Moving the Goalposts Washington’s Agenda for Venezuela

maduro

At a recent press briefing, Elliot Abrams, America’s Special Representative for Venezuela, clearly laid out how Washington continues to manipulate its own narrative on the Venezuela issue.  In this posting, we’ll start by looking at Venezuela’s constitutional requirements for relieving its president Maduro from duty and follow by looking at the key exchange in the press briefing which clearly outlines how the Trump Administration is changing the goalposts when it comes to pushing Maduro out of office and shoving Juan Guaido into the vacancy.

Let’s start by looking back to January 23, 2019.  On that day, the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guiado, declared that he was assuming the office of the presidency of the nation on an interim basis on the basis of Article 233 of Venezuela’s Constitution from 1999 which reads as follows:

Absolute faults of the President of the Republic: death, resignation, dismissal decreed by the Supreme Court of Justice, permanent physical or mental incapacity certified by a medical board appointed by the Supreme Court of Justice and with the approval of the National Assembly, the abandonment of the office, declared by the National Assembly, as well as the popular revocation of its mandate.

When there is an absolute lack of the President-elect or President-elect before taking office, a new universal, direct and secret election shall be held within the following thirty consecutive days. While the new President is elected and takes office, the President of the National Assembly will be in charge of the Presidency of the Republic.

When there is an absolute lack of the President of the Republic during the first four years of the constitutional period, a new universal and direct election shall be held within the following thirty consecutive days. While the new President is elected and takes office, the Executive Vice President or Executive Vice President will be in charge of the Presidency of the Republic.

In the previous cases, the new President will complete the corresponding constitutional period.

If the absolute lack occurs during the last two years of the constitutional period, the Executive Vice President or Executive Vice President shall assume the Presidency of the Republic until the completion thereof.” (my bold)

Note that there are specific requirements to meet the requirement of “absolute absence” of the elected president which is required to appoint his/her replacement as I have highlighted above.  When there is an absolute lack of a President, a new universal (i.e. nationwide) election is to be held within 30 consecutive days.  In the current situation, with Juan Guaido appointing himself as the nation’s president on January 23, 2019, the universal election should have been held no later than February 22, 2019.  Unfortunately for the United States and Mr. Guaido, current President Nicolas Maduro has not seen fit to resign his office which has greatly complicated the issue.  The only solution to the dilemma appears to be one that was recently offered by Elliot Abrams, Donald Trump’s hand-picked Special Envoy to Venezuela as I noted above.  Let’s look at the key exchange which clearly outlines how the Trump Administration is moving the goalposts to suit its own ultimate plans for Venezuela when it comes to pushing Maduro out of office and shoving Juan Guaido into the vacancy.

Here is the question that was asked by the representative for the Washington Post:

“…Could you explain to us the article (Article 233 as outlined above) under which Mr. Guaido declared himself president? It is said that it has expired last month. Could you explain that to us? What is the –“

Here is Mr. Abrams’ answer and the continuing exchange:

As to the Venezuelan constitution, the National Assembly has passed a resolution that states that that 30-day period of interim presidency will not start ending or counting until the day Nicolas Maduro leaves power. So the 30 days doesn’t start now, it starts after Maduro. And they – that’s a resolution of the National Assembly.

QUESTION: When did they – they did that after he —

MR ABRAMS: They did that – this is roughly a month ago. We could try to find the date for you.

QUESTION: When he was – when he was – took the mantle of interim president, that wasn’t there.

MR ABRAMS: Yes, when – that’s correct. And so people —

QUESTION: Can you do that ex post facto like that?

MR ABRAMS: When people ask a question how do —

QUESTION: That seems to be like saying I was elected for four years to be president, and then two years in you change the rules so that your term didn’t start – hasn’t even started yet. How does that happen?

MR ABRAMS: Well, you don’t get a vote because you’re not in the National Assembly.

QUESTION: Well, you don’t. You’re not in the National Assembly either.

QUESTION: If it matters, does the U.S. view that as constitutional under their system?

MR ABRAMS: Yes. I mean, we’re taking the – the National Assembly is the only legitimate democratic institution left in Venezuela, and their interpretation of the constitution, as you know, is that as of the date of this alleged term for Maduro, the presidency is vacant. But they have also said that that 30-day period starts when Maduro goes.

QUESTION: So Juan Guaido is the interim president of an interim that doesn’t exist yet?

MR ABRAMS: The 30-day end to his interim presidency starts counting. Because he’s not in power, that’s the problem. Maduro is still there. So they have decided that they will count that from when he actually is in power and Maduro’s gone. I think it’s logical.

QUESTION: So then he really isn’t interim president, then?

MR ABRAMS: He is interim president, but he’s not —

QUESTION: With no power.

MR ABRAMS: — able to exercise the powers of the office because Maduro still is there.

QUESTION: So their interpretation is that until and unless he actually has the power to run the country, he’s not actually the interim president?

MR ABRAMS: No. Their interpretation is that the constitution requires a 30-day interim period, but it – those 30 days should not be counted while Maduro is still there exercising the powers of his former office.”

Apparently, as we can see from Mr. Abrams’ tap dancing, re-engineering a nation in Washington’s preferred image is not as simple as one might hope. Once again, the narrative supersedes the facts and Washington’s narrative does not fit with what is really happening on the ground in Venezuela. That said, if you move the narrative goalposts often enough, eventually you might get something right.

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