What do these 14 governments have in common?
You got it.
The United States overthrew them.
And in almost in every case, the overthrow can be traced to corporate
In Hawaii, the sugar companies didn't want to pay export duties -- so they
overthrew the queen of Hawaii and made it part of the United States.
In Guatemala, United Fruit wanted Arbenz out.
Out he went.
In Chile, Allende offended the copper interests.
Allende -- dead.
In Iran, Mossadegh offended major oil interests.
In Nicaragua, Jose Santos Zelaya was bothering American lumber and mining companies.
Zelaya -- out.
In Honduras, an American banana magnate organized the coup of the Honduran
And on down the list.
Democratic Party critics charge that the Bush administration is ripping the
United States from a long history of diplomacy by violently overthrowing governments.
Not true, says former New York Times foreign correspondent Stephen Kinzer.
Kinzer says that in fact the opposite is true.
"Actually, the United States has been overthrowing governments
for more than a century," Kinzer said in an interview.
He documents this in a new book: Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change
from Hawaii to Iraq (Times Books, 2006).
Overthrow is the third in a series of regime change books by Kinzer.
His previous two: All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle
East Terror (2003), and Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup
in Guatemala (1982).
Together, they would make a remarkable "regime change" boxed set
for the holidays.
Kinzer left the Times last year. He says that the parting was "perfectly
amicable" -- although he doesn't sound convincing when he says this.
What is clear is that Kinzer is not comfortable with establishment rationales
for the American imperial project.
This became clear during an interview Kinzer gave on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry
Gross earlier this month.
Gross tried to get Kinzer to concede that if we hadn't overthrown these governments,
the Soviets would have taken over, or today, radical Islam will take over.
Kinzer didn't give an inch.
For example, Gross said that had we not overthrown these 14 governments, "the
Soviets might have won the Cold War."
"I don't think that's true at all," Kinzer responded. "In the
first place, the countries whose governments we overthrew, all countries that
we claimed were pawns of the Kremlin, actually were nothing of the sort. We
now know, for example, that the Kremlin had not the slightest interest in Guatemala
at all in the early 1950s. They didn't even know Guatemala existed. They didn't
even have diplomatic or economic relations."
"The leader of Iran who we overthrew was fiercely anti-communist. He came
from an aristocratic family. He despised Marxist ideology."
"In Chile, we always portrayed President Allende as a cat's paw of the
Kremlin. We now know from documents that have come out that the Soviets and
the Chinese were constantly fighting with him and urging him to calm down and
not be so provocative towards the Americans. So, in the first place, the Soviets
were not behind those regimes. We completely overestimated the influence of
the Soviet Union on those regimes."
When Gross asked Kinzer what he thought of the "spread of radical Islam,"
Kinzer didn't hesitate.
"We sometimes like to think that our interventions in these countries
don't have effects, but when we break down the doors of foreign countries and
impose our own leaders, as we did in Iran and as we've recently done in Iraq,
we outrage a lot of people," Kinzer said. "We like to think that everybody
will soon calmly come to realize that by rational standards, this was a good
thing to do. But that doesn't happen. We are not able to change cultures as
easily as we are able to change regimes."
The United States had a hand in many other overthrows, but Kinzer limited his
cases to those where the United States was the primary mover and shaker.
So, for example, while the United States played a role in the overthrow of
Lumumba in the Congo, Kinzer says that it was primarily an operation by Belgium
on behalf of large Belgian mining interests.
This might be the most important book to read as the United States approaches
a showdown with Iran.
President Bush says he's trying to bring democracy to Iran.
In fact, Iranians had democracy once.
And we crushed it.
Kinzer is on tour promoting his book.
And he's got a gig at Northwestern University in Chicago, where he lives.
He's teaching a course in regime change.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor
of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor. Mokhiber and Weissman are
co-authors of On
the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy (Monroe,
Maine: Common Courage Press).