United States involvement in regime change in Latin America

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United States involvement in regime change in Latin America

Participation of the United States in regime change in Latin America involved US-backed coups d'état aimed at replacing left-wing leaders with right-wing leaders, military juntas, or other authoritarian regimes.[1] Lesser intervention of economic and military variety was prevalent during the Cold War in line with the Truman Doctrine of containment, but regime change involvement would increase after the drafting of NSC 68 [Full Document] which advocated for more aggressive combating of potential Soviet allies.[2] Several instances of intervention and regime change occurred during the early-20th-century "Banana Republic" era of Latin American history to promote American business interests in the region.[1] United States influenced regime change in this period of Latin American history started after the signing of the Treaty of Paris in the wake of the Spanish-American War. Cuba gained its independence, while Puerto Rico and the Philippines were occupied by the United States.[3] Expansive and imperialist U.S. foreign policy combined with new economic prospects led to increased U.S. intervention in Latin America from 1898 to the early 1930s.[4]



In Argentina, military forces overthrew the democratically elected President Isabel Perón in the 1976 Argentine coup d'état, starting the military dictatorship of General Jorge Rafael Videla, known as the National Reorganization Process, resulting in around 30,000 forced disappearances. Both the coup and the following authoritarian regime was eagerly endorsed and supported by the United States government[citation needed] with US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger paying several official visits to Argentina during the dictatorship.[5][6] Among the many human rights violations committed during the period were extrajudicial arrests, mass executions, torture, rape, disappearances of political prisoners and dissenters,[7] and illegal relocations of children born from pregnant women (both pregnant before their imprisonment or made pregnant by the continuous rape).[5][7] According to Spanish judge Baltazar Garzón, Kissinger was a witness to these crimes.[8]


The US government supported the 1971 coup led by General Hugo Banzer that toppled President Juan José Torres of Bolivia.[9][10] Torres had displeased Washington by convening an "Asamblea del Pueblo" (People's Assembly or Popular Assembly), in which representatives of specific proletarian sectors of society were represented (miners, unionized teachers, students, peasants), and more generally by leading the country in what was perceived as a left wing direction. Banzer hatched a bloody military uprising starting on August 18, 1971, that succeeded in taking the reins of power by August 22, 1971. After Banzer took power, the US provided extensive military and other aid to the Banzer dictatorship as Banzer cracked down on freedom of speech and dissent, tortured thousands, "disappeared" and murdered hundreds, and closed labor unions and the universities.[11][12] Torres, who had fled Bolivia, was kidnapped and assassinated in 1976 as part of Operation Condor, the US-supported campaign of political repression and state terrorism by South American right-wing dictators.[13][14][15]

Many, including ousted President Evo Morales, termed the 2019 Bolivian political crisis as an American-backed coup d'état to tap the nation's large lithium reserves, although this claim has not been verified.[16]


Brazil experienced several decades of authoritarian governments, especially after the US-backed[17] 1964 Brazilian coup d'état against social democrat João Goulart. Under then-President John F. Kennedy, the US sought to "prevent Brazil from becoming another China or Cuba", a policy which was carried forward under Lyndon B. Johnson and which led to US military support for the coup in April 1964.[18][19]


After the democratic election of President Salvador Allende in 1970, an economic war ordered by President Richard Nixon,[20] among other things, caused the 1973 Chilean coup d'état with the involvement of the CIA[21] due to Allende's democratic socialist leanings. What followed was the decades-long US-backed military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.[22] In 1988 a presidential referendum was held in order to confirm Pinochet's ruling for 8 more years. The oppositional Concertation of Parties for Democracy endorsed the "No" option, winning the referendum and ending Pinochet's rule democratically. After that free elections were held in 1989 with Concertation winning again.[23][24][25]

A declassified report from the U.S. government "Annex-NSSM 97" details an early plan to overthrow President Allende if he were to take office.[26] The document explicitly states that the U.S. government's role should not be revealed and would primarily use Chilean institutions as a means of ousting the President. The Chilean military is highlighted as the best means to achieve this goal. The benefits of a coup initiated by the military are to reduce the threat of Marxism in Latin America and to disarm a potential threat to the United States.[27]

Costa Rica[edit]

Costa Rica was the only country in Latin America that never had a long lasting authoritarian government in the 20th century. Its only dictatorship during the period was after the 1917 Costa Rican coup d'état led by Minister of War Federico Tinoco Granados[28] against President Alfredo González Flores after González attempted to increase tax on the wealthy, and it lasted only two years. In fact, the US government lead by Democratic President Woodrow Wilson did not recognize Tinoco's rule and, despite the fact that the United Fruit Company was one of the affected companies by González' tax reform, helped the opposition that quickly overthrew Tinoco after a few months of warfare.[28]

Years later Christian socialist medic Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia of the National Republican Party would reach power through democratic means, promoting a general social reform and allied to the Costa Rican Communist Party.[29] Tensions between government and the opposition, supported by the CIA, caused the short-lived Costa Rican Civil War of 1948 that ended Calderón's government and led to the short de facto rule of 18 months by José Figueres Ferrer.[29] However Figueres also held some left-leaning ideas and continued the social reformation.[28] In any case, after the war democracy was quickly restored and a two-party system encompassed by the parties of the Calderonistas and Figueristas developed in the country for nearly 60 years.[28]


During the late 1800s, the U.S. sought to expand its economic interests by developing an economy overseas.[30] This sentiment would help expand the support for the Spanish-American War and Cuban liberation despite the U.S. previously establishing itself as anti-independence and revolution.[30] Nonetheless, the war with Spain would allow Cuba to gain its independence from the Spanish crown, though it would be replaced with American influence on political structure with such developments as the Platt Amendment.[31] Support for the Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, would also come from the U.S., as his economic beliefs benefitted American business interests (although this would lessen with the Cuban revolution). [32]

The Cuban revolution carried massive anti-U.S. sentiments exemplified by Fidel Castro's political rhetoric and later Che Guevara's speech at the United Nations.[33] In Che Guevara's speech at the United Nations [2], the anti-imperialist message would apply both globally and specifically to the United States.[34] Despite this message, the United States would try to assassinate Fidel Castro over 600 times, although no attempts were successful.[35]

Fidel Castro visiting Washington D.C. after the Cuban Revolution

Dominican Republic[edit]

Trujillo in 1952

In May 1961, the ruler of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo was murdered with weapons supplied by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).[36][37] An internal CIA memorandum states that a 1973 Office of Inspector General investigation into the murder disclosed "quite extensive Agency involvement with the plotters." The CIA described its role in "changing" the government of the Dominican Republic as a 'success' in that it assisted in moving the Dominican Republic from a totalitarian dictatorship to a Western-style democracy."[38][39] Juan Bosch, an earlier recipient of CIA funding, was elected president of the Dominican Republic in 1962, and was deposed in 1963.[40]

El Salvador[edit]

After several peasant and workers uprisings in the country against the oligarchic and anti-democratic governments, often under the control of powerful American companies' interests like the United Fruit Company. With the appearance of figures like Farabundo Martí who lead these social revolts and were violently crushed, efforts to take power democratically were often thwarted by US intervention. Civil war spread with US-endorsed governments in El Salvador facing guerrillas.[41][42][43]


Peasants and workers (mostly of indigenous descent) revolt during the first half of the 20th century due to harsh living conditions and the abuse from landlords and the government-supported American United Fruit Company. This revolt was brutally repressed, but led to the democratic election of Jacobo Arbenz. Arbenz was overthrown during the US-backed 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état leading to authoritarian governments endorsed by the United States.[44] and nearly 40 years of civil war in the Central American country.[45] United States president Ronald Reagan, who sought to prevent the spread of communism in Central American countries near the United States, officially met with Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, accused of crimes against humanity, in Honduras, giving strong support to his regime.[46]


State dinner between US President Richard Nixon and Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza Debayle
United States Marines with the captured flag of Augusto César Sandino in 1932

In 1912, during the Banana Wars period, the U.S. occupied Nicaragua as a means of protecting American business interests and protecting the rights that Nicaragua granted to the United States to construct a canal there.[47] The intervention, utilizing the U.S. Marine Corps, was sparked by a rebellion that opposed the United States. After quelling the rebellion, the U.S. continued occupying Nicaragua until 1933, when President Herbert Hoover officially ended the occupation.[48]

After the Sandinista Revolution that overthrew pro-American dictator[49] Anastasio Somoza Debayle, Nicaragua fought the Contra guerrillas supported by the United States.


In 1903, the US aided the secession of Panama from the Republic of Colombia. The secession was engineered by a Panamanian faction backed by the Panama Canal Company, a French–US corporation whose aim was the construction of a waterway across the Isthmus of Panama thus connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In 1903, the US signed the Hay-Herrán Treaty with Colombia, granting the United States use of the Isthmus of Panama in exchange for financial compensation[50][51] amidst the Thousand Days' War. The Panama Canal was already under construction, and the Panama Canal Zone was carved out and placed under United States sovereignty. The US did not transfer the zone back to Panama until 2000.

Panamanian dictator Omar Torrijos' unexpected death in a plane crash has been attributed to US agents in collaboration with Manuel Noriega.[52][53] According to John Perkins's book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man the motive behind it was Torrijo's negotiations with Japanese businessmen to expand the Panama Canal excluding American firms.[54][unreliable source?] Torrijos was also a supporter of the anti-Somoza FSLN rebel group in Nicaragua which stained his relationship with Reagan.[55] Torrijos was succeeded by more pro-American dictator Manuel Noriega, who sided with the US interests during Torrijos government.[56][57]

However, increasing tensions between Noriega and the US government also led to the United States invasion of Panama, which ended in Noriega's overthrowing.


Conservative Colorado Party in Paraguay ruled the country for 65 consecutive years, including the American-supported[58][59][60][61] brutal dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner that lasted 35 years, from 1954 to 1989. But later the US supported a coup by the "traditionalist faction" of Colorado against Stroesser. Paraguay is one of the poorest countries of South America. This dominant-party authoritarian system was temporarily broken in the 2008 Paraguayan general election, when practically the entire opposition united in the Patriotic Alliance for Change and managed to elect former Bishop Fernando Lugo of the Christian Democratic Party as President of Paraguay. Lugo's government was praised for its social reforms including investments in low-income housing,[62] the introduction of free treatment in public hospitals,[63][64] the introduction of cash transfers for Paraguay's most impoverished citizens[65] and indigenous rights.[66]


Alberto Fujimori and Vladimiro Montesinos's Peruvian regime was supported by the CIA.[67][68]


After 150 years of traditional democratic governments in Uruguay, a civic-military dictatorship of Uruguay backed by the United States[69][70][71] started after the military-led 1973 Uruguayan coup d'état that suppressed the Constitution of Uruguay of 1967, empowering President Juan María Bordaberry as dictator. Trade union leaders and political opponents were arrested, killed or exiled, and human rights violations were abundant.[72] Democracy was restored in the 1984 Uruguayan general election.[73]


In April 2002, president Hugo Chávez was briefly ousted from power in the 2002 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt. Members of the Bush administration held meetings with opposition leaders for months before the coup attempt, but explicitly informed them they would not support a coup.[74] The OAS and all of Venezuela's neighbours denounced the coup attempt, but the United States didn't condemn the coup until after it had been thwarted.[75] The US did warn the Venezuelan government of the potential coup, but their warnings were ultimately ignored.[76]

Chávez died in office in 2013, and was succeeded by Nicolás Maduro. Maduro's presidency has coincided with a decline in Venezuela's socioeconomic status, with crime, inflation, poverty and hunger increasing. Analysts and critics have attributed Venezuela's decline to both Chávez and Maduro's economic policies,[77][78][79] while Maduro has blamed speculation and economic warfare waged by his political opponents.[80][81][82]

Maduro continued the practice of his predecessor of denouncing alleged conspiracies against him or his government; in a period of fifteen months following his election, dozens of conspiracies, some supposedly linked to assassination and coup attempts, were reported by Maduro's government.[83] In this same period, the number of attempted coups claimed by the Venezuelan government outnumbered all attempted and executed coups occurring worldwide in the same period.[84] In early 2015, the Maduro government accused the United States of attempting to overthrow him. The Venezuelan government performed elaborate actions to respond to such reported attempts and to convince the public that its claims were true. The reactions included the arrest of Antonio Ledezma in February 2015, forcing American tourists to go through travel requirements and holding military marches and public exercises "for the first time in Venezuela's democratic history".[84] After the United States ordered sanctions to be placed on seven Venezuelan officials for human rights violations, Maduro used anti-US rhetoric to bump up his approval ratings.[85][86] Venezuelan political scientist Isabella Picón estimated that about 15% of Venezuelans took the coup allegations seriously, while for the rest it was "entertainment".[84]

In 2016, Maduro again claimed that the United States was attempting to assist the opposition with a coup attempt. On January 12, 2016, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, threatened to invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter, an instrument used to defend democracy in the Americas when threatened, when opposition National Assembly member were barred from taking their seats by the Maduro-aligned Supreme Court.[87] Human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch,[88] and the Human Rights Foundation[89] called for the OAS to invoke the Democratic Charter. After more controversies and pursuing a recall on Maduro, on May 2, 2016, opposition members of the National Assembly met with OAS officials to ask for the body to implement the Democratic Charter.[90] Two days later on May 4, the Maduro government called for a meeting the next day with the OAS, with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez stating that the United States and the OAS were attempting to overthrow Maduro.[91] On May 17, 2016, in a national speech, Maduro called OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro "a traitor" and stated that he worked for the CIA.[92] Almagro sent a letter rebuking Maduro, and rejecting the claim.[93][94]

On May 20, 2018, Maduro was reelected in an election that had the lowest voter turnout in Venezuela's modern history,[95] which as a result was described by some analysts as a show election.[96][97] The majority of nations in the Americas and the Western world refused to recognize the validity of this election and of the pro-Maduro Constituent Assembly, initiating their own sanctions against him and his administration as well, although allies such as China, Cuba, Iran, Russia and Turkey offered support and denounced what they described as interference in Venezuela's domestic affairs.[98][99][100]

On January 23, 2019, the President of the National Assembly of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, declared himself the acting President of the country, disputing Nicolás Maduro's presidency and sparking a presidential crisis. Shortly after Guaidó's announcement, along with allies and several other nations, the United States recognized Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela.[101] Maduro's government says the crisis is a coup d'état orchestrated by the United States to topple him and control the country's oil reserves.[102] Guaidó rejects the characterization of his actions as a coup, saying that his movement is backed by peaceful volunteers.[103]

US Vice President Mike Pence stated in April that the US was set on Maduro's removal, whether through diplomatic or other means, and that "all options" were on the table.[104] Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US would take military action "if required".[105] In December 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that the United States did not plan a military intervention in Venezuela, saying that "we have said that all options are on the table", but that "we have learned from history that the risks from using military force are significant".[106]

A memo obtained by Agence France-Presse described that the US Agency for International Development would divert $41.9 million to promote Guaidó, including $19.4 million for salaries and stipends for Guaidó's staff, covering their travel, and "other costs necessary to ensure full deployment of a transparent financial management system and other activities necessary for a democratic transition," as well as $2 million to support the opposition in negotiations with the Maduro administration.[107] In August 2019, President Donald Trump's administration imposed new additional sanctions on Venezuela as part of their efforts to remove Maduro from office, ordering a freeze on all Venezuelan government assets in the United States and barring transactions with US citizens and companies.[108][109]

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