torsdag 14. januar 2016

Venezuela 2015: Look to The Dominican Republic, not Peru

So, I blurted out on twitter (@leivm_academic) today that the apparent deal that Henry Ramos Allup (HRA) and MUD made with the Maduro/Cabello regime on "re-suspending" the three "suspended" representatives from the state of Amazonas reminded me much more of the 1994 and 1978 debacles in the Dominican Republic than the 1992 "autogolpe" of Fujimori in Peru. Andrés Malamud (@andresmalamud) challenged me to explain why and I kind of tried, but not satisfactorily. The background to this is well-known for many. On December 6 the opposition won two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, which the regime tried to strip away after stuffing the already politically stuffed Supreme Court with 13 new members, and then crying fraud to the Electoral Chamber of the new Supreme Court, which "suspended" four representatives from Amazonas on allegation of fraud. Three of these representatives belonged to the opposition, one to the PSUV. First the opposition went head-on and swore the representatives in (at least the three belonging to the opposition), but after threats of having the Supreme Court taking over the legislative functions, and the Supreme Court arguing that any action coming out of the National Assembly with the three Amazonas representatives present would be null and void, and that the leadership of the newly elected National Assembly was in contempt of the Supreme Court for not executing its order, the National Assembly backed down and the three Amazonas representatives.

Anyway, several people have mentioned Peru on twitter and in other comments when referring to or trying to find a comparable situation to the current crisis in Venezuela. But, I think the differences are greater than the similarities. The Peru 1992 "autogolpe", which inaugurated the first authoritarian and then later the electoral (or competitive) authoritarian period in Peru (until 2000) was the result of a head-on conflict between parliament and the president that the president won when Fujimori (supported by the military) ordered the parliament closed. This move turned out to be highly popular in Peru at the time. In my view, there is not much that resembles the pre-1992 Peru in Venezuela right now. First of all, Peru before 1992 was democratic - it turned authoritarian with the autogolpe. Venezuela is clearly electoral authoritarian the way that concept is defined and if considered democratic, Venezuela is much less so than Peru before 1992. Second, Fujimori was popular and maybe became more popular by closing parliament. It is highly unlikely that Maduro would become very popular should he effectuate the threats made by Capello and Maduro himself. In Peru the autogolpe occurred 2 years after parliamentary and presidential elections, in Venezuela elections occurred a month ago. And thirdly, Venezuela is not there yet. The deal made yesterday may have avoided the Fujimori-autogolpe track (for now). So, apart from there being a clear conflict between parliament and the presidency, the regimes are different, presidential support is starkly different and the outcome is (for now) different.

But, the deal which involved the opposition accepting a type of legalistic post-electoral fraud that stripped MUD from its 2/3 majority in the National Assembly, probably in order to avoid a full institutional breakdown in a context in which the Maduro-regime controlled fully the justice sector and probably also the army, resembles what occurred in the Dominican Republic in 1978 and also partly what occurred in 1994.

In 1978, the semi-authoritarian president Joaquín Balaguer had ruled for 12 years, and he and his conservative Reformist party lost the presidential and parliamentary elections in May that year. Balaguer, who as a politician was so cunning and smart that he'd make Chávez look like an amateur, ruled what may be the first (modern) electoral authoritarian regime in Latin America. He won by fraud and intimidation of the opposition in 1966, and although popular his regime, like Chávez's regime, continued authoritarian practices during elections in 1970, 1974 (when the opposition withdrew from the contest) and in 1978. In 1978, however, the opposition party (PRD), won the presidency and majority in both chambers of parliament. I will not go in to details about the details of events here, but after it became relatively clear that the opposition would win, Balaguer and the army stopped the vote count on the eve of the election, and threatened with a military coup. Under heavy international pressure (USA, OAS, Venezuela and in particular AD - in the Dominican Republic Carlos Andrés Pérez is considered somewhat of a hero actually), this was during the Carter-presidency, the Balaguer regime and the military backed down, but only after having robbed the PRD of the majority in the Senate and various seats in the Lower Chamber. The price for taking the presidency, and avoiding a complete breakdown, was continued control for the Balaguer party (Partido Reformista) over the Senate which by majority decision elected the Supreme Court. This way Balaguer and his supporters were secured immunity and impunity for corruption and human rights violations during the twelve year rule from 1966 to 1978.

In 1994, blatant electoral fraud and a Central Electoral Board "owned" by Balaguer (who came back to the presidency in 1986 and ruled in a somewhat more democratic, but still electoral authoritarian fashion), secured Balaguer a "victory" in the presidential election, and deprived the PRD (again) a majority in the Senate. The latter was important again for securing impunity and immunity for crimes during the 1986-1994 stint in power. Again international pressure (USA, OAS) forced a deal, which this time shortened Balaguer's fraudently won presidential term to two years, and a constitutional reform banning reelection and (later) judicial reform and electoral reform to secure a more level playing field. In this case, a complete breakdown was an outcome, but rather by the PRD going to the streets to try to remove Balaguer through social protests.

The Dominican cases are in some instances clearly different from today's Venezuela. In the DR we are dealing with both presidential and parliamentary elections, in Venezuela only parliamentary elections. Nevertheless, given the opposition's promise to remove Maduro the stakes are similar. In the Dominican Republic, a much smaller country, the international pressure for respecting democracy was much higher and international actors had probably higher potential leverage than in Venezuela.

But in other instances, there are similiarities and more so than between Venezuela and Peru ca. 1990-1992. Both regimes are electoral authoritarian, both regimes experience post-electoral crises caused by a regime not willing to cede power and bow to the popular will, in all three cases democracy is violated by a deal struck between the opposition and regime that weakens the opposition  and strengthens the regime's position (compared to the mandate given by the voters), in all cases the use of legal institutions controlled by the regime were used to create a "legal" solution, in all cases a total breakdown of the institutions (and potential use of violent force) was the alternative without a deal.

In the Dominican Republic international pressure for (liberal) demoracy was crucial in both 1978 and 1994, and without it is difficult to see that the opposition would have gotten anything. One may wonder then what the presence of an OAS electoral mission, USA on the ball and real regional pressure for the respect of democracy could have done in the Venezuelan election and its current aftermath. OAS would most likely have been able to publicly defend electoral result (UNASUR is SILENT today), and together with solid pressure from neighbouring countries the costs of the Supreme Court sentences might have risen enough to avoid them.

The second point is that both 1978 and 1994 are considered democratic transitions in the Dominican Republic. Electoral loss for an electoral authoritarian regime signified in both cases some sort of transition to a more democratic situation. This is also a likely outcome in Venezuela (especially since the economy is fast digging the regime's grave and current economic policies are bringing a steam shovel to aid digging it quicker). In Peru, on the other hand, the 1992 debacle signified a breakdown of democracy. A warning here is that both Dominican transitions are considered by Jonathan Hartlyn and others as failed opportunities, since the outgoing regime (Balaguer) managed to keep control of important institutions and thus hinder a full break from the previous modus operandi of doing politics (and hindering any type of transitional justice). Despite the political deal just made, a clearer break is more likely in Venezuela than in the DR (unless the situtation ends in an autogolpe after all), but this is due to the economic situation that undermines regime support rapidly, and the option of a recall-referendum.

Should the Maduro-regime survive for three more years, however, and keep its control the judiciary, military (a question here of course is who controls who) and the electoral authorities, then we are dealing with one of the first cases of an electoral authoritarian regime with a minority in Congress. That could be quite interesting to follow.

At any rate, if you want to look at somewhat similar cases for analysing the Venezuelan post-electoral conflict, look to the Dominican Republic, not to Peru and the autogolpe of 1992. If you still want to look to Peru, then look to 2000 where Fujimori fled to Japan some months after having fraudulently won a presidential elections.

2 kommentarer:

  1. Bravo, Leiv! I agree that a comparison to 1992 Peru is puzzling--although I don't (didn't?) know enough about the D.R. to see a compelling link there. And this is pure speculation, but I don't think the current constellation of power in Venezuela will persist very long; the economic crisis is too entrenched, and chavismo has doubled down. Maduro is 'ripe' for a recall vote (see what I did there??) and the opposition appears to have sufficient ammunition. My biggest fear is that the military becomes fragmented, leading to a coup scenario.

  2. Thank you John. I mentioned these points briefly, and I agree. I think current status quo is relatively unlikely in medium run, recall vote is more likely (although we never know what HRA might have agreed to on the back-room). On the other hand if regime (or military) can credibly threaten with a military solution if the opposition pushes for a removal of Maduro, maybe that is enough to save Maduro? But, there will be new conflicts long before recall-vote is on the table. First test is government reaction to an Amnesty law.