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Posts Tagged ‘Juan Jacobo Arbenz’

The democratically-elected Arbenz government hoped for economic prosperity through economic reform and a highway to the Atlantic.

United States Interventions What For?

By John H. Coatsworth 

Revista Harvard Review of Latin America 

Spring/ Summer 2005

In the slightly less than a hundred years from 1898 to 1994, the U.S. government has intervened successfully to change governments in Latin America a total of at least 41 times. That amounts to once every 28 months for an entire century (see table).

Direct intervention occurred in 17 of the 41 cases. These incidents involved the use of U.S. military forces, intelligence agents or local citizens employed by U.S. government agencies. In another 24 cases, the U.S. government played an indirect role. That is, local actors played the principal roles, but either would not have acted or would not have succeeded without encouragement from the U.S. government.

While direct interventions are easily identified and copiously documented, identifying indirect interventions requires an exercise in historical judgment. The list of 41 includes only cases where, in the author’s judgment, the incumbent government would likely have survived in the absence of U.S. hostility. The list ranges from obvious cases to close calls. An example of an obvious case is the decision, made in the Oval Office in January 1963, to incite the Guatemalan army to overthrow the (dubiously) elected government of Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes in order to prevent an open competitive election that might have been won by left-leaning former President Juan José Arévalo. A less obvious case is that of the Chilean military coup against the government of President Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973. The Allende government had plenty of domestic opponents eager to see it deposed. It is included in this list because U.S. opposition to a coup (rather than encouragement) would most likely have enabled Allende to continue in office until new elections.

The 41 cases do not include incidents in which the United States sought to depose a Latin American government, but failed in the attempt. The most famous such case was the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961. Allvadorso absent from the list are numerous cases in which the U.S. government acted decisively to forestall a coup d’etat or otherwise protect an incumbent regime from being overthrown.

Overthrowing governments in Latin America has never been exactly routine for the United States. However, the option to depose a sitting government has appeared on the U.S. president’s desk with remarkable frequency over the past century. It is no doubt still there, though the frequency with which the U.S. president has used this option has fallen rapidly since the end of the Cold War.

Though one may quibble about cases, the big debates—both in the public and among historians and social scientists—have centered on motives and causes. In nearly every case, U.S. officials cited U.S. security interests, either as determinative or as a principal motivation. With hindsight, it is now possible to dismiss most these claims as implausible. In many cases, they were understood as necessary for generating public and congressional support, but not taken seriously by the key decision makers. The United States did not face a significant military threat from Latin America at any time in the 20th century. Even in the October 1962 missile crisis, the Pentagon did not believe that the installation of Soviet missiles in Cuba altered the global balance of nuclear terror. It is unlikely that any significant threat would have materialized if the 41 governments deposed by the United States had remained in office until voted out or overturned without U.S. help.

In both the United States and Latin America, economic interests are often seen as the underlying cause of U.S. interventions. This hypothesis has two variants. One cites corruption and the other blames capitalism. The corruption hypothesis contends that U.S. officials order interventions to protect U.S. corporations. The best evidence for this version comes from the decision to depose the elected government of Guatemala in 1954. Except for President Dwight Eisenhower, every significant decision maker in this case had a family, business or professional tie to the United Fruit Company, whose interests were adversely affected by an agrarian reform and other policies of the incumbent government. Nonetheless, in this as in every other case involving U.S. corporate interests, the U.S. government would probably not have resorted to intervention in the absence of other concerns.

The capitalism hypothesis is a bit more sophisticated. It holds that the United States intervened not to save individual companies but to save the private enterprise system, thus benefiting all U.S. (and Latin American) companies with a stake in the region. This is a more plausible argument, based on repeated declarations by U.S. officials who seldom missed an opportunity to praise free enterprise. However, capitalism was not at risk in the overwhelming majority of U.S. interventions, perhaps even in none of them. So this ideological preference, while real, does not help explain why the United States intervened. U.S. officials have also expressed a preference for democratic regimes, but ordered interventions to overthrow elected governments more often than to restore democracy in Latin America. Thus, this preference also fails to carry much explanatory power.

An economist might approach the thorny question of causality not by asking what consumers or investors say about their preferences, but what their actions can help us to infer about them. An economist’s approach might also help in another way, by distinguishing between supply and demand. A look at the supply side suggests that interventions will occur more often where they do not cost much, either directly in terms of decision makers’ time and resources, or in terms of damage to significant interests. On the demand side, two factors seem to have been crucial in tipping decision makers toward intervention: domestic politics and global strategy.

Domestic politics seems to be a key factor in most of these cases. For example, internal documents show that President Lyndon Johnson ordered U.S. troops to the Dominican Republic in 1965 not because of any plausible threat to the United States, but because he felt threatened by Republicans in Congress. Political competition within the United States accounts for the disposition of many U.S. presidentions

nts to order interventions.

The second key demand-side factor could be called the global strategy effect. The United States in the 20th century defined its strategic interests in global terms. This was particularly true after World War II when the United States moved rapidly to project its power into regions of the earth on the periphery of the Communist states where it had never had a presence before. In the case of Latin America, where the United States faced no foreseeable military threat, policy planners did nonetheless identify potential future threats. This was especially true in the 1960s, after the Cuban Revolution. The United States helped to depose nine of the governments that fell to military rulers in the 1960s, about one every 13 months and more than in any other decade. Curiously, however, we now know that U.S. decision makers were repeatedly assured by experts in the CIA and other intelligence gathering agencies that, in the words of a 1968 National Intelligence Estimate, “In no case do insurgencies pose a serious short run threat…revolution seems unlikely in most Latin American countries within the next few years.” Few challenged the idea that leftist regimes would pose a secutiry threat to the United States. threat…revolution seems unlikely in most Latin American countries

Thus, in a region where intervention was not very costly, and even major failures unlikely to damage U.S. interests, the combination of domestic political competition and potential future threats—even those with a low probability of ever materializing—appear to explain most of the 20th century US interventions.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that U.S. interventions did not serve U.S. national interests well. They generated needless resentment in the region and called into question the U.S. commitment to democracy and rule of law in international affairs. The downward trend in the past decade and half is a positive development much to be encouraged.

CHRONICLING INTERVENTIONS

U.S. DIRECT INTERVENTIONS 
Military/CIA activity that changed governments

COUNTRY YEAR EVENT SUMMARY
Cuba 1898-1902 Spanish-American War
1906-09 Ousts elected Pres. Palma; occupation regime
1917-23 U.S. reoccupation, gradual withdrawal
Dominican Rep 1916-24 U.S. occupation
1961 Assassination of Pres. Trujillo
1965 U.S. Armed Forces occupy Sto Domingo
Grenada 1983 U.S. Armed Forces occupy island; oust government
Guatemala 1954 C.I.A.-organized armed force ousts Pres. Arbenz
Haiti 1915-34 U.S. occupation
1994 U.S. troops restore constitutional government
Mexico 1914 Veracuz occupied; US allows rebels to buy arms
Nicaragua 1910 Troops to Corinto, Bluefields during revolt
1912-25 U.S. occupation
1926-33 U.S. occupation
1981-90 Contra war; then support for opposition in election
Panama 1903-14 U.S. Troops secure protectorate, canal
1989 U.S. Armed Forces occupy nation

U.S. INDIRECT INTERVENTION
Government/regime changes in which U.S. is decisive

COUNTRY YEAR EVENT SUMMARY
Bolivia 1944 Coup uprising overthrow Pres. Villaroel
1963 Military coup ousts elected Pres. Paz Estenssoro
1971 Military coup ousts Gen. Torres
Brazil 1964 Military coup ousts elected Pres. Goulart
Chile 1973 Coup ousts elected Pres. Allende.
1989-90 Aid to anti-Pinochet opposition
Cuba 1933 U.S. abandons support for Pres. Machado
1934 U.S. sponsors coup by Col. Batista to oust Pres. Grau
Dominican Rep. 1914 U.S. secures ouster of Gen. José Bordas
1963 Coup ousts elected Pres. Bosch
El Salvador 1961 Coup ousts reformist civil-military junta
1979 Coup ousts Gen. Humberto Romero
1980 U.S. creates and aids new Christian Demo junta
Guatemala 1963 U.S. supports coup vs elected Pres. Ydígoras
1982 U.S. supports coup vs Gen. Lucas García
1983 U.S. supports coup vs Gen. Rios Montt
Guyana 1953 CIA aids strikes; Govt. is ousted
Honduras 1963 Military coups ousts elected Pres. Morales
Mexico 1913 U.S. Amb. H. L. Wilson organizes coup v Madero
Nicaragua 1909 Support for rebels vs Zelaya govt
1979 U.S. pressures Pres. Somoza to leave
Panama 1941 U.S supports coup ousting elected Pres. Arias
1949 U.S. supports coup ousting constitutional govt of VP Chanís
1969 U.S. supports coup by Gen. Torrijos
John H. Coatsworth is Monroe Gutman Professor of Latin American Affairs. Coatsworth’s most recent book is “The Cambridge Economic History of Latin America,” a two-volume reference work, edited with Victor Bulmer-Thomas and Roberto Cortes Conde – See more at: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/157958#sthash.I6nAx9Oq.dpuf

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Why Do We Have an Illegal Immigration Problem from Central America? We Should Know. We Helped Create It.

William Schell, Jr.

HNN   July 25, 2014

By now we have all heard and read of the expediential growth in Central American refugees fleeing to the US which has evolved, almost overnight, into a form of human trafficking. Why would a 15 year old girl set off on her own enduring unspeakable hardship and abuse to get to America? Why would families sell everything in order to pay people smugglers to bribe border guards and slip them past checkpoints to the US border where they often simply turn themselves in?

First the Push factors–the collapse of government and the rule of law in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador and the rise of gang rule. Gangs seize children with family in the US and hold them until the relatives pay up. In addition to this ransom, families must pay smuggling charges.

And the Pull factors—children wish to join parents while smugglers (who charge for their services) put out the word that the US allows illegal migrant children to stay if they make it across the border and turn themselves in.

The current US policy—for which the Obama Administration is taking the heat—has bi-partisan origins in the 2007 immigration reform law originally backed by many conservatives including Sen. John McCain of Arizona.  But now McCain and other Republicans, pressured by Tea Party radicals, oppose the very law they called for and created.

Shortly after the passage of the law, the plight of these migrant children was told in HBO’s “Which Way Home” (2009) directed by Rebecca Cammisa. The film “followed several unaccompanied child migrants as they journey through Mexico en route to the U.S. on a freight train they call “The Beast.” It tracks the stories of children like Olga and Freddy, nine-year-old Hondurans who are desperately trying to reach their families in Minnesota, and Jose, a ten-year-old El Salvadoran who has been abandoned by smugglers and ends up alone in a Mexican detention center, and focuses on Kevin, a canny, streetwise 14-year-old Honduran, whose mother hopes that he will reach New York City and send money back to his family. These are stories of hope and courage, disappointment and sorrow.”

“Which Way Home” is a must see for anyone who wants to understand the current crisis.  The child immigrant problem is rooted in US Cold War Policies that fueled civil wars in Central America which displaced thousands in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.  Illegal Central Americans then came to the US where there arose social networks that soon evolved into MS-13, the 18th Street Gang, and other street gangs that financed themselves selling drugs. The US law enforcement then acted to arrest and deport gang members, thus turning what had been local-regional gangs into transnational criminal organizations which now traffic humans as well as drugs.

Thus the very policy being proposed by congressional conservatives to “solve” the problem (deportation) was/is a major contributor to its creation.

According to Central American migration researcher, David Bacon “media coverage focuses on gang violence in Central America, as though it was spontaneous and unrelated to a history of U.S.-promoted wars and a policy of mass deportations. In truth, the United States’ meddling foreign policy and a history of the U.S.’s own harsh immigration measures are responsible for much of the pressure causing this flow of people from Central America.”

But while almost all of the reporting and commentary on the immigration crisis has focused on the now, the roots of that now lie in the informal Central American empire created in the early 20th century by American investment in plantations, ports and railroads. The classic example is the United Fruit Company known as la frutera which dominated Guatemala. When nationalists sought greater control of their own affairs, American muscular Dollar Diplomacy removed them and supported compliant dictators backed by US trained “national guards.” This is how the Somoza “dynasty” of Nicaragua came to power.

After WWII, as Cold War anti-communism came to define US foreign policy, Jacobo Arbenz came to power in Guatemala.  When in 1954 Arbenz’s reformist, socialist government took and paid for United Fruit Co. properties to enact a land reform, the CIA overthrew him in what was dubbed “Operation Success” (planned and executed by E Howard Hunt of Watergate infamy). It should come as no surprise that major UFC stockholders were John Foster and Allen Dulles, respectively US Sec. of State and head of the CIA.

Fearing the spread of communism, Washington trained Central American officers at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, to protect elite interests.  Upon return to their home countries, they organized the paramilitary “death squads.” In El Salvador there was La Mano Blanca (the white hand) and ORDEN.  In Guatemala peasants were equated with Communists and simply eliminated by the thousands. All of this with Washington’s tacit acceptance, if not outright support.

When in 1972 in Nicaragua an earthquake destroyed nearly 90% of the capital of Managua the ruling Somoza family, America’s major regional ally, siphoned off relief money and sold plasma and other medical relief supplies on the black market, provoking a general uprising supported by even the upper classes. The revolution was followed by fair elections that brought a mixed government to power dominated by the Communist Sandinistas just as Ronald Reagan became president.  To depose the Sandinistas Reagan funded the CONTRAS, composed of former Somoza military members.

In 1983, the U.S. Congress prohibited funding the Contras. But the Reagan administration continued to do so covertly and illegally by selling arms to Iran and channeling the proceeds to the Contras (the Iran–Contra affair). Despite Washington’s attempt to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, in 1990 it held free and fair elections. Proof? The Sandinistas lost to an opposition coalition led by Violeta Chamorro.

But Reagan’s effort to depose the Sandinista government spread war throughout Central America—especially El Salvador where ORDEN’s leader and presidential candidate, Roberto D’Aubuisson, arranged the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero after Romero called on the military to “Stop the repression! No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God.”

When the Cold War ended, the damage done by Washington’s policies led to rapacious dictatorships that wrecked the governments and economies of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador opening the way for the rise of American-linked gang rule by extortion from which the people fled.

And so we return to where we started. Why do we have an illegal immigration problem? We are merely reaping what we have sown.

William Schell, Jr. is a professor of history at Murray State University in Kentucky.

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