Did you really just say that, Michael Shifter?

What does one do when an article is so outrageous that it defies parody? I guess just throw up your hands and post. I give you Michael Shifter's magical world, in which "chronic governance difficulties" lead to "interruptions" in places like Honduras, and where Haiti's most recent coup took place in 1991, published as part of WHEMSAC's ("Western Hemisphere Security Analysis Center") report "Latin American Coups: Have They Vanished or Taken New Shapes?". You may ask, dear reader: "Is the Monologue trying to be more like the DoD or does it just coincidentally work with groups that sound like WHINSEC and not object when SOUTHCOM sets ups sites like Diálogo: Forum for the Americas?" Oh, SNAP! It's because WHEMSAC IS funded by SOUTHCOM. At Florida International University. At the ARC, the very same center of Strategic Culture Studies. With the same website. Who you workin' for, again, Monologue? Anyway, click title for original at their website:

Can Coups Still Take Place in Latin America?

By Michael Shifter
Western Hemisphere Security Analysis Center, April 20, 2011

This article was published as part of the Western Hemisphere Security Analysis Center's report, "Latin American Coups: Have They Vanished or Taken New Shapes?" The full report (PDF) can be read here.

It has been two decades since the military forcibly ousted an elected, civilian government in Latin America and the Caribbean and actually assumed and exercised full authority. Such a traditional coup scenario took place in Haiti in 1991; prior to that, one would have to go back to Argentina in 1976. By any historical measure that is an impressive stretch of time that reflects well on the region’s democratic progress.

Yet, though surely significant, the fact that a military regime is not in control anywhere in the region today is hardly cause for celebration. Elections are, happily, routine, and have become the only acceptable way of achieving legitimacy. But the last two decades have witnessed a number of cases of governments whose legal terms were interrupted, serious aberrations in democratic rule, and significant weakening of fundamental institutions.

Indeed, there has been a string of interruptions of democratic rule in which leaders were deposed by extra-constitutional means. There is reason to believe such interruptions -- some of which certainly qualify as coups – will continue to take place in some Latin American countries in the future.

Less than a year after Haiti’s traditional coup came the “self-coup” engineered by elected Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori, who proceeded to dissolve the Congress and suspend the constitution. And the most recent illustration was the 2009 Honduras situation that in some respects recalled a traditional military coup, even though the armed forces did not take power but rather quickly ceded to a de facto government.

In both the Peruvian and Honduran examples (as well as Haiti) there was a strong reaction from other democratic hemispheric governments (in the case of Honduras the response was particularly severe and resulted in the country’s expulsion from the Organization of American States (OAS). But other instances in which governments that were ousted by force barely elicited any response from multilateral organizations. Street mobilizations forced Bolivian president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada to leave the presidency in October 2003, yet few referred to what happened as a coup.

Ecuador most clearly exemplifies the view that whether or not a challenge to democratic rule is dealt with as a coup is less a result of some rigorous, consistently applied definition than the politics that surrounds the situation. Arguably in several instances in Ecuador -- including in 1997, 2000 and particularly in 2005 – democratically elected governments were forced out, and at least in two of those cases the armed forces played the role of final arbiter.

Yet, prevailing regional politics -- along with the nature and politics of the coup itself -- were not conducive to any serious response by other hemispheric governments. At the same time, in late September 2010 there was essentially a police uprising that generated a strong response (even if one was not really warranted) and was characterized as a coup, not only by the OAS but also the Community of South American Nations or UNASUR. In some cases a coup took place but was not described as such, whereas another case was deemed a coup though it is not clear one occurred.

Whether a legitimate, elected government is forcibly ousted by Congress (Ecuador 1997), the street (Bolivia 2003) or the military (Honduras 2009), such coups or interruptions are highly problematic and repeatedly reveal the extreme fragility of democratic institutions in a half dozen or so of Latin American countries. Electoral processes may have improved in many respects, but in some nations the rule of law and judicial systems remain deficient, and Congress and political parties are extremely weak and incoherent. In these countries, which tend to have chronic governance difficulties, there are good reasons to expect future coups, particularly if economic and social conditions deteriorate.

In addition, there is another kind of phenomenon that can aptly be described as a coup as well – and that does not necessarily involve any change in government. Some analysts have referred to “slow-motion” coups in such countries as Nicaragua and Venezuela, where elected presidents proceed to systematically concentrate power and display disdain for democratic institutions and independent powers of government. In some respects, these cases resemble the characteristics of Fujimori in Peru in the 1990s. Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, elected president in 2006, has dismantled any checks on his power and presided over local elections widely deemed to be fraudulent.

In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez represents an extreme case, in which democratic norms and practices have been progressively subverted. The latest example is a set of laws, passed by a lame duck, Chavez-controlled National Assembly that gives Chavez decree authority for some eighteen months. Though the April 2002 short-lived coup against Chavez produced a strong reaction by the hemispheric community, the significant violations of his own 1999 constitution have met with a tepid response at best outside of Venezuela. Chavez’s regime, markedly militarized and contemptuous of the rule of law, faces scant external pressure.

Unless the politics are aligned (as was the case in Honduras in June 2009), there otherwise seems to be less and less appetite among regional bodies such as the OAS to take forceful action in response to coups of whatever kind. In September 2011, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which codified all of the OAS instruments and declarations regarding the defense of democracy in the Americas, will mark its first decade. The instruments and framework are highly developed, and were fashioned in response to the Fujimori experience (beyond the 1992 “self-coup”) in Peru, where the Charter was signed by the hemisphere’s democratically elected governments.

But unfortunately in recent years the collective will in the Americas to apply the instruments in accordance with some consistent standards and criteria has eroded. Among the region’s countries that have experienced democratic progress such as Chile and Brazil there is no support for the situations of strongman rule in such countries as Nicaragua and Venezuela. At the same time, however, arguments about sovereignty and non-intervention are frequently invoked to justify inaction.

Coups of some kind should be expected in Latin America in coming years not only because fundamental institutions remain weak in some countries but because the regional political environment is less prepared to respond effectively to transgressions than it was a few years ago. The good news, however, is that only a handful of countries are at risk, and that the militaries, even in those countries, show no interest in governing. The bad news is that in those few countries where situations are indeed shaky, they are also in some cases aggravated by rising food and fuel prices, and spreading criminality, which pose serious risks to the rule of law and democratic governance.