United States involvement in regime change in Latin America

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United States involvement in regime change in Latin America

The participation of the United States in regime change in Latin America involved US-backed coup d'états which were aimed at replacing left-wing leaders with right-wing leaders, military juntas, or authoritarian regimes.[1] Intervention of an economic and military variety was prevalent during the Cold War. Although originally in line with the Truman Doctrine of containment, United States involvement in regime change increased following the drafting of NSC 68, which advocated more aggressive actions against potential Soviet allies.[2]

In the early 20th century, during the "Banana Republic" era of Latin American history, the U.S. launched several interventions and invasions in the region (known as the Banana Wars) in order to promote American business interests.[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] Continued activities lasted into the late 20th century.



Jorge Rafael Videla meeting Jimmy Carter in 1977

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. The coup was accepted and tacitly supported by the Ford administration[5] and the U.S. government had close relations with the ensuing authoritarian regime, with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger paying several official visits to Argentina during the dictatorship.[6][7][8]


The US government supported the 1971 coup led by General Hugo Banzer that toppled President Juan José Torres of Bolivia.[9] Torres had displeased Washington by convening an "Asamblea del Pueblo" (Assembly of the People), 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.[10][11] 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.[12][13][14]


Brazil experienced several decades of authoritarian governments, especially after the US-backed[15] 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.[16][17] According to Vincent Bevins, the topping of João Goulart was one of the most significant victories for the U.S. during the Cold War, as the military dictatorship established in Brazil, the fifth most populous nation in the world, "played a crucial role in pushing the rest of South America into the pro-Washington, anticommunist group of nations."[18]


Augusto Pinochet meeting George H. W. Bush

After the democratic election of President Salvador Allende in 1970, an economic war ordered by President Richard Nixon,[19] among other things, caused the 1973 Chilean coup d'état with the involvement of the CIA[20] due to Allende's democratic socialist leanings. What followed was the decades-long US-backed military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.[21] 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.[22][23][24]

A declassified report from the U.S. government "Annex-NSSM 97" details the plan developed in 1970 to overthrow President Allende were he to take office.[25] 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.[26]


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

During the late 1800s, the U.S. sought to expand its economic interests by developing an economy overseas.[27] This sentiment helped expand support for the Spanish-American War and Cuban liberation despite the U.S. previously establishing itself as anti-independence and revolution.[27] America's victory in the war ended Spanish rule over Cuba, but promptly replaced it with American military occupation of the island from 1898–1902.[28]

After the end of the military occupation in 1902, the U.S. continued to exert significant influence over Cuba with policies like the Platt Amendment.[29] In subsequent years American forces regularly invaded and intervened in Cuba, with the U.S. military occupying Cuba again from 1906–1909, and U.S. marines being sent to Cuba from 1917–1922 to protect American-owned sugar plantations.[30]: 74  The United States also supported Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista as his policies benefited American business interests.[31]

After the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro's rise to power, American relations with Cuba became increasingly hostile. American forces trained, supplied, and supported the Cuban exiles who attempted to overthrow Castro in the Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961, but the invasion was defeated and Castro retained control. In subsequent decades, American intelligence operatives made numerous attempts to assassinate Castro, but these ultimately failed as well.

Dominican Republic[edit]

Trujillo in 1952

In May 1961, the ruler of the Dominican Republic, right-wing dictator Rafael Trujillo, was murdered with weapons supplied by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).[32][33] 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.[34][35] Socialist Juan Bosch, whose propaganda and institute for political training had received some CIA funding via the J. M. Kaplan Fund, was elected president of the Dominican Republic in its first free elections, in December 1962. Bosch was deposed by a right-wing coup in September 1963. American President Lyndon Johnson intervened into the 1965 Dominican Civil War by sending American troops to help end the war and prevent supporters of the deposed Bosch from taking over. On July 1, 1966, elections were held with Joaquín Balaguer winning against Bosch.[36]


Between 1960 and 1963, the CIA conducted operations in Ecuador using agent Philip Agee. After President José María Velasco Ibarra denied breaking relations with Cuba, the CIA began efforts to overthrow him. In November 1961, Velasco was overthrown in a military coup and replaced by his vice president, Carlos Julio Arosemena Monroy. President Arosemena turned out to be less than favorable to the United States, causing the CIA to adopt the same destabilizing tactics against his government. On July 11, 1963, Arosemena was overthrown by another military coup. The Ecuadorian junta, supported by the United States government, adopted anti-communist policies and banned the Communist Party of Ecuador (PCE).[37][38][39]


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 repressed, but led to the democratic election of Jacobo Arbenz. Arbenz was overthrown during the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état, endorsed by the United States.[40]


Black and white photo of a man standing among bodies lying on the ground
American poses with dead Haitians killed by U.S. Marine machine gun fire on October 11, 1915

The United States had been interested in controlling Haiti in the decades following its independence from France in the early nineteenth century.[41] By the twentieth century, the United States had become Haiti's largest trade partner, replacing France, with American businesses expanding their presence in Haiti.[42] Businesses from the United States had pursued the control of Haiti for years and in 1909, the new president of National City Bank of New York, Frank A. Vanderlip, began to plan the bank's take over of Haiti's finances as part of his larger role of making the bank grow in international markets.[43][44][45] From 1910 to 1911, the United States Department of State backed a consortium of American investors – headed by the National City Bank of New York – to acquire a managing stake of the National Bank of Haiti to create the Bank of the Republic of Haiti (BNRH), with the new bank often holding payments from the Haitian government, leading to unrest.[44][46][47][48] American diplomats ultimately drafted plans to take over Haiti's finances, dubbed the "Farnham Plan", named after the vice president of National City Bank, Roger Leslie Farnham.[48]

Haitian opposition to the plan resulted with the BNRH withheld funds from the Haitian government and funded rebels to destabilize the Haitian government in order to justify American intervention, generating 12% gains in interest by holding on to the funds.[48][49] When the caco-supported anti-American Rosalvo Bobo emerged as the next president of Haiti in 1915 following the lynching of President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, who was killed after executing hundreds of political opponents, the United States government decided to act quickly to preserve its economic dominance and invaded Haiti[50] During the occupation, Haiti had three new presidents, though the United States ruled as a military regime through martial law led by Marines and the Gendarmerie. Two major rebellions against the occupation occurred, resulting in several thousand Haitians killed, and numerous human rights violations – including torture and summary executions – being perpetrated by Marines and the Gendarmerie.[41][48][51][52][53] A corvée system of forced labor was used by the United States for infrastructure projects, that resulted in hundreds to thousands of deaths.[48][53] Under the occupation, most Haitians continued to live in poverty, while American personnel were well-compensated.[54] The U.S. retained influence on Haiti's external finances until 1947, as per the 1919 treaty that required an American financial advisor through the life of Haiti's acquired loan.[55][56]


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.[57] At the same time, the United States and Mexican governments competed for political influence in Central America. As a result, the U.S. Government intervened more directly in Nicaraguan affairs in two separate but related incidents in 1911 and 1912, with the objective of ensuring the rule of a government friendly to U.S. political and commercial interests and preserving political stability in Central America. Although officials within the administration of President William H. Taft saw themselves as intervening to ensure good government, many Nicaraguans became increasingly alarmed at what seemed to be a foreign takeover of their political, banking, and railroad systems.[58] 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.[59]


Increasing tensions between Manuel Noriega's dictatorship and the US government led to the United States invasion of Panama in 1989, which ended in Noriega's overthrow.[60] The United States invasion of Panama can be seen as a rare example of democratization by foreign-imposed regime change, which was effective long-term.[61]


Juan Guaidó with President Donald Trump at the White House in February 2020

In what The New York Times described as "Washington’s most overt attempts in decades to carry out regime change in Latin America", the administration of President Donald Trump made an attempt of regime change in an effort to remove President Nicolás Maduro from office during the Venezuelan presidential crisis.[62][63][64][65][66][67][68][69][70][71][72][73] The Congressional Research Service of the United States Congress wrote: "Although the Trump Administration initially discussed the possibility of using military force in Venezuela, it ultimately sought to compel Maduro to leave office through diplomatic, economic, and legal pressure."[74] According to Marc Becker, a Latin American history professor of Truman State University, the claim of the presidency by Juan Guaidó "was part of a U.S.-backed maximum-pressure campaign for regime change that empowered an extremist faction of the country's opposition while simultaneously destroying the economy with sanctions."[64] Economist Agathe Demarais made similar statements in her book Backfire: How Sanctions Reshape the World Against U.S. Interests, saying that the United States held the belief that regime change was attainable and that sanctions were implemented against Venezuela to hasten the establishment of Guaidó.[65] Jacobin wrote that the corporate-friendly Guaidó movement was meant to take power after a coup supported by the United States removed President Maduro from office.[75] Ahumada Beltrán said that the Trump administration participated in an "open campaign" to overthrow Maduro with a goal to establish American control over oil and to re-establish Venezuela's traditional elite class.[68]

US officials met with members of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela from 2017 to 2018 to discuss coup plans, though discussions ceased after information leaked and some of the plotters were arrested prior to their anticipated actions during the 2018 Venezuelan presidential election.[76] May 2018 presidential elections in Venezuela were boycotted by the opposition and Maduro won amid low turnout; the United States and other nations refused to recognize the elections, saying they were fraudulent.[77] National Security Advisor John Bolton said in a 1 November 2018 speech prior to the 2018 United States elections that the Trump administration would confront a "Troika of tyranny" and remove leftist governments in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela;[78][66] Trump officials spoke to the media about an existing plan to overthrow Maduro, limiting oil exports to Cuba to create economic distress which would prompt its government's removal and then to finally target Nicaragua.[66][79]

In January 2019, Leopoldo López's Popular Will party attained the leadership of the National Assembly of Venezuela according to a rotation agreement made by opposition parties, naming Juan Guaidó as president of the legislative body.[80] Days after Guaidó was sworn in, he and López reached out to the United States Department of State and presented the idea that Guaidó would be named interim president and that the United States could lead other nations to support Guaidó in an effort to remove Maduro; former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo approved of the idea.[81] Though the National Assembly sought to assume executive power from Maduro itself, López and Guaidó continued to work with the State Department without the knowledge of other opposition groups since they believed their objectives would be blocked.[81] State Department official Keith Mines wrote on 20 January that Guaidó declaring himself president "could have the impact of causing the regime to crumble in the face of widespread and overwhelming public support" and on 22 January, Vice President Mike Pence called Guaidó personally and told him that the United States would support his declaration.[81] Neuman wrote that "it's likely that more people in Washington than in Venezuela knew what was going to happen."[81] Guaidó, declared himself the acting President of the country, disputing Maduro's presidency and sparking a presidential crisis. Minutes after the declaration, the United States announced that it recognized Guaidó as president of Venezuela while presidents Iván Duque of Colombia and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, beside Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, made an abrupt announcement at the World Economic Forum that they too recognized Guaidó.[81][82]

Becker said that the United States attempted to remove the Maduro government threatening military action and inflicting desperation on ordinary Venezuelans, planning that distraught citizens or members of the military would remove Maduro in a coup.[64] The United States then increase sanctions on Venezuela[68] and economic conditions drastically deteriorated due to the sanctions.[83] NPR, following a February 2019 statement by President Trump suggesting that members of the Venezuelan armed forces join Guaidó, described such comments as "the latest push for regime change in Venezuela."[84] US Vice President Mike Pence stated in April 2019 that the US was set on Maduro's removal, whether through diplomatic or other means, and that "all options" were on the table.[85] Financial Times wrote following the failed 2019 Venezuelan uprising attempt on 30 April 2019 that regime change in Venezuela was one of Trump's main foreign policy goals and that it was not going as planned.[86] The New York Times wrote following April's failed attempt to remove Maduro that President Trump's aides promoted regime change through social media, with Bolton tweeting hundreds of times about the effort to remove Maduro and going on news networks daily to discuss the situation.[87] Secretary of State Pompeo said that the US would take military action "if required" at the time.[88] In August 2019, President Donald Trump's administration imposed 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.[89][90] In March 2020, the Trump administration deployed naval units in the Caribbean to pressure the Maduro government and later offered a $15 million reward for the capture of Maduro.[68]

The Congressional Research Service wrote in 2021 that "U.S. efforts to date have failed to dislodge Maduro and enable the convening of free and fair elections" and said that the Biden administration began to review the societal impact of sanctions against Venezuela.[74] Guaidó never controlled any of Venezuela's institutions and was removed from the interim president position by the National Assembly in December 2022.[91][92] Joe Biden described President Trump's efforts of regime change an "abject failure" and said that it strengthened the position of Maduro.[93]

See also[edit]


 This article incorporates text from a free content work. Licensed under public domain (license statement/permission). Text taken from U.S. Intervention in Nicaragua, 1911/1912​, U.S. Department of State, Office of Electronic Information, Bureau of Public Affairs.


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  63. ^ Jervis et al. 2021, pp. 279, 281, Section: Fences Make Bad Hombres - Quote: "the Trump administration tolerated authoritarians in other regions of the world but pushed for regime change in, for example, Venezuela", "Trump then signaled his intent to exert 'maximum pressure' to force regime change in Venezuela, a task he assumed would be 'low- hanging fruit' for the United States, expecting a 'major foreign policy victory.'.
  64. ^ a b c Becker 2022, pp. 308.
  65. ^ a b Demarais 2022, p. 31, Section: Hitting Where It Hurts - Quote: "The United States believed that regime change in Venezuela was possible, if not imminent. To speed up Guaido’s installa-tion, the United States looked no further than sanctions.".
  66. ^ a b c Yaffe 2020, pp. 259, "The objective was clear ... to overthrow the Maduro government in Venezuela, ending oil exports to Cuba, causing economic collapse on the island and enabling the overthrow of the Cuban government, leaving Nicaragua as an easy third target.".
  67. ^ Downes 2021, p. 13, "Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House brought renewed calls for regime change in Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela.".
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  69. ^ Arnson, Cynthia J. (August 21, 2019). "How the Trump Administration's Venezuela Policy Just Doesn't Add Up | Wilson Center". The Wilson Center. Retrieved November 2, 2023. What unites these seemingly disparate threads is a contradiction at the core of Trump administration's Venezuela policy: the imposition of crippling economic sanctions aimed at the implosion of the Nicolás Maduro regime, while doing far too little to assist the region in absorbing the millions of refugees resulting from the country's economic collapse. The Trump administration's hostility to immigration and to foreign aid spending overall clashes openly with the effort to procure regime change via the economic strangulation of the Maduro government.
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