Soft coup is a coup d'état without the use of violence, but based on a conspiracy or plot that has as its objective the taking of the State power by partially or wholly illegal means, in order to operate an exchange of political leadership - and in some cases also of the current institutional order.
A soft coup is a strategy attributed to the American political scientist Gene Sharp, a Professor Emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, who has been a theorist and author of groundbreaking works on the dynamics of nonviolent conflict. He studied the potential to spark, guide, and maximize the power of sometimes short-lived mass uprisings, as he tried to understand how unarmed insurrections have been far more politically significant than observers focused on military warfare have cared to admit.
According to Axel Kaiser, a Chilean lawyer member of the Mises Institute, soft coup is nothing but a conspiracy theory used by Latin American populists who seek the centralization of power, but do so under the pretense of improving democracy. Kayser argues that the Latin American leaders rationale is that democracy should be a system where the general will must be absolute, and that the populist leader describes himself as the representative of the general will by virtue of having been elected by the people. Kayser says that these leaders feel that the will of the leader equals the general will, and that any limits on the will of the leader would be also a limit to the general will itself. In this scenario, opposition to the leader is supposedly treated as an act against democracy, which would be used to justify persecution of the opposition, forced nationalizations and limits to the freedom of the press - a notion of democracy that is opposed to the one held in the United States, which considers instead that rulers must have limits to their power, but also conflicting with minority rights.
As several military coups took place in South America during the 20th century, in particular during the Cold War, there is a strong popular perception of those coups as highly negative events. The mere legacy of Operation Condor evokes great mistrust among the general population. Hence, as the supporters of the deposed leaders often attribute the old coups to generalized authors instead of specific ones (such as the press, the private sector of the economy, the judiciary and imperialism), they tend to argue that the alleged coups have been attempted by those same authors.
The Impeachment of Fernando Lugo in Paraguay and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil are usual magnets of coup claims. The impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in particular has been described as a fraudulent process by some members of the press, such as American journalist living in Brazil Glenn Greenwald, who has reported that the primary pretext used to impeach her, the "crimes of responsibility" she has supposedly committed, have been debunked by the Brazilian Senate’s own independent expert evaluation, and since there is no evidence that she is personally corrupt, the thesis of a soft coup gained great popularity in the country. By its turn, Paraguay was temporarily removed from the Mercosur as a result of the impeachment of Fernando Lugo, as the other governors considered that democracy had been interrupted in the country - a development that allowed the remaining countries to incorporate Venezuela into the bloc, which Paraguay opposed.
- Roberto Scaruffi. "What coups d'État are". The mechanics of the political destabilisation and Constitutional subversion in the 1990s’ Italy.
- Steven A. Cook. "Military soft 'coup' in Egypt has precedent". CSMonitor.com.
- Engler, Mark (2013). "The Machiavelli of Nonviolence: Gene Sharp and the Battle Against Corporate Rule". Dissent Magazine. Retrieved February 14, 2018.
- Kaiser, p. 53
- Kaiser, p. 55
- Kaiser, p. 56
- "When a "coup" is not a coup". The Economist. April 9, 2016. Retrieved December 26, 2016.
- "Major New Brazil Events Expose the Fraud of Dilma's Impeachment — and Temer's Corruption". The Intercept. June 30, 2016. Retrieved February 14, 2018.
- "Mercosur suspends Paraguay over Lugo impeachment". BBC. June 29, 2012. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
- Kaiser, Axel (2016). El engaño populista [The populist lie] (in Spanish). Colombia: Ariel. ISBN 978-987-3804-39-7.