Neoliberalism is a bad word in Latin America. It’s associated with arrogant yankee executives with money falling out of their pockets condescending on the place. It’s associated in many American liberals’ minds with the World Bank building leaky oil projects on the jungle land of noble savages.
A little bit of this is chauvinism in resenting anything from outside being helpful, but there is some basis in fact. But let’s look at one set of data that shows just how good the last 25 years have been in the region.
**Stretched definition of coup; more of a constitutional crisis
Here is a list of all of the coup and coup attempts since 1991, 25 years ago. Ecuador 2010*, Honduras 2009**, Ecuador 2005, Venezuela 2002*, Ecuador 2000, Guatemala 1993*, Peru 1992***, Venezuela 1992*. That’s a total of 8 coups only 2 of which were successful or unqualified, non-hyperbolic coups. These occurred in only 5 countries, with three in Ecuador and 2 in Venezuela.
What about the 25 years prior? Panama 1990*, Argentina 1990*, Panama 1989*, Paraguay 1989, Argentina 1988* (Dec), Argentina 1988* (Jan), Argentina 1987*, Suriname 1980, Bolivia 1980, El Salvador 1979, Argentina 1976, Ecuador 1976, Uruguay 1973, Chile 1973 (Sept), Chile 1973* (June), Bolivia 1970, Bolivia 1970 (Counter), Brazil 1969, Peru 1968, Panama 1968, Argentina 1966. That’s a total of 21 14 of which were successful in 12 countries.
In other words, all three of the incidence, the success rate, and the number of countries affected has declined dramatically since the end of the Cold War and the “hegemony” of the Washington Consensus, Globalization, and Neoliberalism.
What’s so amazing about this is that the region has suffered plenty of shocks since then. Mexico’s currency imploded in 1995 as did Argentina’s in 2001. Right now, much of the region is suffering from a bad economy, as much of the world has since 2008, yet in that period the only places to suffer coups were Ecuador, which has almost no history of peaceful transitions of power, and Honduras, which is wracked by narco-gang violence. Even in Brazil, only the heated rhetoric of failed politicians is calling the instant process a coup—they’re following the constitutional procedure.
In other words, places that have suffered terrible shocks have not suffered coups and others have grown very much more stable. Even Venezuela where there are now shortages of basic supplies, medicine, and electricity is currently debating a legal procedure to remove Maduro, not a coup.
The contingent of resistance to this yanqui domination gained power in Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela (with its chief architect, Hugo Chavez) and Brazil. Using the language of socialism and anti-american nationalism, these countries had temporarily successful leaders who unsustainably took advantage of temporary conditions to do some good with respect to poverty, but in most cases virtually nothing to address the deeper issues of government. Indeed, it’s in these countries alone where we’ve seen post-cold war coups at all.
Just in the last year, the people have realized these people were clowns. In Bolivia, Evo Morales’s attempt to make himself, in effect, president for life, was rejected by voters. In Argentina, the Kirchner dynasty and its retainers were finally deposed by the kind of policies (if not necessarily the exact person) that can finally bring it into the developed world. Now, finally, the socialists of Brazil have been deposed.
To understand why what happened in Brazil is good, you have to reconcile yourself to the fact that corruption and good policies aren’t always mutually exclusive and that the reverse is true. Dilma may not have been corrupt, but her government, which had the good idea of direct transfers to the poor, did nothing to ensure those payments were sustainable. Milking a temporary bubble for a social safety net without investing in sustainable institutions is bad government no matter your corruption or purity.
That leaves Maduro and Correa in Ecuador. I think it’s only a matter of time with Maduro since he is the poster child for the failure of the so-called Bolivarian pink Latin America. Correa seems to be making hay out of the devastating earthquake that just struck Ecuador, but its doubtful he will survive alone.
Unfortunately, no sooner does this pink wave recede than one of the relatively more stable countries faces a test of its own with the potential election of Keiko Fujimori. Replacing left wing semi-feral rulers with right-wing ones won’t help.