Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ecuador: A Coup d'Etat or not, a Proof of the Vicious Circle of Democracy in Latin America

-Correa in the Presidential balcony-
Last Thursday we witnessed tragic events in neighboring Ecuador, and after a week of their occurrence, the information behind them remains unclear. The versions change radically  depending on the media, and while some are bent on denying the existence of an attempted coup, others use every available piece of information to show that indeed there was one. In this series of arguments and counterarguments, that may not end, what it is  been overlooked is the weakness of democracy, which today is evident in Ecuador, but that is latent in many other countries in the region and has been proven in many other occasions.

Despite the arguments offered by those who oppose the theory of the attempted coup, the history of the South American country and of the region as a whole prevents rejecting this hypothesis unless the evidence is overwhelming. Throughout the twentieth century and even already entered the twenty-first, we have repeatedly seen presidents of the region being replaced by mechanisms that have nothing to do with the democratic practices to which they aspire. At the same time, it is noteworthy that in recent years, when the triumph of democracy seemed to have been achieved, the governments of the region that have been destabilized -Venezuela, Honduras, Bolivia, Ecuador- share political ideologies unfavorable to the interests of the sectors of the society that have been typically privileged and to foreign governments and companies. The theory of the coup is hard to reject.

However, we have also seen how presidents with moderate or high levels of popularity use it to pass constitutional reforms that will ensure their staying in power, to reduce the reach of the other branches of government, or they just overcome the constitution and govern responding only to their own will. The volatile and often easily manipulable public opinion turns out to be an inconvenient accomplice of these practices.

At the same time, Latin America, shows historical evidence of a low respect for the rules -this, of course, is not unique to their presidents-, a lack of understanding of democratic practices, and a lack of confidence in democracy itself. In this scenario, the charismatic character of some political leaders gets to make them look as "essential" or "irreplaceable", a situation that they do not hesitate to use to their advantage.

With this bleak picture, protests from different sectors, which would be normal phenomena in any developed democracy, turned into armed insurrections of the institutions that have the monopoly on the use of force, while political regimes collapse or are on the verge of the abyss. If the leader falls, as in the case of Honduras last year, a new system is established bypassing the constitution, otherwise the system comes out stronger, as in this case with Correa.

Most likely what was seen last week in Ecuador was a coup attempt, and in that sense the attitude of support from the countries of the region and the Organization of American States was right; the weight of history is too heavy to think otherwise. But beyond what will be discovered in the coming days about the nature of these facts, what is clear is the weakness of the political system, and the vicious circle where low respect for democracy -from leaders and citizens- produces disastrous results. The question of where the trigger of these events is goes to the background when it comes to situations of abuse of power, as well as scenarios where access to it by means of force is always considered as a viable alternative: so reprehensible one as the other.

Before closing this writing I learnt of the great news about the Nobel Prize of Literature for Mario Vargas Llosa. One of his visions of Latin America has been that our tendency to create imaginary worlds and live in unreality has allowed in the arts the creation of master pieces like those of Frida Kahlo, García Márquez, Cortázar and Botero. However, the same lack of realism applied to politics has meant disastrous experiences for the whole society. A first step consisting of respecting democracy, is just a dose of that realism that we all need; a stoppage of dreaming about immediate solutions and the need to build the future in every daily act. Hopefully, the recognition this great writer receives today serves as a reminder in of that.
Mario Vargas Llosa


  1. Sin embargo tengo una inquietud: ¿qué entendemos por democracia? y si en verdad los publos latinoaméricanos, en particular Colombia, están organizados bajo ese esquema?. A mi modo de ver creo que el conjunto de la sociedad no siente la necesidad, ni tiene el objetivo de organizarse, alrededor de cualquier sistema, en orden de resolver los diferentes choques de intereses

  2. Guillermo: en muchos casos la sociedad puede no sentir la necesidad de organizarse, pero en muchos otros cualquier iniciativa a la movilización es bloqueada por los gobiernos u otros protagonistas de la vida política. Así como menciono en mi artículo comparativo de Nicaragua y Argentina, hay movimientos que despiertan la necesidad de cooperación entre ciudadanos, mientras que otros la desincentivan por completo; el argumento que he venido defendiendo es que cuando la democracia surge desde abajo y no impuesta por un líder (desde arriba), es más probable que esta sea exitosa. Ahora, esto es algo que a muchos líderes les cuesta aceptar. Hacerse a un lado cuando la popularidad es alta y dejar que otro tome el poder, es difícil para muchos gobernantes (tómense como ejemplos Chavez y Uribe).
    Finalmente, respecto a lo que entendemos por democracia podríamos resumirlo diciendo que es el gobierno de las mayorías con respeto por las minorías; en ese sentido la institucionalidad y el respeto por las reglas entran a jugar un papel trascendental. Lo que menciono en mi artículo de Ecuador, y en el de Nicaragua de esta semana, es que ese respeto empieza a fallar desde los mismos líderes que supuestamente que se han visto beneficiados por el sistema y por tanto tienen aún una mayor responsabilidad por el respeto de las instituciones.