Studies in Comparative International Development

, Volume 48, Issue 4, pp 403–431 | Cite as

Confronting Coup Risk in the Latin American Left

Article

Abstract

Military coups d'état have become dramatically less frequent in Latin America over the past 20 years, leading many analysts to conclude that the risk of coups in the region today is negligible. Yet we observe that a particular subset of presidents in the region—namely, those commonly associated with the radical left—pursue a wide range of “coup-proofing” behaviors, primarily in the way that they manage relations with their militaries, but also in their political rhetoric. Our goal in this article is to explain why some Latin American presidents spend precious resources on coup-proofing. First, even as we demonstrate that coup activity is significantly diminished across the region as a whole, we offer evidence to suggest that coup risk is quite real in countries with radical left presidents. Second, we identify several specific strategies that these presidents have pursued to minimize coup risk. We explain the coup-proofing rationale behind each of these strategies and document their use in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Third, we show that no similar set of strategies or policies has been pursued by moderate leftist or more conservative presidents in the region. We infer from these empirical patterns that radical left presidents have undertaken substantial efforts to maintain military allegiance and to mitigate coup risk precisely because they recognize the possibility of military intervention. In our conclusion, we suggest that these strategies may confer a short-term benefit for the presidents who implement them, but they are likely to have negative consequences for the long-term stability of democratic institutions.

Keywords

Latin America Coups d'etat Civil–military relations Radical left Coup-proofing Regime type 

Notes

Acknowledgments

A partial draft of this paper was presented at the XXIX Congress of the Latin American Studies Association in Toronto, Canada, October 6-9, 2010. We thank Will Barndt, Ryan Carlin, Michelle Dion, Gustavo Flores-Macías, Kathryn Hochstetler, Raul Madrid, Pierre Ostiguy, Brian Palmer-Rubin, David Rivera, Brian Taylor, and several anonymous reviewers for their comments and criticisms.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceSyracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA

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