Sunday, November 17, 2019

Judging the Bolivian Coup

In the context of Bolivia, Erica De Bruin is troubled by the U.S. government to accept what it considers to be "good" coups.

A response to the crisis in Bolivia consistent with promoting democratic rule would involve simultaneously condemning both the alleged electoral fraud that triggered the recent crisis as well as the military’s response to it. The temptation to rely on the military to check would-be authoritarians will continue to crop up in the context of mass protests. But the longer-term survival of democratic rule depends on resisting it.
There is an academic/analytic issue here as well. As always, there was (and is) considerable discussion about whether what happened in Bolivia was a coup. In my opinion there was, and my sense is that this is a majority academic view. The military stepped into a political crisis and forced out the president with implied threats in a manner that was not consistent with the constitution.

But then was it a "good" coup, one that opens the door to democratic transition? De Bruin forcefully argues no, saying that there coups rarely lead to democratic outcomes. She provides a link to a political scientist who questioned the idea that all coups were bad (based on the case of Burundi). Now, Javier Corrales has an op-ed in The New York Times leaning that direction. If it's not necessarily good, it might just be the only option.
The best that can be hoped for is that the military sides with moderate civilians, democratic norms, and constitutional rule.
I find this unsettling. All of the "good" coup arguments rely on the assumption that we feel there is an optimal candidate out there with characteristics we like. A "moderate." But what does that mean anyway, beyond just being the person we like? The U.S. has often sought out this fabled moderate, with the Cuban and Nicaraguan cases coming immediately to mind. So Batista and Somoza were too authoritarian and the rebels were too radical. Trying to find Goldilocks tended to mean ignoring local political realities, These so-called moderates weren't acceptable to anyone.

So let's condemn coups, no matter who they overthrow, and let's not just sit back and hope the Latin American militaries make great undemocratic decisions on behalf of democracy. That history is not one we want to repeat.


Anonymous,  3:53 PM  

I can't speak to the Cuban case, but the notion that the "so-called moderates" weren't acceptable to anyone in the Nicaraguan case is belied by the fact that a) the revolution was sparked by the assassination of the leading so-called moderate, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, b) the FSLN relied on a coalition with moderates in Los Doce and the Junta to wrangle their way into power, and c) the so-called moderates defeated the FSLN in the 1990 elections.

Greg Weeks 4:03 PM  

Wrong time period. I referred to Somoza, which is between him (too dictatorial) and the Sandinistas (too radical) in the late 1970s.

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