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Thread: Venezuela and DRC

  1. #1

    Default Venezuela and DRC

    Two ongoing messes in the world have gotten comparatively little attention with all of the other competing stories in Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, and elsewhere. But they are both impactful and recently reached new inflection points in the last week or so. We all know about Venezuela's slow-motion humanitarian catastrophe, where Maduro's inept management of the country coupled with Chavez's disastrous legacy has resulted in the utter collapse of the economy, widespread emigration, and heartbreaking shortages of basic goods. In a somewhat surprising move, the Venezuelan opposition carried out a 'swearing in' ceremony for the opposition's current leader who isn't currently in jail or exile, Juan Guaido. While far from constitutionally valid, the US and a number of countries in the Americas have recognized Guaido as the interim president and have called for free and fair elections.

    Meanwhile, in the DRC, an ongoing political crisis has compounded the general corruption and lawlessness in much of the country, enmeshing the recent (delayed) election in scandal. There was obvious evidence of vote rigging and shenanigans associated with the DRC election, and it appears by most observers that the main anti-corruption candidate actually won the most votes, but Felix Tshisekedi was confirmed as the winner, and is likely to install some Kabila loyalists in key positions.

    The thing that puzzles me is the US reaction to each of these crises. The US position on Venezuela surprised me - while Maduro is by no means a legitimate leader, and elections in Venezuela have been plagued by all sorts of unfairness and fraud, recognizing a self-declared interim president with no solid legal basis seems to be deeply undemocratic. Criticism of Maduro and support of the opposition should be a given - and I approve of the recent sanctioning of regime insiders - but arbitrarily recognizing a leader who has not come to power through a democratic process seems foolhardy.

    On the other hand, the response to the blatant rigging of the DRC election has been quite muted (by both the US and other major powers) - Kabila's shenanigans in the run-up to the election were bad enough, but the complete lack of concern regarding the rule of law - with packed courts rubber stamping an obviously fraudulent election - should be deeply concerning. And yet the US and others have mostly shrugged and lined up to welcome the new government.

    I'm curious what y'all think should be the right kind of response in these sorts of situations - the US has a unique position (albeit somewhat eroded in recent years) as the world's main champion of democratic processes and the rule of law, and leverages its political, diplomatic, economic, and military might to persuade countries to hold to democratic ideals enshrined in their constitutions. But what is the appropriate level of action that doesn't rise to the level of undemocratic interference? Simply tut-tutting and shaking our heads is unlikely to be adequate (as in the DRC), but advocating for undemocratic regime change is also deeply problematic (as in Venezuela). How should the US deal with governments it views as lacking a legitimate democratic mandate?
    "When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: Why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first." - Werner Heisenberg (maybe)

  2. #2

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Lewkowski View Post
    Most of the Western world doesn't like Maduro. But most of them also didn't explicitly say that Guaido was the interim president - rather, they argued for free and fair elections. Most of the explicit support for Guaido as the recognized leader of Venezuela was limited to the Americas.

    Regardless, it doesn't really matter whether a move is popular or not. What matters is whether it will come back to bite us later if we cry foul when other countries do the same open advocacy for undemocratic regime change when we like the regime in power. I think it's contrary to our values to recognize self-declared presidents.
    "When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: Why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first." - Werner Heisenberg (maybe)

  4. #4
    The thing that puzzles me is the US reaction to each of these crises. The US position on Venezuela surprised me - while Maduro is by no means a legitimate leader, and elections in Venezuela have been plagued by all sorts of unfairness and fraud, recognizing a self-declared interim president with no solid legal basis seems to be deeply undemocratic. Criticism of Maduro and support of the opposition should be a given - and I approve of the recent sanctioning of regime insiders - but arbitrarily recognizing a leader who has not come to power through a democratic process seems foolhardy.
    He didn't just declare himself interim President out of nowhere. As I understand it, the Venezuelan constitution says that it's his job as leader of the national assembly to declare himself interim President and organize a new election when the election fails to produce a legitimate President. If the US recognizes the election as illegitimate (and it's hard to argue that it wasn't rigged), then it is implicitly recognizing Guaido anyways. Might as well do it explicitly, no?

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Wraith View Post
    He didn't just declare himself interim President out of nowhere. As I understand it, the Venezuelan constitution says that it's his job as leader of the national assembly to declare himself interim President and organize a new election when the election fails to produce a legitimate President. If the US recognizes the election as illegitimate (and it's hard to argue that it wasn't rigged), then it is implicitly recognizing Guaido anyways. Might as well do it explicitly, no?
    IANAL but my understanding from reading other experts on the issue is that this logic is extremely strained and the legal basis of the move was quite thin. It's a fig leaf, and not something we'd want other countries to do if they don't like a government we support.

    I guess the follow up is - do you think the US should recognize Fayulu in the DRC? It's pretty clear that he won the election.
    "When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: Why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first." - Werner Heisenberg (maybe)

  6. #6
    That acronym always makes me giggle a little.

    I'm also not an expert, but from the expert opinions I've been seeing the only thing that's shaky is whether the election really counts as illegitimate. Their Constitution doesn't provide clear and applicable guidance on this, so it's possible to argue that even a fraudulent election counts, and of course they could also claim that it wasn't fraudulent at all. But if the election is invalid, then Guaido is the rightful leader of Venezuela. The nations that have recognized him are really just asserting that the election was invalid, which is a little more interventionist than I expect, but I don't really have a problem with it. Venezuela has fallen so far since Chavez took power that I'm glad that it looks like they're finally on the cusp of getting their shit back together.

    I'm less familiar with the current DRC situation. Given the history there, I can understand some reluctance to intervene. Previous western intervention in that area has been disastrous, even when well intentioned, and it's not hard to pin the shitty situation they're in on western powers. Mostly Belgium, but the rest of the West hasn't been exactly helpful either.

    edit: That's actually a significant difference between the two. The DRC has always been a mess, but Venezuela once upon a time wasn't totally fucked up.
    Last edited by Wraith; 01-27-2019 at 02:59 PM.

  7. #7
    I could point to numerous differences between DRC and Venezuela, but ultimately, the US has far more influence over the latter and we have the support of far more of Venezuela's neighbors. Given Venezuela's proximity to the US, it's also a far higher priority.

    As for the response, there's not much we can do with the DRC. But with Venezuela, supporting the opposition leader, as long as it's done in tandem with most of the main players in the Americas, seems fine by me.
    Hope is the denial of reality

  8. #8
    EU nations have said largely said that unless there are free and fair elections then we will recognise Guaido too under the logic Wraith mentions. So it seems to be more than just the Americas or a fig leaf.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ominous Gamer View Post
    Being upset is understandable, but be upset at yourself for poor planning, not at the world by acting like a spoiled bitch during an interview.

  9. #9
    Hmm, this is interesting. I'm not trying to directly compare the two countries - obviously their history and the current circumstances are quite different. The reason for the comparison is to try to figure out when we should intervene, and how, when democratic institutions are challenged.

    Wraith seems to be, first, accepting a technical distinction in the legal justification for the challenge to the government, and second arguing that historical precedent wrt colonialism militates against untoward intervention in many African countries. I'm unconvinced about the legal distinction (it's pretty thin justification AIUI) but fair enough on the second point. Even our statements of concern about the clearly rigged election result, however, are fairly tepid.

    Loki makes a practical argument - we have more sway and more interests in South America, so we should be more interventionist. I get the point, but it seems to me that the US has a long history of using its moral authority and global power to isolate regimes we see as illegitimate even if they are rather peripheral - I'm thinking of places like Myanmar and Sudan after their coups, Zimbabwe at various points of Mugabe's rule, etc. We're not shy about using various diplomatic and economic levers to express our doubts about a government's legitimacy. What we don't do much of is openly support a parallel government outside of places in a civil war.

    RB - I think that's a classic European hedge. They didn't directly recognize Guaido because that's a radical step given the thin legal cover, but they don't want to seem out of step with the US, so they ask very sternly for something that's not likely to happen.
    "When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: Why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first." - Werner Heisenberg (maybe)

  10. #10
    Wig, there's a much stronger international norm against coups than there is against fraudulent elections. It helps in this (DRC) election that it didn't allow the incumbent to stay in power. There's probably 50+ countries with equally fraudulent elections.
    Hope is the denial of reality

  11. #11
    I think there's an element of viewing DRC as like a hornet's nest that no good can come from intervening over too.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ominous Gamer View Post
    Being upset is understandable, but be upset at yourself for poor planning, not at the world by acting like a spoiled bitch during an interview.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by wiggin View Post
    Hmm, this is interesting. I'm not trying to directly compare the two countries - obviously their history and the current circumstances are quite different. The reason for the comparison is to try to figure out when we should intervene, and how, when democratic institutions are challenged.

    Wraith seems to be, first, accepting a technical distinction in the legal justification for the challenge to the government, and second arguing that historical precedent wrt colonialism militates against untoward intervention in many African countries. I'm unconvinced about the legal distinction (it's pretty thin justification AIUI) but fair enough on the second point. Even our statements of concern about the clearly rigged election result, however, are fairly tepid.
    Wait a minute, don't link those two things - I was speaking under different contexts. They're not part of the same argument. I was just expressing an understanding for a cautious approach to the DRC - I haven't researched or thought enough about it to have a real defensible opinion there.

    I'm curious why you're still holding out on Guaido's legal justification. All the major powers in the Americas save Mexico have recognized him now on that basis, and Mexico is about non-interventionism rather than legal objections. Is it just because of the election=illegitimate assertion its based on, or is there something more? If the latter, can you link to any sources?

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Loki View Post
    I could point to numerous differences between DRC and Venezuela, but ultimately, the US has far more influence over the latter and we have the support of far more of Venezuela's neighbors. Given Venezuela's proximity to the US, it's also a far higher priority.

    As for the response, there's not much we can do with the DRC. But with Venezuela, supporting the opposition leader, as long as it's done in tandem with most of the main players in the Americas, seems fine by me.
    The US's decision to recognize Guaido is a dangerous gambit, but so far it's being done as well as one can expect, thanks to the support from other countries in the Americas (more legitimate w/ multilateral local support).

    My greatest concern is that this really risks making Venezuela explode completely, by provoking an extremely violent confrontation between the ostensibly legitimate leader and the de facto leader, who (at least for now) retains control of the military. No doubt there are those in the US who take the view that such a confrontation would be in the US's interests, but, from an outsider's perspective, that strategy would only be fruitful if most of Maduro's forces were to switch allegiances, enabling a real--and more peaceful--transition. What will the US do if that doesn't happen, and Guaido calls on his new-found international allies to help, whether militarily or with humanitarian assistance? What happens when Maduro does the same? Is the US prepared to draw eg. Russia into such a conflict, and then cede Venezuela to one of its most important geopolitical antagonists?

    The legality of Guaido's claim, and the legal basis for the US to recognize it, does not appear to be controversial. The legal issues that may stem from the recognition, however, may represent a greater danger than the US is ready for. Just Security published a piece on doctrines of recognition, and I enjoyed it but obv. don't know whether they may have left out anything important: https://www.justsecurity.org/62357/d...ion-venezuela/
    “Humanity's greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity.”
    — Bill Gates

  14. #14
    I invite you to zoom in on Bolton's note-pad

    “Humanity's greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity.”
    — Bill Gates

  15. #15


    No, wait. This one deserves a full


  16. #16
    Maduro diet. It means starvation, literally. While Maduro and his people eat like kings, people are buying rotten meat to put something in their stomachs. Kids are punished for eating more than they should to satisfy their hunger.

    Freedom - When people learn to embrace criticism about politicians, since politicians are just employees like you and me.

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by RandBlade View Post
    I think there's an element of viewing DRC as like a hornet's nest that no good can come from intervening over too.
    Honestly, I feel the same way about Venezuela. It's an utter disaster.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wraith View Post
    Wait a minute, don't link those two things - I was speaking under different contexts. They're not part of the same argument. I was just expressing an understanding for a cautious approach to the DRC - I haven't researched or thought enough about it to have a real defensible opinion there.

    I'm curious why you're still holding out on Guaido's legal justification. All the major powers in the Americas save Mexico have recognized him now on that basis, and Mexico is about non-interventionism rather than legal objections. Is it just because of the election=illegitimate assertion its based on, or is there something more? If the latter, can you link to any sources?
    My apologies, I wasn't trying to conflate your two arguments.

    As for the constitutionality of the move by Guaido, Noah Feldman summarized the issues best: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/ar...-regime-change

    It's hard to argue that this meets the criteria under the relevant article.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wraith View Post
    While it could be sheer incompetence, I'm actually mildly inclined to think that Bolton did that on purpose. It seems like the kind of not-very-subtle and slightly petty way he has of flexing US muscles.
    "When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: Why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first." - Werner Heisenberg (maybe)

  18. #18
    Art. 233 provides the legal basis for recognizing Guaido's claim on the grounds that Maduro has been usurped; art 333 (together with assessments of the constitutionality of Maduro's actions) is what purportedly provides the legal basis for the decision to usurp him in the first place.
    “Humanity's greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity.”
    — Bill Gates

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by wiggin View Post
    As for the constitutionality of the move by Guaido, Noah Feldman summarized the issues best: https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/ar...-regime-change
    I don't buy it. His argument is basically that the election was legitimate, but there's some hand-waving here to make it seem like 3 arguments. He presumes that an impeachment has to happen, or Maduro must be proven incompetent, but that's not what's being claimed. The claim is that Maduro doesn't have any position to be impeached from. He's arguing the wrong topic.

    They're both claiming to be the legitimate government. We can only really delay recognizing one or the other for so long, and why shouldn't we give early recognition to the one that appears to be legal? The one who seems to have the public mandate? Maduro's main advantage is that he has the guns, and I don't think we should be respecting that unless we have no choice.

    While it could be sheer incompetence, I'm actually mildly inclined to think that Bolton did that on purpose. It seems like the kind of not-very-subtle and slightly petty way he has of flexing US muscles.
    I wish I could be that optimistic.

    IMO, Flexing isn't the right move right now. I think the right move here is to make a show of deference to Guaido. Talk about working with him and seeing what he wants to do. Offer to help set up and monitor the new elections for him, and of course some security help too if he wants it. This is better PR for us, it strengthens his position and makes more of the military likely to defect, and it still makes it clear we're not going to just sit back if he gets disappeared. Talking about military action without emphasizing Guaido's legitimate and recognized authority in the nation is only going to make the hawkish elements dig their heels in. This needs to be Guaido's show, and the US needs to just be tagalongs.

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by Wraith View Post
    I don't buy it. His argument is basically that the election was legitimate, but there's some hand-waving here to make it seem like 3 arguments. He presumes that an impeachment has to happen, or Maduro must be proven incompetent, but that's not what's being claimed. The claim is that Maduro doesn't have any position to be impeached from. He's arguing the wrong topic.

    They're both claiming to be the legitimate government. We can only really delay recognizing one or the other for so long, and why shouldn't we give early recognition to the one that appears to be legal? The one who seems to have the public mandate? Maduro's main advantage is that he has the guns, and I don't think we should be respecting that unless we have no choice.
    This is Article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution:

    Article 233: 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.

    When an elected President becomes permanently unavailable to serve prior to his inauguration, a new election by universal suffrage and direct ballot shall be held within 30 consecutive days. Pending election and inauguration of the new President, the President of the National Assembly shall take charge of the Presidency of the Republic.

    When the President of the Republic becomes permanently unavailable to serve during the first four years of this constitutional term of office, a new election by universal suffrage and direct ballot shall be held within 30 consecutive days. Pending election and inauguration of the new President, the Executive Vice-President shall take charge of the Presidency of the Republic.

    In the cases describes above, the new President shall complete the current constitutional term of office. If the President becomes permanently unavailable to serve during the last two years of his constitutional term of office, the Executive Vice-President shall take over the Presidency of the Republic until such term is completed.
    The article is very clear about the potential circumstances under which the presidency becomes vacant, and an election that wasn't free or fair isn't one of them. Maduro hasn't died, or resigned, or been removed from office, he isn't disabled, he hasn't abandoned his position, and he hasn't been recalled. If the constitution had just said 'in the event the presidency is vacant, XXX' I'd be fine with a broad interpretation. But the article clearly enumerates the ways in which the presidency can become vacant. I'm obviously not a scholar of the Venezuelan constitution but on the face of it I find it hard to see the legal justification.


    Quote Originally Posted by Wraith
    I wish I could be that optimistic.

    IMO, Flexing isn't the right move right now. I think the right move here is to make a show of deference to Guaido. Talk about working with him and seeing what he wants to do. Offer to help set up and monitor the new elections for him, and of course some security help too if he wants it. This is better PR for us, it strengthens his position and makes more of the military likely to defect, and it still makes it clear we're not going to just sit back if he gets disappeared. Talking about military action without emphasizing Guaido's legitimate and recognized authority in the nation is only going to make the hawkish elements dig their heels in. This needs to be Guaido's show, and the US needs to just be tagalongs.
    I'm not sure I was being optimistic. I wasn't saying Bolton was doing something wise, just that his 'slip' may have been intentional. The US has entered very dangerous territory in Venezuela. Fortunately Maduro hasn't tried to force the issue (he backed down on the embassy personnel) but I wouldn't say I'm optimistic things will stay calm-ish.
    "When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: Why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first." - Werner Heisenberg (maybe)

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by Wraith View Post
    I don't buy it. His argument is basically that the election was legitimate, but there's some hand-waving here to make it seem like 3 arguments. He presumes that an impeachment has to happen, or Maduro must be proven incompetent, but that's not what's being claimed. The claim is that Maduro doesn't have any position to be impeached from. He's arguing the wrong topic.
    That is partly the case being made by the National Assembly & Guaido, and much of the international commentary paints an incomplete picture due to the excessive focus on just the latest election.

    In his WaPo op-ed, Guaido invoked arts. 233, 333 and 350 together, and Feldman's treatment of this construction is careless.

    Art. 333 is alleged to oblige & grant authority to address the allegedly constitutional violations that led to 2017's constitutional crisis and consequent illegitimate acts, including the unconstitutional election:

    Article 333: This Constitution shall not cease to be in effect if it ceases to be observed due to acts of force or because or repeal in any manner other than as provided for herein.

    In such eventuality, every citizen, whether or not vested with official authority, has a duty to assist in bringing it back into actual effect.
    Art. 350 is alleged to bolster & broaden this authority up to the point of disowning not only Maduro but also the bodies he and his party set up in an attempt to usurp the NA's legislative powers:

    Article 350: The people of Venezuela, true to their republican tradition and their struggle for independence, peace and freedom, shall disown any regime, legislation or authority that violates democratic values, principles and guarantees or encroaches upon human rights.
    Art. 233 does enumerate ways in which a president or president elect can become permanently unavailable to serve, but it also provides for Guaido's authority, as president of the NA, to temporarily assume the powers & obligations of the presidency:

    Article 233: 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.

    When an elected President becomes permanently unavailable to serve prior to his inauguration, a new election by universal suffrage and direct ballot shall be held within 30 consecutive days. Pending election and inauguration of the new President, the President of the National Assembly shall take charge of the Presidency of the Republic.

    When the President of the Republic becomes permanently unavailable to serve during the first four years of this constitutional term of office, a new election by universal suffrage and direct ballot shall be held within 30 consecutive days. Pending election and inauguration of the new President, the Executive Vice-President shall take charge of the Presidency of the Republic.

    In the cases describes above, the new President shall complete the current constitutional term of office. If the President becomes permanently unavailable to serve during the last two years of his constitutional term of office, the Executive Vice-President shall take over the Presidency of the Republic until such term is completed.
    Feldman's position is that these provisions are not applicable because the President of the Republic has not become permanently unable to serve due to any of the enumerated reasons. This is a problematic view for two reasons. Firstly, the NA has previously declared that Maduro has, in effect, abandoned his position (through failure to fulfill the duties of the president): https://www.reuters.com/article/us-v...-idUSKBN14T2CP

    Secondly, Feldman, presupposes that there is an elected President to begin with, which is questionable. In addition to the aforementioned declaration that Maduro abandoned his position in 2017, there are compelling allegations of constitutional violations involving every aspect of the latest election that would support the NA's position (based on the articles cited above) that the election--and Maduro's subsequent inauguration before a body with no constitutional authority to invest him with the powers of the presidency--must be viewed as illegitimate, and therefore disregarded. Feldman sees Maduro as one single President whose presidency has continued uninterrupted since 2013, even though he is in effect two Presidents, leading two consecutive presidencies (one which ended in conjunction with the election, and one which purports to have commenced after the election but is regarded as illegitimate). Under Feldman's reading, an unscruplous autocrat could, after being democratically elected once, retain power for as long as he lives, simply by disregarding constitutional protections for democratic elections. Oh, so this election wasn't legitimate either? Welp, I guess that means I stay in power until we can try again at the next election!

    In addition to this, Feldman presumes that the part of art. 233 that grants the NA's President to temporarily assume the presidency requires the presidency to be vacated for one of the reasons enumerated in the preceding paragraph, which is not at all clear.

    CSIS has published a series of articles on the recent developments that, together, present a somewhat different but more well-grounded take:

    https://www.csis.org/analysis/venezu...tion-democracy (overview from Venezuelan jurist)

    https://www.csis.org/analysis/venezuelas-road-recovery

    https://www.csis.org/analysis/juan-g...erim-president

    https://www.csis.org/analysis/strugg...pied-venezuela

    As for the question of recognition, it should be remembered that 50 countries did not recognize Maduro to begin with.
    “Humanity's greatest advances are not in its discoveries, but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity.”
    — Bill Gates

  22. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by wiggin View Post
    The article is very clear about the potential circumstances under which the presidency becomes vacant, and an election that wasn't free or fair isn't one of them. Maduro hasn't died, or resigned, or been removed from office, he isn't disabled, he hasn't abandoned his position, and he hasn't been recalled. If the constitution had just said 'in the event the presidency is vacant, XXX' I'd be fine with a broad interpretation. But the article clearly enumerates the ways in which the presidency can become vacant. I'm obviously not a scholar of the Venezuelan constitution but on the face of it I find it hard to see the legal justification.
    As I said before, the legitimacy of the election is an argument I can see, because that's not on completely solid ground.

    The claim is that Maduro's presidency ended on January 10th, when his first term ended, because no legitimate election was held for the next Presidential term. The constitution doesn't need to specifically cite an illegitimate election, the Presidency was vacated on Jan 10 and no replacement was ever elected.

    I'm not sure I was being optimistic. I wasn't saying Bolton was doing something wise, just that his 'slip' may have been intentional.
    That's what I was referring to. I don't have enough faith in the competency of this administration to believe it was intentional.

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