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Gregory R. Copley

Gregory R. Copley

Historian, author and strategic analyst — and onetime industrialist — Gregory R. Copley, 70, has for four decades worked at the highest levels with various…

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Venezuela’s Demise Is A Geopolitical Litmus Test For The U.S.

Venezuela

Is Venezuela’s 2017 transformation symptomatic of the growing global polarization? And does it show how the collapse of globalism is resulting in the re-emergence of a range of governmental forms which no longer even need to acknowledge “Western-style” democracy? 

Are we seeing the revival of a bloc of pre-Westphalian nation-states[1] with major power support? 

Some trends are emerging which show how different the 21st Century global strategic architecture will be from the 20th. The present Venezuelan Government has abandoned even a pretense of adherence to what the West calls democracy. For some states, a return to autocracy is seen as the only avenue to escape total loss of power by governing élites, even though history has demonstrated how fragile and vulnerable such power structures can quickly become. 

Venezuelan Pres. Nicolás Maduro’s stage-managed July 30, 2017, “election” of a new National Constituent Assembly may have set the paradigm for how governments in the emerging post-democratic world can sustain nation-states which owe nothing to the global order. It is not a new model, and it may not endure. But it is a model which has some chance of survival (with little economic success) in a world in which major powers find it inconvenient or difficult to intervene against such states. Or if there are no pressures to overturn major power disinterest. 

In this instance, the declining power of Venezuela’s petroleum exports not only damage the internal economy (given that 95 percent of the nation’s foreign exchange is earned from oil), it limits Venezuela’s importance as either partner or target for foreign powers. 

The Venezuelan election swept away any pretense that Mr. Maduro’s Government would now be recognized internationally on any other grounds than the fact that it physically controlled the territory of the Venezuelan State.

The July 30, 2017, “election” — the “near-final act” in dispensing with a National Assembly controlled by opponents of Pres. Maduro’s United Socialist Party (PSUV: Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela) — was contrived to return all power, but not necessarily legitimacy, to the PSUV. This was foreseeable when the Supreme Court announced on March 29, 2017, that it was assuming the functions of the National

Related: How Will The EU Respond To Fresh US Sanctions On Russia?

Assembly. The Court reversed that finding three days later, but the process of bypassing the Assembly had begun to take root in Mr Maduro’s mind. 

The imposition of top-down control — suppression — of a society is, however, expensive, and requires an effective system to remove weapons and opportunity for dissent from internal opponents. Pres. Maduro is yet to demonstrate that he has achieved that level of control.

Arguably, in the United States of America, the attempts by the Administration of Pres. Barack Obama (2009-17) to remove weapons and ammunition from the general public actually stimulated the voter base to reject his ideals and those of his chosen successor in the 2016 Presidential election. 

It is probable that the Venezuelan opposition, already restive and growing in confidence before the July 30, 2017, “election”, would become further emboldened and could act with a greater sense of urgency than before. US Government-imposed sanctions on key PSUV leaders further strengthened opposition resolve. Opposition groups not only challenged the legitimacy of replacing the National Assembly without a mandate to do so, but became emboldened by plausible allegations that the voting was rigged on July 30, apart from the opposition boycott of the event. 

UK-based Smartmatic, a software company which had set up voting systems in Venezuela, said in a company statement on August 1, 2017, that “without any doubt” the voting results had been altered by “at least” a million votes. Moreover, voters were never given the option of rejecting the plan to replace the National Assembly with the Constituent Assembly. The new Assembly theoretically has the power to dismiss any branch of government, including the National Assembly. The National Electoral Council’s claim that almost 8.1-million people (more than 40 percent of the electorate) had voted was rejected not only by Smartmatic, but by Venezuelan opposition leaders. There was no international monitoring in place. 

Smartmatic was the voting machine company established by Venezuelans under the late Pres. Hugo Chávez to provide the Chávez Government with its own sense of confidence that it could control the outcome of elections. And now Smartmatic has turned on Pres. Chávez’ designated successor. Smartmatic will now need to distance itself from its Venezuelan roots. 

The voter count discrepancy may only be relevant to the degree that it fuels internal and external indignation and action.

At a broader level, several outcomes and indicators are significant: 

• Venezuela’s economy will continue its downward spiral, fueling population outflow and the ac-tivities of major armed insurrectionist factions internally, probably with external sponsors;

• International recognition of and trade with Venezuela will contract, but some governments (People’s Republic of China, Iran, Cuba, Turkey, etc.) may take the opportunity to develop a separate trading framework to include Venezuela. This could include a number of Caribbean states which have been induced to work closely with the PRC and against the US. This will gal-vanize US attention to act against some of the smaller PRC allies in the area, particularly Domi-nica;

• The creation of a “non-Western” trading system will be significantly influenced by the degree of success Venezuela has in surviving internal dissent and US-led Western sanctions. Related: Qatar Dispute Back To Square One

Venezuela’s situation highlights the degree to which the US has lost influence in the Americas. So this is where it is being challenged, and why Venezuela is a significant test case.

[1] That is, societies which are not based on the balanced, nation-state concept which evolved from the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Westphalian-style states have come to mean nation-states which married entire societies and leaderships to their geography and were imbued with legitimacy because of the relationships — tacit, historical, or electoral — between the societies and their governance. In shorthand terms: Westphalianism implies sovereignty underpinned by legitimacy. The term “pre-Westphalian”, used here for the first time, implies a form of despotism (control of a population without its consent); a lack of the rule of laws agreed by the society, and therefore a lack of structure (and therefore sovereignty) as recognized by its own population.

By Gregory Copley via GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs 

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  • Dean on August 07 2017 said:
    The Smartmatic machines have a quite decent record during its early years. The Venezuelan elections back then were probably among the most fairly observed elections at the time, and the speculation that the company was started to "control" elections ignores the very real threat that the US and VE opposition parties posed to democracy at the time. The OAS even brokered a deal to stop usage of a given machine that the opposition was up in arms about in 2005. This same narrative of fraud has persisted among every armchair liberal commentator with the White Man's Burden: if you can't control a foreign state by overthrowing them or rigging their elections, then you need to delegitimize their free and fair elections. Only now is Maduro finally giving you what you've wanted for nearly 20 years. It's like a self-fulfilling prophesy for all the kleptocrats in the VE gov't and the Western pundits.

    Unfortunately, your moral hand-wringing can't see the real problem: as VE gov't eats its own legitimacy with fraud, the opposition is full of desperate vultures intent on eating the welfare and rights of the working class in VE, whose exploitation and lack of representation was never a problem for the hand-wringing liberal internationalists.

    Why should we trust your embarrassing prejudice? Westphalia doesn't apply here, and your bizarre notion of legitimacy has never been the yardstick. It is a measure of sovereignty and international relations, not democracy. These high-minded attempts to paint a more timeless, misty-eyed gravity only serve to obscure the reality in Venezuela. Just stop.

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