The chances of a coup?
bolivia | by Miguel Centellas | 16 May, 2004 at 03:43 PM | comments (0) | trackback (0)

The highways out of La Paz are blocked again. Although the markets are still stocked, and prices have only barely inched up, you can't travel by land out of La Paz. This better lift soon, since I need to go to Cochabamba for a few days.

Mesa's in a very tight spot. He insists he's the right to personally determine details of the gas referendum, still unknown to anyone. The military's upset over trials against officers involved in suppressing February's police mutiny — and threaten to not intervene in future uprisings. The COB-led teacher's march continues towards La Paz, set to arrive sometime tomorrow to occupy the city — despite the government's decision to abrogate Executive Decree 27457 (the law that decentralized the health & public sector towards the department prefectures), the marchers' primary demand.

But. I'll give my opinion on a likely coup: A coup isn't likely, despite all the rumors. Why? Several reasons.

First, a coup's usually supported by an organized political party. A coup won't happen until at least after the December municipal elections. In post-October politics, none of the parties really know where they stand. They're not going to risk supporting a coup if that'll sign their political death warrant. No party will sponsor a transitional coup (a coup that would seize power for a few months, restore order, then call for elections) unless it believes that A) it has constituents & B) they'll vote for them after a coup.

Second, the military have little interest to govern on their own. This is true of most Latin American militaries after the 1980s, when the transition to democracy was more about an unwillingness to wield power than about their inability to retain power. The military's first instinct is to preserve itself as an institution. In the 1980s, ranking officers decided that military-led governments risked the military-as-institution.

Third, a "popular" coup (such as October's) is the most probably scenario, but equally unlikely. Mesa's still quite popular, and few people want to remove him from office. This is more true in the barrios populares (poor & working class neighborhoods) than in middle & upper class neighborhoods.

Fourth, despite leftist rumors of a US embassy-sponsored coup, I'm highly skeptical. The US has its hands full in Iraq & the war on terror. It's evident that Latin America is low on priorities. Also, the US has more to loose (politics is PR by other means) supporting a coup than any meager gains (would it even gain anything?). Supporting a coup would also violate one of the principle doctrines of every administration since the 1990s: support democratic regimes.

Fifth, the option of an autogolpe (self-coup) is virtually non-existent. After Mesa's support of the decision to try military officers in civil courts, he's lost any support from the military. Fujimori or Chavez style autogolpes require very strong support from the military towards the chief executive.

So. I don't think a coup's very likely under these circumstances, despite all the rumors. But. What the rumors indicate is this: If there's a repeat of October, a coup's almost assured. The paceño upper & middle class, and the cruceño & tarijeño civic groups won't tolerate another disruption. If things get as bad as in October (and they're very far from reaching that point), then there will be some sort of military intervention sponsored by either the paceño elite or "media luna" leaders or both.

But we're not there yet. Not yet. I think the country can survive until the 18 July gas referendum. Depending on how the referendum goes ... all bets are off.

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"President Mesa finally announced the questions for the gas referendum. And although there are five of them, they seem rather vague & almost destined to win a "yes" vote by their very wording (which, I'm sure, was the point). But. Despite that, the questions are unclear as to what they..."
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