The United Nations makes it clear beyond any reasonable doubt as to the government and status of each of its member states. Insofar as this is true of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro is recognised by the highest geopolitical authority in the world as Venezuela’s head of state. This does not mean that the UN is conferring favour nor any other opinion on Maduro – it simply means that he is the acknowledged leader of his nation irrespective of any individual or any other nation’s particular view of his politics or character. But these basic principles of international law may soon be brazenly violated by Washington.
While the US has already stated that it does not acknowledge the recent inauguration of Maduro’s new term as President of Venezuela, such a statement is more of an expression of a feeling than of an attempt to re-write international law. Now however, it has been reported that the US is considering recognising opposition “leader” Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s head of state.
Guaido did not even run in last year’s election but instead is the leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly, one of two legislative bodies that is currently competing for the role of Venezuela’s supreme legislative chamber. At present, of the two competing legislatures, the Constituent National Assembly which was created in 2017 is overwhelmingly pro-Maduro whilst in the National Assembly, the anti-Maduro opposition have a 14 seat majority over a pro-Maduro coalition.
Making matters more complicated, whilst Juan Guaido did not even contest the 2018 presidential election, the National Assembly has named Guaido as the acting President of Venezuela, even though this internal power struggle has not changed the fact that the UN recognises Maduro as President and is also a violation of Venezuela’s own constitution.
In any normal situation, the power struggle between Maduro and Guaido would be an internal matter for Venezuela to contend with, but because Venezuela is one of the most oil rich nations in the world and is led by a Maduro administration that is deeply opposed to US global hegemony, the national matter for Venezuela to decide has become internationalised – and this is putting it mildly.
If the US goes through with recognising Guaido as the President of Venezuela, not only will the US be meddling in the foreign affairs of another nation (something that has been common in respect of Latin America for over a century), but it will represent a direct challenge to the authority of the United Nations. Not since the period between 1971 and 1979 when the United Nations recognised the People’s Republic of China as the one true Chinese state whilst the US continued recognising Taiwan (aka the Republic of China) as the one true China, was there such a discordant view regarding the legitimacy of a particular government in which there was a profound schism between the United Nations and United States. Even whilst the US broke off relations with the Syrian Arab Republic in 2011, the US still acknowledged the UN recognised government of Syria, albeit by referring to it as “the Syrian regime”. Thus, the crisis in Venezuela could from a legal standpoint, become far more controversial than legal issues surrounding the conflict in Syria.
While many view a possible US recognition of Guaido as the leader of Venezuela as a prelude to the war that Donald Trump has been threatening against Venezuela for nearly two years, in all likelihood, it could be more of a prelude to weaponising Venezuela’s opposition in such a way that encourages Guaido loyalists to lead a constitutional coup against Maduro, one that is already being cheerled by Brazil’s new pro-US President Jair Bolsonaro. Of course, this could lead to violent consequences, especially if the Venezuelan military or parts of the military become involved.
The weaponised coup model was successful in Ukraine in 2014 in respect of toppling the internationally recognised head of state while it almost succeeded in Syria after 2011. Because Venezuela is geographically remote to its most militarily powerful allies including China, Russia and Turkey, it is not entirely conceivable that Russia or China, let alone NATO member Turkey would be in the logistical position to aid Venezuela even though each aforementioned country has multiple lucrative business deals with Caracas.
Because of this, one is witnessing a phenomenon in which the US looks to be on the verge of openly flaunting international law in order to foment internal regime change in Venezuela, all the while there is little that the friends of Venezuela’s legitimate government could do, short of risking opening themselves to armed conflict against the US in a region that has been called the “military backyard” of Washington for over a century.