Thursday, June 16, 2011

Military intervention in Latin America

I have to disagree partially with RAJ about her assessment of this CSIS report on Latin American civil-military relations, authored by Howard Wiarda, a political scientist who has worked for many years on political culture in Latin America.  His essential argument in this report is that in many Latin American countries military intervention is constitutional.  That actually should not be particularly controversial, as it has been analyzed in countless studies (Wiarda, for example, cites Brian Loveman, who has written a ton on this).  Among many others, Wiarda should have cited Alfred Stepan, who I quoted here not long after the Honduras coup.

Where she is exactly right, however, is on Wiarda's interpretation of the Honduras coup of 2009, as he reiterates false arguments that continue to float around despite many refutations.  Clearly the thrust of Wiarda's argument is that Mel Zelaya's removal was completely justified.

What I would also add is that he makes a leap from "constitutional" to "legitimate."  There are two problems:

First, this does not differentiate between elites feeling intervention is legitimate versus the country as a whole.  For example, Honduran elites clearly loved the coup but polls showed the larger population did not.

Second, it suggests that the U.S. and OAS should do nothing.  The fact that Latin American constitutions still have anti-democratic articles should be alarming rather than a source of apathy in the face of violence.  The fact that he cites Ronald Reagan as the first president to promote democracy in Latin America gives you a sense of the policy implications of the argument.


RAJ 1:29 PM  

Not sure what part of my analysis you disagree with, since it seems you are echoing my points.

Wiarda is wrong on the facts in Honduras.

The only case in his brief paper that has any specificity is the Honduran case.

He abstracts fragments of constitutional language out of context and projects his desired understanding on to them.

He ignores the (for him inconvenient) literature by constitutional law scholars from Honduras, the US, and Spain, all of which says the actions of the military were unconstitutional.

He ignores the findings of the Supreme Court of Honduras to the same effect, as well as statements in the press by pro-coup Hondurans to that effect.

The claims made by Honduran elites that the coup was constitutional do not rest on the military having a special role. They rest on (spurious) arguments about specific articles of the Constitution governing the actions of civil authorities: those that are said to have caused Zelaya to self-eliminate from the presidency (the debunked Article 239 argument) and those that were used by Congress to claim they had the authority to install a new president (articles governing succession; conditions for succession in the event a president was "incapacitated").

Wiarda has a long and distinguished career. That does not justify a poor piece of writing that commits factual errors that would deny it publication in peer review processes.

Most shocking for me was when I went to check whether the Congressional Research Service report he footnoted actually said the coup was constitutional. That would have been a real piece of news. But it does not say that. It says the opposite.

I understand that there may be other countries where an argument has been made post-facto that the military has authorization to commit interventions. I don't see this demonstrated in this piece of writing, and the one case where something like an argument is made-- the only case with a specific source cited-- is wrong in facts, and flawed in scholarship.

What did I get wrong, then?

Greg Weeks 1:39 PM  

I had read your post as arguing that constitutional military intervention in Latin America did not exist, whereas it does (and goes back many years).

Justin Delacour 5:05 PM  

The sole continuity in Wiarda's otherwise contradictory trajectory is that his writings invariably serve the purpose of rationalizing U.S. positions designed to prevent leftists from coming to power in Latin America. In the '70s, Wiarda was saying that we shouldn't criticize right-wing Latin American autocrats according to liberal-democratic standards because the Iberian political tradition was different than our own. Later, he suddenly converted to the cause of "democracy promotion" when he saw that the right and center were poised to defeat the Latin American left at the ballot box. Then, when the Latin American left starts making headway at the ballot box, Wiarda moves full circle back to providing rationalizations for neo-authoritarian military interventions against democratically-elected leftist leaders.

I'm not sure there's anything else that one needs to know about Howard Wiarda.

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