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The US, Crusader of Democracy?

We often hear how the US is so interested in seeing democracy flourish across the planet. It’s regularly claimed to be one of the principal reasons for its endless interventions in foreign countries. Not only did the US want to bring freedom to countries like Iraq and Libya, they also wanted to bring democracy. Considering this, one would assume that the last thing the US would do is overthrow democratically elected governments, or would they? Let’s take a walk down memory lane.

Written by: Christopher Coman & Sarah Abed 


Iran, 1953: Declassified documents show that “CIA agents planned and executed a military coup that toppled Mohammad Mossadegh”(1), “Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister”(2) who had “tried to nationalise his country’s oil wealth”.(3) Mohammad Mossadegh was replaced by US and British choice, General Fazlollah Zahedi in order to “safeguard the west’s oil interests in the country.”(2) “The CIA dispensed several hundred thousand dollars to organise mass demonstrations supporting the change.”(4)   

Guatemala, 1954: The US Government “authorised the CIA to overthrow the democratically elected leader of Guatemala, President Jacobo Árbenz”(5) He had “embarked on a series of social policies, which included trying to enact agrarian reform…this fuelled suspicions that Árbenz had communist sympathies. His actions also angered the United Fruit Company, a US multinational with extensive landholdings in Guatemala.”(6)  “US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother, Allen, the CIA’s director, had their own personal sympathies for United Fruit: they had done legal work for the company, and counted executives there among their close friends.”(5) “The US intervened via a mercenary army [and] Árbenz was replaced by a military junta led by Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas…It marked the start of a long and bloody conflict [where] more than 200,000 people, most of them civilians, were killed or disappeared.”(6)

Democratic Republic of Congo, 1960: “Patrice Lumumba was the first legally elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo”(7) which gained independence in 1960 having been under Belgian rule for 52 years, but became an instant target for both Belgium and the US for wanting economic liberation as well. Both countries had a strategic stake, particularly in the province of Katanga, rich in, amongst other minerals, diamonds, copper and uranium. The US used “uranium from Congolese mines to manufacture the first atomic weapons, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs”(7) that killed 200,000 people. “The CIA worked with and made payments to eight top Congolese, including President Kasavubu, Mobutu (then army chief of staff), Foreign Minister Justin Bomboko, top finance aide Albert Ndele…who all played roles in Lumumba’s downfall.”(8) They also provided “arms, ammunition, sabotage materials and training to Mobutu’s army.”(8) Colonel Mobutu would later rule the country through a military dictatorship for more than 20 years. Patrice Lumumba was assassinated in 1961, “a culmination of two inter related assassination plots by American and Belgian governments, which used Congolese accomplices and a Belgian execution squad to carry out the deed.”

Dominican Republic, 1963: “Juan Bosch…the first democratically elected president of the Dominican Republic”(9) “was forced out in 1963 by a military coup supported by the US.”(10) The US viewed the government of Juan Bosch as not in the best interests of the US. Land reform, although extremely limited in implementation, was viewed as a threat to US business interests and because he was elected by the people and not installed by the US, less obedient. John Bartlow Martin (US Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, 1962 – 1964) “Bosch was not installed by us, he was elected by the Dominican people. So, as time passes, our influence declines.”(11)    

Brazil, 1964: “The democratically elected Brazilian Government”(12) under President João Goulart was ousted in a coup d’état. “Through the CIA, the US provided supplies and funding for the coup, and provided a naval task force to intimidate Goulart’s backers and be in position to intervene militarily if fighting became protracted… President Goulart was known to be friendly to labour unions, limited the profits multinational corporations could remove from Brazil, and had plans to trade with communist countries.” (13)  He was replaced by the chief of staff of the Brazilian army, with CIA support and weapons. A CIA agent cabled Washington “The change in government will create a greatly improved climate for foreign investments.”(12) The military ran the country till 1985 with the US maintaining “close ties to Brazil’s military rulers during the dictatorship.”(14) At the time, “American diplomats characterized the coup as a ‘100 percent Brazilian movement.’”(15)  

Chile, 1973: “The democratically elected President of Chile Salvador Allende was overthrown and died in a bloody CIA backed military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet would go on to kill at least 3,000 Chileans over the next 17 years in a military reign which lasted until 1990.”(16) “US companies, from cola to copper, used the CIA as an international debt collection agency and investment security force”(17) after “US investments, both financial and political faced unexpected jeopardy”(17)  under socialist Allende. “Edward Korry, the US ambassador in Santiago, reported to Henry Kissinger, the foreign strategist of President Richard Nixon: “Once Allende comes to power we shall do all within our power to condemn Chile and the Chileans to utmost deprivation and poverty.”(18)  “Over three million dollars expended in fiscal year 1972 alone… financed activities covering a broad spectrum, from simple propaganda manipulation of the press to large-scale support for Chilean political parties, to public opinion polls” (19)

Nicaragua, 1981-1990: The US overthrew the Sandinista left wing government, democratically elected in 1984 with the presence of “approximately 400 independent foreign observers, including a number of Americans…to monitor proceedings.”(20)  “The Sandinistas had begun redistributing property and made notable progress in the sphere of education but the US regarded them with suspicion, fearing their policies were hostile to American interests.”(21) The US’s paramilitary campaign plunged the country into civil war which resulted in the death of over “30,000 Nicaraguans.” US President Ronald Reagan unleashed “a war on all fronts: paramilitary, political, diplomatic, ideological, economic and psychological.”(22) “The UN (International Court of Justice) found the US guilty of contravening law by training, arming and financing paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua. These activities included the laying of mines in Nicaraguan waters in early 1984, as well as attacking a naval base and patrol boats…The US was ‘in breach of its obligations under customary international law not to use force against another State, not to intervene in its affairs, not to violate its sovereignty and not to interrupt peaceful maritime commerce’.”(21)  “The US, which refused to participate in the proceedings after the court rejected its argument… blocked the judgment’s enforcement by the UN Security Council, preventing Nicaragua from obtaining any compensation.”(23)  The ‘contra’ war failed to achieve its aim of overthrowing the Sandinista government by military means, whereas economic sanctions, combined with the costs of the war, succeeded in devastating the economy. Amid widespread privation, the Sandinistas’ popular support fell severely, and they were soundly defeated in the 1990 elections.(24)

Fiji, 1987: “The democratically elected multiracial government led by an indigenous Fijian doctor, Timoci Bavadra”(24) that had been “studying various options to cut off port access to nuclear-armed or nuclear-powered ships”(25) in support of a nuclear free South Pacific, was overthrown in a US backed coup. US Ambassador to Fiji (1981-1982), William Bodde: “The most potentially disruptive development for US relations with the South Pacific is the growing anti-nuclear movement in that region. A nuclear free zone would be unacceptable to the US, given our strategic needs. The US must do everything possible to counter this movement.”(26) Former Deputy Director of the CIA (1972-1976) and US Ambassador to the UN (1985-1989), Vernon Walters had met with Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka “shortly before the coup.”(27) A military government under Colonel Rabuka would rule Fiji for the next 5 years.

Venezuela, 2002: “The failed coup in Venezuela was closely tied to senior officials in the US government [who had] long histories in the ‘dirty wars’ of the 1980s, and links to death squads working in Central America at that time.”(28) The Hugo Chavez led government had won the 2000 election with approximately “60% of the vote.”(29) He was removed from office for 48 hours before being reinstated by military loyalists and “huge public support for him.”(30) During this 48 hour period the New York Times published an article claiming the “resignation of President Hugo Chávez” and that “democracy is no longer threatened.”(31) “Evidence for the US subversion of Venezuela – from the 2002 coup through WikiLeaks-revealed cables outlining US plans to “penetrate”, “isolate” and “divide” the Venezuelan government, to continuing large-scale funding of opposition groups – is voluminous. That’s not only because Venezuela sits on the World’s largest oil reserves, but because it has spearheaded the progressive tide that has swept Latin America over the past decade: challenging US domination, taking back resources from corporate control and redistributing wealth and power.”(32)   

Haiti, 2004: “The Bush administration [with support from France] forced the removal of democratically elected Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, while a power-sharing deal with his political opposition was being brokered in 2004.”(33) Aristide became offside with the US “for his opposition to the privatization of the country’s five remaining state-owned companies”(34) and for increasing the minimum wage from “36 gourdes ($1) a day…to 70 gourdes ($1.75) a day.”(34)  This proved unacceptable to the US Government and the many US companies that have textile factories there. France supported the coup due to Aristide wanting them to repay the “enormous amount of money that it had extorted from its former slave colony during the previous century.”(35)   

The fingerprints of US imperialism can be found all over the manufactured insurrection in Syria, in keeping with the goal of de-stabilization and eventual “regime change”. Former NATO Commander Wesley Clarke has gone on the record stating that as early as 2001 that Syria was on a list of targeted nations. In 2002 Undersecretary of State John Bolton gave a speech entitled “Beyond the Axis of Evil” that listed Syria as a handful of nations that “can expect to be targeted” Fast forward to Daara in 2011. What has been portrayed in mainstream western media outlets as a “protest movement” upon closer examination has been revealed as a Washington inspired insurgency carried out by takfiri foreign militants armed, trained, and funded by US NATO proxies. CIA Muslim Brotherhood assets were already in place to snipe at both police and protesters. Since then the CIA has funneled hundreds of billions of dollars, as well as staggering amounts of arms to jihadist recruits all of which have poured unabated into Syria.

So we have multiple occasions, an incomplete list at that, covering more than half a century of the US ousting democratically elected governments, against the will of the countries’ people. Why would they do this if they care so much about democracy, you may ask? Well, as seen from these events above, the truth is that they don’t care, at all, about democracy.  It is useful to keep this in mind when considering current events in Syria and any future plans the US may have for other countries. They may say democracy is one of the driving forces but the reality is, it isn’t.



(1) Douglas Little, Mission Impossible: The CIA and the cult of covert action in the Middle East, Diplomatic History (2004) 28 (5) 664.

(2) Kamali Dehghan and Richard Norton-Taylor, CIA admits role in 1953 Iranian Coup, The Guardian, August 19, 2013.

(3) Agence France-Presse, CIA orchestrated 1953 coup in Iran, document confirms, The New York Times, August 19, 2013.

(4) Douglas Little, Mission Impossible: The CIA and the cult of covert action in the Middle East, Diplomatic History (2004) 28 (5) 666.

(5) Stephen Schlesinger, Ghosts of Guatemala’s past, The New York Times, June 3, 2011.

(6) Guatemala apologises to Arbenz family for 1954 coup, BBC, October 20, 2011.

(7) Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, Patrice Lumumba, the most important assassination of the 20th century, The Guardian, January 17, 2011.

(8) Stephen R. Weissman, Opening the secret files on Lumumba’s murder, The Washington Post, July 21, 2002.

(9) James Ferguson,  Juan Bosch, Democratic pioneer of the Dominican Republic, The Guardian, November 2, 2001.

(10) Paul Bouchheit, We’re the US and we’re here to help your nation, The dark side of democracy promotion, Counterpunch, May 21, 2007.

(11) John Bartlow Martin, US Ambassador to the Dominican Republic (1962-1964), Airgram from the Embassy in the Dominican Republic to the Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963

Volume XII, American Republics, Document 357.

(12) The 1964 “Made in Brazil” coup and US contingency support-plan if the plot stalled, MercoPress South Atlantic News Agency, April 15, 2012.

(13) US Role in 1964 Brazilian Military Coup Revealed: National Security Archive, The Dominion, April 6, 2004.

(14) Malcolm Byrne, Declassified Diplomacy with Brazil: National Security Archive Hails Obama Administration Decision to Assist Brazilian Truth Commission, The National Security Archive, June 20, 2014.

(15) Phyllis R. Parker, Brazil and the Quiet Intervention, 1964, 1979.

(16) Sept. 11, 1973: A CIA-backed Military Coup Overthrows Salvador Allende, the Democratically Elected President of Chile, Democracy Now, September 11, 2003.

(17) Gregory Palast, A Marxist threat to cola sales? Pepsi demands a US coup. Goodbye Allende. Hello Pinochet, The Guardian, November 8, 1998.

(18) Hugh O’Shaughnessy, 40 years ago I watched Pinochet crush a democratic dream, The Guardian, September 7, 2013.

(19) Rick Perlstein, Our other September 11, The Nation, September 11, 2013.

(20) Sandinistas claim election victory, BBC, November 5, 1984:

(21)US guilty of backing contras, BBC, June 27, 1986:

(22) Helen Yuill, Contra view on Ronald Reagan, The Guardian, July 4, 2011.

(23) Brahma Chellaney, International law only for weaker states?, The Hindu, December 20, 2013.

(24) William M Leogrande, Making the economy scream: Us economic sanctions against Sandinista Nicaragua,Third World Quarterly (1996) 17 (2) 329-248.

(24) Sanjay Ramesh, Lament over democracy in Fiji,, January 4, 2010.

(25) Nicholas D. Kristof, Fiji’s Leaders Weigh Curbs on Nuclear Ships, The New York Times, April 30, 1987.

(26) Glenn Alcalay, The ethnography of destabilization: Pacific islanders in the nuclear age, Dialectical Anthropology, (1988) 13 (3) 243.

(27) Richard Bill, US denies CIA involvement in Fiji coup, Associated Press, November 12, 1987.

(28) Ed Vulliamy, Venezuela coup linked to Bush team, The Guardian, April 21, 2002.

(29) Eric Wingerter, The Washington Post vs Venezuela, Counterpunch, April 18, 2006.

(30) The passing of a giant, The Hindu, March 7, 2013.

(31) Hugo Chávez departs, The New York Times, April 13, 2002.

(32) Seumas Milne, Venezuela shows that protest can be a defence of privilege, The Guardian, April 9, 2014.

(33) Kevin Pina, Haiti and America Latina: it is as it always was, Race and Class, (2007) 49 (2) 100.

(34) Yves Engler, Looking Back on the Overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Counterpunch, February 28, 2014.

(35) Did he jump or was he pushed? Aristide and the 2004 coup in Haiti, Canadian Haiti Action Network, December 16, 2007.

Used for the Syria portion: 


About Sarah Abed (168 Articles)
Independent journalist and political commentator. For media inquiries please email

1 Comment on The US, Crusader of Democracy?

  1. I think U.S. actions are based on the theory that the world’s supply of democracy is limited , and if some countries hoard too much of it , other countries won’t get any at all. ” Spreading democracy ” is thus more like redistribution of democracy , analogous to redistribution of wealth. The U.S. itself has offloaded virtually all of the democracy it once had , just to loosen up the supply for others.

    Clearly there’s no evidence at all that this theory holds even one drop of water , but for the U.S. , that’s not really a problem.

    Liked by 1 person

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