We should never trust Washington’s intentions in Latin America. Why? Because history tells us not to.
The US has terrorised people around the world for many decades. Support for death and destruction where US interests are at play isn’t the exception. It’s the rule. And Latin America has been a key target.
A brief look at US crimes in three areas shows just how rational it is to distrust Washington; especially when it tells other countries what they should and shouldn’t do. And that distrust is all the more important today amid the US-led coup attempt in Venezuela.
1) State terrorism by US-backed dictators in South America killed tens of thousands of left-wingers
In the 1970s and 80s, ‘Operation Condor’ saw the US support fascist dictatorships in South America as they terrorised and murdered their opponents. These included union leaders, students and intellectuals – who were posing a bigger and bigger challenge to elite interests. Archives later gave details of the torture, kidnappings and assassinations, listing over 400,000 political prisoners and at least 50,000 murders. These took place in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela. Colombia’s war, meanwhile, became one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises, with six million people displaced and almost a quarter of a million killed (including over 177,300 civilians).
Washington shared the aims of this terror campaign. It was aware of what was happening. And it gave its far-right allies both support and encouragement. In fact, a “key Condor organizer” was in the pay of the CIA.
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The fascist leaders also fought against “threats to traditional ideas of womanhood and masculinity” from feminist left-wingers. So Operation Condor also helped to hold back the advance of women’s rights.
2) The US fuelled brutal wars in Central America that killed hundreds of thousands of people
In 1954, years of CIA planning finally led to a successful coup against Guatemala’s democratic leader. This began decades of violent US interference in Central America. In Guatemala, the post-coup US-backed dictators oversaw around 200,000 deaths. Most of these were in a genocidal war against poor Indigenous people. Ronald Reagan reportedly accepted that “a good deal of dirty work has to be done”. And as US president, he made sure Guatemala’s dictators got enough training, arms and money to keep up that “dirty work”.
In fact, Reagan spent billions of dollars fuelling brutal wars in Central America in the 1980s, giving his full backing to the state terrorists on the front line. He wanted to push the capitalist extremism of neoliberalism throughout Latin America. And he wanted to stop anyone fighting for a fairer economic system. That was more important to him than human rights.
Honduras was Washington’s military hub. And the US didn’t just ignore Honduran military abuses; it propped the regime up with aid (a pattern which has continued ever since). It was a base for mercenary attacks on Nicaragua (which had dared to overthrow a brutal US-backed dictatorship). The International Court of Justice later said the US had violated international law with its war in Nicaragua; and it demanded reparations. But Washington refused to pay out.
There was also a massive campaign in El Salvador. The US sent money, training and military advisers to the state’s military and death squads. These were responsible for the vast majority of over 75,000 deaths during the country’s civil war. And Washington even helped to cover up atrocities. Elliott Abrams – one of the men currently pushing the coup in Venezuela – was reportedly a key part of efforts to deny the existence of one of the war’s biggest massacres.
3) Coups, terror and invasions in the Caribbean
After WW2, the US stepped up its efforts to stop the rise of left-wing governments. Instead of backing an end to extreme poverty and inequality, Washington backed violent repression. And it used anti-communist fearmongering to try and justify intervention.
After the triumph of Cuba’s revolution in 1959, the US did its best to stop progress there. This included a CIA-sponsored invasion in 1961. Economic sanctions, meanwhile, began almost straight away. A full-scale embargo followed in 1962. In 2014, Cuban officials argued that these sanctions had cost the island $116.8bn. The US also supported numerous acts of terrorism (including against civilians). And there were over 600 CIA attempts to murder Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Cuba’s government wasn’t perfect; but it oversaw numerous achievements in healthcare, education, and poverty reduction. It also challenged US dominance in Latin America. And that was an example the US couldn’t allow.
In 1965, the US invaded the Dominican Republic to prevent the restoration of an elected left-wing leader. The invasion killed over 2,500 Dominicans. Ronald Reagan flexed US muscles again in 1983 by invading Grenada. And then, the George H W Bush administration invaded Panama in 1989, reportedly killing thousands of civilians. There were also US-backed coups in Haiti in 1991 and 2004, again to get rid of an elected left-winger.
Distrust of US aims in Latin America is completely logical
The US has long used CIA operations to spread its influence abroad. This meant supporting numerous coups, campaigns of state terror and brutal far-right dictatorships. In recent years, this agenda has continued – just in slightly different ways – in Paraguay, Honduras, Brazil and (so far unsuccessfully) in Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Opposing US intervention isn’t about hatred. It’s about the trail of death and destruction that Washington and its fascist allies have left in their wake for many, many decades. It’s a very rational distrust.
Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us.
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