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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

In photos: Tokyo Olympics day 10 highlights

Puerto Rico's Jasmine Camacho-Quinn (L) wins ahead of USA's Kendra Harrison in the women's 100m hurdles final during the Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on August 2, 2021. Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images

Day 10 of the Tokyo Olympic Games saw Puerto Rico bag its first-ever track gold medal when Jasmine Camacho-Quinn beat American world record holder Kendra Harrison to win the women’s 100-meter hurdles Monday.

The big picture: There was better news for Team USA in the basketball, where the women's national team beat France 93-82 — meaning the Americans are entering the medal round undefeated as they go for yet another gold, Axios' Ina Fried reports from Tokyo. France still advanced to the quarterfinals as well.

Updated 1 hour ago - Sports

IOC: Belarus sprinter who sought refuge in Tokyo "safe"

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya of Belarus in 2019. Photo: Ivan Romano/Getty Images

Belarusian Olympian Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who sought refuge in Tokyo, is in the care of Japanese authorities and the UN refugee agency is now involved in her case, an International Olympic Committee official told reporters Monday.

The latest: Officials in Poland and the Czech Republic have offered to help the 24-year-old sprinter, who refused national team orders to board a flight home after being taken to Tokyo's Haneda airport Sunday following her criticism of Belarusian coaches, per Reuters

Updated 2 hours ago - Sports

Olympics dashboard

Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs of Team Italy crosses the finish line ahead of American Fred Kerley in the men's 100m final on day nine of the Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, Japan, on Sunday. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

🚨: IOC "looking into" American Raven Saunders' Olympic podium gesture

🏃🏾: Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs: Reconnecting with U.S. father "gave me the desire to win" Olympic 100m sprint race.

🥇High jumpers persuade Olympic officials to let them share gold

🏌️‍♂️: Golfer Xander Schauffele wins gold for U.S. by one shot

🤸🏿‍♀️: Simone Biles won't compete in Olympic floor finals, individual vault or uneven bars

🏳️‍⚧️: Axios at the Olympics: Games grapple with trans athletesTrans athletes see the Tokyo Games as a watershed moment

Go deeper: Full Axios coverage