Jan 31, 2019

Coups are becoming a thing of the past

Expand chart
Data: Powell and Thyne, 2019, "Coups d'état, 1950 to Present"; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

The world is waiting to see if the Venezuelan military will make a move to depose Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro as pressure from the streets and from foreign capitals grows. If it happens, it would be a truly anomalous event.

The big picture: Coups are becoming far rarer — particularly in Latin America, where there hasn't even been an attempt in nearly a decade, according to data compiled by Jonathan Powell of the University of Central Florida and Clayton Thyne of the University of Kentucky.

Driving the news: 2 men now claim to be Venezuela's president: Maduro and Juan Guaidó, the National Assembly leader whose rationale is that Maduro lacks a democratic mandate and he is next in the line of succession. Guaidó's claim is backed by the U.S. and more than 20 other countries.

  • The kingmaker here is the military. Simply naming oneself president does not constitute a coup, Thyne says. But if the military brass ultimately sides with Guaidó and removes Maduro by force, that would qualify.
  • "We’re looking at who did what to whom," Thyne says of determining what is and is not a coup. "The 'who' has to be an elite member of the state apparatus, oftentimes a general. The 'what' has to be an overt attempt to seize power illegally."

"Coups have become almost extinct in Latin America since the end of the Cold War," Powell says. They're becoming extremely rare in Africa as well.

3 reasons:

  1. The end of the Cold War meant not only that global powers were less likely to be actively fomenting coups, he says, but also that would-be coup plotters couldn’t bank on assistance after taking power.
  2. Democratic and economic development changed the calculus. "Coups are expensive, they're dangerous," Thyne says. "Particularly if you can just wait for the next election."
  3. International organizations like the Organization of American States and the African Union have "set strong precedents that this stuff is not going to be tolerated," Powell says.

The bottom line: The days of opportunistic military officers making a play for power seem to have come to an end. "I think what we’re going to see is that the coups that happen have a pretty strong argument behind them — look at the recent ones in Egypt, Honduras, Venezuela, Zimbabwe — so that the international backlash is limited," says Thyne.

What to watch: Those extreme circumstances typically involve an economic collapse, or crisis of legitimacy. "Coups have obviously become extremely rare, particularly in Latin America. But Venezuela has a lot of the conditions we'd expect if a coup were going to occur," says Powell.

Go deeper

China reopens Wuhan after 10-week coronavirus lockdown

People wearing facemasks stand near Yangtze River in Wuhan. Photo: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images

China has lifted its lockdown of Wuhan, the city in Hubei province where the coronavirus outbreak was first reported in December, according to the New York Times.

Why it matters: As cases surged in January, China took the draconian step of sealing off the city of 11 million and shutting down its economy — a response that was viewed at the time as only possible in an authoritarian system, but which has since been adopted by governments around the world.

Go deeperArrow19 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 1 p.m. ET: 1,381,014— Total deaths: 78,269 — Total recoveries: 292,973Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 1 p.m. ET: 378,289 — Total deaths: 11,830 — Total recoveries: 20,003Map.
  3. Trump administration latest: Trump removes watchdog overseeing rollout of $2 trillion coronavirus bill
  4. Federal government latest: Senate looks to increase coronavirus relief for small businesses this week — Testing capacity is still lagging far behind demand.
  5. States update: New York death toll surged to its highest one-day total as state predicts a plateau in hospitalizations.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: The race to reopen America
  7. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Trump removes watchdog overseeing rollout of $2 trillion coronavirus bill

Glenn Fine, acting Pentagon watchdog

President Trump on Monday replaced the Pentagon's acting Inspector General Glenn Fine, who had been selected to chair the panel overseeing the rollout of the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed last month, Politico first reported.

Why it matters: A group of independent federal watchdogs selected Fine to lead the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, but Fine's removal from his Pentagon job prevents him from being able to serve in that position — since the law only allows sitting inspectors general to fill the role.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 40 mins ago - Politics & Policy