Dictators who came back through elections?

Dictators who came back through elections?

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Were there any dictators1 who, after being toppled by a revolution or the like, managed to get back to power via what is (or was considered by the norms applied at the time) free and transparent2 elections ?

It's NOT required that the comeback occurs at the first elections held after the toppling.

To make things even easier :

1 - The ruler must be a dictator (no matter how he got there);

2 - (S)he is ousted after a popular revolution (bloody or not, coups NOT included);

3 - A democratic regime, where elections are free, is established;

4 - N presidents took power, where N = 0, 1, 2,… ;

5 - The ex-dictator is allowed to run for presidency and wins elections.

1 : A dictator is a ruler who maintains a total power over a country. It could be a president in a military regime (North Korea), a president in a pseudo-democratic regime (Prerevolutionary Tunisia, where elections results were known beforehand), a monarch (Saudi Arabia)…

2 : For the sake of this question, every elections where those, who are allowed to vote, can choose the candidate they want, is considered free and transparent. Here, it doesn't matter if the voters were only males, or from a particular race, etc.

The person that comes to mind is Getulio Vargas of Brazil. He first took power in 1930, in a military-backed coup, after being defeated in a Presidential race, ousting the outgoing President and President-elect. He ruled as a virtual dictator until 1945, at which time he was forced to step down from the Presidency, and allow democratic elections, because his participation in World War II alongside the Allies had undercut the legitimacy of his quasi-Fascist regime, the so-called Estado Novo.

In 1948, after his successor, Gaspar Dutra had wasted the foreign exchange reserves accumulated by the country during World War II, Vargas was re-elected President by democratic means. When right-wing military officers thwarted his statist policies (following the creation of "national" steel, mining, petroleum, and electric companies) he "fell on his sword" by committing suicide/ But he left a suicide note that stymied his enemies, and thereby maintained Brazilian democracy for several more Presidential elections, until 1964.

What about Simeon II of Bulgaria?

After WW2, he was exiled:

On 15 September 1946, a referendum was held in the presence of the Soviet army. It resulted in a 97% approval for republic and abolition of the monarchy. On 16 September 1946, the royal family was exiled from Bulgaria. Simeon II has never signed any abdication papers-neither at that moment when he was nine years old, nor later

But he was elected and served as Prime Minister from 2001 to 2005.


  • It has been pointed out that Simeon II was under a regency, since he was a child.
  • It was also noted that Bulgaria was a constitutional monarchy at the time of the regency. Actually, the Tarnovo Constitution, which used to be considered quite advanced back in the 19th century, had been heavily modified to give more power to the tzar. Furthermore, in 1935 Simeon's father, Boris III, had practically established a dictatorship:

    [… ] he staged a counter-coup and assumed control of the country by establishing a regime loyal to him. The political process was controlled by the Tsar, but a form of parliamentary rule was re-introduced, without the restoration of the political parties. With the rise of the "King's government" in 1935 [… ]

  • Someone could argue that the events that led to Simeon's deposition constitute a coup rather than a revolution.
  • The democratic regime with free elections is the capitalist republic established in 1989-1990, not the People's Republic of Bulgaria, which came after Simeon's deposition. I don't see any issues with the requirments in here.

Two examples I can think of: Olusegun Obasanjo and Daniel Ortega.

It does not meet your popular revolution criterion, but an example is the current President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari who was head of state from 1983 to 1985 (a major-general installed by coup, removed by a different coup), and was democratically elected President in 2015, defeating the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, after coming second in 2003, 2007 and 2011.

Hugo Chavez in Venezuela violently tried to overthrow Carlos Andrea Perez in 1992 he then came to power through elections in 1999. After he gainned control by overtaking institutions and since 2004 we dont have fair and transparente elections.

Park Chung-hee was a military dictator of South Korea in the 60s and 70s. He was assassinated. His daughter Park Geun-hye, who at one point was acting First Lady of South Korea, was democratically elected president in February 2013.

I'm not sure if this is exactly what you are looking for, but Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix was Dictator of the Roman Republic in 82-81 BC, and then willingly resigned before running for the election as a Consul in 80 BC.

During his time as Dictator his power was absolute with no expiration and he made numerous constitutional reforms.

I'm back to suggest an answer to my own question

In 2005, Viktor Yanukovych was declared as the winner of the presidential elections but protesters, out crying massive electoral fraud, led to the nullification of the run-off. Viktor Yanukovych lost the second run-off.

In 2010, Viktor Yanukovych won the elections and became (for the second time?) the president of Ukraine.

The Rise and Fall of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s Longtime Dictator

Robert Mugabe, the recently deposed president of Zimbabwe, has long been known as the dictator who “ruined” his country. During his 37 years in power, Mugabe’s policies led to hyperinflation and crumbling infrastructure, while his desire to retain power resulted in illegitimate elections and corruption.

In November 2017, an unexpected military coup seemingly removed the 93-year-old autocrat from power. But to understand how he was able hold on for so long, we need to understand his role as a leader of post-colonial Zimbabwe.

Before Zimbabwe was an independent country, it was a British colony known as “Rhodesia” or “Southern Rhodesia.” Beginning in the late 19th century, white Europeans moved there to set up their own government. They also seized land from Africans, and gave the land to white people.

But after World War II, the white minority in Southern Rhodesia began to worry that maybe they wouldn’t be in charge for very much longer. The British Empire was crumbling and other African nations were winning independence and so, in 1965, Southern Rhodesia’s white Prime Minister, Ian Smith, tried to head this off by becoming “the first and only white colonial ruler to break away from the British Crown,” writes Samantha Power in The Atlantic.

Local residents reading a voting sign during elections in Southern Rhodesia, 1964. (Credit: Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Although Smith declared that Southern Rhodesia was now an independent nation, in reality, it was an unrecognized state where white people, who made up five percent of the population, forced their rule upon the black majority—in other words, it was just colonialism in a different form. Smith’s actions sparked the Second Chimurenga, or war for Zimbabwean independence, which lasted from the late 60s to 1979.

It was in this oppressive, turbulent climate that Robert Mugabe rose to power, says Teresa Barnes, a history professor at the University of Illinois. Mugabe was a former Catholic school teacher who led the Zimbabwe African National Union, one of the two main wings of the nationalist movement, in the late 1970s. When Zimbabwe won independence, Mugabe became the country’s first democratically-elected leader in 1980, retaining power until 2017.

“Mugabe came to power in 1980 with a huge amount of legitimacy,” Barnes says. That first election was fair, and “really did represent the will of the majority of the people at that particular time.”

An armed soldier patrols a street in Harare, Zimbabwe on November 15, 2017. Zimbabwe’s army said it has President Robert Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital’s streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster. (Credit: AP Photo)

At the beginning of his rule, Mugabe was a welcome relief from the war that had ripped through the country for over a decade. “In that kind of atmosphere, where people really wanted to work politically and work within the new system, Mugabe was able to gradually and then quite tightly consolidate power,” Barnes says.

In addition, she says that Mugabe was 𠇊 very canny politician,” who appealed “to key segments of the population” regarding the outcomes they had thought the liberation struggle would bring. “One of the first things he did was to appeal to the group of people who had fought in the liberation struggle,” she says.

In the mid-1980s, Mugabe shored up his popular support by promising to redistribute resources to soldiers who had fought for the war. He would continue to use the promise of land redistribution, which had been a major goal of the Second Chimurenga, as a way to maintain his popularity.

Over time, Mugabe’s actions made him less popular. For example, although he did end up redistributing land that had been given to white people back to black Zimbabweans in the 1990s, he made sure a lot of land went to his political cronies. But Mugabe was still able to retain his power by persecuting his opponents and holding unfair elections.

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and wife Grace Mugabe, who had recently become the party’s next Vice President in November 2017. (Credit: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty Images)

Since 1980, the country’s elections “have become less and less free,” Barnes says. “Over time they’ve become more like sham elections, and Mugabe has ‘won’ every one of those”—such as in 2008, when he lost the election but manipulated the situation in order to retain power.

In early November 2017, Mugabe fired his vice president in an apparent move to give power to Mugabe’s wife (though Barnes says that the situation is probably a little more complicated than the wife narrative that is being reported). Soon after, a military coup unexpectedly took power, placing Mugabe under house arrest.

Barnes says that no one has ever attempted a coup against Mugabe before, and “I didn’t personally anticipate that his removal from power would lead to this.” But, she continues “the man is 93 years old—something had to happen eventually.”

The New Wave Of Elected Dictatorships Around The World

Beneath the roiling surface of explosive news events a far more deeply worrying current has set in across the world: the triumph of elected dictatorships. Until the last decade or so history was familiar with essentially two types of states, democratic and non-democratic. Now we have a third, a hybrid, which we might at a pinch also define as non-democratic democracies. Russia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Egypt, Turkey, the former Ukraine, Georgia, are concrete examples. What do these regimes have in common? They have ‘elected’ leaders. That’s the democratic part. Virtually every other aspect of their governance structure looks a lot like authoritarianism run rampant.

Let’s itemize the list of common attributes: media owned by the leader’s cronies economy dominated by same opposition politicians constantly harassed, prosecuted, or in danger of prosecution state and religion hand in glove judiciary pressured to comply with government’s diktat independence of educational institutions relentlessly subverted corruption ubiquitous in state institutions free markets victimized by political expediency foreign NGO’s scapegoated. And oh yes – almost invariably the country’s woes get blamed on sinister outside conspirators, usually the US. You get the picture.

In Georgia, former President Saakashvili is being indicted in absentia on a host of trumped-up charges along with various of his former ministers plus his party’s general secretary and his capital’s former mayor. In Turkey, the media is almost wholly owned by businesses run by Prime Minister Erdogan’s cronies and the prosecutor’s office has indicted a host of top police officials for conspiring against the government by revealing its corrupt activities. In Russia and Georgia, church and state are now in cahoots financially and doctrinally with the church providing moral cover for state policies. In Egypt, freedom of the press has effectively disappeared after several high-profile prosecutions of intellectuals.

In Venezuela, imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez’s trial for inciting violence during riots has just begun while the country ranks among the world’s top in corruption and crime. If you believe Chavista state propaganda, the country’s problems wouldn’t exist if the US didn’t exist. In Iran, forget about a free press while the supreme leader effectively determines who can run for political office. As in Venezuela, Turkey, Egypt etc Iran’s judiciary is a power-arm of the regime. Need we mention symbiosis between mosque and state? In Turkey, the state is mandating several hours a week of religious indoctrination in schools while sponsoring widespread housing with no units for single living as high-ranking politicians polemically bully women into staying at home and having families. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Erdogan blames all manner of outside forces for his problems, America, Israel, Syria, US-based Gulenist Muslims and others. One more thing: since Vladimir Putin was the first to make this system respectable, the reader can just say ‘ditto Russia’ where Russia isn’t mentioned above.

If there is one overriding lesson to adduce from the last decade’s world events it must be this: elections alone do not a democracy make. Elections without democratic institutions merely lead to elected dictatorships, indeed to a kind of mob rule. The fact that so many leaders get re-elected under such conditions should come as no surprise. If you control the means of communication with the public, while you intimidate and silence opposition politicians and media, and you monopolize the disbursement of employment, it’s not hard to get re-elected. But we have seen this script too often now to grant such systems the name of democracy. And here’s the rub: they do represent a new kind of system, a codified approach to governance, one that can and does get replicated in disparate countries.

Therein lies its enduring threat. Nobody has given it a tag, an ‘ism’ but the phenomenon looks as coherent and schematic as states that were once deemed communist, fascist, totalitarian or authoritarian. Thus far one can perhaps limit their incidence mostly to countries that live off oil or depend on other countries that do. Egypt’s economy would collapse entirely without infusions from the Gulf and Saudi. Turkey, at first glance, appears to be the lone exception though by all accounts Prime Minister Erdogan’s AK party floats on a sea of clandestine foreign oil funds as chronicled in the Turkish newspaper Zaman and elsewhere.

There’s no reason, in the end, why this new hybrid governance system of elected dictatorships (for want of a better phrase) should crop up only near oil sources. It makes sense that, until now, that kind of subsidization has allowed regimes to stay upright and bribe electorates while abusing the public’s rights. But the ‘ism’ is a young one. Usually, corrupt populist autocracies have a limited shelf life the modicum of democracy could extend the process and allow the model to propagate. After all, Iran’s theocrats have survived over three decades. Erdogan and Putin and the Chavistas don’t look like fading soon. The longer they endure the more tempting the example for others to emulate.

How Do Dictators Gain and Maintain Their Power?

According to HowStuffWorks, dictators usually come into power during coups d'etats, revolutions or states of emergency. Once in power, dictators use their influence to impose regimes that are often violent and long-lasting.

Dictators have absolute power over their state and usually do not come to power through free constitutional elections. Once in power, dictators typically do not call themselves dictators but instead choose to refer to themselves as presidents, prime ministers, chancellors or monarchs. Some of the most well-known dictators in history include Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-il and Adolf Hitler. One thing all these dictators have in common is that they were able to maintain political power by using violence and propaganda. Dictators often manufacture an external threat in order to gain control over the state and appear as the people's only salvation. For example, Hitler blamed the Jews for Germany's problems and justified his actions during the Holocaust by using propaganda aimed at vilifying the Jews. Dictators also use their leadership skills to persuade the masses to believe their agendas. They use censorship to control the flow of information so as to maintain power. Dictators who remain in power usually do so until they are killed or removed through violent opposition.

Lenin and the proletariat

At first, Vladimir Lenin's ideas seemed beneficial, reasonable, and desirable to a great portion of the Russian population. A socialist, he championed the working class and sought to revolutionize Russia by putting power into the hands of the people instead of the Tsars of the time. This goal and his passion for it galvanized the public and won him their support. He spoke to and identified with the downtrodden portion of Russia and used that to his advantage.

However, Lenin, a proud and fiery individual, placed himself at the top of this movement and employed violent means to keep the state under his control. After he and his followers successfully performed a coup d'etat, he began what would become known as The Red Terror, a cruel campaign that called for the total elimination of anyone who stood to oppose him.


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Dictator, in the Roman Republic, a temporary magistrate with extraordinary powers, nominated by a consul on the recommendation of the Senate and confirmed by the Comitia Curiata (a popular assembly). The dictatorship was a permanent office among some of the Latin states of Italy, but at Rome it was resorted to only in times of military, and later internal, crises. The dictator’s term was set at six months, although he customarily laid down his powers as soon as the crisis passed. He had 24 fasces, the equivalent of both consuls. His first act was to appoint as his immediate subordinate a master of the cavalry (magister equitum). The consuls and other magistrates continued in office during a dictatorship but were subject to the dictator’s authority. By the 3rd century bc the limited term of a dictatorship rendered it impracticable in operations outside of Italy. Moreover, by 300 bc the people had secured the limitation of dictatorial powers by subjecting their use to the right of appeal and to a tribune’s veto. Dictators were then named for lesser functions such as the holding of elections in certain cases.

The Carthaginian invasion in the Second Punic War (218–201 bc ) spurred a temporary revival of the office, but after 202 no dictators were chosen for any purpose. The dictatorships conferred upon Sulla and Julius Caesar in the last decades of the republic, in the 1st century bc , did not indicate a revival of the former office but the development of an extraconstitutional office with virtually unlimited powers. Sulla’s and Caesar’s dictatorships were not for a limited emergency but rather were meant “to restore the republic,” a reason mentioned as legitimate in Cicero’s De republica (54–52 On the Republic). The term of office was lengthened until Caesar acquired dictatorial powers for 10 years in 46 and for life immediately before his assassination in 44 bc , when the office was abolished. See also tyrant.

5. Saddam Hussein: Good at killing terrorists.

At another campaign stop in the summer leading up to the 2016 elections, Trump paid tribute to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, known for acts such as having a critic’s tongue sliced out, and executing people he claimed were part of a “Zionist spy ring.”

According to the New York Times, during a rally in Raleigh North Carolina, Trump briefly acknowledged that Hussein was ‘a bad guy,’ before hailing his firm hand.

“He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights. They didn’t talk. They were terrorists. It was over.”

Share All sharing options for: How Venezuela went from a rich democracy to a dictatorship on the brink of collapse

Photo: Getty Images, Photoillustration: Javier Zarracina/Vox

Not far from the US, a desperate leader is steering a once-prosperous democracy toward dictatorship.

Nicolás Maduro, the president of Venezuela, is scrambling to cling to power as his country is battered by an unprecedented economic crisis. And in the process, he’s becoming an autocrat.

Maduro is tossing political opponents in prison. He is cracking down on growing street protests with lethal force, with government security forces killing at least 46 demonstrators in recent months. He has repeatedly postponed regional government elections in order to stave off threats to his party’s power. And in July he held a rigged election for a special legislative body that supplanted the country’s parliament — the one branch of government that was controlled by his political opposition. The new superbody has carte blanche to rewrite the country’s constitution and expand his executive powers.

Maduro and his supporters now have total control of the government, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down.

It’s difficult to overstate how dire Venezuela’s economic plight is. The country entered a deep recession in 2014 spurred by the drop in global oil prices, and cumbersome regulations on its currency are helping produce record-breaking inflation. The International Monetary Fund estimates that prices in Venezuela are set to increase more than 700 percent this year. Seventy-five percent of the country’s population has lost an average of 19 pounds of bodyweight between 2015 and 2016 due to food shortages throughout the country.

But Maduro has done everything he can to prevent swelling popular discontent from limiting his power. His tactics place him among a special league of democratic authoritarians like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has used a referendum to expand the powers of his presidency, imprisoned political prisoners, attacked the judiciary branch of his government, and restricted free press in the wake of an attempted coup against him last year. Both leaders use crisis as a pretext for strengthening executive power while leaving the shells of their country’s democratic institutions intact.

For the US, Maduro’s increasing authoritarianism and refusal to reform his economy represents a major geopolitical and humanitarian challenge. The country’s total collapse would cause chaos in Latin America, creating an exodus of refugees to neighboring nations and likely exacerbating high crime rates in Central America and the Caribbean. (Thousands of Venezuelans are already fleeing to Colombia and, as of this year, Venezuelans top the list of asylum seekers in the US for the first time ever.)

So far, the Trump administration has tried using diplomatic and economic tools to pressure Maduro to drop his power grabs. In response to his decision to hold a vote for the new legislative body, Washington slapped sanctions on Maduro, many of his senior officials, and the country’s state-owned oil company this summer. Trump said in August that he wouldn’t rule out a “military option” to resolve the crisis in Venezuela, and just an hour after making the threat the White House issued a statement saying that he had refused to take a call from Maduro. “President Trump will gladly speak with the leader of Venezuela as soon as democracy is restored in that country,” the statement read.

While analysts don’t take Trump’s talk of a US military intervention seriously and the comments were at odds with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s rejection of the option about a week prior, they do see it as a potential boon for Maduro. The US has a long history of hostility against socialist leaders in Latin America in general and in Venezuela in particular. Trump’s fiery rhetoric only gives Maduro a stronger public rationale for consolidating powers to fend off the American threat.

But Maduro’s expanding control of Venezuela’s institutions should not be mistaken for an expansion of real power. As the country’s economic crisis deepens and he becomes more tyrannical, he is alienating his own political base, according to experts. And his increasing reliance on appointing members of the military to power in his administration shows he doesn’t have unilateral sway over the government. Maduro’s heavy-handed tactics mask his deep strategic weakness.

Presidential elections in Venezuela are scheduled for next year, and a number of outcomes are possible. If they are actually held even somewhat fairly and the opposition unites in their participation in them, experts say it could be the end for Maduro — and a blow to the political revolution that brought him into power. Or in the face of a united opposition Maduro could double down on his repression — and push Venezuela even closer to dictatorship.

Venezuela’s new strongman lives in the shadow of its old one

Understanding Maduro requires understanding his predecessor Hugo Chávez, the populist firebrand who served as president of Venezuela from 1999 until his death in 2013 and spearheaded the country’s experiment with socialism.

Chávez is a legendary figure in Venezuela who transformed the country’s political and economic landscape by nationalizing industries and funneling enormous amounts of government money into social programs. Under his rule, Venezuela’s unemployment rate halved, income per capita more than doubled, the poverty rate fell by more than half, education improved, and infant mortality rates declined.

While he sparked ferocious opposition among the country’s elites and conservatives — who at one point attempted a coup against him — he was loved by the country’s poor and working classes.

He also won plaudits at home for his willingness to stand up to the United States — in 2009, he famously called then-President George W. Bush “the devil” during a speech at the United Nations.

“Yesterday, the devil came here,” he said, a reference to Bush’s speech at the UN the day before. “Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of.”

Chávez died of cancer at the age of 58, at the very beginning of his third term in office. Maduro, Chávez’s vice president and handpicked successor, temporarily assumed the office of the presidency, and was narrowly elected president in the elections that took place shortly after. He has been in power ever since.

Maduro has tried to replicate his predecessor’s political playbook. But he has largely failed. And a great deal of that can be traced back to two key assets that Chávez had that he likely never will.

First, Chávez was famously charismatic — a once-in-a-generation kind of political charmer with an extraordinary ability to persuade people from all different backgrounds to join his cause. Having grown up as a poor child in the Venezuelan countryside, Chávez had an organic and intuitive connection with the poor and working-class citizens he came to champion. A savvy politician, he cobbled together a coalition of leftists, military officers, broad swaths of the middle class, and Venezuela’s long-neglected poor.

“Chávez was an almost unclassifiable and unprecedentedly good politician,” George Ciccariello-Maher, a scholar of Venezuela at Drexel University, told me. “He had these incredible abilities and capacities that no one could be expected to reproduce.”

Chávez’s second special asset was an unprecedented oil boom, which poured about a trillion dollars into the country’s treasury during his tenure. High global oil prices have always been a boon for Venezuela, since it possesses enormous oil reserves. It’s a quintessential petrostate whose entire economic fate relies on the price at which the country can export oil to global markets. But Chávez expanded the state’s control over the oil industry and was ambitious in his efforts to redistribute the money it brought into government coffers.

Chávez had exceptional circumstances and abilities, but that didn’t mean he was above taking anti-democratic steps to tilt fortune even further in his favor.

He had serious authoritarian tendencies: He stacked the country’s courts with political allies, passed laws restricting the ability of journalists to criticize the government, and consistently sought ways to do away with checks on his power. But there were limits to his authoritarianism, and he thought of the electoral system as a key way to make himself more effective as a leader.

As New York University historian Greg Grandin has pointed out, Chávez “submitted himself and his agenda to 14 national votes, winning 13 of them by large margins, in polling deemed by Jimmy Carter to be ‘best in the world.’”

“Chávez was always careful to maintain electoral legitimacy,” Francisco Toro, editor of Caracas Chronicles, an opposition-friendly news and analysis site, told me. Toro says that Chávez had big advantages with friendly media and his tendency to use state money on his campaigns, but that he didn’t “steal or cancel elections blatantly.” Chávez even allowed his opposition to run a recall referendum against him in 2004 just two years after surviving a coup attempt. He won the referendum by a huge margin.

When Chávez picked Maduro to succeed him, it was because he expected Maduro to be an effective champion for his ideas after his death. But while Maduro shared a great deal with Chávez ideologically, he has not been able to repeat his political or economic success. Instead, he’s overseen Venezuela’s descent into economic catastrophe, lost swaths of Chávez’s committed political base, and become one of Latin America’s newest autocrats.

Maduro is trying to use a script that doesn’t work for him

About six weeks after Chávez died, Venezuela held a special presidential election. Calling himself the “son of Chávez” in a bid to capitalize on his predecessor’s popularity, Maduro campaigned on a promise to carry on Chávez’s legacy. And yet he barely edged out opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, taking merely 50.6 percent of the vote. Capriles, who had only days to prepare for the snap election, garnered more than 49 percent of the vote.

It was quickly apparent that Maduro was no Chávez.

“It’s not even that Maduro lacks Chávez’s incredibly charming ability to disarm and bring you into his fold — it’s that he tries to emulate it and it comes out as farcical,” Alejandro Velasco, a historian of Latin America at New York University, told me. “The way that he speaks, the way he gesticulates, he tries to embody Chávez, and it’s just so transparently not.”

It’s not that Maduro is lacking in leftist convictions. If anything, his background is more radical than that of Chávez, who came up as a military man and originally took office promising to lead Venezuela down a reformist path. Maduro studied in Cuba, was a member of the super left-wing Socialist League, and worked as a union negotiator before joining electoral politics in Venezuela as Chávez took power. He served as a member in the country’s National Assembly — its legislative branch — before serving as Chavez’s foreign minister for about seven years.

But Maduro never had the personality — or connections — that made him a natural fit to follow in Chávez’s footsteps. “It surprised people when Chávez picked Maduro as successor,” Miguel Tinker Salas, a Latin America expert at Pomona College, told me. “He wasn’t a figure really steeped in the internal dynamics of the Venezuelan political process.”

Maduro has not only been less adept at connecting with the public and persuading them of his policies — he’s also had less power within his own administration. This is because Maduro lacks “the personal magnetism that would allow him to boss around faction heads,” Toro says. What that means in practice is that Maduro feels compelled to do things like giving members of the military — a highly influential institution in Venezuelan life — powerful positions in his administration in order to neutralize the threat they may pose to his rule.

But in addition to being a poor politician, Maduro has lacked Chávez’s other exceptional asset for most of his time in office: oil money. After oil prices crashed in late 2014, Venezuela’s economy crashed with it.

Maduro won’t do what is needed to cure Venezuela’s addiction

Chávez was an innovator in how he spent money, but he did little to improve how Venezuela actually makes money. He paid no attention to diversifying the economy or investing in domestic production outside of the oil sector. The country relies on imports for many of its most basic goods and services, include food and medicine.

Since late 2014, low oil prices and stifling government regulations on currency have produced huge shortages of those basic items — including food and medicine — and caused the world’s highest inflation. The country is suffering from a malnutrition crisis. And malaria is ravaging the population despite the fact that Venezuela was the first country in the world to eliminate the disease in its populated areas.

It’s hard to lay the blame for this entirely on Maduro — Venezuela has long been addicted to oil and its economy has flourished or suffered based on oil prices since the early 20th century. But Maduro has failed to take any serious measures to mitigate the crisis by, for example, trying to crack down on corruption or ending the country’s currency exchange policy that is making it impossible for ordinary Venezuelans to buy everyday items.

The currency policy allows people who have government connections to exchange Venezuelan bolivars for US dollars at a special, extremely discounted rate. Those people then buy things like food abroad using those government-subsidized dollars and sell them domestically to people who buy them with the bolivar — and the sellers pocket the difference.

Maduro is ultimately too concerned with sticking to the Chávez script — and keeping the support of the government-affiliated elites who benefit from it — to consider serious reforms.

Maduro’s future is entirely up in the air

As Venezuela’s economy has collapsed, Maduro’s popularity has also plummeted, and protest movements have rocked the country. While Chávez’s approval ratings rarely dipped below 50 percent, Maduro has been at or below 20 percent for years.

And while the protests are led by a relentless opposition movement that probably would have sought Maduro’s ouster even if the economy was stable, their increased size and ferocity this year reveals that they’re inspired by something bigger than perennial partisan rancor. Poor neighborhoods that once brimmed with people fiercely loyal to Chávez have joined anti-government protests in recent months.

Maduro has reacted to the chaos and dissent with authoritarian tactics. In 2016, he blocked an attempt to hold a referendum on whether he should be recalled. In late March, his loyalist-stacked Supreme Court made a ruling that effectively dissolved the opposition-controlled legislative branch and took all of its power for itself, only to reverse the decision days later after the move sparked mass protests.

Maduro has also violently cracked down on protests and imprisoned major political rivals. He’s postponed state elections originally slated for December 2016 several times out of fear that his party will get wiped out at the polls. And in July 2017, he held a rigged election for a legislative superbody that has effectively replaced the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

Chávez preferred to be measured in his strongman maneuvers and used the ballot box to boost his own power, but Maduro has had no qualms about using a much heavier hand. Maduro wants to stay in power, but doesn’t have any way of doing it that involves even pretending to play by the rules of the game.

But Maduro has finally agreed to hold those long-postponed state elections this October, nearly a year after they were originally scheduled. Analysts say that he may have decided to go ahead with them after feeling emboldened by the election of the legislative superbody this summer. Maduro also likely sees them as a way to reduce the high-intensity pressure of protests that garner international attention and prompt foreign countries to slap sanctions on his regime.

“Elections serve as a way of enticing opposition forces to leave the streets and focus on electoral politics,” Pomona College’s Salas said.

If they are indeed held as planned, it will be a major opportunity for the opposition to make inroads among the 23 governorships up for grabs, which are almost entirely dominated by Maduro-aligned politicians.

And that could spark some critical momentum: “The opposition is betting that if they gain in the regional elections, they can reinvigorate their mostly dejected forces and take on Maduro in the presidential elections in 2018,” said Salas.

The big question is how far will Maduro go in trying to ensure that he maintains power in these contests. Recent history suggests that he’s inclined to go pretty far.

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There’s lots of examples of false news throughout history. It was used by Nazi propaganda machines to build anti-Semitic fervor. It played a role in catalyzing the Enlightenment, when the Catholic Church’s false explanation of the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake prompted Voltaire to speak out against religious dominance. In the 1800s in the US, racist sentiment led to the publication of false stories about African Americans’ supposed deficiencies and crimes.

In the 1890s, rival newspaper publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Hearst competed over the audience through sensationalism and reporting rumors as though they were facts, a practice that became known at the time as “yellow journalism.” Their incredulous news played a role in leading the US into the Spanish-American War of 1898. Eventually there was a backlash against the lack of journalistic integrity: The public demanded more objective and reliable news sources, which created a niche that the The New York Times was established to fill at the turn of the 20 th century. Yellow journalism became less common. That is, until the rise of web-based news brought it all back in full force.

One of the motivations for 1890s newspapers engaging in yellow journalism is the same as for fake news creators today: Exaggerated news with shocking headlines gets attention and sells papers (or prompts mouse-clicks), promoting the sale of advertising. In the form of traditional news media, most people have learned better than to take outrageous news articles as seriously as they did at the height of the yellow journalism era. More recently, tabloids like The National Enquirer and The New York Sun, and fad magazines like The Freak and The Wet Dog are generally known as false news sources. Similarly, people recognize that the parody news productions on the web and TV feature satire and ironic, but unreal, accounts of current events.

But that clarity simply isn’t available when news stories appear out-of-context via social media.

Of course, fake news has also been used as a term to try to discredit news stories that individuals (particularly President Trump) don’t like, in order to suggest that they were made up or that they blow out of proportion something that should be trivial (even if other sources can verify their factual accuracy). In a conversation with Lou Dobbs of Fox Business in October, 2017, President Trump claimed that he had "really started this whole 'fake news' thing." Ironically, Hillary Clinton used the term in a speech she made two days before Trump’s first use of the phrase [2]. Although Donald Trump may have appropriated the term in a whole new way, the term itself has been in use for many years. The first documented uses of the term occurred in the 1890s, according to Merriam Webster [3].

The ‘German Mussolini’

Mussolini’s success in Italy normalized Hitler’s success in the eyes of the American press who, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, routinely called him “the German Mussolini.” Given Mussolini’s positive press reception in that period, it was a good place from which to start. Hitler also had the advantage that his Nazi party enjoyed stunning leaps at the polls from the mid '20’s to early '30’s, going from a fringe party to winning a dominant share of parliamentary seats in free elections in 1932.

But the main way that the press defanged Hitler was by portraying him as something of a joke. He was a “nonsensical” screecher of “wild words” whose appearance, according to Newsweek, “suggests Charlie Chaplin.” His “countenance is a caricature.” He was as “voluble” as he was “insecure,” stated Cosmopolitan.

When Hitler’s party won influence in Parliament, and even after he was made chancellor of Germany in 1933 – about a year and a half before seizing dictatorial power – many American press outlets judged that he would either be outplayed by more traditional politicians or that he would have to become more moderate. Sure, he had a following, but his followers were “impressionable voters” duped by “radical doctrines and quack remedies,” claimed The Washington Post. Now that Hitler actually had to operate within a government the “sober” politicians would “submerge” this movement, according to The New York Times and Christian Science Monitor. A “keen sense of dramatic instinct” was not enough. When it came to time to govern, his lack of “gravity” and “profundity of thought” would be exposed.

In fact, The New York Times wrote after Hitler’s appointment to the chancellorship that success would only “let him expose to the German public his own futility.” Journalists wondered whether Hitler now regretted leaving the rally for the cabinet meeting, where he would have to assume some responsibility.

Yes, the American press tended to condemn Hitler’s well-documented anti-Semitism in the early 1930s. But there were plenty of exceptions. Some papers downplayed reports of violence against Germany’s Jewish citizens as propaganda like that which proliferated during the foregoing World War. Many, even those who categorically condemned the violence, repeatedly declared it to be at an end, showing a tendency to look for a return to normalcy.

Journalists were aware that they could only criticize the German regime so much and maintain their access. When a CBS broadcaster’s son was beaten up by brownshirts for not saluting the Führer, he didn’t report it. When the Chicago Daily News’ Edgar Mowrer wrote that Germany was becoming “an insane asylum” in 1933, the Germans pressured the State Department to rein in American reporters. Allen Dulles, who eventually became director of the CIA, told Mowrer he was “taking the German situation too seriously.” Mowrer’s publisher then transferred him out of Germany in fear of his life.

By the later 1930s, most U.S. journalists realized their mistake in underestimating Hitler or failing to imagine just how bad things could get. (Though there remained infamous exceptions, like Douglas Chandler, who wrote a loving paean to “Changing Berlin” for National Geographic in 1937.) Dorothy Thompson, who judged Hitler a man of “startling insignificance” in 1928, realized her mistake by mid-decade when she, like Mowrer, began raising the alarm.

“No people ever recognize their dictator in advance,” she reflected in 1935. “He never stands for election on the platform of dictatorship. He always represents himself as the instrument [of] the Incorporated National Will.” Applying the lesson to the U.S., she wrote, “When our dictator turns up you can depend on it that he will be one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American.”

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.