Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Soft coups and the protests in Venezuela

"Venezuela is Latin America's biggest exporter of crude oil and has the world's largest petroleum reserves." - Brian Ellsworth and Andrew Cawthorne, Venezuela death toll rises to 13 as protests flare Reuters 02/24/2014

Carlos Andujar, Golpe de timón Página/12 30.03.2014 describes the concept that major Latin American left parties like Argentina's Partido Justicialista are currently using of the "soft coup," golpes suaves or golpes blancos in Spanish:

Los golpes no tienen la impronta de los genocidas de la década del setenta pero pueden ser igual de efectivos y siniestros. Los llamados golpes suaves, de los que la Honduras de Manuel Zelaya y el Paraguay de Fernando Lugo no son los únicos ejemplos, son proyectos y acciones políticas no violentas para derrocar gobiernos. Incluyen la promoción del descontento y malestar, las denuncias de corrupción, las campañas en defensa de la libertad de prensa y las acusaciones de totalitarismo. Continúan con las protestas en las calles, los cortes, la toma de instituciones emblemáticas, la guerra psicológica a través de la instalación de rumores, campañas mediáticas y la desmoralización de los organismos de seguridad.

Se busca generar la deslegitimación del gobierno, el clima de ingobernabilidad y el aislamiento internacional. En definitiva, como señala el sociólogo Atilio Boron, "la escalada desestabilizadora que actualmente sufre la Venezuela bolivariana tiene un objetivo no negociable: el derrocamiento del gobierno de Nicolás Maduro. No hay un ápice de interpretación de quien esto escribe en esta afirmación. Lo que se busca es precisamente eso: un 'golpe de estado' que ponga punto final a la experiencia chavista. Y continúa, "hace medio siglo que Estados Unidos está proponiendo sin éxito algo similar para Cuba. Ahora lo están intentando, con todas sus fuerzas, en Venezuela".

[Coups don't have the stamp of genocides of the decade of the seventies but can be equally effective and sinister. The so-called soft coups, of which those of Honduras against Manuel Zelaya in Honduras and against Fernando Lugo in Paraguay are not the only examples, are nonviolent political projects and actions to overthrow governments. The include the promotion of discontent and discontent, denunciations of corruption, campaigns in defense of freedom of the press and accusations of totalitarianism. They continue with protests in the streets, blockades, taking emblematic institutions, psychological warfare by starting rumors, media campaigns and demoralizing the security agencies.

The seek to generate a delegitimization of the government, a clime of ungovernability and international isolation. Finally, as the sociologist Atilio Boron points out, "the destabilizing escalation that Bolivarian Venezuela is currently suffering has a non-negotiable objective: the overthrow of the government of Nicolás Maduro. There is not of iota of room for interpretation of those who write that is this affirmation. [The exact opposition affirmation is not described. What they seek is precisely this: a 'coup d'etat' that puts an end to the chavista experience." And he continues, "for half a century, the United States has been seeking a similar success in Cuba. Now they are attempting it, with all their power, in Venezuela.]

Because the idea of the "soft coup" is used by some of the major governing parties like those in Argentina and Venezuela, it's important to understand the concept.

But I'm also not entirely convinced of it's value as political theory. Without trying to parse out the political science meanings of the terms coup or coup d'etat, we tend to think of coups as the overthrow of an existing government by insiders of some sort without prior democratic legitimation and against the institutional mechanisms of the country, democratic or otherwise.

The term does seem to fit well with the coups of the last several years in Honduras and Paraguay. Those were pretty straightforward inside jobs that didn't involve the military directly stepping in.

The 1973 coup in Chile was clearly a military coup, as was the 1976 one in Argentina. The political buildup was notably prominent in the Pinochet coup in Chile. But pretty much all coups have some kind of preparation among civilian politicians.

Carlos Andujar's article and the quote above from Atilio Boron are both focused heavily on current events in Venezuela. And the aspect of foreign intervention by the United States is a prominent theme.

I still have not seen any convincing evidence that the US is driving the current protests in Venezuela. There have been clear diplomatic signals of sympathy for the radical opposition. And given US history with Latin America, US involvement with the 2002 failed coup in Venezuela and evidence of attempting to promote another soon after that, and given the amount of oil in Venezuela - did I mention that Venezuela has the world's biggest oil reserve and that it's good quality stuff? - I would be very, very surprised if the Obama Administration isn't actively encouraging the current protests in some major way. I just haven't seen the evidence presented in the public record. The UNASUR countries are certainly making a rationally cautious assumption in their own interests in assuming that the US is involved.

And I'm surprised that the opposition "affirmation" to which the article refers isn't specified. But it is consistent with the clearly and publicly expressed aims of the radical opposition currently led by Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado. And in the case of Venezuela, the government is charged three generals with planning a military coup. So not everyone involved is looking for a "soft" coup.

But I do wonder if a government collapses due to popular mobilizations, even if some significant part of those mobilizations are astro-turf (fake grass roots) movements funded by billionaires or oligarchs, if that can be better understood as a "soft coup." It may be that "revolution by implosion," a term used by Joschka Fischer to describe the 1989 revolutions in eastern Europe, would be better for such a situation.

In the Venezuelan case, it's hard to foresee Nicolás Maduro and his government stepping down right not in the absence of a military coup. Maduro was elected last year in an election competitive enough that his win was a narrow one. And his party did notably better in late 2013 local elections. Venezuela has a functioning democratic system with a parliamentary opposition and a critical opposition press. Despite the level of disruption the radical faction of the opposition has been able to cause since February, there doesn't seem to be any reason to look for an immediate regime change in Caracas.

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