Let's see if you could pass a Latin American civics course. Which is more democratic: Country H, where all political institutions united to oust a president who was mobilizing mobs to help him defy the constitution and stay in power? Or Country B, where the president was reelected after taking congress hostage, jailing one of his opponents without charges, blowing up independent TV stations and sending his supporters to savagely club and whip the wife and children of an opposition leader?
Anyone with common sense would pick Country H. And any Latin American president would pick Country B. When the region's leaders (read the word with irony, revulsion or both) met at an Iberoamerican summit in Portugal earlier this month, they unanimously voted to condemn Honduras, which had just emerged from some rough political waters to hold reasonably free and fair elections.
But they didn't have a single word to say about Bolivia, which seems well on its way to becoming a one-party state. President Evo Morales, whose dedication to the principles of democracy has won him the support of not just Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez but Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, brags that his reelection this month means he has "a mandate to accelerate this revolutionary process."
Or maybe it just means that when you send mobs to beat up congressmen who are reluctant to rewrite the constitution to allow your reelection, when your supporters publicly threaten to rape reporters who write critical stories and when your paramilitary forces slit the throats of dogs and promise the same fate to anybody who opposes you, you stand a pretty fair shot at getting the most votes.
Bolivia has always been a textbook case in Latin American political dysfunction. In the 19th and 20th centuries, no country in the region had more military coup attempts -- at least 150 of them. And in the 21st century no country has been a better illustration of the newest tactic of Latin totalitarians, to take over democracies in the name of "social justice" and then hollow them out from the inside.
Morales won election in 2006 after his rioting leftist supporters toppled first an elected president and then a caretaker government. (Oddly, none of Latin America's robust democrats took issue with that.) Since then, he has alternated between abuse of the Bolivian legal system and outright thuggery to consolidate his power.
Judges who block his initiatives are impeached, pressured to resign or face absurdly trumped-up criminal charges that disqualify them from hearing cases. The constitutional court no longer has a quorum and can't meet at all, leaving several hundred cases unresolved.
Opposition governors often meet a similar fate. When political violence flared last year in the province of Pando, Morales declared martial law and arrested the governor, Leopóldo Fernández, an opposition candidate for vice president -- even though governors have political immunity. (In a remarkable coincidence, a member of Morales' cabinet just two weeks earlier had said of Fernández: "We will bury him in the deepest place on Earth. . . . We will write his epitaph: Governor may you rest in peace and rest with the worms.") Fernández's whole campaign had to be run from his jail cell.
Fernández should consider himself lucky. When Victor Hugo Cárdenas, a Morales political ally, turned against the president, a mob set his house on fire, then savagely beat his wife and children. "The people do not tolerate or forgive traitors," Morales shrugged.
Critical journalists fare even worse: Bolivian press associations have counted hundreds of attacks against reporters, newspapers and television stations. One of Morales' political lieutenants even threatened to rape a female reporter from the newspaper La Razón.
Such attacks may not even be illegal anymore. When Morales had the constitution revised to allow him to run for reelection -- he got it passed through the senate by surrounding the chambers with his supporters, who beat up opposition senators who ventured outside -- he also inserted a provision that recognizes the right of Bolivia's Indian tribes to practice "communal" justice. That can include stoning, burning and lynching.
The new constitution, not surprisingly, is much easier to amend, which almost certainly means Morales will be ramming through provisions to allow himself to run for reelection in perpetuity. He's not even making it much of a secret. "We're not just visiting the palace, or passing through," Morales said earlier this year. "We're sticking around a long time." As usual, that didn't provoke a peep from the rest of Latin America's presidents, who fiercely defend regional democracy. Except when they don't.