be a coup -- non-democratically elected leaders can be targeted for coups too, and there are good reasons to still oppose such coups -- but it does take the steam out of the "but democracy!" objections a bit.

7) Elections, at their core, are ways of compelling leaders to give up power even when they'd rather stay in office. Which raises the question: by what method, other than a coup, can a non-democratic leader be compelled to give up power even when they'd rather stay in office?

8) The U.S. shouldn't intervene, in the sense of, say, a military incursion. At the same time, at some level the U.S. can't fully stay out -- we have to recognize someone's government after all. And it begs the question to say "Venezuela's government should be decided by the Venezuelan people" -- true, obviously, but the entire locus of the dispute in Venezuela is which government actually has been chosen by the people.

9) I am deeply cynical that this is going to play out in a manner that even remotely approximates "good". I suspect Maduro will remain in power (regardless of whether Guaido was acting "legally" or not), and I suspect we will see a further clampdown on the political rights and liberties in Venezuela in its wake.

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