A supporter of Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido (LaPresse)

List of US Interventions in Latin America

US President Donald Trump denied that Washington had played a role in a recent failed coup attempt to oust Venezuela’s leader Nicolas Maduro. Trump’s denial followed the arrest of former American soldiers and other labeled as “terrorists” accused by Venezuela of trying to kidnap the incumbent socialist president.

In footage aired by Venezuela’s state TV station Wednesday, May 6, one of the US mercenaries, Luke Denman, revealed that he had been hired to train Venezuelans in Colombia before planning to seize the airport and take Maduro out of the country.

“I was helping Venezuelans take back control of their country,” Denman, an Iraq War veteran, admitted.

US Interventions in Latin America: a Brief Overview

The US involvement in Latin American’s regime change cannot be separated from the Monroe Doctrine, enacted in 1823 under the presidency of James Monroe. The policy was instituted after Monroe was pressured to recognize the independence of Latin American nations from Spain or Portugal, such as Argentina, Peru, and Mexico in 1822.

Previously, Russia, Austria, and Prussia formed a holy alliance after the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815.

However, the U.S and Britain worried that Europe’s powers would exert their influence in the Western Hemisphere. In his speech, Monroe stressed that the American continent should be freed from Europe’s colonization.

“The American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for colonization by any European powers. Any attempt by a European power to exert its influence in the Western Hemisphere would, from then on, be seen by the United States as a threat to its security,” Monroe stated.

US-backed Regime Change in Latin America

Venezuela (2002)

Maduro’s accusation that the US tried to topple him sounds plausible, given that Washington orchestrated a coup to topple his predecessor Hugo Chavez in 2002.

The effort failed, and Chavez was back in power 48 hours after his temporary removal. Chavez, who was also a close friend of Cuba’s Fidel Castro, had been the most adored socialist leader in his home country and across Latin America due to his welfare program.

In 2004, a declassified document disclosed that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had known that Venezuelan opposition groups’ planned to assassinate Chavez, as the New York Times reported. However, The Bush administration snubbed the allegations and slammed the popular leftist figure for his downfall.

Chavez was known for his welfare policy, thanks to Venezuela’s oil revenue. However, the decline in global oil prices a year after his death plunged the country into serious crisis which was worsened by the political turmoil and a punishing US-backed embargo.

Maduro took office in 2013, replacing Chavez. In 2018, Maduro’s reelection sparked controversy from Venezuelan opposition backed by US and its Western allies due to the vote-rigging allegation. Such a political crisis has worsened the situation following the economic crisis caused by the decline in global oil prices in 2014.

The uncertainty in Venezuela has divided the world and Latin American in particular: The US and other right-wing governments in Latin America, such as Colombia, Brazil, Chile, and Peru supported self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido, while Russia, Turkey, and left-wing administrations such as (then) Bolivia, and Mexico backed Maduro, the former close aide of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Chile (1973)

In 1970, socialist Salvador Allende was democratically elected as Chile’s president, supported by several leftist parties such as the Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party, and many more.

Allende’s victory was the victory of Chilean workers, indigenous communities, and farmers. His priorities focused on providing free healthcare and education to all, nationalization of large-scale industries, and land redistribution for farmers.

His populist policy succeeded in lifting the country’s economy and reducing the unemployment rate. However, Allende’s nationalization angered Washington. The then-Richard Nixon Administration reacted by lowering global copper’s prices and imposing an economic embargo on Chile.

The sanction crippled Chile’s economy, given that the country relied on copper export. The embargo also stopped investment and triggered a political crisis, deepening the country’s political division.

On September 11, 1973, Chile’s military launched a coup to overthrow Allende. Fire blanketed most parts of the La Moneda Palace. Allende was later found dead with his hand holding an automatic weapon.

Tens of thousands of Allende’s supporters were killed and kidnapped. The late CIA-backed General Augusto Pinochet took office until 1990. Under his rule, many activists were killed, kidnapped, and jailed without trial.

Former CIA agent in Chile, Jack Devine, admitted that all the coup instructions came from the White House. The operation to oust Allende was inspired by the mass killings president targeting leftist activists in Jakarta, Indonesia between 1965 and 1966, leading to the downfall of then-Indonesian-President Sukarno.

Argentina (1976)

The democratically-elected leader of Argentina Isabel Martinez de Peron was overthrown in a military coup in March 1976, leading to the disappearance of around 600 people. Eight days before the coup, Argentine Navy Chief, also the chief of the operation Emilio Eduarto Massero visited the US ambassador to Argentina, Robert Hill to discuss the coup plan.

Jorge Videla ruled the country with an iron fist. His anti-subversive policy led to the killing of Peron’s supporters. Around 30,000 Argentines had been killed, kidnapped, and died under his rule.

The Videla dictatorship triggered the establishment of a human rights organization called “Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo (AMPM)” or Mothers of Plaza del Mayo. The organization consisted of mothers who lost their children under the military regime.

However, massive corruption protests against human rights abuses, the loss to Britain in the Falkland War put the Videla regime in the worst crisis. In 1982, civil liberty was restored, and a year later, Raul Alfonsin was elected as the country’s president, marking the end of the darkest period under the military rule.

In April 2019, the U.S transferred thousands of files related to the Washington-backed military dictatorship to Argentina, the biggest-ever handover of documents ever to another administration, as France24 reported.

Brazil (1964)

The CIA played a significant role in the assassination of then-Brazil’s president Joao Goulart in March 1964, due to Goulart’s close ties with communist figures.

National Security Archive cables showed that the instructions to remove Goulart came directly from the then-US President Lyndon Jonhson.

“I’d put everybody that had any imagination or ingenuity…[CIA Director John] McCone…[Secretary of Defense Robert] McNamara” on making sure the coup went forward, Johnson was recorded giving instructions to the undersecretary of State George Ball.

Guatemala (1954)

Col. Jacobo Arbenz was the president of Guatemala in 1951. He was known for agricultural reform that demanded fair compensation to low-wage laborers. Such a policy posed a threat to the American firm United Fruit Company, which later lobbied the White House. In the CIA document published by the NSA, the US intelligence community arranged the plan to remove and kill Arbenz in 1952.

The CIA-backed coup succeeded in ousting Arbenz in 1954. Washington-backed Col. Carlos Castillo Armas replaced Arbenz, who once seized land controlled by United Fruit Company. Then-US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother Allan Dulles (former CIA director) were also investors in the United Fruit Company.

Bolivia (1971)

In 1971, a brutal CIA-backed military coup removed Bolivia’s leftist president Juan Torres, who only ruled the Andean country for a year. Torres was known for his anti-liberalism stance and nationalization policy. He was replaced by Gen.Hugo Banzer, trained at the pro-US School of the Americas.

Was the West Behind Evo Morales’ Resignation?

More than 40 years later, Evo Morales decided to resign after weeks of protest against his re-election in October 2019 due to the vote-manipulation allegation. Morales, who started taking office in 2005, was one of the most famous socialist leaders in Latin America, along with Hugo Chavez (Venezuela), Lula da Silva (Brazil) and Nestor Kirchner (Argentina) when the left gained popularity in the region in mid-2000.

Morales succeeded in reducing the poverty rate by around 25 percent during a decade. However, he then became unstoppable by refusing the referendum result on the limit of presidential terms in 2016.

Many left-wing figures raised suspicion that Morales had been ousted in a Western-backed coup. Morales accused the US of masterminding his downfall, adding that his removal was due to the lithium industry. Bolivia is the country with the most abundant lithium reserves in the world. Morales was sure that his plan to nationalize the sector was the motive behind the coup against him.

“That’s why I’m convinced it’s a coup against lithium,” Morales stated.