Latin coup datapoint of the day

By Felix Salmon
June 29, 2009
The 1960s saw 12 successful coups in the region; the 1970s saw 9; in the 1980s there were 6; in the 1990s there were 3; and so far this decade there has only been one, in Ecuador in 2000. ... For all the fears about the future of Latin American democracy, the fact is that the region is far more democratic now than it has been at any point in the past, and that even when there are coups, like the present one in Honduras, the military moves quickly to install a new civilian leadership, rather than ruling as a junta. " data-share-img="" data-share="twitter,facebook,linkedin,reddit,google" data-share-count="true">

The Wikipedia list of successful coups d’état is a very useful resource. You can argue the toss on many of the specifics (was Alberto Fujimori’s dissolution of the Peruvian parliament in 1992 a coup?) but the big picture is clear: Latin American coups are increasingly rare things.

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The 1960s saw 12 successful coups in the region; the 1970s saw 9; in the 1980s there were 6; in the 1990s there were 3; and so far this decade there has only been one, in Ecuador in 2000. Honduras might double that figure to two, but that misses a more important datapoint — that if you look just at the big three countries in the region — Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil — there hasn’t been a successful coup since 1976, 33 years ago.

It wasn’t that long ago that all Latin American politicians had to carefully mollify the military, lest they suffer a coup. Today, that really isn’t a worry in most Latin countries, even though the military naturally leans right while politics in the region is tending leftward. What’s more, the important countries have fewer coups than the small ones: Bolivia had no fewer than 11 successful coups between 1930 and 1980, only for Haiti to take on the mantle with further coups in 1986, 1988, and 1991. But coups in bigger countries, like Venezuela, have been notable for their lack of success: Chavez failed with his own attempt in 1992, and then successfully rebuffed another ten years later.

For all the fears about the future of Latin American democracy, the fact is that the region is far more democratic now than it has been at any point in the past, and that even when there are coups, like the present one in Honduras, the military moves quickly to install a new civilian leadership, rather than ruling as a junta. That’s the silver lining in today’s cloud. (Full list of datapoints here.)

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