The 10 CIA Operations That Undermined Latin American Democracy

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The CIA And The Threat Of Democracy

Democracy is the rule of the people. In other words, the power of the majority to design and handle the destiny of a nation. During their wars of independence, Latin American countries sought to achieve the values of democracy, equality and justice. Whether they were developed enough to achieve their designs is out of the question. As philosopher Isaiah Berlin said once, the idea of freedom (a value the US still preaches) is based in the capability to make your own mistakes. If a foreign power kept a paternalistic eye over the affairs of any nation was not only detrimental, but spoiled the notion of sovereignty.

History testifies that Latin America sought to break the chains of dependence and exploitation by foreign powers. Foreign powers understood that whether those nations achieved independence was irrelevant. What truly mattered was the profits they could still make from them. Capitalist foreign powers understood that, as long as their businesses ran without state intervention, an imperialist rule was no longer needed. The CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) was essential for this end. Since its creation, in 1947, CIA activities were designed to keep foreign populations passive and incapable to develop and exploit its own resources.

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Nothing can be as dangerous as a self-reliant nation, a population conscious of their own rights and capabilities. This scenario brought a feared danger: the nationalization of foreign industries, and the consequential loss of foreign profits. Therefore, the US sought to spread myths about the inefficiency of state owned companies (myths that history disproved: see the case of China.) And when there was no alternative, the CIA simply overthrew democratic governments hostile to US interests. After this, they often installed violent regimes that were supportive of foreign capital.

These are the ten CIA operations that undermined Latin America Democracy.

1. Guatemala-1954- Operation PBSuccess

After World War II, those regarding the US as a bastion of freedom knew nothing about Latin American history. The US preached freedom but practiced the opposite, supporting governments that promoted abuses and genocide. Guatemala is a illustrative example. In 1944, US backed dictator Jorge Ubico was overthrown by a popular uprising.

Up until that point, Guatemala has been governed by “The United Fruit Company”. This American business imposed brutal regulations for Guatemalans. A perfect example of modern day slavery, peasants were dispossessed of their lands, endured forced labor, and punished by a police state. But after the revolution of 1944, Guatemala sought to redress the injustices their population endured, through land redistribution, literacy programs and union empowerment.

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Image Source: Wikimedia

But the US decided to keep Guatemala in chains. United States President Eisenhower developed a plan to overthrow the government. In 1954, the CIA undertook operation PBSUCCESS. While Guatemala city was bombarded by US planes, a young and unknown Ernesto “Che” Guevara observed the invasion firsthand. Hundreds of peasants leaders were executed and the US installed another puppet in power. This event unleashed a Guatemalan Civil War in which more peasants and Mayan communities were executed. In the end, 200,000 civilians were murdered. American business, of course, remained profitable.

2. Haiti-1959

Haiti, as well as Dominican Republic and Cuba were strategic points for the US. If these governments turned communists they could easily become satellite countries of Russia. Accordingly, CIA ensured these territories did not experience revolutions. In 1959, an uprising who attempted to oust dictator Francois Duvalier was stopped with the assistance of the CIA.

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Duvalier created an army that sought to repress rebellions in the countryside. His regime, and that one of his successor (Jean Claude Duvalier, his son) were responsible for the massacre of nearly 100,000 people. When rebellions broke up again in 1986, a US Air Force plane took Jean Claude Duvalier and sent him to a comfortable exile in France.

3. Brazil-1964

1964 was a year of amazing changes for Brazil. Democratic President Joao Goulart released his “Basic Reform Plan.” Such fabulous reform was focused in four fields: a literacy program for millions of Brazilians who were unable to read or write. A tax reform that sliced the profits of multinational corporations to be reutilized for public programs. An election reform, that would grant the right of voting for millions of illiterate Brazilians. And a land reform that would redistribute some land to poor Brazilians.

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Education for the poor and land reform? It is obvious that the US, who based its power by perpetuating submission and ignorance, would never accept this. Fearing a communist threat, the CIA performed a covert operation that overthrew Goulart, in 1964. The successful coup installed a military regime that aligned to US interests. The dictatorial regime, which lasted nineteen years, imposed a climate of fear. Thousands were tortured, and hundreds were executed. Marxist thought was extinguished, fear was internalized, and Brazilians were prepared for the Neoliberal reforms of the 1990’s.

4. Uruguay-1969

During the 1960’s, the revolutionary wave was spreading in Latin America. Uruguay was then enduring a turmoil, with the emergence of the “Tupamaros”, a revolutionary urban guerrilla group. The Tupamaros had committed violent attacks and needed to be stopped. In 1969, New York governor Nelson Rockefeller visited Uruguay and became terrified of the widespread Anti-American sentiment.

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CIA agent Dan Mitrione then traveled to Uruguay to train their national police forces. Mitrione regarded the Uruguayan police as “soft”, and convinced them to torture prisoners as a common routine. The prominent CIA agent taught them to apply electrical shocks to their mouths and genitals. Due to lack of prisoners, Mitrione wandered the streets and seized homeless men in order to continue his torturing lessons.

This macabre pedagogy taught by the CIA was instrumental in the military dictatorship that followed, in 1969. Dictator Juan Maria Bordaberry would be the first in a list of four rulers of a regime which, fully supported by the CIA, lasted for twelve years. Official accounts estimate that over 200 people were murdered. In addition, “The Tupamaros” and other leftist organizations were imprisoned and tortured (Jose Mujica, the future Uruguayan “World’s Poorest President”, was tortured so badly that he suffered from paranoia) The amount of repression was such, that Uruguayans were even afraid of dancing. (Dancing, obviously, is a profound and spiritual expression of free will)

5- Bolivia -1971

Everyone interested in geopolitics should study Latin American mining industry. Serious scholarship unveiled the unlimited power foreign corporations exerted over regional communities. Regions of Chile, Bolivia and Peru were kept in slavery by American mining corporations during the 1960’s. Workers lived in the most unsanitary conditions and suffered many illnesses. Those who dared calling for a strike were killed by machine guns.

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Che Guevara traveled to Bolivia to ignite a revolution in 1967 for many reasons. One of them was that mining corporations did not send children to school, but instead kept them as slaves in the tin mines (in a lesser degree, it is still happening). Two years later, Che was murdered by the CIA.

During those years, Bolivia was ruled by a US backed military Junta. But things changed drastically when, in 1970, General Juan Jose Torres assumed power and issued reforms supportive of worker’s unions and the poor. Students, peasants and miners were enthusiastic of Torres’ mandate. But the CIA then recruited General Hugo Banzer to launch a Coup that overthrew the leftist government. Since 1971, Hugo Banzer led a brutal regime that maintained torture chambers, imprisoned 8,000 people and killed about two hundred political leaders.

6-Chile-1973- Project Fubelt

If you are curious about US foreign policy in Latin America, I recommend you to read the book “Promoting Polyarchy” by scholar William Robinson. In this brilliant study, Robinson explained with details the human exploitation and debasement imposed by the US mining corporation “Anaconda” in Chile. Robinson also described how the CIA sought to destabilize, by the means of propaganda and extortion, the democratic government of President Salvador Allende.

As part of a national reform, Allende nationalized the mines owned by Anaconda. Millions of dollars in profits were expropriated by the Chilean government. Allende used the money to apply various groundbreaking housing, educational and health reforms. Millions of citizens, that lived in a status of non-existence, were now the main beneficiaries of Allende’s measures. Evidently, the CIA could not allow this to happen.

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On September 11, 1973, General Augusto Pinochet staged a coup d’etat. CIA supplied to Pinochet the necessary weapons, and military equipment to successfully overthrow Allende. Jet fighters bombarded the “Palacio de la Moneda”(Chilean White House) and murdered the president. Hours before his death, Allende aired a farewell speech on national radio. Addressing the peasant women of Chile, Allende said:”Placed in a historic transition, I will pay for loyalty to the people with my life…I will always be next to you.”

General Pinochet led a bloody dictatorship that lasted 17 years. According to official accounts, 80,000 people were imprisoned, 30,000 people were tortured, and around 3,200 people were killed.

7- Argentina-1976

Argentina had the most sanguinary dictatorship in South America. The list of atrocities is nerve-racking, to say the least: concentration camps, torture, massacres, rape, torture of pregnant women, children executed, etc. And of course, the CIA was behind much of this. If you wonder why Argentinians, Kirchner and her cadre are so Anti-American, study their history and everything will make sense. Issues like this trespass the boundaries of politics and ideology. Rather, it has a lot to do with a deep sense of humanity and sympathy.

In 1973, Argentina was enduring a political crisis. The presidency of Juan Peron was falling apart. The left and right wing of his Peronist party enmeshed in a battle for political influence. Unable to pacify them, Peron died of a heart attack during his term, in 1974. His wife, Isabel Peron, assumed office as the two factions of the Peronist party increased their hostilities. The two factions did not imagine they were creating their own destruction. In 1976, political instability gave the CIA enough leverage to intervene.

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The CIA contacted general Jorge Rafael Videla and supported him in a coup d’etat. Under the supervision of US secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Videla led a dictatorship specialized in wiping out all traces of marxist ideology. For a nation fully conscious of their rights, these measures were fatal. The term “Desaparecidos” (The Dissappeared) was used for all the innocent people who died under Videla’s regime.

According to official accounts, 30,000 people were murdered. In the concentration camps, the situation was awful. Women allowed themselves to be raped thinking that soldiers would not mistreat a pregnant woman. They were wrong. In the death chamber, hundreds of pregnant women were tortured without reservations. Many “kind” torturers decided not to kill the babies and gave them away. In this process, as many as 500 infants were sent for adoption. Meanwhile, Henry Kissinger fully supported Videla. Kissinger reportedly said: “Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed.. The quicker you succeed the better … We want a stable situation. We won’t cause you unnecessary difficulties.”

8-El Salvador-1980

The country in Central America was not devoid of tensions. A military dictatorship had been in power for half a century, from 1931 to 1981. Peasants and indigenous uprisings were constantly crushed. It is estimated that over 40,ooo people were murdered during this period.

Salvadorean history is interesting due to the popular movements involved. In a continent where the Catholic church usually supported autocratic regimes, something unheard of happened. Pay attention to this. This is one of the few periods in which the Church seriously defended the poor. Salvadorean priests, under the leadership of archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, led an evangelization campaign. The priests taught about the unjust structure of Salvadorean society, denouncing the figures responsible.

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Back then Salvador was controlled by a mafia of 13 families who owned 50% of the land and wealth. The 13 families were heavily linked with the United States. CIA provided weapons and military training to the Salvadorean Army. As soon as the CIA discovered the priests were indoctrinating the masses, they began killing them. The situation was getting out of hand. Pope John Paul II had a meeting with Romero and begged him to “stick only to principles”. But Romero was rather faithful to his people. Later, Romero wrote a letter to US President Jimmy Carter: “You say that you are Christian. If you are really Christian, please stop sending military aid to the military here, because they use it only to kill my people.”

After Romero was murdered during a mass at church, in 1980, Salvador submerged in a 12 year Civil war. The CIA kept supplying weapons and military training. When the war ended, in 1992, 75,000 people had been murdered.

9. Panama- 1989- Operation Just Cause

The CIA was so involved in Latin American politics, that one of the agents became a dictator. Panamanian President Manuel Noriega was a CIA agent for almost thirty years. Panama was always a victim of US geopolitical maneuvers. When Panamanian president Omar Torrijos attempted to control the Panama Canal, CIA planted a bomb in his plane. Three years later, in 1983, CIA agent Manuel Noriega attained power. Noriega was heavily involved in drug trafficking and corruption (he worked with the Drug Cartel of Medellin, and was a close ally of Pablo Escobar). However, CIA turned a blind eye to Noriega’s dealings. As long as Noriega obeyed US orders, he was still useful.

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But this pattern changed when Noriega, possessing power and money, began disobeying their instructions. In the Nicaraguan election in 1989, United States backed a new successor, Guillermo Endera. But Noriega designated a close ally, Francisco Rodriguez. Obsessed with power, Noriega sabotaged the elections and harrased US military bases in the country. It was then that CIA put into effect, “Operation Just Cause“.  The US invasion of Panana took place in December, 1989. American aircraft bombarded Panama city, and killed around 3,500 civilians. Another 20,000 people were displaced from their homes. Ex-CIA agent Noriega was arrested and put in jail.

10. Peru-1990

A CIA agent was also the second most powerful figure in Peru. In 1990, Alberto Fujimori became elected President. Alberto Fujimori was a mediocrity in every sense of the word. He was not only unprepared, but a man with no ideas, strategies or political cloud. During his election campaign, Fujimori happened to meet an underground lawyer named Vladimiro Montesinos.

Fujimori was impressed by Montesinos intelligence and capability. Once in power, he nominated Montesinos as the head of the National Intelligence Service and granted him unrestrained powers. Montesinos then set up a paramilitary group in charge of murdering marxist groups. These paramilitary teams organized killings of students and labor organizations. Not content with that, he convinced Fujimori to become a dictator. Fujimori then closed Congress, dissolved the Constitution, and imprisoned the members of the Supreme Court of Justice.

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There was also a climate of fear pervading in the entire country. This is something I did not have to read; I lived through it. As a child, while my father drove me to school, I saw many soldiers get on crowded buses and arrest whoever they wanted. This happened almost every day. My father always kept an uncomfortable silence. Maybe he, as well as I, became used to it. Fear is something you live with. You learn to internalize it and then you don’t feel it anymore. You know you carry it inside at all times, but you swallow it in order to keep on living. You have no other choice.

Most of Montesinos’ maneuvers and fear apparatus were funded by the CIA. The Agency provided Montesinos with 10 million dollars to finance all his repressive activities. Among other unlawful operations, Montesinos controlled the media and bought members of congress. When the dictatorship fell in the year 2000, it was found that Montesinos had been a CIA agent as early as 1975.

The Death Of Free Thought

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Image Source: Freethought

This scarce information was obtained through courageous journalism and the Freedom of Information Act. Unfortunately, most data remains classified. The amount of CIA operations and activities around the world could easily fill an entire library. The sample above is only the tip of an iceberg.

In a world ruled by deceit, hypocrisy is the main device to attain power. America preaches the values of equality, freedom, justice and self-determination, but its government agency does the opposite. Whether the paternalistic eye the US government kept over Latin America was beneficial is still debatable. Have we got a legacy of prosperity? That is hard to tell. So far, we only inherited a legacy of ashes.

But one thing is for sure. Latin America still ignores the boundless damage the CIA caused by depriving them of different ways of thought. The CIA narrowed Latin American consciousness, reduced their imagination, and left them with the only choice: to submit to the rule of business and the market. Latin America lost its essence. The Platonic Philosopher King is buried underground, because the Tyranny of the Market is here. As consumers, we are now bound to worship the market. Market forces wound up destroying our consciousness. Free thought is currently encaged by their pernicious influence. Every idea that attempts to escape its boundaries is now considered irrational and impracticable. That is not called freedom of thought.

It is called servitude.

Additional Reading: 12 Most Influential People In The History Of Latin America