Should foreign governments intervene to “protect” and “promote” democracy? If so, when? A big idea behind promoting democracy is “Liberal Democratic Peace Theory”. “Liberal Democratic Peace Theory” is the idea that liberal democracies do not engage in war with each other (Nichols 2019). After the cold war, we have seen an increase in foreign intervention to promote democracy. To engage in this question, we will look at two South American countries and their relationship with U.S. intervention. The first case Chile. Chile is relevant because they have transitioned from a democracy to an authoritarian regime back to a democratic government. My second case Venezuela is was a democracy that has fallen under authoritarian rule in recent years. Chile has a past with United States foreign intervention. Venezuela, however, has dodged a lot of foreign intervention.
Chile had been a relatively stable democracy for quite some time. Prior to the 1970 presidential election. Salvador Allende, a well-known socialist, won the 1970 presidential election through democratic means. Allende caused concern for many United States elites. They believed that his policies would crumble democracy. The Nixon Administration quickly shut down foreign aid to Chile within the first month Allende was in office. The CIA secretly gave $1.5 million to a conservative newspaper (Kornbluh 1999). CIA documents stated it “played a significant role in setting the stage for the military coup of September 11, 1973.”(Kornbluh 1999). Pinochet then took power after the coup. Shortly after the coup, the Nixon Administration authorized $24 in commodity credits to the new government (Kornbluh 1999). The U.S. understood the authoritarian nature of Pinochet but still wanted to stabilize the regime and legitimize Chile’s new government. The Chilean government began to commit human rights violations such as international terrorism, unexplained disappearances, and torture. In 1989 that Chile would see another democratic election. In this situation, the United States viewed socialism as an anti-democratic principle. They went through any means necessary to overthrow the democratically elected president. They explicitly helped overthrow the entire democratic regime (Kornbluh 1999). However, one may argue that overthrowing a democratic regime is a lot more anti-democratic than socialism. Chile then witnesses a 16-year dangerous pause in democracy.
The consequences of the United States intervention in Chile invoked collapse in a country’s democracy and widespread human rights violations. Would it have been better to let democracy run its course and let elections decide if Allende should leave office? Some argue that foreign governments should only intervene when human rights are violated. Should we have waited until human rights were violated by Allende before any type of foreign intervention? Should we have intervened with the same aggression towards Pinochet when we began to witness human rights violations?
The second pertinent example is Venezuela. In 1998, populist military leader Hugo Chavez was elected president. Chavez has quite an interesting background. Chavez was a former military leader. He had previously attempted to overthrow the government in a coup twice in 1992 (https://www.cfr.org/timeline/venezuelas-chavez-era). When he held power, he rewrote the constitution and packed the courts. These strategies helped to avoid natural checks and balances. Having oil as a natural resource has helped Venezuela stay autonomous from foreign governments (McCarthy 2016). The government acts as a dictatorship in the face of democracy as well. While elections are held, there is evidence of them not being held fairly. There have also been many human rights violations. The Venezuelan government has been known to torture those suspected of plotting against the government. They have arrested and shot protestors. We have also seen great intimidation of the media and political opponents (https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/venezuela)
There have been previous considerations of military intervention in Venezuela. The country has fallen into a strong authoritarian regime. Human rights are being violated. Various human rights organizations are begging foreign nations to get involved. Should the United States intervene due to human rights violations? Should the United States have gotten involved when Chavez came to power? Will the United States be more hesitant to get involved because of what happened in Chile?
These questions can be quite difficult to answer. It seems like the lesson the United States learned in relation to Chile is that foreign intervention is tricky. It has the power to completely collapse a democracy. There are several unintended consequences. However, with the case of Chavez and Pinochet, we witness the consequences of not intervening. It would be interesting to view the counterfactual in the case of Chile. Due to United States’ foreign intervention, it took 16 years to regain democracy. Some argue that it would have been faster to regain democracy without foreign intervention. If the U.S. backed out after Pinochet came to power, he would have lost the legitimacy and funding to uphold his authoritarian regime. Others argue that democracy would have never collapsed in the first place if the U.S. never intervened. Yet despite this, over the past couple of decades Venezuela has slowly furthered itself from democracy. There are arguments that Venezuela cannot bounce back without foreign intervention. While human rights violations may justify foreign intervention, but it might mean the interventions are good for democracy.
This is an interesting topic, as we went over it in one of my other ir classes as well (comparative politics). In theory, it seems that a big successful country intervening would be helpful, but it seems that a lot of the time this causes more problems than not. The first example of Chile is a great example of this and the intervention of the United States clearly did not help anything. In Venezuela, we know that there are serious human rights violations; it almost seems like our duty to do something as it is so bad what is going on, but we know it is not as simple as that.
I forgot to add that I agree with your take that the United States intervention did not help Chile. This being said, I think that at some point we have to look at intervening in Venezuela. It seems that this country is so far gone and there are so many atrocities that we kind of do not have a choice. The question then becomes how to do this which is very difficult to answer. Clearly it would have to be military intervention but how we would go about this is such a tough question because no one really knows what the result will be.