Comparative Politics

Some Data on Latin American Coups

Jul 1 '09

In earlier post, I passed along this query from a friend and asked for data:

bq. It seems to have become much more common in the post-1989 period for coupsters to hand over at least the nominal reins to some sort of civilian entity as quickly as possible — to pose as a democratic coup, if you will, recognizing the pro-democracy ethos that is pressed by the OAS, AU, UN, etc after coups. This has happened quite frequently in Africa in recent years; see also Thailand and Bangladesh. But do the numbers bear me out?

John Carey kindly sends along the following. (Thanks, John!)

_Latin American presidential replacements during post-Cold War era_

List of coups and self-coups, attempted and successful (from Marsteintredet & Berntzen 2008, see below):

* Haiti 1991: Aristide (elected 1990) deposed, replaced by military junta.
* Venezuela 1992: Coup attempt led by Hugo Chavez against President Carlos Andres Perez (elected 1989) fails.
* Peru 1992: Fujimori (elected 1990) summons military to shut down Congress. Fujimori remains president; new Constitution ratified and Congress elected in 1993.
* Guatemala 1993: President Jorge Serrano (elected 1991) attempts self-coup against Congress, but military balks; Serrano replaced by congressional appointee Ramiro de Leon Carpio.
* Paraguay 1996: Coup attempt by Gen. Lino Oviedo against President Carlos Wasmosy (elected 1993) fails.
* Ecuador 2000: Jamil Mahuad (elected 1998) deposed by military coup led by Lucio Gutierrez. Gutierrez initially declares himself president, but reverses next day, and VP sworn in.
* Venezuela 2002: Chavez (elected 1998, again 2000) deposed by military coup that declares Chamber of Commerce head Pedro Carmona president. Coup fails 2 days later; Chavez reinstated.
* Haiti 2004: Aristide (elected 2000) deposed by military and replaced with Supreme Court chief justice as interim.

Note that this list is just those events that involved the military. In the last couple of decades, Latin America has seen an even larger number of presidential replacements before the end of the constitutionally prescribed periods, that have not involved military intervention. Some of these were conducted within the bounds of the constitutions (e.g. impeachments, resignations), but most were triggered by extra-constitutional factors (e.g. protests that were violent or heading that way) and many were resolved by constitutional improvisation that has often verged toward parliamentarism, whereby legislatures declare incumbent presidents not to be president anymore and name a replacement. Here is a list of premature presidential replacements in what many would call the post-coup era in Latin America, which essentially corresponds to the post-Cold War era:

* Argentina 1989: Raul Alfonsin resigned 6 months early to allow elected successor Carlos Menem to take office early.
* Brazil 1992: Fernando Collor de Melo (impeached)
* Venezuela 1993: Carlos Andres Perez (impeached)
* Ecuador 1996: Abdala Bucaram voted out by Congress for ‘mental incapacity’
* Dominican Republic 1996: Facing charges of fraud in 1994 election, Joaquin Balaguer agrees to shorten his presidential term, hold new elections, and leave office.
* Paraguay 1999: Raul Cubas resigned (facing impeachment)
* Argentina 1999: Fernando de la Rua resigned facing protests
* Argentina 1999: Alfonso Rodriguez Saa (de la Rua’s congressionally designated successor) resigned facing protests.
* Peru 2000: Alberto Fujimori resigns facing corruption revelations.
* Peru 2001: Valentin Paniagua, Fujimori’s congressionally-designated replacement, holds early elections (originally scheduled for 2005).
* Bolivia 2002: Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada resigns facing protests.
* Ecuador 2005: Lucio Gutierrez (elected 2002) voted by Congress to have ‘abandoned office;’ replaced.
* Bolivia 2005: Carlos Mesa (Sanchez de Lozada’s VP, now president) resigns facing protests.
* Bolivia 2005: Mesa’s replacement, Supreme Court Chief Justice Eduardo Rodriguez, agrees to hold office only until early elections (originally scheduled for 2006) can be held.

For more on premature presidential replacements, here are some sources:

Carey, John M. “Presidential Versus Parliamentary Government.” 2005. Handbook of New Institutional Economics. Claude Menard and Mary Shirley, eds. Boston: Kluwer Academic Press.

Marsteintredet, Leiv and Einar Berntzen. 2008. “Reducing the perils of presidentialism in Latin America through presidential interruptions.” Comparative Politics 41(1):83-105.

Pérez-Liñán, Anibal S. 2007. Presidential impeachment and the new political instability in Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press: