Martel: What Is Happening in Venezuela Is Not a ‘Coup’

Edilzon Gamez/Getty Images
Edilzon Gamez/Getty Images

Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó announced on Tuesday that, four months after legally assuming the office, he would finally be able to exercise his powers as commander-in-chief. Socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro – and a seemingly endless list of U.S. media sources – were eager to call this a coup.

To call the military supporting Guaidó over Maduro a “coup” is to lend undue legitimacy to a socialist regime that has starved its people, allowed communist Cuba to colonize it, and indiscriminately killed perceived dissidents as young as 14 years old. But more importantly, calling it a coup proves ignorance of the Venezuelan constitution – a constitution implemented by Maduro mentor Hugo Chávez.

Guaidó posted a video to his Twitter account before dawn on Tuesday standing alongside the head of his socialist political party, Popular Will. Maduro’s courts sentenced Leopoldo López to 13 years in prison in 2015, ultimately letting him serve under house arrest. López himself announced that the soldiers guarding his home had freed him under orders from Guaidó. Venezuela’s senior military members, Guaidó then declared, were finally taking orders from their legitimate commander in chief.

Maduro supporters immediately denounced the event as a “coup.” His defense minister, Vladimir Padrino López, called the event an “attempted coup of mediocre magnitude.” The official Twitter account of the military’s Strategic Integral Defense Region West (REDI) blared that it “categorically rejects this new coup d’etat attempt and remains loyal to the constitutional president Nicolás Maduro.” The official term for Guaidó’s move on VTV, the state propaganda network, is a “coup.”

Maduro’s allies abroad immediately adopted the language. Cuba’s Miguel Díaz-Canel, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega all weighed in against the “coup.” Turkish, Russian, and Iranian media echoed Maduro’s language. Even socialists in more moderate countries like Spain insisted they did not support a “coup.”

Anglophone media naturally followed. Diving headfirst into Maduro’s framing of the situation was CNN, whose reporter Jim Sciutto repeatedly used the term on social media. “Don’t miss this: the US is now publicly supporting an armed coup in Venezuela,” he wrote on Twitter.

Fox News used the term, as did outlets like the Hill and the Guardian.

In bad faith or otherwise, many of these individuals and outlets did not stop to define a coup d’etat or explain the history behind what had occurred on Tuesday morning. No one bothered to mention that Hugo Chávez himself staged a failed coup in 1992, and that Maduro’s regime regularly celebrates it. No one stopped to read the Venezuelan constitution, implemented by Chávez in 1999.

Article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution lists among reasons the National Assembly can remove a president “the abandonment of the office as declared by the National Assembly” and “the popular revocation of his or her mandate.” Article 350 requires the Venezuelan people not to accept the legitimacy of “any regime, legislation, or authority that defies the values, principles, and democratic guarantees [in the constitution] or violates human rights.”

In January, the National Assembly declared Nicolás Maduro unfit to serve as president due to the popular revocation of his mandate. Maduro held an election in May 2018 in which he allowed only other Marxist candidates to run against him, bribed voters with food, and threatened them with violence through socialist gangs known as colectivos. The free world largely condemned the election as a fraud. The National Assembly declared the election a fraud, as well, and announced that after his term ended in January, Maduro was no longer the legitimate president of Venezuela. Assembly leaders also pointed to widespread human rights abuses against dissidents – including rape, torture, and murder – to invoke Article 350.

As the only federal institution left in the country with democratically elected members, the Assembly chose to swear in Juan Guaidó, its leader, as the interim president of the country. Hugo Chávez, through his constitution, gave them the power to do so.

Article 236 of the Venezuelan constitution states that the president of the nation has the “power and obligation” to “direct the National Armed Forces in his position as Commander in Chief.”

Guaidó has been the head of the military, then, since January, but has failed to exercise his power because senior Maduro officials used force for months to attack and injure civilians supporting him. Maduro, not Guaidó, has illicitly been using force, through his cronies in the armed forces, to wrest legitimate authority away from Guaidó.

A coup d’etat is the use of force to wrest legitimate authority away from the president of a country. Maduro has already staged one.

What Guaidó announced on Tuesday is that Venezuela’s soldiers would no longer heed the call and enforce Maduro’s coup. What he urged Venezuelans to do was join the soldiers who answered to the country’s legitimate commander in chief at military outposts throughout the country and protect them from the colectivos Maduro would likely send to repress them.

Guaidó, López, and the soldiers joining them explicitly demanded peaceful support against the dictatorship as a sign of respect to the Venezuelan people. Venezuelans, and the world, deserve the media to accurately report that.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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