A Hefty Serving of Crow for the #DictadorNoSaleConVotos crowd

In this week's Sobremesa, Juan challenges the merits of democracy in authoritarianism...and Viejas del Cafetal.


No, mi amor, dictador no sale con votos, esto se resuelve a plomo.

How many times have you heard this canard? Whether it’s your crazy El Cafetal aunt or the nutter you follow on Twitter (but really, really shouldn’t), people who say “dictators never leave via the ballot box” are persuasive, obnoxious, and loud.

It’s a disarming statement actually, because it makes a lot of sense. Why would a dictator leave via the ballot box? Dictators don’t normally have elections anyway, right?

Yet the statement is demonstrably untrue.

Exhibit 1: Augusto Pinochet. He was a dictator through and through, yet he left via the ballot box. Sure, he only “sorta” left, and hung around for a long time, effectively holding considerable power even after ceasing to be President. But Chileans defeated him at the ballot box.

Crazy aunt: “No, mijo, this is not Chile. That’s a civilized country. This is a narco-state.”

Exhibit 2: Myanmar. This week, the world rejoiced upon learning that the beloved Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD won a landslide parliamentary election, paving the way for her party to select the new President. A transition is already under way, twenty-five years after defeating the military at the ballot box. And guess what? It happened in a military narco-state.

Crazy Twitter account: “You’re so iluso, pana, this is Latin America we’re talking about, not Asia.”

Exhibit 3: Alberto Fujimori. In the year 2000, Mr. Fujimori – by all accounts an elected dictator – got frisky with the Constitution, twisting it to allow him to run yet another time. He stole the vote, but the international community and internal spy dynamics meant his tenure unraveled quickly. Peru is now a democracy – a dysfunctional one, but miles better than what we Venezuelans have.

Crazy aunt: “The problem with Venezuela is the opposition that plays by the rrrrrrrégimen’s rules!”

Ultimately, facts are facts. Dictatorships don’t hold elections, but sometimes they do, and when they do, you better be there ready to pounce in case this is one of those rare instances where … the dictator leaves via the ballot box.

It happens. Not often, but it happens. This week’s Myanmar news remind us that the crazy aunt and the hateful Twitter troll … are wrong.

Make sure you bring this up today at your sobremesa, and tell us what crazy aunt said … and have a great weekend.

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  1. Of course that proving false the proposition ‘Dictador no sale con votos’ is very easy. But that’s just an oversimplification of the real debate.

    The real proposition should be: ‘Esta dictadura que tenemos en Venezuela no sale con la elecciones parlamentarias de diciembre’.

    Good luck throwing the lugares comunes of South Africa, Chile and I guess now Myanmar, at that proposition – the situations, seen in that general way, are so different that they tell us nothing of what could happen here!

    Just taking Myanmar, for example, it’s hard to make comparisons.

    They just had the first “relatively free” elections (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/06/world/asia/myanmar-election-president-aung-san-suu-kyi-explainer.html) in 25 five years. We have had relatively free elections for years now, as Chavismo has adapted to every new situation, manipulating every election process we have had.

    Some also believe that what has happened there is thanks to the willingness of the military rulers to give up power (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/13/world/asia/myanmar-elections-aung-san-suu-kyi.html). I really don’t think that’s our case.

    And lastly, everyone in Myanmar is purposely excluding Muslims. (http://www.nytimes.com/video/world/asia/100000004032093/win-for-burmese-opposition-not-muslims.html). I don’t think they are particularly excited about their country supposedly turning democratic.

    So yes, those generally uninformed and combative people that religiously do not believe in voting need to be set straight but we cannot just stay there. There’s a whole debate to be had after.

  2. I agree with your post Juan: dictators can be taken out of office in democratic ways. However, I don’t know if the objective of the opposition now is to get rid of a dictator. If they win the National Assembly, Maduro is still the elected president of Venezuela. What they want to do is guarantee a reform, start making the rules of the game fairer and becoming a vocal and important force against abuses from the Executive, Judicial and Electoral branch. But this would not necessarily mean Maduro would leave office or the dictatorship (procedural democracy to be more precise) will not continue. Maduro still has ways to get around the Assembly. More than 50% of Venezuelans still admire the Chavez’s Revolution, even when they don’t like Maduro. More importantly, the Revolution has force, whether we like to admit it or not. It seems they control the military (they have promoted all of them) and other non formal clash forces (the colectivos). This is the moment where any false step can take Venezuela from a procedural democracy to a failed State. Now is the moment for the opposition to keep its cool and settle the grounds for a transition. I repeat, Venezuela is not choosing whether Chavismo should stay in office or not. Venezuela is choosing the branch that will generate the rules towards that transition.

    • “… take Venezuela from a procedural democracy to a failed State.”

      Venezuela became a failed state since the murder rate went above the 20.000 killings per year, and the inflation rate broke the barrier of 700% per year.

      That’s to avoid claiming that it became a failed state the day its people were so stupid to vote for a damn criminal who slaughtered more than 300 folks in a single day during a coup.

  3. U.S. ambassador to the UN Jean Kirkpatrick used to argue that “traditional” dictatorships could be nudged along to democracy, but Communist dictatorships had to be overthrown by force, because they’d never leave power willingly.

    But these theoretical absolutisms seldom work out. While nothing about the process was pure, Gorbachov stepped down in a basically legitimate way, and democratic power in Poland and Hungary helped push those regimes into the garbage heap of history.

    However the PSUV-Maduro dictatorship ends, the basic idea is that every legal step possible should be taken to isolate it and chip away at its power. They’re love it if there were no elections. Why do we think that is?

    • Gorbachev was displaced after the failed self-coup by Gennady Yanayev and the “GKChP”. Yeltsin as President of Russia assumed control and dissolved the USSR, eliminating Gorbachev’s position. Gorbachev had previously withdrawn Soviet protection from the Communist dictatorships of Eastern Europe, so they surrendered power (their own armies and police would not fight for them). Ceaucescu, who was potentially autonomous, was taken out and shot.

  4. Well, cant wait to see the 55/45% results of Venezuela’s next “election”. Please call me when I’m wrong by 2%.

    About Pinochet or Perez Jimenez, dunno know. But every time I look at the statistics, they killed many less people, stole a lot less money and did a lot more than Ad/Copey/Mud?Chavismo in the past 70 years.

    Those are simple facts. Certainly no angels, but what do you prefer right now?

    I like it in Singapore or Chile, before they mess it up again.

    • I like it in Singapore or Chile, before they mess it up again.

      The authoritarian government in Singapore has its roots in the Mandarin tradition of governance in China, which has endured over millenia. Venezuela has no cultural roots here, so it is difficult to claim that the Mandarin authoritarian tradition of governance of Singapore can be readily transposed to Venezuela.

      The Man on Horseback, the military man who turns to politics, has a long tradition in Latin America. General-President Juan Vicente Gómez ruled Venezuela for 27 years. In the 1970s, most of the governments in Latin America were ruled by Men on Horseback- Videla in Argentina, Banzer in Bolivia, Pinochet in Chile, Kjell or Lucas in Guatemala, Velasco et al in Peru, and so on. Trivia of the day: Lucas, former General-President of Guatemala, died in exile in Venezuela in 2006.

      Hugo Chávez was another Man on Horseback. Like Juan Domingo Perón of Argentina, he was involved in a coup before being elected. The difference being that Perón was involved in a successful coup.

      Overall, the Man on Horseback has an abysmal record of governance. Videla-Viola-Galtieri in Argentina- no thanks. Anyone who believes that calling for a Man on Horseback will result in a shortcut to good governance in Venezuela is deluding himself. The odds of getting a Lucas/Chávez /Velasco/Galtieri/Perón are much higher than the odds of getting a Pinochet. In Venezuela, where it appears that the military has been corrupted by narcodollars, and by Chavista control of firings and promotions for 15 years, the odds are even less.

      Your longing for Singapore or Pinochet style authoritarian but competent governance in Venezuela is pie in the sky.

      CC people, when are you going to fix this Blockquote software glitch?

    • Hmm, I can tell logic is not your strong suit. Ever heard of a black swan? When a statement is akin to “A never happens,” all you need are a few examples of “A” happening to disprove it.

      • The post claims that the “wet el chiquito and then go home to listen salsa” is a plausible way out of this gutter, that any protest is just fodder for chavismo and all that whining about being “inside the constitution”

        The article tried to present three dictatorships that had an election as a turning point to get overthrown, then, I present as counter-examples three more dictatorships that had elections running for about several decades and continue to be strong as ever, according to the logic of the “counter-locas-del-cafetal” it must be that the people getting oppressed there must love living in those conditions, or, that just “mojar el chiquito” isn’t enough.

        Under the current conditions of “bolafriísmo” that so many people suffer in this country, an election alone isn’t going to topple chavizmo’s narco-regime, but, if those elections were to be used as a catalyst for popular discontent…

        And, applyting the same logic to your argument, you claim that “B Always happens”, so you need a few examples of “B” NOT happening to disprove it (Logic works in both ways when trying to prove things in a mathematical way)

  5. Commies are different, I can only think of Nicaragua where they gave up power after an election. These guys care about power and control above everything.

  6. I think that when it comes to revolutions against dictators, or dictatorial regimes, there are no absolute rules. Every revolution is a unique “one off” set of circumstances, never to be repeated in history. In the case of Venezuela, the regime is particularly vulnerable to external pressures, because virtually all of their revenues come from sales of a commodity that is closely monitored on a world-wide basis. An embargo of their sole source of dollar revenues would be devastating. This forces the regime to maintain some appearance of legitimacy, which is the only reason elections are still being held. Little by little, the Chavista regime is being boxed in and their options are being limited, both from within and from without. Right now, the outside world is mostly doing its part, thanks to the tireless efforts of many, including Caracas Chronicles, to let the world know the truth about what is happening. Now comes the time for ordinary Venezuelans to do their part. That means assuring a massive turnout of votes rejecting, unequivocally, the Chavista regime. Of course, they can try to cheat, but they cannot hide an overwhelming defeat at the ballot box.

    Eventually, with enough pressure from every direction, the regime will realize that the gig’s up. Whether they dig in and fight it out, or resign, or try to flee remains to be seen. I expect that many will try to fight it out, but most of them will soon realize that they can’t fight the weather. The key is to maintain the pressure on ALL fronts.

  7. I tell the Cafetal sages and Twitter politólogos that I know to think of this as a clear case of crapping or getting off the pot: Either organize and execute a Miraflores siege yourself, or keep going to your assigned voting center.

  8. Hermano estas fumando monte. Los Chavistas no van a salir por votos. Tu Tia tiene razon. Mas sabe el Diablo por viejo que por Diablo

    • No te creas chamo, estan terminando de robar todos los millones que sea posible. Si no son demasiado pendejos, despues se desaparecen, ya muchos tienen de sobra para el retiro.
      Claro que despues vendran otros ladrones mas, MUD-Chavista light, Pero robaran un poquito menos.

  9. For the ballot-box sceptics to win a round in this argument, they would have to come up with some convincing examples of successful transitions to democracy achieved by force. Unless you happen to have the 82nd Airborne on your side (Panama, 1989, Noriega), the evidence pretty much points in the opposite direction. Trujillo and the first Somoza were both assassinated, for example, but it was decades before either the DR or Nicaragua had much to show for it in terms of democratic advances. None of the dictatorships of the southern cone succumbed to armed insurrections in the 1970s or 1980s, nor did those of Central America later.

    • None of the dictatorships of the southern cone succumbed to armed insurrections because to fight these armed insurrections were their main reason to exist. They were created precisely for that goal.

      Take Pinochet, for example, a dictator that after — and only after — killing more than 3,000 people and neutralizing thousands of others by sending them to exile, amongst them high-caliber die-hard communists that the regime believed were a threat for Chile’s existence, accepted that to maintain the status quo would be uncalled for, and stepped down. However, this is not a plausible option for people like Fidel Castro or Maduro: dictators that don’t have non-personal purposes like Pinochet had; as it was said above by Rene, for commies it’s about personal power, the Chavistas are fighting for themselves and not anyone else. While Pinochet’s war was to save Chile from communism, Cabello’s war is an existential war, to save himself and his loved ones. To rot in a jail with their families in Venezuela or abroad would be the same thing as death for these people. Just not an option, and never will be. If they had to start a bloody civil war and obliterate half of the country to stay in power, they would do it without blinking. But for Pinochet it was about Chile: “As long as there’s no imminent risk anymore for the integrity of the country, I accept to go.”

      What Cabello wants is Daniellita as the next minister of something. What he wants is his wife and minions with strong roles in the nomenklatura too, all protecting him. Whereas, this kind of dynasty/nepotism didn’t exist in the southern cone dictatorships.
      Corruption was a joke compared to what we are witnessing now too because it was much less personal. Society was still breathing somehow.

      To understand Maduro, we should look at North Korea, Syria or Cuba, not Pinochet’s Chile, even less Fujimori’s Peru.

    • how about 1958 against Perez Jimenez? The people and parties put pressure on the regime to a point where the dictator had to step down and abandon the country.

  10. And Venezuelan people are still so very afraid of Perez Jimenez, who would not kill a few innocent Cadetes.. and preferred to just go away, after he built half on Venezuela’s infrastructure in just 5 years.

    You have to wonder what little books or bibles or korans people are still reading.

  11. Hey Nagel, I sort of agree with you, but there is one key component in all these scenarios.

    What the leader of the opposition camp is willing to do, to achieve the goals, how far are they willing to go in order to claim the upcoming victory?

    There is a veil threat coming from Maduro, and is that they are NOT going to recognize a landslide victory in favor of the opposition. Are the opposition leaders ready for such scenario? Do they have what it takes to claim the victory?

    We need to remind ourselves, what it takes for million of people to participate in these elections, people will wake up very early in the morning, set aside some time and patient to go through a long queue, no food, no water, forgetting for a moment, that after this queue they will likely have to go through another queue to find what they need to bring home, if they can afford it. Now that’s best scenario for most folks, consider other group who will be likely receiving threats to vote for PSUV, before, during and after election day.

    Consider that person who went to all sort of problems to vote for the opposition, they will be trusting the new members of the National Assembly with a new mandate, FIX THIS MESS, I don’t care how, just do whatever is necessary.

    Are the leaders of the opposition aligned with the courage and patience to stand up to the dictatorship, or they are going to wuss out like others in the past, and ask the people to wait for another couple of years for another general election where the faith of the country hangs in balance, hopefully this time, the regime will fall or step down, or that the problem is solved by itself.

    Bottom line, this is it, this is the last chance for them to grow a pair. If our grandmas and grandparents were able to overthrow Perez Jimenez, why don’t we do the same to free the country again? They were both militar regimes right? what is our excuse?

    • If our grandmas and grandparents were able to overthrow Perez Jimenez, why don’t we do the same to free the country again?

      While demonstrations protesting the fraudulent election expressed wide spread dissatisfaction with MPJ, MPJ was deposed by a coup. There is a reason why MPJ said “Yo no mato cadetes,” instead of “Yo no mato civiles.”

      • Well that phrase conveys a sense of capability, wouldn’t you agree? The man could have stayed in power if he wanted.

        MPJ was a man forged and made in the military academy, he clearly had more appreciation for the man & woman that comprised the national army.

        And as others pointed it out, it seems that his ultimate goal was to make the country better, he would rather leave the country than to let his legacy to be wasted and destroyed by long years of civil unrest and senseless bloodshed.

  12. Then there are cases like Russia, a petro-state, where a dictatorship successfully transitions to democracy, only to return, by popular support, to a dictatorship of another sort.

    When people vote against Madurismo, will their choice hold through a period of economic turmoil that will surely continue, or will uncertainty be the popular terrain for replacing a dictator but not a dictatorship?

  13. Mmm Juan, I’m dubious about this post. Lets say that I agree to disagree with you on several accounts:

    1. Myanmar…yes, Aung San Suu Kyi made history some days ago, but we still have to see what unfolds. Remember that back in 1990, she won the elections of her country and the military junta didn’t recognize the results and put her under house arrest for 20 years.

    2. Argentina. We may see history in the making as well in Argentina. Next Sunday it is highly likely that Macri wins the elections, but Argentina’s political institutions (however trampled by kirchnerismo) are still somewhat existent, which is why change through elections is possible.

    3. Venezuela’s presidential elections 2013. I’m still confused whether the opposition won or didnt win. Capriles in his lackluster remarks abroad about frauds and his incongruence in actions, questions what really happened. If the opposition did win but didn’t fight the results then the elections and Mr Capriles inactions granted Maduro his desired legitimacy and the ballot box proved useless in ousting the regime.

    Chile is a different apple to me. Pinochet did leave after the outcome of the 1988 referendum. But it was a managed transition given foreign pressures to the regime.

    I do not discard the ballot box as a way to topple a dictatorship. What I question is being naive into thinking that’s the only thing that one must do…political pressure as well as actions are key in order of achieving a nascent transition.

  14. Oh and I forgot Zimbabwe. Remember back in 2008 when Morgan Tsangirai from the MDC party (Movement for Democratic Change) won the elections, then Mugabe did his dirty tricks and even though both of these gentlemen agreed to form a coalition Government, Mugabe keeps reigning in Zimbabwe??? So there isn’t a definitive answer in the politics of toppling dictatorships.


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