Newsflash, New York Times, March 31, 2020:
As the coronavirus pandemic brings the world to a juddering halt and anxious citizens demand action, leaders across the globe are invoking executive powers and seizing virtually dictatorial authority with scant resistance. . . . As the new laws broaden state surveillance, allow governments to detain people indefinitely and infringe on freedoms of assembly and expression, they could also shape civic life, politics and economies for decades to come.
The presidents of the United States and Venezuela share an important condition, both have been investigated by the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Since his interim appointment in 2018, that man is Geoffrey Berman. Donald Trump has avoided an indictment from Mr. Berman for one simple reason: He's president of the United States and Mr. Trump's attorney general says a US president can't be indicted by his own Justice Department. That attorney general, William Barr, is known far and wide, of course, for the low-bar, rotten smell that accompanies the legal work he does in support of his president. In the Times story, he's cited for his efforts to encourage detentions and the elimination of habeas corpus for certain people.
The latest indictment from the Southern District of New York (officially known as S2 11 Cr. 205 AKH) was recently announced by Mr. Barr. It names the current President of Venezuela as a drug-running violent criminal. Except the document really doesn't refer to him as the president; it refers to him as "a Venezuelan citizen [who] was previously the president of Venezuela, and is now the de facto ruler of the country."
Here's how it seems to work: The Southern District's crack attorney Geoffrey Berman works for the slippery Bill Barr who works for The White House Reality Show superstar Donald Trump who on January 23, 2019 (with the guidance of Iran-Contra ex-con Elliot Abrams, who cooks up nefarious actions against Venezuela from somewhere in the dank basement of the State Department) declared a 35-year-old named Juan Guaido as the "interim president of Venezuela." Guaido had been installed as the bright young leader of The National Assembly 18 days before Trump declared in a brief White House announcement to the world that he had promoted Guaido. The US president quoted Guaido as saying this: "Violence is the usurper's weapon; we only have one clear action: to remain united and firm for a democratic and free Venezuela." At this point, it would be understandable that Nicholas Maduro Moros, who learned from news reports that he had suddenly become the "previous president of Venezuela," might be justified in thinking that this young "Interim President" Guaido was, in fact, the true "usurper." But don't be fooled; that's how your average commie thinks.
Why do I feel I've seen this movie before?
What's really interesting about this episode of the White House Reality Show is that the federal indictment of Mr. Maduro puts Interim President Guaido in the same class of official as US Attorney Berman. Both gentlemen are designated in their respective roles by Donald Trump as part of a growing stable of "interim" officials. As a sign of these globalized, internet-saturated times, the list seems to be going international; the fact Interim President Guaido lives in Venezuela doesn't really matter, since geography is one thing, but everything else is now connected via wires, radio-beams and algorithms. Borders are only important when you want to keep certain unsavory people like poor Mexicans and Hondurans out of the country; otherwise, borders are features of yesteryear, and the fact is, the best of humanity is connected by money.
The interim tag is a little like what they used to say about women: keep 'em barefoot and pregnant, always on their toes. You hire a guy as an interim, it's easy to dump him when he's no longer useful or decides he can't do the nefarious things you want him to do. In President Guaido's case, it helps convince the average stupid American that the man has gravitas, while the previous president is shown online and on TV over and over and over and over again to be a loathsome violator of his people. It helps immensely to put severe economic sanctions on the shithole country so that soon enough its economy will tank and the previous president can be blamed for ruining his country's economy. By this point it's irrelevant that the interim president of Venezuela was once photographed at an anti-Maduro demonstration like an adolescent hooligan dropping his pants and shooting the authorities a moon.
There are, however, some problems when the government of the United States indicts a person who, despite being demoted by President Trump, insists he's the still legitimate president of Venezuela. The big hurdle is that US agents can't legally arrest Maduro unless they get him to actually stand on US soil. One may ask, why not just drone assassinate the man? That's what President Trump did with Iranian General Qasem Soleimani as he left the Baghdad airport. Maduro is called a "terrorist" several times in the indictment. Trouble is, the northern coast of South America is not the Middle East, where Make-my-day! Dirty Harry rules apply.
So Maduro's arrest is unlikely. They have to get Mr. Maduro onto US soil. All throughout the 28-page, many-count indictment of Maduro and five other Venezuelans, there's a re-appearing sentence of pretzel prose that goes like this: These six (horrible) Venezuelans, "at least one of whom will be first brought to and arrested in the Southern District of New York", all "intentionally and knowingly combined, conspired, confederated, and agreed together and with each other to violate Title 21, United States Code, Section 960A."
Is that clear?
But there's more than one way to skin a cat. Besides being dense, confusing and, of course, Kafkaesque, the Law can be very flexible and creative, especially when the niceties are overlooked and the United States Military joins the effort. At that point, "bringing a bad guy to justice" can mean pretty much anything. This was the case in 1989 when the US invaded Panama in Operation Just Cause (in case anyone had any questions) to snatch its president, Manuel Noriega. In that famous case, the government reverted to Title #69, Section 1201VD of the US Code, better known as the Invade the Shithole Country clause, in which case any recalcitrant little beaner president can be snatched and brought back to the US mainland to be legally arrested under Title 21, Section 960A. Venezuela is a lot bigger than Panama, which was gloriously stolen from Colombia by Teddy Roosevelt in 1903 in what the New York Times said was "an act of sordid conquest." So Title #69, Section 1201VD has no precedent in Venezuela, though the sordid statute was cited in secret by President Obama when he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looked the other way and whistled Dixie as oligarchic thugs overthrew the duly-elected president of Honduras in 2009.
I'm obviously not a lawyer and my understanding of the US Criminal Code is limited to the practice and teaching of creative writing. Still, after a little study and research it becomes clear, when you get right down to it, much of the Law is about narrative, something that's become a popular political term these days. Trials can be seen as verbal combat between two narratives, the verdict usually going to the wealthiest client who can afford the most talented storyteller. In this age of corruption, disinformation and widespread mistrust, the Law can also be used as a weapon in the arsenal of hybrid warfare.
Here's how Andrew Korybko, the Russian author of Hybrid Wars: The Indirect Adaptive Approach to Regime Change, sees hybrid war:
"This type of conflict is waged indirectly and via proxy, and in some cases, many people don't even realize they're in the middle of a warzone until it's too late. Taking advantage of new information platforms like social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), the organizers are capable of luring thousands of unaware civilians into their 'protest marches' for use as human shields against the authorities, all with the eventual intent of having professional provocateurs instigate violence so that as many causalities are caused as possible.
"The purpose behind this morbid manipulation of one's countrymen is to engineer the conditions for a state crackdown against the 'protest' movement, which will then have the 'justifiable grounds' to call for regime change and escalate their demands against the government."
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