Venezuela and Our Regime Change Addiction
Noah Feldman helpfully rips off the fig leaf that the Trump administration and other governments are using to justify their interference in Venezuela:
But the constitutional argument that Maduro isn’t really president is nothing more than a fig leaf for regime change. Even as fig leaves go, it’s particularly wispy and minimal. The U.S. policy is, in practice, to seek regime change in Venezuela. It would be better to say so directly.
It may seem convenient now for the U.S. to hide its objective behind a constitutional argument. In the long run, however, it’s far from clear that President Donald Trump’s administration should be embracing a legal argument that invites foreign countries to rely on doubtful interpretations of the local constitution and declare that they know who the president genuinely is. That kind of argument can be flipped against governments the U.S. wants to support — or even, albeit symbolically, the U.S. itself.
The policy argument in the U.S. should be about the genuinely important question of whether the U.S. should pursue regime change in a Latin American country. That debate shouldn’t be obscured by the implausible, technical suggestion that the U.S. is actually just recognizing the legitimate government there [bold mine-DL].
If the question is whether the U.S. should pursue regime change in Latin America (or anywhere else), the answer is obviously no. Not only do outside governments not have the right to interfere in a state’s internal political affairs, but the long history of U.S. meddling in Latin America is a shameful chapter that we should all want to see closed. It is not our place to promote regime change in Venezuela or in any other country, and our disastrous track record should have taught us by now that the people in the countries that “benefit” from regime change pay the greatest price of all.
The Trump administration won’t call its Venezuela policy one of regime change for the same reason it shies away from describing its Iran policy this way: regime changers know that the phrase is politically radioactive, and so they mask policies of regime change as something else to make them seem more palatable. In this case, they hide behind a technical legal justification to sell regime change as something more legitimate, but as Feldman points out this doesn’t withstand scrutiny. Feldman reviews the relevant portions of the Venezuelan constitution and finds that Guaido and the National Assembly have done something that they do not technically have the power to do. The provision that Guaido has cited to justify claiming the presidency doesn’t allow them to do what they have done:
Article 233 doesn’t say that the assembly can remove the president. It just says that the president of the National Assembly can fill the office of the presidency for 30 days if the president “shall become permanently unavailable to serve.” It lists the bases for permanent unavailability, which include removal from office by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, physical or mental disability, or abandonment of office.
None of those conditions has been met.
The U.S. and a number of other foreign governments have recognized Guaido’s claim to the presidency on the basis of a spurious interpretation of Venezuela’s constitution, and the legal justification is just a pretext for pursuing the regime change that the Trump administration and its hawkish allies in Congress have been seeking for the last two years. If we are ever going to break our government’s regime change addiction, it is important that we speak out and oppose this latest wrongheaded attempt to interfere in the affairs of another country.