Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The more things change...

For some writing I am doing, I was re-reading parts of Alfred Stepan's classic work on civil-military relations in Brazil, published in 1971. He is referring to the military "moderator" role in politics. The following segment really struck me with regard to Honduras:

When we discuss the legitimacy of a government or the legitimacy of a political role for the military, we are largely concerned with what the participant civilian political groups considered appropriate political processes, given all the circumstances. My analysis indicates that the military was often felt to be the only available structure that could perform certain functions the participant elite felt had to be performed. Military performance of these functions--whether checking the executive or maintaining internal order--was thus granted some degree of legitimacy, even by many groups who on cultural grounds were deeply antimilitarist.

Thus when the argue in the following chapters that civilian groups "sanctioned" military intervention at certain times, my point is not to argue that I think such action was morally legitimate, just, or correct, but rather to illustrate how deeply embedded such activity was in the political system itself.

Alfred Stepan, The Military in Politics: Changing Patterns in Brazil (Princeton: Princeton University Press,1971): p. 66.


Nell 2:34 PM  

Would you be willing to spell out how you see the application of that passage to Honduras?

A fairly broad segment of the elite and Honduran society accepted the military's "checking the executive" when Vasquez refused to order the military to protect the encuesta. That had a veneer of legalism.

But June 28?

The military certainly sees itself with a still deeply imbedded and explicitly political role, as expressed by Col. Bayardo in a part of his interview you noted:

“It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That's impossible.”

The question is what proportion of the Honduran elite and Honduran society at large agree that the high command should be permitted to act as they did on that basis. It doesn't seem to me as if a majority of either group really does at this point.

Greg Weeks 5:12 PM  

I think a majority of political elites are very happy with the military's role, though because of circumstances they have to acknowledge "an error" in his exile. But this case is very much along the lines of Stepan's "poder moderador" model.

leftside 6:22 PM  

Do we really need a fancy theory to tell us that political elites are going to back military action when it comes to prevent changes to the existing system?

Greg Weeks 6:56 PM  

Not even Stepan would say his argument is "fancy." If you read the book, it is based on years of attention to Brazilian officer formation, military education, etc. There is a difference between moderating (handing off power) and directing (taking power). Saying "elites back military action" doesn't mean much if you do not understand what they back and why.

leftside 7:06 PM  

What I think is more interesting is the piss-poor performance of the Honduran media. Is there a fancy theory why the private press hops on the coup bandwagon (in Venezuela as well) even when it is shown to have very tepid popular support? Or does the basic Marxist theory still best apply?

Benjamin N. Gedan 10:54 PM  

In developing countries with weak institutions, it is often the case that the military is seen as the only apparatus capable of handling a crisis, whether the chaos comes from political deadlock or a hurricane or earthquake.

That perception is what makes it all the more critical that the military not overrule its civilian overseers, even when their competence and credibility is widely questioned. Otherwise, military leaders will quickly get used to holding veto power, an authority they may not wish to cede in quieter times.

Nell 11:44 AM  

Thanks for elaborating, Greg.

because of circumstances they [the elites] have to acknowledge "an error" in his exile

Circumstances which include:

- sustained broad resistance to the coup inside Honduras

- universal diplomatic recognition of the illegal coup and the illegitimacy of the current government

- the military's own acknowledgement (in the Bayardo interview) that the forced exile was illegal.

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