From Chile’s 9/11 to Venezuela’s Present Crisis: How Presidential Systems Fail to Produce Political Harmony

Chile in 1973

Before the date September the 11th become indelibly associated with the atrocity committed in the United States in 2001, it was largely remembered as the day in 1973 when Chilean General Augusto Pinochet led a CIA orchestrated coup against the country’s directly elected President Salvador Allende. What is less discussed was the proximate justification for and some would say the proximate cause of the coup. While the United States has traditionally viewed Latin America as its political “backyard”, every foreign act of meddling needs a proximate justification – however unjust such a “justification” is. In the case of Chile in 1973, there was no need to invent an Iraq style weapons of mass destruction canard because there was a ready made justification for Pinochet who ultimately got the green light he desired from his friends at the CIA.

When Salvador Allende won the 1970 Chilean Presidential Election, his single constitutionally allotted six year term meant that he wasted no time in instigating a programme calling for the mass nationalisation of industry, as well as big spending increases for public welfare programmes. At first things ran smoothly as Chile’s principle export, copper continued to fill the treasury with real money.

But by 1973, the price of copper had declined dramatically which led to a domestic financial crisis in the country that had not sufficiently diversified its industry beyond copper mining. It was at this time that Chile’s Congress which in 1973 was re-elected with a prominent anti-Allende majority, began passing constitutional amendments designed to outlaw Allende’s nationalisation initiatives. Allende refused to sign the amendments into law and what proceeded was a constitutional crisis in which the Congress and President became embroiled in a titanic power struggle. After a politicised Supreme Court sided with Congress over Allende, the die was cast and Pinochet and the CIA moved in.

Venezuela today?

The recent history of Venezuela has followed an eerily similar trajectory. In the early 2000s, the Allende style nationalisation drive and public spending initiatives of President Hugo Chavez bore fruit as the price of Venezuela’s principle export, oil, remained high. But just as sure as a dip in global copper prices hit Chile hard, so too did an eventual decline in international oil prices hit Venezuela.

Just as Chile’s Congress came to violently oppose Allende after elections in early 1973, since 2015, Venezuela’s congress known as the National Assembly has been controlled by the opposition to President Maduro – the chosen successor to the late Chavez. In 2017, Maduro created a new legislative chamber, the Constituent National Assembly in an attempt to break the deadlock and render the National Assembly  a less important legislative house. But since the National Assembly remained in existence, it has continued to de-facto function as a Congress that continues to be deeply hostile to Maduro.

Making matters more complicated, whilst National Assembly leader Juan Guaido did not even contest the 2018 presidential election, the National Assembly has named Guaido as the acting President of Venezuela, even though this internal power struggle has not changed the fact that the UN recognises Maduro as President and is also a violation of Venezuela’s own constitution.

In any normal situation, the power struggle between Maduro and Guaido would be an internal matter for Venezuela to contend with, but because Venezuela is one of the most oil rich nations in the world and is led by a Maduro administration that is deeply opposed to US global hegemony, the national matter for Venezuela to decide has become internationalised – and this is putting it mildly.

Thus, just as Venezuela’s political patterns have closely resembled those of Child in the early 1970s, so too might there be a violent outcome of the present political deadlock.

Presidential systems are ripe for exploitation 

The instances of political deadlock which precipitated the 1973 coup in Chile and have led to the current deadlock in Venezuela, could have been easily avoided if the Latin American nations in question had a parliamentary system of governance wherein the head of government is derived from the legislature and serves as a prime minister, while a strictly ceremonial president acts as an apolitical head of state.

While a parliamentary system is not a guarantee against illegal foreign interventions in one’s political system, here is a list of countries that the US has either invaded or used the CIA to overthrow a government in, since 1950:

1950: Korea – South=Presidential/North=one party

1953: Iran – parliamentary system with royal oversight

1954: Guatemala – presidential

1958: Lebanon-hybrid presidential

1961: Cuba – presidential/one party

1961–1964: Brazil – presidential

1965–66: Dominican Republic – presidential

1965–1967: Indonesia – presidential

1967: Greece – parliamentary

1964-1975: Vietnam – South=presidential/North-one party

1971: Bolivia – presidential

1973: Chile – presidential

1980–1992: El Salvador – military rule

1982-1983: Lebanon – hybrid presidential

1982–1989: Nicaragua – presidential

1983: Grenada – military government/de-facto presidential

1986: Libya – direct democracy with de-facto autocratic leadership

1989-1990: Panama – strongman presidential

1990-1991: Iraq – presidential

1992-1995: Somalia – hybrid-presidential

1992-1995: Yugoslavia – de-facto presidential

1994-1995: Haiti – presidential

1998: Iraq- presidential

1999: Yugoslavia – de-facto presidential

2001 -present: Afghanistan – transition from theocratic oligarchy to presidential

2011-present: Libya – transition from direct democracy with de-facto autocratic leadership to a presidential failed state

2014: Ukraine – presidential

2014-present: Syria – presidential

2015-present: Yemen – presidential

Thus, one sees that of all the conflicts where the US military forcibly intervened or else where the CIA used covert assets to attempt and foment regime change, over 93% of such incidents took place in countries that did not have fully-fledged parliamentary systems.

This is not to say that having a parliamentary system is a total insurance policy against an unwelcome intervention by the world’s military hegemon, however, because parliamentary systems are able to avoid the grotesque and highly visible deadlock that is built-in to presidential/congressional systems, foreign adversaries have one less justification to foment or exploit instability when smooth operating parliamentary governance is in place.

Beyond this, a country that is politically united behind a parliamentary majority is in a much better position to resist foreign interventions, while the comparatively smooth operations of parliamentary systems allow such a country to state its case before the international community with a single voice. If a foreign hegemon like the US has a choice between a powerful President and powerful Congress on the other, sooner or later when these forces come into conflict, a choice will be made and people’s countries will be turned upside-down as a result. This is just one more reason why Venezuela would have been better served if it had a parliamentary system of governance.

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