Greg has an interesting post up on the path of Latin American presidents who’ve been removed from office in recent times – Manuel Zelaya in Honduras in 2009 through a coup; Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo through a highly dubious application of impeachment in 2012; and most recently, Dilma Rousseff. As Greg points out, where presidents removed from office were once sent into exile (though Zelaya did spend some time in exile), now, they enter the legislative branch electorally. His tentative conclusions:
On the one hand, we might consider it a good thing. Political competition is taking place within institutions and not, for example, by calling on the military or forming a rebel group.
But on the other, this may just perpetuate the corrupt and largely unchanging political system. Perhaps you can work at the margins, but the same anti-democratic structural forces are in place. Along these lines, we could argue that at least to some degree contentious politics allows the possibility for greater change (though AMLO [Mexican politician Andrés Manuel López Obrador] certainly seems like a possible counterexample).
I think this is right, and maybe I’m uncharacteristically optimistic in regard, but I think the latter point about combating corruption from within a corrupt system is the best path available to each of these three candidates. Each was elected to, and removed from, office because of their willingness to help the historically and socially marginalized sectors of society, which the political and economic elites of each respective country saw as a threat to their own ability to govern in elites’ interests with impunity and without challenge. Such a historical precedent has reinforced a historical exclusion of the masses [further reinforced by the removal, forced or legislatively, of all three presidents] and undermined modern democratic practices in each country, even while allowing institutional corruption and impunity to remain unchecked. I think that each of the three presidents running and being elected to serve in the legislature after having been prematurely and even illegally removed from the executive is likely the best path available to them to continue to try to reform the system from within.*
Their presence in the legislature doesn’t suddenly abolish corruption within national politics, of course -were Dilma to run and be elected Senator, she’d still be serving in a body where over half of her colleagues are facing actual criminal accusations and charges. But the corruption within Brazilian, Paraguayan, or Honduran politics, and the impunity with which politicians act, is not on Dilma, Lugo, or Zelaya, each of whom represented real threats to oligarchic political elites and their economic allies. If they couldn’t effect change in the executive, then serving in the legislature and keeping the issues they worked toward as president in the public and political eye is one of the better options available to them.
Indeed, Greg cites the case of López Obrador, and I think that offers a compelling counter-example. Though López Obrador never occupied the presidency, the path he took can still be instructive. After being declared the loser of the election in the incredibly-close 2006 election, and then losing in the 2012 election, his efforts to operate outside of the system and to try to rally people extra-institutionally have been minimally effective in transforming Mexican politics in the ways he’d envisioned (and enacted as the Head of the Government of Mexico City from 2000-2005). While Zelaya and Lugo (and possibly Dilma) might have less influence as legislators than they did as presidents, they would still have a greater direct influence on national policy than AMLO did with his decision to politically operate extra-institutionally.
And yes, those are often-corrupt institutions, and there’s nothing to guarantee that Lugo, Zelaya, or (possibly) Dilma would not end up being “bought” in the same system. That said, I’m not sure how working from without would be an option for them, given their dubious (or even forced) removal in each case, and the legislative option seems to be one of the better options for them to continue promoting their political visions and programs, even if it ends up being in a watered down or less immediate form.
*Opinions vary on whether those systems themselves are worth saving, but whether or not one agrees with that stance, each of the three clearly believes as much, given their efforts to reform from within, first from the executive and then from the legislative branches.