Latin American Coups and Bothersome Democracy

In 1963, the US would remove British Guyana’s popular democratically elected Prime Minister, Chedi Jagan, in a coup. The people of Guyana would live under a dictatorship and would not get another chance to elect a Prime Minister until 1992. They elected Chedi Jagan.

Half a century later, in 2002, the US would remove Venezuela’s popular democratically elected President, Hugo Chavez, in a coup. The people immediately restored him to power.

Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA’s coup specialist who pulled off the coup in Iran, would turn down the next assignment that was offered to him: the Guatemalan coup of 1954. "If we, the CIA, are ever going to try something like this again," he said, "we must be absolutely sure that the people and army want what we want. If not, you had better give the job to the marines."

The problem with pulling off a coup in a democratic country is that the democracy can be a nuisance in the future. If you take out a democratically elected ruler, when given the chance, the people will democratically restore him at their first opportunity. When a country’s foreign policy relies heavily on coups, democracy can be a nuisance. All the hard work of the coup can be erased at the next election.

That is exactly what is happening in Latin America right now. Maduro is still in power in Venezuela; Daniel Ortega is in power again in Nicaragua. And in several countries, parties removed by coups are returning to power through elections.

Bolivia’s Evo Morales was removed from power in a coup. First elected in 2005 and then re-elected in 2009 and 2014, the popular president was finally removed in 2019 in a coup backed by he US and the US funded Organization of American States (OAS).

There is no doubt that the reversal of Morales’ first round re-election was a coup. The crime has been exposed. The OAS analysis that the US used to justify the reversal of the certified Bolivian election has been convincingly and repeatedly debunked. The “drastic and hard-to-explain change” in the voting trend in Morales’ favor between the termination of the preliminary count and the reporting of the official count turned out not to be "drastic" nor "hard-to-explain" after all.

The coup government of Jeanine Anez that was installed to replace Morales suffered from a severe lack of popularity. But after delay after delay, the people of Bolivia finally got the chance to elect a government of their choosing. They wouldn’t get the chance to elect Evo Morales because he was barred from running for president. But they would get the chance to return his movement to power.

And they did. They elected Luis Arce who had been Morales’ minister of economics for a dozen years. The party of Evo Morales won a thundering 55% of the vote, leaving the runner up with only 29%. All the work of America’s coup was undone at the first opportunity by Bolivia’s democracy.

A similar return is underway in Ecuador. What occurred in Ecuador may have been less of a coup and more of a betrayal. In 2017, Rafael Correa’s vice president, Lenín Moreno, was elected on the promise that he would carry on with his predecessor’s socialist Citizen’s Revolution. But, with US backing, Moreno betrayed the people, broke his promise, and veered to the right with a program of privatization and elimination of social programs. As he abandoned the people, the people abandoned him: his popularity dropped to 8%.

In February, 2020, the people of Ecuador began to reverse the US approved betrayal and return a follower of Correa to power. They handed the first round of the election to Andrés Arauz with 32.71% of the vote: a huge lead over the second place 19.74%.

Coups are convenient, but democracy can be bothersome. So, the US and the OAS are agitating to manipulate the second round of the election and prevent the return of Correa’s policies. This battle of coup versus democracy heads to the next round.

Democracy has long been bothersome in Brazil. The US coups started there in 1964 and have continued to this day. Brazil just keeps electing presidents who put Brazilian interests ahead of American interests, and America keeps removing them. And Brazilians keep voting them back into power.

In 2002, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won an astonishing 61.3% of the vote. He was then reelected four years later with a still astonishing 60.83%. Being constitutionally barred from running for a third consecutive term, his successor, Dilma Rousseff, would carry on for him and win two more terms.

The Workers’ Party of Lula DA Silva and Dilma Rousseff was both effective and popular. By 2014, poverty in Brazil had been reduced by an astounding 55% and extreme poverty by an even more impressive 65%. Unemployment was down to a 4.9%. Brazil had become an economic world power. When Lulu left office after his two terms, his approval rating was 87%.

The Workers’ Party of Lula and Dilma was clearly not going to be removed democratically, so Dilma was removed in a coup. But that left the problem of Lula and the problem of democracy. In the 2018 election that brought Jair Bolsonaro to power, the polls all showed that Lula, if allowed to run, would win. He wasn’t allowed to run.

But now the Brazilian courts have annulled the bogus corruption convictions that kept Lula from politics. With the people of Brazil free to reverse the US backed coup and return Lula to power in elections to be held next year, that is just what they are on the verge of doing. Polls published only last week in Brazil found that 50% of Brazilians "could" or "would certainly" vote for Lula. Only 38% said the same for Bolsonaro.

When a country’s foreign policy relies more heavily on coups than on diplomacy, democracy can be bothersome. Unlike diplomacy, coups don’t change anyone’s minds, so, given the chance, the people will return their chosen party to power. The problem with coups that replace a government the people want with a government the people don’t want is that the people possess consciousness and memory and will eventually return their chosen government to power in a subsequent election. American coups take popular governments out of power; democracy puts them back in. Democracy can be such a nuisance.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.