The Twitter Coup
Yesterday, the US did something which might have appeared novel, but was in reality, in keeping with over a century of direct US meddling in the sovereign affairs of legitimate UN recognised Latin American governments. The only difference between yesterday’s events involving Venezuela and the long history of the US directly orchestrating coups, military overthrows of internationally recognised governments and CIA led anti-government intelligence operations in Latin America, is that this time, the entire thing transpired on Twitter.
First, as was widely rumoured before hand, Donald Trump Tweeted that he recognises National Assembly (the lower legislative house in Venezuela) Leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate interim President of Venezuela.
The citizens of Venezuela have suffered for too long at the hands of the illegitimate Maduro regime. Today, I have officially recognized the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela. https://t.co/WItWPiG9jK
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 23, 2019
Then, an hour later, Juan Guaido himself Tweeted images of a self-proclaimed swearing in ceremony in which Guaido administered to himself an oath of office for a position he didn’t even run for in last year’s presidential election.
Reconocemos la actitud cívica de nuestro pueblo.
Hoy más que nunca necesitamos organización y reconocernos entre nosotros.
Hoy hemos logrado nuestro objetivo. ¡Vamos bien Venezuela! pic.twitter.com/4KjUv0tdGJ
— Juan Guaidó (@jguaido) January 23, 2019
Perhaps though, the most blatantly “classic coup” Latin American moment was when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter what normally would have been whispered through a secure CIA phone line. Instead of issuing orders to rogue elements of the Venezuelan military over the phone, Pompeo stridently took to Twitter to state that the US will ignore President Maduro’s admonition to US diplomats in Caracas to leave Caracas within 72 hours whilst more extraordinarily, Washington’s top diplomat instructed the Venezuelan military to overthrow the UN recognised Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro in order to pave the way for the formal installation of a pro-US regime.
U.S. will conduct diplomatic relations with #Venezuela through the government of interim President Guaido. U.S. does not recognize the #Maduro regime. U.S. does not consider former president Maduro to have the legal authority to break diplomatic relations. https://t.co/DBS4GiGEWI pic.twitter.com/gQZJuS1xfn
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 24, 2019
Therefore, one sees three vital elements that have always been necessary when the US attempts to overthrow a government in Latin America:
1. An unambiguous linkage between certain elements in said Latin American nation’s military and the US government
2. The US recognising a pretender leader as legitimate whilst inversely claiming that the UN recognised president is illegitimate
3. An attempt to consolidate regional support for pro-US factions in the nation being meddled with
As to this final point, every major nation in Latin America and the Caribbean country except for Bolivia, Nicaragua, Cuba and Mexico, have recognised the US backed Guaido. Donald Trump’s ally in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro was among the first world leaders to Tweet his support for Washington’s man in Caracas.
Brazil recognizes Mr. Juan Guaidó as President in charge of Venezuela.
Brazil will politically and economically support the transition process in order for democracy and social peace return to Venezuela.
— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) January 23, 2019
Of course, the Twitter Counter-Coup was also in full effect with Venezuela’s legitimate President Nicolas Maduro taking to the popular social media platform to encourage his countrymen to resist the clear coup attempt being openly organised by the United States
Llamo al pueblo aguerrido y combatiente a estar alertas, dedicados por una parte al trabajo y al estudio, y por la otra, movilizados para defender la estabilidad de la Patria. ¡Ni golpismo, ni intervencionismo, Venezuela quiere paz! pic.twitter.com/56vWkDdFdf
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) January 24, 2019
Maduro’s international allies also took to Twitter to express their support. As Turkey is among the most prominent allies of Venezuela with Presidents Erdoğan and Maduro enjoying a close personal friendship, it was not surprising that Erdoğan’s official spokesman Ibrahim Kalin took to Twitter to reveal that in a phone call between the Presidents of Turkey and Venezuela, Erdoğan told his friend in Caracas:
“Maduro brother, stand tall, Turkey stands with you”.
Cumhurbaşkanımız, Venezuela Devlet Başkanı Nicolas Maduro’yu arayarak Türkiye’nin desteğini ifade etti ve “Maduro kardeşim! Dik dur, yanındayız” dedi.
Türkiye, CB’mız Erdoğan’ın liderliğinde bütün darbe girişimlerine karşı ilkeli duruşunu koruyacaktır. #WeAreMADURO
— Ibrahim Kalin (@ikalin1) January 23, 2019
Later, both the Chinese and Russian Foreign Ministries issued calls for calm whilst reaffirming support for the legitimate government of Nicolas Maduro.
The real coup
Although many of Venezuela’s friends including China, Russia and Turkey are major military powers, geographically they are all very remote from Venezuela whist by contrast, Latin America has long been known as the military and intelligence “backyard” of the United States. As China, Russia and NATO member Turkey are almost certainly not going to become involved in a would-be US provoked civil war in Venezuela – the key to the rapidly unfolding events lies with the Venezuelan military.
Whilst the US could conduct a military operation of its own against Venezuela with great logistical ease, the method that the very public Twitter Coup has exposed, strongly indicates that the US would prefer that Venezuela’s military and other armed supporters of Guaido instigated a formal military coup/palace coup against Maduro, thus securing Guaido’s position as an un-elected but nevertheless acting president, whilst either killing Maduro in the process or forcing him to flee Venezuela. In either case, this method is designed to demoralise Maduro’s millions of largely ordinary and materially poor supporters, while simultaneously not costing the US as much in monetary terms vis-s-vis a formal military intervention.
Even prior to the beginning of the Twitter Coup, I wrote about the many similarities between this month’s events in Venezuela and the 1973 CIA instigated military coup against Chile’s President Salvador Allende. If this pattern of ‘parallel coups’ continues, it could well be that Guaido is installed as the face of a military led regime that will move to quickly silence pro-Maduro Venezuelans who dare to resist the military’s iron first. This is what happened in 1973 in Chile, only the military leader Augusto Pinochet himself became President, without relying on a civilian puppet to mask an openly military led regime.
A question of numbers
It therefore largely depends on the numbers at play. If a majority of the Venezuelan military backs Guaido, something that cannot be ruled out due to Washington’s ability to bribe soldiers with great ease, it could well be the end of Venezuela’s legitimate government. If on the other hand, a majority of the military remains loyal to President Maduro, the US can and almost certainly will arm apolitical but cash strapped Venezuelans who will be willing to take up arms on behalf of Guaido if the price is right. If such a thing were to happen, there is no telling whether one side or the other might have a swift victory or whether a protracted Syrian style proxy war would commence.
Making things more difficult for Maduro though, whilst the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad had as many regional friends as enemies, the fact that Nicolas Maduro’s friends are all located in different hemispheres, means that he is surrounded by nations that would be able to provide both mercenary fighters and perhaps even regular soldiers to the ranks of a would-be pro-Guaido militia. Thus, in either case, Maduro will soon be facing an uphill battle against a US government unwilling to compromise.
The first victim of the Twitter Coup has been international law. As Washington and its allies moved to recognise a self-proclaimed president who never even stood in an election, as the leader of a sovereign state, a UN which was designed to avoid such monstrous injustices, has been exposed as impotent before the eyes of the world.
Instead of a principle of respect for the sovereign rights of all nations as defined in the UN charter, the Twitter Coup has proved that might makes right, rather than the other way around. So long as one has a strong economy and powerful military backing up one’s Tweets, it is if anything, easier to overthrow a sovereign state’s legitimate government in the 21st century than it was in the 20th.