UPDATED 15/10/2021 - Juan Guaido, the U.S. Department of State's designated "interim" President of Venezuela is in a bit of a pickle. So is his boss / handler, Leopoldo Lopez. People that claimed to propugn democracy and adhere to its core tenets will know that legitimacy isn't something the State Department can conjure and bestow on others. Legitimacy is something that only democratically elected officials have. When was the last time Juan Guaido won an election? When he did win, that last election, under which system / authority he got elected? How about Lopez?
There's a coming election in Venezuela on 21 November. The governing body organising and overseeing the process (Venezuela's Electoral Council or CNE) is, exactly, the same one that declared Guaido and Lopez as winners in the past. Guaido and Lopez are now contesting the legitimacy of that body, and claiming elections aren't free and fair in Venezuela... They're the only ones doing so, for some 70,000 candidates are participating. All opposition parties have filed candidates. Even candidates from Voluntad Popular, Lopez's own party, are running. Where does that leave Guaido and Lopez?
What a remarkable turn around this is, for Nicolas Maduro. Without moving an inch from his original position, he successfully dodged everything the Trump administration threw at him. Not only did he circumvent Treasury sanctions geared at unseating him, but his hold is firmer than ever thanks to Trump and a set of policies haphazardly put together by senior American officials completely out of their depth. Not even at the climax of Trump's love story with Guaido were their fellow travellers persuaded to enact tough measures against Maduro. Europe, as a block, hardly did anything. European countries, individually, did even less, with Spain taking the prize of Maduro's BFF.
The size of the fiasco is so monumental, so unavoidable, that the European Union is sending, for the first time since 2006, an electoral observation team to validate coming elections. Oh, and the Carter Center, badly burnt for their last stint, is back into play also. Last time the Europeans were around, its electoral observation team declared:
The Venezuelan electronic voting system was developed by Smartmatic who was in charge of all programming of the VMs and the development of the Results Aggregation Center software. The CNE, however, owns the source code of all Smartmatic software they use. An IT team at the CNE fully audited the source code, both to verify functionality and to identify areas that need improvement or redesign. Requests for redesign by the CNE included improved randomization methods to hide the sequence of the stored votes and the need for confirmation when casting blank ballots. In the future, the CNE plans to take over all the software development work from Smartmatic. After that Smartmatic will only be in charge for logistics and hardware service and assembly. While the source codes are owned by the CNE they are for commercial reasons not made available for public scrutiny and no independent third party audits have been conducted on any part of the electronic voting system.” [bold added]
Has that changed in any way? No, it has not, therefore Guaido & Lopez might be right. However their "righteousness" is hollow. Hypocritical. It isn't based on principle, but on a burning desire to remain relevant in a political establishment that shuns them. Maduro, someone depicted as stupid almost universally in opposition quarters, has outmanoeuvred the lot of them. Time and time again. After all the chest thumping of "Cese de la usurpación, gobierno de transición y elecciones libres", what's only left in this pathetic spectacle of generalised capitulation is to go kiss the ring. The bending of the knee already happened, when tens of thousands of candidates filed their candidacies with CNE.
Guaido & Lopez's isolated stance, however, is only a part of the State Department's Venezuela problem. To keep them in the play, the Biden administration will have to do something truly extraordinary in political terms, and that is to -somehow- renew / extend the interim "presidency" despite: 1) Guaido's lack of democratic legitimacy and, perhaps even more importantly, 2) Guaido's lack of ascendancy over Venezuela's opposition establishment. It is an impossible situation, aptly described by an European official recently commenting that Guaido and Lopez don't even represent their own party any longer.
Beyond politics, Joe Biden has another problem. The queue of creditors with legitimate claims against Venezuela goes a few times around the Treasury building. He can't keep Trump's protectorate of Venezuelan assets forever, specially when said assets -mainly CITGO- are under Guaido / Lopez control. The Justice Department is meant to probe CITGO's activities since Guaido's people took over. It is almost a certainty that when deals with Mercuria, for instance, are put under a magnifying glass, it won't be CITGO's folk and Mercuria's folk transacting perfectly B2B legitimate deals. Intermediaries will pop up. Agents will pop up. That is, normal procedures (for Venezuela) will pop up. Then, how will Guaido explain? For he is, yet, to explain corruption surrounding his closest collaborators in Colombia, and with management of USAID funds.
Maduro, on the other hand, couldn’t care less about assets beyond Venezuelan borders. Chavismo assumed that loss the minute it started nationalising, expropriating, shredding contracts and issuing debt like there were no tomorrow, however for Guaido & co is the next best thing: they've never had it so good, managing CITGO-like assets without any form of accountability.
Biden's position is all the more untenable under a legal purview. No independent court in America should refuse investors' rights and rulings under some obscure, undefined, and badly implemented State Department's policy of ring fencing assets, so that Guaido can pretend to be president. Separation of powers is another pillar upon which democracy is built, and we are told that America's democracy is so robust that it gets exported.
Guaido has failed, absolutely, in presenting a half coherent defence of Venezuelan assets abroad. No one knows what's going on with Monómeros. In the case of Nynas, Guaido's defence team is yet to make a meaningful appearance. In the case of CITGO, the person tasked to fend off -on Guaido's behalf- Crystallex's legal actions and the person that Crystallex hired to provide expert opinion on why the courts should rule in its favour is the same: Jose Ignacio Hernandez. Crystallex is at the front of that queue of creditors, and is trying to collect on a $1.2 billion award against CITGO. Not even a completely deranged Guaidoista could miss Hernandez's conflict, but still, he got appointed all the same, went to argue both ways and was, expectedly, laughed out of court.
Alas that sums up the very U.S. position on Venezuela: can't have it both ways. Either Guaido is the recognised president, or he isn't. He can't be "declared" by the State Department, when the opposition movement he is meant to lead and represent does a 180-degree about turn and runs to sit in Maduro's lap.
While the world continues to "be amazed" by the revelations of the #PandoraPapers, to seasoned observers there's precious little that's new or ground breaking thus far. Within context of Venezuela's corruption league, the WSJ came with something actually new the other day: SEC and FBI are looking into Morgan Stanley and Interactive Brokers, for services rendered to Luis Mariano Rodriguez Cabello -right hand man of Diego Salazar, first cousin of Rafael Ramirez, in turn former PDVSA CEO and Venezuelan Minister of Energy. However Ramirez is -inexplicably- yet to be indicted by DoJ, despite the fact that he was instrumental in approving almost every large corruption scheme currently being pursued.
Then, there's co-conspirator no. 2 in a $1.2 billion money laundering case DoJ's working on. That'll be Alejandro Betancourt: partner of already indicted Francisco Convit; and of already indicted Nervis Villalobos; and of already indicted Javier Alvarado; and of already Treasury-sanctioned Francisco D'Agostino; and of already indicted *and* Treasury-sanctioned Raul Gorrin; and of already Treasury-sanctioned Gazprombank Latinamerica Ventures; yet, there he lives, in the lap of luxury, between London and Madrid, where he entertains Guaido's father and brother, and is "helping" the cause of "democracy" that the Trump administration was trying on Venezuela through Guaido and Lopez.
It is, quite simply, an untenable position. When the opposition wins some governorships, town halls, and councillors across Venezuela, which they will, they’re not gonna turn against Maduro, they’re not gonna run to declare Guaido as the Líder Supremo who's going to dictate their every action. The elections will get validated by the EU and the Carter Center. There's still quite a bit of money to be made by playing nice with Maduro, whether Americans want to take part or not, but crucially, once this election happens and winners are declared, they'll get into office and get on with the job of governing. Come presidential race 2024, no one is going to question whether Maduro is legitimate or can run for another term. Clearer still, with their participation, 70,000 candidates are about to bestow the only valid seal of legitimacy that Maduro's "democracy" needs.
Nobody will be able to question that afterwards, not even the direct descendants of the Liberator that fathered no children. Lopez, who recently said that Venezuelans needed international support to get rid of Maduro, missed an important bit in that statement: Venezuela DID have international support, 54 nations DID come to the rescue, for the first time since chavismo got to power Venezuela's opposition WAS recognised, the State Department DID declare their liking for Lopez, and all of that got squandered by the very man, with his associations with Raul Gorrin, Maikel Moreno, Alejandro Betancourt and Vladimir Padrino.
As mentioned above, last time the European Union sent an electoral observation mission (EUEOM) to Venezuela, it was established that no meaningful audit had ever taken place on Venezuela's electoral system, as its authority (CNE) "...owns the source code of all Smartmatic software they use... While the source codes are owned by the CNE they are for commercial reasons not made available for public scrutiny and no independent third party audits have been conducted on any part of the electronic voting system."
The EUEOM are back in town. This time, a preliminary report (see pdf below) establishes, among other things, that "The minimum conditions for election observation are not met at this time." Beyond censorship, non existing separation of powers, or rule of law, the distinct possibility of EUEOM members to be constantly under State surveillance, the report claims:
"The ExM is of the opinion that the deployment of an EU EOM is likely to have an adverse impact on the reputation and credibility of EU EOMs and indirectly legitimise Venezuela's electoral process."
Quite right they are, as such mission will only serve Nicolas Maduro.