Via one of my Facebook contacts, the Financial Times is reporting that Mexican president Felipe Calderón has proposed some significant changes in elections to Mexico’s presidency and Congress, including the adoption of a run-off system for presidential elections and permitting members of Congress (but not presidents, breaking the regional trend of late) to seek reelection; the proposal would also cut the sizes of both chambers of the legislature quite substantially.
There doesn’t seem to be much to object to on the surface of the package—although I’m not convinced that either chamber needs a cut in its membership—but Calderón will probably need the support of many deputies from one or both of the major opposition parties for the proposals to succeed. Since the reforms would probably enhance the powers of deputies and senators at the expense of their party leaders, many Mexican legislators may find themselves caught between their partisan and personal interests.
Agence France-Presse reports that the sorta-kinda-coup leader in Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, has accepted a deal that will return sorta-kinda-ex president Manuel Zelaya to the presidency, although the deal still has to be approved by the Honduran Congress; however, the BBC‘s reporting suggests things are not quite so definite as AFP would have us believe.
Honduras had the second highest percentage of people (29%) who agreed that the country was moving toward a coup (behind Bolivia at 36%).
Those countries are not surprising. But 11% of Chileans? And 14% of Colombians? And then 11% in Costa Rica, where the military was abolished before most of its citizens were even born?
I’m not particularly surprised by these numbers. Not so much because the region is inherently unstable, or even because media coverage of events elsewhere perhaps has had a fear-inducing effect, much as the media hysteria surrounding the disappearances of random white teenage girls or the omnipresence of Chris Hansen has fed public fears well out of proportion to the actual threats to children and young adults.
Instead, because an appreciable percentage of the public falls into one of the following categories: having difficulty understanding the questions being posed; really, really wanting the interviewer to shut up and leave them alone; or genuinely holding rather crazy beliefs. To identify one example, approximately 6% of Americans believe the Apollo moon landings were staged, an idea far more preposterous (to my mind at least) than the idea that Colombia might experience a coup in the not-so-distant future.
It’s also possible there were some contextual effects in the survey that aren’t clear from Gallup’s description of it. It seems likely the question was posed in the same survey reported here on self-perceptions as “socialist” or “capitalist,” which may have had the effect of priming the responses of the interviewees—to say nothing of whether or not the typical democratic citizen understands the labels “capitalist” or “socialist” in any meaningful way. By emphasizing this area of conflict the survey may have led respondents to believe left-right conflict in their nations is more salient than it really was, and thus that military intervention might happen.
And, finally, while Costa Rica lacks formal armed forces, the country’s Fuerza Pública and separate special forces detachment sound a lot like military forces to me—and certainly could function sufficiently like one to toss Oscar Arias on a plane headed elsewhere if they were so inclined.
So to my mind it really isn’t overly surprising that a sizable percentage of average Chileans, Costa Ricans, and Colombians—particularly those who are disengaged from politics—would reportedly be willing to agree with the proposition their country is headed towards a coup.
(Updated to clarify that Costa Rica’s Fuerza Pública and special forces are separate from each other.)
I think we can now reasonably call the Zelaya kerfuffle a coup d’état, if only for the simple reason that once men with guns start showing up at broadcasters getting them to shut off their signals, that’s a pretty good sign that you’re up to something beyond the realm of ordinary democratic politics.
Of course, that also means that Hugo Chávez’s concerted efforts to marginalize the private, pro-opposition broadcast and print media in Venezuela would be evidence in favor of his having pulled an autogolpe, albeit one with a hamfisted assist from the opposition’s ill-advised election boycott a few years back.
Regardless I am less inclined to read the tea leaves as saying that Chávez has lost interest in Zelaya’s cause as others, although I suspect by the time the whole business is settled (probably with an agreement to hold a referendum on a constituent assembly explicitly excluding the possibility of an amendment to allow presidential reelection) Zelaya’s term of office will have come to an end. At this point Zelaya can probably derive more value down the road in continuing to garner sympathy in continued exile through the election than in returning to Honduras’ presidency as a lame duck with virtually no support from Congress, the military, or the courts.
Update: Greg Weeks also points out that Chávez too probably “wins” more from Zelaya not returning to power, which would dovetail nicely with others’ observations that he is throwing Zelaya under the bus.
One of the things I’m having difficulty wrapping my head around in the Great Was-It-A-Coup?-Debate of 2009 is where the line between “legitimate transfer of power” and “coup” in this case lies. I’m willing accept the judgment by Latin Americanists of better repute than I (which would be all of them, since I really am not a Latin Americanist even though I live closer to Latin America than most it seems) that whatever happened is on the “coup” side of that line, but I wonder where the line itself was exactly. A few brief stabs at the threshold:
And a few brief stabs at what seem not to be the thresholds:
In related news, Costa Rican president Óscar Arias has agreed to mediate the crisis with the consent of both Zelaya and the interim Honduran government.
I really don’t have any particular insight to add to others’ discussion of the sorta-kinda-maybe coup d’état in Honduras, but Steven Taylor (both here and here) and Greg Weeks have had some fairly insightful posts on the matter.
While I’d probably say that many Hondurans’ fears that maybe-ex-President Zelaya was plotting in some way to perpetuate his own rule at the expense of democratic accountability—as both Hugo Chávez and Álvaro Uribe have recently done in the broader region—were possibly justified, employing the military to raid his house and toss him on an airplane in the middle of the night doesn’t exactly strike me as the most measured response by the other branches of government. On the other hand I’ll gladly concede that the Honduran constitution appears to be a giant mess of epic proportions (amendment by decree and the lack of an impeachment mechanism being among its defects) that didn’t exactly help in avoiding an escalation of the situation to the use of extralegal means.
Elsewhere: John Carey (via John Sides) presents some data on extraordinary Latin American presidential replacements since 1990. It almost, but not quite, tempts me to dust off my old paper on stability and presidential government and add some new data, but I think it’s best for all involved if it just stays in Ukrainian, at least until I can find a
sucker graduate student interested in collecting the data to update the damn thing to the present.
This Greg Weeks post has been on my “need to blog about” list for a while. In response to a broadside from then-not-president-elect Barack Obama aimed at Hugo Chávez, Weeks writes:
[I]f democracy is the key precondition to good relations with the U.S., then how will we deal with China, Saudi Arabia, etc.? The answer, of course, is that democracy isn’t the litmus test for anything.
I’d dissent in part here; I think it’s clearly been a key part of the U.S.’ post-Cold War agenda (and, arguably, a priority on the U.S. agenda going back to at least the Carter administration) to promote democracy and human rights more broadly, particularly in the Western Hemisphere. But there is certainly a Maslowian dimension to that agenda; we obviously have greater, higher-priority strategic interests at stake in the Arabian peninsula and China, and arguably less leverage, to promote our preferred form of governance in those places. More to the point, there is a clear, emerging consensus of the governments of the Western Hemisphere in favor of democratic practice that does not exist in the Arabian peninsula or East Asia.
Would Chávez and Morales be getting more of a free pass from Washington if they were attempting a right-wing equivalent (whatever that might be) of the Bolivarian revolution? Obviously this counterfactual doesn’t exist to any meaningful degree, but I suspect today the tolerance for a new Allende would be low among Republicans and Democrats alike.
On Wednesday, TAMIU hosted Todd Huizinga, the public affairs officer for the U.S. Consulate General in Monterrey. I enjoyed his talk, which touched on a variety of issues of mutual concern for the U.S. and Mexico, as well as (at least in passing) the likely continuity of policy in the face of the current presidential transition, quite a bit.
I also had the opportunity to ask what I think is the $64,000 question when it comes to U.S. relations in the Western Hemisphere—how can the U.S. successfully promote its foreign policy goals in Latin America when, even though most of those goals are aligned with the domestic interests of those countries (improving the rule of law and developing state capacity, reducing economic and social inequality, replacing the failed models of import substitution and central planning with a more free market economy, etc.), those actions may be perceived as “imperialist”? I think it was a pretty tough question but Huizinga handled it very well—which, I suppose, is what he’s paid to do.