The military has become a relevant factor in the political game of several Latin American countries. The most recent case has been the entry into Parliament of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele escorted by military. In October, the military leadership forced Evo Morales out of the presidency. And in Venezuela, for two decades the armed force tightly maintains control of the reins. Each case is different and each country must be analyzed separately before reaching a general conclusion.
We have asked five experts to give us their insight on this moment. Is there a risk that the Armed Forces will once again be the arbiter of political life? Why in some countries are responsible for security in cities? Is there a risk of democratic involution? Analysts consulted by LA RAZÓN dismiss the scenario of a Latin America dominated by the military, as happened in the seventies of the last century. Although there are countries where there has been a setback in this regard, such as Venezuela and Nicaragua, the greater presence of the uniformed in the public life of these nations is more related to the dissatisfaction with political and economic instability and with the demand for order and security in a region especially punished by violence.
The growing prominence of the military follows different patterns in each country. The teacher Gustavo Flores-Macías, from Cornell University, in the United States, points four routes used by the Armed Forces in their return to the political scene.
1. Support authoritarian governments: Venezuela
Venezuela It is the greatest exponent of the authoritarian path. In this country, the Armed Forces maintain a government that has lost legitimacy and is unable to provide the most basic public services. From the seizure of the power of chavismo in 1999, power has been controlled by the uniformed. Hugo Chavez himself was a commander who had tried two military coups before coming to power by the polls.
In 2016 the creation of Camimpeg, a state-owned oil and gas company parallel to PDVSA, directed by the military, to which President Maduro had already granted space in other areas of the economy, following the Cuban model. At the moment two military occupy portfolios in Maduro’s cabinet, they are Nestor Reverol, Minister of Interior and Justice, and Vladimir Padrino López, in charge of Defense.
2. Suppress protests: Chile and Colombia
The government of Sebastian Piñera He decided to use the uniforms to quell the protests in October last year and imposed a curfew. After several weeks of demonstrations and clashes in the streets, the number of victims was 31, and many have reminded them of the dark page of the Pinochet dictatorship. Human rights organizations criticized the brutality of the Army and the police used against the protesters.
In colombia, the Government of Iván Duque He also turned to the military to appease the streets of the main cities, where thousands of people protested against the Executive. The Office in Colombia of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about the increased presence of military personnel.
The political consultant Antonio Sola says that the deployment of military in these countries was done to maintain order, “as happened in France when Macron ordered the deployment of soldiers at some critical points during the protests of the yellow vests.” He also cites the case of Mexico, where President Felipe Calderón took out the Army in 2006 in the states overwhelmed by the violence derived from drug trafficking.
3. “Appoint” the president: Bolivia
The Armed Forces became a key factor in the departure of the presidency of Evo Morales in October of last year. It was General Williams Kaliman who “suggested” the president to resign after the protests after his October electoral victory, qualified by the OAS as fraudulent.
In El Salvador, the president Nayib Bukele sent the military to the headquarters of the National Assembly to coerce deputies in order to approve a loan that allows the government to execute its security plan against gangs. It should be remembered that El Salvador lived several decades under a military dictatorship and that it only reached democracy after a bloody civil war.
In Peru, President Martín Vizcarra dissolved the Congress and called elections surrounded by the high command of the Armed Forces and the Police. And in Ecuador, Lenin Moreno He showed himself with the military dome when he announced a state of emergency.
4. Take charge of public safety: Mexico
The Armed Forces have taken the reins of public security in countries such as Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico and Nicaragua, where high levels of violence have contributed to justify the Army’s participation in public affairs. The case of Brazil combines some of the exposed routes, says Flores-Macías. “The military in Bolsonaro’s cabinet They are in charge of public policies in several areas, not only in public security, as is the case in Mexico and other countries. The army has also deployed to control protests, as in Chile. Bolsonaro is a former military man, so it should not be ruled out that during his presidency the influence of the armed forces will increase further, ”adds the analyst.
Although there are four different routes, “they all point to return of democracies with guardianship control of the military, those that maintain the democratic scaffolding through elections and a more or less free press, but where the real power is held by the Armed Forces, ”adds Gustavo Flores-Macías.
Another factor that explains the reappearance of the military has to do with the weakness of institutions in countries where democracy is not firmly established, As it explains Miguel Tinker Salas, Professor of History in Pomona Collegue, California. “Unfortunately, the military remains a decisive factor in Latin American politics,” explains this analyst.
In his opinion, “the events in El Salvador demonstrate the imposition of a presidentialism that without the support of the army would be forced to negotiate with the congress” The unusual entry of the military into parliament a few days ago reminded Tinker Salas of what happened in Peru “when Alberto Fujimori made a self-coup in 1992. Bukele now and Fujimori at the time democracy is something that bothers them and prefer to use the army to impose an authoritarian order.
Instead, the political consultant Antonio Sola considers that Latin American societies are demanding order and security, something that is reflected in the concerns of the Latinobarometer. “The European social democracies, for lukewarm and weak, have failed to impose an effective hand against crime and drug trafficking, and that is a whip for the countries of Latin America.”
For Sola, “what we are seeing is a final fight, the last flashes of a Cold War which faces Russia, Iran, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba against the United States and more progressive countries. That battle was clearly defined in Bolivia, where the departure of Evo Morales had the Russians and the Americans involved, each defending their respective interests. ”
The continued appearance of the military on the political scene in Latin America has a historical origin, he says. Fernando Mires “There is a precarious political conscience in the region, to such an extent that, with few exceptions, it could be said that Latin America still lives under the primacy of pre-political conditions.”
The analyst Moses Naim He says that “in Latin America the inherent nature of the military in the political life of their countries has varied greatly.” “Let’s not forget that for decades the vast majority of Latin Americans lived in countries ruled by bloodthirsty and repressive military dictatorships. Then came a period where – with the exception of Cuba – the military almost disappeared from politics and submitted to the control of civil society and its government. ”
But in all these oscillations, he adds, it is important to highlight political events that in the past were ruled (sometimes wildly) by the Armed Forces. “Now, however, this has not been the case.” Naím gives an example of what happened in Brazil and Guatemala. “Both the president Dilma Rousseff as the president of Guatemala, his vice president and his ministers were removed from power by civil society and in accordance with the constitution and laws. ” The Armed Forces are used as a moderating arbitrator to resolve political crises that leaders have failed to solve, as in the recent case of Evo Morales in Bolivia.
The intervention of the uniformed for the maintenance of public order has been a constant in the last decade in countries such as Mexico, where the magnitude of the violence derived from drug trafficking has been such that the Government militarized certain regions, which motivated hundreds of complaints about their practices. In Chile, as we said at the beginning, there have also been complaints from civil organizations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for the use of excessive force in protests.
For years, some armies in the region have lived without making excessive noise and have maintained a close alliance with the political sphere, with well installed domes and in some cases leading the control of public companies and social services. Further, they have enjoyed the approval of a good part of society, which often sees this institution as the most reliable in the midst of a context often dominated by corruption.