The United States has a long, violent and politically dubious role in Latin America and The Caribbean dating back to the 19th century. Here are some of the most prominent US “interventions” into the Spanish and Portuguese speaking nations south of its borders.
Mexican-American War (1846-1848).
After the US annexed Mexican territory in what is the contemporary US state of Texas, Mexico and the United States fought a war which ended with Mexico surrendering even more of its northern territories to the US. Later in the early 20th century, the US alternatively supported both the regime and later revolutionary figures in the Mexican revolution, in a further attempt to meddle in the internal politics of a neighbour.
The Occupation of Cuba (1898-1902/1959/1961)
In 1898, the US fought Spain and took many of its overseas possessions including The Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico and Cuba. The US then occupied Cuba until it became a Republic in 1902. However, for many Cubans, the US was considered a kind of overlord to puppet regimes in Havana until the Cuban Revolution of 1959 in which Fidel Castro and Che Guevara brought a Communist government to power.
In 1961, the CIA covertly gathered exiled Cuban reactionaries in an attempt to overthrow Castro’s government. The failed Pay of Pigs Invasion, led then President John F. Kennedy to forever harbour a distrust for the CIA. Many suspect the CIA had a hand in Kennedy’s assassination, in retaliation to his failure to support the intelligence body after the Pay of Pigs.
Dominican Coup (1916)
In 1916 the US military lead an armed coup against the government in the Dominican Republic, which placed US Navy Vice Admiral Harry Shepard Knapp in power. This paved the way for a much hated dictatorship led by Rafael Trujillo who ruled the Dominican Republic until his assassination in 1961.
US Occupation of Nicaragua (1912-1933)/Contra Affair (1980s)
The US was a military occupier of Nicaragua for 21 years, during a period of multiple repressive governments. But the US involvement did not end its meddling there. During the 1980s, the US supported a reactionary military insurgency known as the Contras against the democratically elected government of the left-wing Daniel Ortega. When the US Congress ordered the cessation of supplies to the Contras, the Ronald Reagan administration sold arms to Iran, a country fighting the US ally Iraq, before covertly challenging the profits to the Contras. This became known as the Iran-Contra scandal which threatened to take down Reagan during the mid-1980s.
US Occupation of Haiti (1915-1934/1994-1995)
Between 1915 and 1934 the US formally occupied Haiti, but even after the end of formal occupation, the US maintained a substantial influence over the country’s internal affairs. Between 1957 and 1971, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier ruled Haiti with an iron fist, mercilessly slaughtering his left wing opposition. The repression continued when his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier came to power. He ruled until his ouster in 1986.
In 1994, the US again invaded and toppled the military government that had ruled since 1991. During this time it was said that the family of US President Bill Clinton materially enriched themselves through corrupt business deals which continue to retard the economic progress of the improvised nation.
CIA Coup in Guatemala (1954)
In 1954, the CIA backed reactionary elements among Guatemala’s expatriot community and overthrew the democratically elected government of the leftist President Jacobo Árbenz. Árbenz’s agrarian reform programme sought to redistribute land to the agrarian poor, thus angering the US corporation United Fruit Company. United Fruit lobbied Washington for regime change and the CIA delivered. The left wing government was overthrown in 1954.
Brazilian Coup (1964)
In 1964 the US backed reactionary elements in the Brazilian military in a violent overthrow of the left leaning democratically elected President João Goulart. He later died in exile in 1971, as right wing governments came to dominate the country.
CIA Coup in Chile (1973)
On September the 11th, 1973, the CIA led a violent coup against the democratically elected President of Chile, Salvador Allende. The Marxist Allende was overthrown and replaced by Generalissimo Augusto Pinochet who ruled the country with a heavy dictatorial hand until 1990. In spite of criticisms from the international community, the US and UK remained staunch allies of Pinochet, in spite of being the most brutal dictator in modern South American history.
Invasion of Grenada (1983)
In 1983, US President Ronald Reagan ordered US Marines to invade the small Caribbean island of Grenada in order to topple the left-wing People’s Revolutionary Government. While condemned by the UN and even some of America’s allies, including the UK, the US was successful in restoring the old regime back to power.
El Salvador Civil War (1979-1992)
During the protracted Salvadorian Civil War, the US strongly backed the reactionary President José Napoleón Duarte. During his rule, the Duarte regime was covertly funded and armed by the CIA, resulting in US complicity in heavy handed crackdowns on the political opposition.
Ever since the election of the left wing Hugo Chavez in 1999, the US has been working to undermine the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. The US continues to sanction the Venezuelan government of Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro, while Donald Trump threatened to wage war on the oil rich South American nation throughout 2017. Recently, failed US Presidential Candidate and current Senator Marco Rubio called for a coup against the Venezuelan government. The US has been known to finance the right wing agitator Henrique Capriles Radonski who has long been trying to overthrow the Bolivarian government.
The Chinese Solution
The long and fraught history of Washington’s often violent political meddling in the sovereign affairs of Latin American and Caribbean nations, combined with a lack of investment into the countries in the region which Washington has sought to dominate, has seen many Latin American and Caribbean leaders turn increasingly to China.
China has welcomed cooperative endeavours with Latin American and Caribbean leaders and businessmen – something that has been predictably condemned by Washington. Recently, Kurt Tidd, the of US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), told the US Armed Services Committee,
“Increased economic cooperation – such as the extension of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative to Latin America, one of the nodes to support China’s vision of a competing global economic initiative – and the continued provision of financing and loans that appear to have ‘no strings attached’ provide ample opportunity for China to expand its influence over key regional partners and promote unfair business and labour practices.
Increased reach to key global access points like Panama create commercial and security vulnerabilities for the United States, as do Chinese telecommunications and space ventures with dual-use potential, which could facilitate intelligence collection, compromise communication networks, and ultimately constrain our ability to work with our partners.
The larger strategic challenge posed by China in this region is not yet a military one. It is an economic one, and a new approach may be required to compete effectively against China’s coordinated efforts in the Americas. Some of the most critical elements needed in this effort are not ones that [SOUTHCOM] can bring to bear”
It seems that Kurt Tidd and his colleagues have no sense of irony, as the US is afraid of losing influence in a region that it has only been able to attain through violence. At the same time, the US has failed to secure its subsequent influence by failing to provide any post-violence economic opportunities.
China, by contrast, as Tidd himself admits, is only interested in doing business with the sovereign states of Latin America and the Caribbean, thus offering the region a breath of fresh air when it comes to foreign investment from a benign superpower.
The US has left a trail of blood in South America, while its continued antagonism towards Venezuela has only led Caracas to further embrace its petro-partnership with both Russia and China. With Latin America and the Caribbean having a clear alternative to the United States, it is no wonder that they are turning to a partner that presents more opportunities and no historical and present day baggage of coups, political manipulation and military occupation.