Venezuela: Media Laziness or Complicity?

There is no self-proclamation nor coup d’état, overthrowing a usurper from power cannot be illegal nor illegitimate

Constitutional president Guaidó during protests that support his claim against the urusper Maduro. (EFE)

By Héctor Schamis*

Español There is no self-proclamation nor coup d’état. Overthrowing a usurper from power cannot be illegal nor illegitimate.

I have on my screen a list with hundreds of articles by the international press on Venezuela. There are some well-known names: CNN, France24, APNews, Reuters, BBC, Deutsche Welle, among others. The most reputed in USA, France, Great Britain, Germany, and other European nations. The list was provided by Juan Guaido’s interim government diplomats based in Washington. I was advised that the principle employed to create the list is how the political Venezuelan crisis is reported. In all these media, Guaidó is deemed as “self-proclaimed”.

There are links, so I click on them and go to the articles; I randomly choose. I ascertain, indeed, that they regard Guaidó as the “self-proclaimed president”. The reader can Google any of those media finding the same results: the words Guiadó and “self-proclaimed” will inevitably pop up.

I had the list with me, an Excel file, for a number of weeks. I did not even look at it, but I decided to do it now due to this week’s happenings: the uprising, the turmoil or civilian-military rebellion last Thursday. This occurrence can be called in many ways except for one: coup d’état. However, that was the way in which many in the press reported those events, the very same media that previously regarded Guaidó as “self-proclaimed”.

And here I am, reflecting on all this in reverse. I attempt to reach a succinct definition of coup d’état. It would go in this fashion: “a coup is the seizure of power in a sudden and, generally, violent way (although countless coups have occurred without firing a weapon), which violates the institutional legitimacy of a State, that is, it breaches the law of public power transition”.

It turns out that, if Juan Guaidó is a “self-proclaimed” president, his attempt to overthrow Nicolás Maduro from the executive can only be understood as a “coup”. The problem of this logic is that it endows Maduro with legitimacy, thereby making him the legitimate ruler of Venezuela. Such a nonsense cannot surprise us: it is impossible to reach valid conclusions by means of false premises. From this it follows that the adjective “self-proclaimed” is intellectually fragile and politically toxic.

We are dealing here with respectable media; these are not the propagandistic Granma nor Telesur. In any case, this is very profitable for Maduro’s regime, as it gives it certain legitimacy. The key question is why they have not taken the trouble to analyse the constitutional rationale of Guaido’s swearing-in, nor the political and legal process leading Maduro to be seen as the usurper. Moreover, the media have not questioned reasons of their own governments (including USA, France, the UK, Germany, and almost 60 more countries) for acknowledging Guaidó as the legitimate authority. Now, I am not suggesting that they must echo what their governments say; the media is free and independent after all. My point is that if the vast majority of democracies across the globe have disowned Maduro, the democratic media should take note of it and do its job properly.

And this is my contribution. The governments’ stance on this matter is not accidental nor frivolous; they did their homework. On January 10 of this year, 2013 Nicolás Maduro’s term concluded. The presidency fell vacant by virtue of the illegitimacy and illegality of the 2018 elections that were held on May 20. The elections were also rigged, according to accusations by Smartmatic, the company in charge of processing the data of many elections in that country. This company proved that the official results did not correspond to reality. Such results were pumped up; the actual winner was abstention.

Based on these facts, the Venezuelan parliament and the Supreme Court, both of those government bodies elected following the constitution, declared that the elections were null and void. This was followed by the majority of democratic nations, as well as the Organization of American States (OAS), where its General Assembly, its highest official organ, issued a resolution on June 5, 2018, repudiating that election.

Given the institutional void, article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution states that the National Assembly, the legislative branch, must take the functions of the executive creating an interim government led by the president of that body: deputy Juan Guaidó. From this it derives the international legitimacy of his authority.

To sum up, neither has a self-proclamation nor a coup taken place. Overthrowing a usurper from power cannot be illegal nor illegitimate. I will finish by the beginning, by the headline of this article. Be due to intellectual laziness or complicity, it is clear that this is the way to misinform; fake news are widespread. And that is usually beneficial to a dictatorship.

*Héctor Schamis is a prestigious Argentine scholar. He is a professor associated with the Center for Latin American Studies at The Georgetown University. He has written many books and articles for different media. Follow him on Twitter @hectorschamis.

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