Saturday, September 03, 2016

When Latin American Presidents Are Ousted

I've been mulling over the question of what happens to Latin American presidents after they are removed from office before their term is done. Three prominent recent examples are Manuel Zelaya (2009), Fernando Lugo (2012), and of course Dilma Rousseff (2016). All three denounced their ousters as coups.

Yet what we see in all three cases is a willingness--even eagerness--to re-engage with the corrupt political system that shoved them out in the first place. Zelaya and Lugo are currently members of Congress, while Rousseff is rumored to be thinking of running for senate because of the odd  but fortuitous decision not to bar her for eight years.

Ousted presidents used to go into exile. Now they go into the legislature. There's nothing wrong with this, but it's a new and rather curious phenomenon.

There's not much historical precedent. Carlos Ibáñez resigned from the Chilean presidency under intense pressure in 1931, then was elected president in 1952. Getúlio Vargas experienced a very similar situation in Brazil. But they resigned, whereas our three contemporary presidents did not, and they were dictators, which is not true of the recent cases (I guess we could add Arturo Alessandri to the non-dictator list, but he is also a resignation).

What are the implications of this new feature of Latin American politics? On the one hand, we might consider it a good thing. Political competition is taking place within institutions and not, for example, by calling on the military or forming a rebel group.

But on the other, this may just perpetuate the corrupt and largely unchanging political system. Perhaps you can work at the margins, but the same anti-democratic structural forces are in place. Along these lines, we could argue that at least to some degree contentious politics allows the possibility for greater change (though AMLO certainly seems like a possible counterexample).


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