If there were any lingering doubts that Australia actually followed its oft-repeated mantra of being a country that adheres to fundamental principles of law, they were surely dispelled this past week. The Foreign Minister Marise Payne released a statement on the attempted coup d’état in Venezuela. The statement said, in part:
“Australia recognises and supports the President of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, in assuming the position of interim President, in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution and until elections are held.” The statement went on to urge “all parties to work constructively toward a peaceful resolution of the situation, including” (suspension of irony here) “respect for the rule of law.”
It is clear that Ms Payne neither understands, nor respects, what she is pleased to call, the Venezuelan constitution and the rule of law. Whether or not she sought the advice of her department before making this extraordinarily ignorant statement is unknown. A Freedom of Information request on that point remains unanswered at the time of writing.
More likely she was simply giving the usual Australian obeisance to the United States, responding to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s call that nations decide whose side they are on. There is of course only one acceptable answer for the Americans to such a call. It is eerily reminiscent of Bush the Lesser’s call for similar obeisance prior to the attack on Iraq.
Mr Pompeo’s idiosyncratic view of the law and its relationship to foreign policy was fully on display in his recent speech to the American University in Cairo. A number of commentators have rightly described that speech as delusional.
If Ms Payne (or her advisers) had actually looked at the Venezuelan constitution she purports to uphold (as does the would-be usurper Guaido) she would have seen that section 233 of that document actually provides a mechanism for replacing a President. The scenarios under which a President is excluded from continuing in office are spelled out. None of them are applicable in the present circumstances.
Section 233 then goes on to describe the applicable protocol should the President become unable to serve prior to his inauguration. Again this is not relevant because Mr Guaido made his bid for power 13 days after the inauguration.
If the President becomes unavailable during the first four years in his term of office (which Mr Maduro is now in) then the Vice President takes over. He or she in turn must then call a fresh election within 30 days.
Mr Guaido, as head of the National Assembly, could only constitutionally become involved in this process in the period between the election and the inauguration, and that period, as noted, had already passed.
Even if Mr Guaido had legitimately become acting President (and a self declaration in the middle of the street does not count) then he would have been obliged under the constitution to immediately call an election. He did not do so.
Ms Payne’s statement sought “a transition to democracy” as soon as possible although precisely what she meant by that was not specified. Mr Maduro may well be incompetent, or corrupt, or both, but he was elected by a significant plurality in an election that the Carter Centre (named after the former US President) had pronounced as fair and transparent. The particular voting mechanism in operation in Venezuela makes vote rigging especially difficult if not impossible.
Ms Payne could more validly have demanded that the United States “transition to democracy”, as it has a President elected on a minority of the popular vote by a significant margin; has the greatest degree of gerrymandering of any western political system; disenfranchises millions of citizens (especially minority groups); and has a well documented history of ballot box rigging.
There is furthermore well-documented evidence that Senator Bernie Sanders was the victim of corrupt, illegal and unethical practices to deny him the Democratic Party nomination. Ms Payne is conspicuously silent on these manifest flaws in the US electoral system.
To compound the blatant violations of not only the Venezuelan constitution, but also Article 2 of the UN Charter (non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign nations), President Trump has appointed Elliot Abrams as his ‘special envoy’ for Venezuela. Abrams is not only a convicted criminal for previous regime change and other operations on behalf of the United States, he was also involved in an earlier coup attempt against President Hugo Chavez.
Ms Payne could also have acknowledged (although Australian politicians never do) that at least part of Venezuela’s current problems are directly related to the imposition of illegal sanctions the US has applied, as well as waging a persistent campaign of hybrid warfare against Venezuela’s sovereign government. This did not begin with Mr Maduro.
Many other countries, including notably Russia and China, have warned the United States to leave Venezuela alone. They, like many other countries, recognise that the current US bullying and violations of international law have their roots in the Monroe Doctrine, first formulated in 1823. This doctrine has been used to justify America’s blatant interference in Latin America, their “backyard”, a concept wholly foreign to the UN Charter or international law.
The theft of one third of Mexico’s territory following the Mexican-American War of the 1840s, coups in Guatemala, Honduras, Chile and elsewhere since World War 2, and the support of brutal dictatorships throughout the continent hardly qualify one as an upholder of democracy and the rule of law. Ms Payne is either ignorant of or chooses to ignore actual history in her unfortunate statement.
The rest of the world also recognises that Venezuela happens to have the world’s largest known reserves of oil, which would make American interference part of a long and dishonourable tradition of destroying countries (Iraq, Libya, Syria) whose oil assets they covet.
Venezuela has also taken recent and significant steps to detach itself from the US petrodollar. Again, together with Russia and China it is forging new relationships for its oil trade independent of the US dollar. Such a trend poses an existential threat to US geopolitical hegemony and is a major factor in the promotion of wars and regime change around the world.
Such independence as Venezuela is displaying is intolerable to Washington. It is however supported by the overwhelming majority of the Venezuelan people where more than 80% according to recent polls oppose foreign intervention in their affairs.
Should the Americans take the military option, which according to Trump is “on the table” they will set in train a catastrophic chain of events. That reality is not a deterrent, as their history abundantly proves.
The ignorant posturing of Ms Payne, and other US lackeys in the European Union, are only more likely to make that catastrophe a reality.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.