Temir Porras, Former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs under Hugo Chavez, says Guaidó’s assertion on Fox News is a violation of the Venezuelan constitution; Porras says the only way to avoid a blood bath is a negotiated political solution
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
The crisis in Venezuela is escalating, and a number of destabilization efforts are underway to ensure that significant pressure is put on President Maduro to step aside. In recent days we have seen the most extensive power outage, covering roughly 70% of the country. The Communications Minister of Venezuela Jorge Rodriguez was swift to point out that Marco Rubio knew in advance that an attack on the electrical grid was pending, since he tweeted just a minute or two after the blackout began. He said: “Alert: Reports of complete power outage all across Venezuela at the moment. 18 of 23 states and the capital district are currently facing complete blackouts.”
Now, Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, was also swift to tweet “The power outage and the devastation hurting ordinary Venezuelans is not because of the U.S., it is not because of Colombia, it is not because of Ecuador or Brazil, Europe, or anywhere else. Power shortages and starvation are the result of Maduro’s regime’s incompetence,” he wrote. Then he quickly followed up to say: “No food. No medicine. No power. Next, no Maduro.”
Now that Juan Guaido, the president of the National Assembly, is back in the country, he is agitating for intervention. He says according to the Venezuela’s Constitution Article 187, he has the right to invite and authorize foreign military missions within the country. Let’s listen.
SPEAKER: I believe that there’s a section of the Constitution where you could ask for military help. My question is, will you ask for it?
JUAN GUAIDO: Yes. That is part of Article 187 of our national Constitution, which is not only for Venezuela. But it allows for an outside country to cooperate or to assist Venezuela in this sense, as we’ve stated in this article of our Constitution, which empowers me, as the person in charge, to employ whatever measures are necessary to enact this cooperation and this assistance for Venezuela.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now joining me to discuss all of this is Temir Porras. He is visiting professor of Science Po. Paris, and former deputy minister of foreign affairs under President Hugo Chavez. Temir, good to have you with us.
TEMIR PORRAS: Thanks for having me, Sharmini. It’s a pleasure.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, Temir, we’ve seen Guaido inviting the United States to come in and assist him in staying in power, taking power, and honoring his self-proclaimed presidency. What do you make of this kind of intervention talk, and inviting a foreign military, foreign government to help him do that?
TEMIR PORRAS: Well, what needs to be understood is that, and at least that’s the framework I apply to Venezuela, is that there is no way out of the current crisis that will not involve a political negotiation. Because one of the problems facing Venezuela is its polarization. And today the Guaido camp believes that the outcome of the current crisis will be the, if you will, the disappearance of what they call the Maduro regime. And what they imply by that is the disappearance of Chavismo, which they perceive as an illness, as a problem for Venezuelan democracy, rather than as a component of it. And on the other hand, you can have some Chavistas, some around Maduro, believing that the outcome of this crisis will be the survival of the government, the survival of the status quo, and the defeat, if you will, of those other enemies of democracy represented by Guaido.
The problem with that, again, is that it is pretty obvious, although very difficult to see how it will completely unfold. But it’s very obvious that the Venezuelan political system requires at least a minimum level of consensus between the government and its opposition, between the different factions that coexist normally under the same institutional framework. And this will entail negotiation.
The reason why I mention that is that of course, once we have that in mind, believing that military intervention, a foreign military intervention, will be in any way a solution to the current crisis is absolutely absurd. It can only, if this military intervention is to back Mr. Guaido’s pretension, and there is no consensus inside the country, political consensus, again, to manage the country in a stable manner the day after, of course one knows when a military intervention—one knows. One can know when a military intervention will start. But of course the unfolding of events after that, it’s absolutely unpredictable. And one can predict something looking at past examples, is that it is potentially catastrophic.
So again, there is a rationale against any sort of military intervention being in any kind a solution to a political crisis. On the other hand, the Guaido camp has tried to build the narrative about it being loyal to the Venezuelan Constitution, because they want, again, to give a narrative of legality or compliance to Venezuelan laws. And they have made their own very peculiar interpretation of the Venezuelan Constitution. And you know, for example, in any country, the maximum authority for the interpretation of the constitution is, of course, the supreme court. And in this case, this is one faction having its own interpretation of the Constitution, and sending it to the public as if it were coming out of the constitutional authority of the country. They invoked the 233 article to self-proclaim Guaido—when I say ‘they,’ it’s Guaido, his political party, and allies—to self-proclaim Guaido as interim president. But here’s his example. The 233 article in the Constitution—and I won’t get into the details. But one of the provisions is that when the president of the Republic is absent, the interim president, that is not naturally the president of the National Assembly, but the vice president, but anyway, will have to organize elections within 30 days. We are already, you know, we have already exhausted that 30 day period, which shows, in a way, that that article is not valid, if you will. If you were to take it for granted at the beginning, it’s not valid anymore.
And again, this new interpretation of Article 187 is a gross misinterpretation of what the article says, which is of course what the constituents were trying to address in Article 187 was that whenever the government of Venezuela was to send troops in a mission, for instance, in a UN mission overseas, it would have to request, or the National Assembly would have to authorize, the deployment of those troops outside the country. And likewise, if there were to be any sort of military mission in Venezuela, which is not about a—we’re not talking about an invasion or a military force deploying over Venezuela as a force of occupation. This is a matter of a military mission in any way, technically assisting the Venezuelan military in a specific task, of course, the executive would have to count on the—with the approval of the National Assembly. But as it is obvious, the Constitution is referring to this type of mission, and not at all about the National Assembly or the government requesting a foreign power to invade its territory, which is, again, a crazy idea.
Again, the problem with following Venezuelan debates is that you have to—I mean, those who back Guaido have to buy, you know, its very biased, extremely subjective narrative about his view of the Venezuelan Constitution. And at the end of the day one understands that, again, this is a matter of polarization, a faction having the pretension of interpreting even the Constitution and not recognizing a neutral authority like a supreme court would be. And again, this adds more and more complexity to the understanding of the Venezuelan situation.
And when it comes to what you ask about the internal situation, again, it is very clear that anybody who has the notion of national sovereignty, that a foreign intervention such as the one that Mr. Guaido is requesting, must be opposed. But on the other hand, we are also in a day-to-day reality. Venezuela is undergoing a very serious economic and social crisis that has been made worse by the sanctions that the U.S. administration has been imposing in an increasing manner since August 2017.
So the problem is that the longer this crisis and the status quo of this duality of power and the power struggle that is going on in the country, the longer this crisis lasts, the more the destructive or disruptive effect of these sanctions will affect Venezuelan people. And this is something that, again, I try to raise awareness about. The imposition of sanctions will not precipitate the collapse of the Venezuelan institutions, leading, as it is expected by the U.S., to Mr. Guaido assuming the presidency. As we have seen, Venezuelan political reality is much more complex, and it is obvious that to get out of this crisis, at least the two camps—you know, the government and Mr. Guaido; at least Chavismo and its historic opposition—will have to gather around the table and try to negotiate or agree some sort of political Venezuelan internal way out of the crisis.
And the fastest, the quickest that we get to that negotiating point, the better it will be for the Venezuelan people, because again, unfortunately, the U.S. administration has made it clear that they will keep increasing the pressure on the Venezuelan people, and more sanctions are to be expected. So again, this is a very, very dangerous situation for the Venezuelan people, who can be, you know, potentially deprived of having access to food or to medicines that already can be in short supply in some areas of the country. But at least as of today you can have access to food in Caracas, for instance, if you have the money to buy it. What will happen if the U.S. administration sanctions or punishes foreign banks that just engage in trade banking with Venezuela? So Venezuela will not be able even to purchase the food it requires? Again, this is extremely serious, extremely dangerous. And again, the only rational way of addressing it is trying to create conditions first, and then try to reach a negotiated deal out of the crisis.
SHARMINI PERIES: Temir, as I said off the top, the power outage. President Maduro claims this was orchestrated, that this was some kind of a cyberattack on the Venezuelan electrical grid. Let’s listen.
NICOLAS MADURO: This attack has been made through several ways. First, the cyberattack to the brain of the company. The brain of generation in Guyana and Guri, and Macagua. And cyberattack from the outside to the brain that is located in Caracas, and transmits and distributes to the country. We have a generating brain in Guyana that was attacked. The screens were blacked out. The conduction map was lost. The second attack was made through the electromagnetic wave. Mobile devices that emit electromagnetic signals. And through the transmission waves, the great cables you see on the roads with huge towers. They placed them on the great cables, and they emit electromagnetic frequencies, and that cuts transmission. And when they cut transmission, when the country’s electrical route is being emitted, they interrupted the recovery processes. The third way—the first was cyberattack to the brain. The second is electromagnetic to the distribution transmission systems. The third way I call the physical way. Burning, explosions of different systems. Direct burning of substations.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Temir, even Forbes magazine says that this is possible, to orchestrate this kind of an attack, a cyberattack, on an electrical grid of this sort. Do you believe that it was orchestrated?
TEMIR PORRAS: I think it’s very likely, absolutely. First because, well, it has happened in the past. The attacks, acts of sabotage, be it towards nuclear facilities in Iran, or others in other regions of the country have been executed in the past. And second, because the Venezuelan electrical system, if you will, is relatively sophisticated, and certainly among the most sophisticated in the region.
Just to give you a comparison, Venezuela is a 30 million-inhabitant country, and it has a capacity that almost doubles that of its neighbor, Colombia, which is inhabited by almost 45 million people. So again, Venezuela has a very high level of capacity to produce electricity, and second has a relatively complex system because it has a huge hydro power capacity that is concentrated in that region that President Maduro quoted, in Guyana and the southern part of the country. But it’s highly concentrated. And then it also has some capacity which is distributed all around the country. It requires, of course, some sort of sophisticated IT infrastructure to manage efficiently this system, and of course, the disruption of that IT creates a nightmare for those who are in charge of managing the system.
And if you see how the crisis unfolded, on the one hand, this is the very first time in Venezuelan history that such a blackout has happened. And of course, even if you don’t have any concrete or material proof, it is, frankly, highly suspicious that on the eve of Mr. Guaido’s call for a massive national demonstration you have such an unprecedented blackout. That is one thing.
The second thing is the difficulties that not even the Venezuelan authorities, the national energy company, has had to reestablish fully the service across the country. And this is basically because what has been affected are not the power generation capacity, are not necessarily the distribution capacities. It is the IT, the coordinating capacity of the national energy company that has been affected. And in a way, the technical teams have been struggling with all the, again, technical aspects of managing the power around the country without damaging, for instance, the relatively sophisticated infrastructure that Venezuela has.
So again, I think that the—those factors, the timing and the type, how severe this blackout was and the difficulty there’s been to reestablish power across the country tend to validate that there was, indeed, an external influence and attack on the Venezuelan electric grid.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, given that this is the situation, I think what we can hope to do at this moment, as you said earlier, is to shift to negotiation mode. And in that regard, we have Michelle Bachelet, head of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations, who has sent a factfinding delegation to Venezuela. And they are conducting their mission. There’s various offers on the table in terms of negotiations. What do you think are the next engagements that need to occur in order to bring down the heat on this crisis?
TEMIR PORRAS: Any factfinding mission or any foreigner visiting Venezuela find it very curious that—as you mentioned, if you’re in Caracas or one of the major cities, and you have the purchasing power, you have money or U.S. dollars, you can actually go to a restaurant and have pretty sophisticated food. A meal. Or go to a grocery store and buy imported goods, even some luxurious goods, in a country where, oddly enough, some of the wealthiest members of Venezuelan society are asking for a foreign intervention on the grounds that there is a humanitarian crisis within the country.
This doesn’t, again, doesn’t mean that there are not humanitarian aspects to the Venezuelan crisis. And this is very obvious to see, that the crisis is hitting the hardest those at the lower levels of the social and economic distribution in Venezuela. The poor in Venezuela are, of course, suffering in a more concrete and direct manner. And specifically those who have less access to medicine and medical care.
But again, anybody visiting the country will find this very contrasted situation, where absolutely Venezuela requires some need, or assistance. The first assistance that the Venezuelan people and state can receive is the removal of the sanctions, allowing for Venezuela to sell its oil to any buyer around the world, and those buyers not being afraid of entering into or making trades with the Venezuelan national oil company or the Venezuelan government, or the banks, of being exposed to U.S. sanctions just for facilitating trade, which is, again, the oil trade being the main, if not the sole resource from the Venezuelan side. From the Venezuelan side the sole possibility of access to foreign currency.
Again, any factfinding mission will see the reality of the country, which is more complex than the one that is being depicted by those who are just pushing for a regime change. And what I believe needs to happen is that those missions, those visits to see that Venezuelan society is, at the same time, politically diverse. There are many different sensibilities, politically speaking. There is a complex social and economic situation that needs to be resolved not through war, not through regime change, but through political agreements. And then understand also something very important, that for instance actors like the European Union, or some Latin American countries like Mexico or Uruguay, or the countries of the CARICOM, the Caribbean communities, 15 nations, members of the Caribbean community that have offered their good offices to promote an internal negotiation, a process of reconciliation—I mean, you name it—that the Venezuelan people need to decide by themselves the terms and the way this negotiation or agreement will be drafted, and to say which will be the way, that I don’t doubt the majority of Venezuelans would like to be a democratic way.
Some of the people in the opposition and in Chavismo have spoken about the possibility of organizing fresh elections. And to be honest, I don’t see major obstacles for that to happen. If not, just the requirement of the Venezuelan political parties and Venezuelan society to decide on the sequence, the timing, and the rules that will preside to that process without any foreign imposition. That’s the key word. The international community should be there to facilitate, to encourage, and to create conditions for a Venezuelan process to happen.
I think that if we reach that point, again, where the countries that are interested in facilitating a peaceful and democratic solution—and again, that involves, necessarily, the European Union and Latin American countries, because again, the United States has had a very different and interventionist approach to the Venezuelan crisis—again, those countries outside the region should understand that they need to take a more proactive approach to Venezuela, but at the same time respect the will and the rhythms and the positions of Venezuelan society.
SHARMINI PERIES: Absolutely. Particularly given that the 40 or so countries, or 50 countries that the U.S. claim have signed on to recognizing Juan Guaido only makes up less than a quarter of the world’s countries and of the population, and to proceed on the basis of regime change would be an international injustice to the world, not to mention Venezuelans.
Temir Porras, I thank you so much for joining us today, and we hope to continue this conversation with you again. Thank you so much.
TEMIR PORRAS: Thank you for having me, Sharmini. It was a pleasure to be here today.
SHARMINI PERIES: I’ve been speaking with Temir Porras. He’s a visiting professor at Science Po. Paris, and former deputy minister of foreign affairs under President Hugo Chavez.