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Regime Change: An American Addiction

William Hughes | 03.04.2008 22:00 | Anti-militarism | History | Terror War | World

I would like to blame the Neocons for America’s sordid record of “regime change” around the globe, but I can’t! For Iraq, yes! But, sadly, the U.S. has been in the dirty business of “regime change” for at least 110 years going back to the days that it unlawfully seized Hawaii. Author Stephen Kinzer’s book, “Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change,” tells the story of how 14 countries, many in Central America, came under our hegemony.

“The seizure of faraway lands by a perversion of our national mission.” - President Grover Cleveland, in 1893.

It didn’t start with the U.S.’s Neocon-inspired invasion of Iraq in March, 2003. Whether knowingly or not, the morally bankrupt Bush-Cheney Gang was following an imperial script which is over 110 years old. During that period, the U.S. has “overthrown fourteen governments that displeased it for various ideological, political and economic reasons,” writes Stephen Kinzer, in his riveting book, “Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq.” Why did America betray its values and become itself a brutal colonizer? Well, after you blow away all the baloney about “national security and liberation,” Kinzer reveals: “The U.S. acted mainly for ‘economic’ reasons--specifically, to establish, promote and defend the right of ‘Americans’ to do business around the world without interference.” By “Americans,” Kinzer mostly means the giant multinational corporations.

Each of the respective countries on which the U.S. forced a regime change followed a basic kind of pattern, an M.O., if you please. Unfortunately, for our closest neighbors in Central and South America, they felt, more than any other nations, the consistent brunt of our greedy, violent, murderous and racist reach. Destabilization and intervention were two of our tactics, which often times resulted in horrific consequences for the targeted country and their inhabitants. Kinzer puts it this way: “Almost every American overthrow...left in its wake a bitter residue of pain and anger. Some have led to the slaughter of innocents...The U.S. was willing to support any governing clique, ‘no matter how odious,’ as long as it did America’s bidding.”

Over time, Cuba, Guatemala, Puerto Rica, Panama, Chile, Grenada, Nicaragua and Honduras to our South were subjected to some type of coercive, gangster-like intervention from the U.S. bully. Sometimes, it took the form of a direct invasion by military forces, like in Panama and Grenada. In other cases, the CIA initiated covert activity to bring the targeted regime to its knees.

Take Honduras as a prime example of how “regime change” worked in Central America. What the U.S. did there reads like a script of fiction. Yet, it’s all true. It really did happen. Kinzer shows that in 1910, a “soldier of fortune,” Lee Christmas, conspired with the rapacious Sam Zemurray, a wheeler-dealer planter in Central America, along with an Honduras native, Manuel Bonilla, to take over that country. The conspiracy was hatched in New Orleans. All the wrongdoing was accomplished with the support, on a nod and wink basis, of the U.S. government. Christmas was to supply the muscle for the illegal coup, (think mercenary army). Zemurray provided the money to pay the hired thugs and to purchase the necessary weapons, and Bonilla was to be installed as “The President.” Thanks to some timely gunboat diplomacy from the U.S., via its naval vessels, Marietta and Tacoma, it became a done deal by Nov. 1912. Honduras, a liberal democracy under its then President Miguel Davila, was never the same again.

Here is how the author describes Zemurray: “‘Sam the Banana Man’ was one of the most colorful figures in the history of... capitalism...Some Jews considered him an exemplary figure of their Diaspora, an immigrant from Eastern Europe...[who] rose to great wealth and power. In Honduras, people know him as the man who ‘overthrew’ their government and ‘took over’ their country.”

After “President Bonilla” was installed, he rewarded Zemurray “10,000 hectares of banana land--about 24,700 acres--near the north coast. Later he added 10,000 hectares near the Guatemala border.” Zemurray was also allowed “to import whatever he needed, duty-free. Finally, [President Bonilla] authorized Zemurray to raise a $500,000 loan in the name of the Honduran government, and to use the money to repay himself for what he claimed to have spent organizing the revolution...With assets like these, it is no wonder Zemurray soon became known as the ‘uncrowned king of Central America’...Later [Zemurray] merged his enterprises with UNITED FRUIT...Four decades later, this uniquely powerful company would help overthrow another Central American government.”

The corrupt takeover in Honduras was repeated time and again, with various schemes, by U.S. interests, (corporate and government combined], in Central America. When I think about how a slippery character, like Zemurray, was permitted to profit so unfairly at the expense of generations of Honduran citizens, the word “Reparations” jumps out at me. If ever there was a case that cries out for justice, it’s this one!

Recently, I was in Costa Rica for a holiday. It’s located south of Nicaragua and north of Panama. It’s a lovely little country that has mostly been spared the blood-stained upheavals experienced by many of its unfortunate neighbors, who fell under the hegemony of Wall Street-based interests. Bananas and coffee are its main exports and the people are very friendly, with a high literacy rate. In 1948 Costa Rica abolished its army! Tourism is booming in this Caribbean paradise of myriad natural wonders. (1) Although it has its share of problems, its outlook is positive. If we ever learn to keep our corporate/government hands off of other countries, Costa Rica can be the future for all of our neighbors.

On another front, the U.S., with the Brits as a partner, orchestrated a violent coup in Iran back in 1953. This subject comes up in Kinzer’s book, although his definitive account of that massive crime against the Iranian people is recorded more fully in his excellent tome, “All the Shah’s Men.” I’m also highly recommending that book to readers. It is well documented and you will find it difficult to put down. Query: Why doesn’t Hollywood do a movie about that U.S. induced “regime change?” (2)

Enter Ted Koppel! I remember when that gabby news-reader first started out in 1979, with his popular “America Held Hostage” shows about the Iranian takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran. What Koppel never told his ABC-TV audiences, however, was how the U.S. and British governments (on behalf of “Big Oil’) had plotted a coup d’etat (“Operation Ajax”) in Iran, in 1953. It unseated the then-democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. They (the CIA and British Intelligence] replaced him with a tyrannical stooge, one Mohammad Reza Shah. It was the Shah’s ultra corrupt regime which in turn inspired the student-led 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. If you want to know why we’re really hated in the Islamic World, this is one of the many reasons why. Think BLOWBACK! (3)

As I had written earlier, the 1953 Iranian coup “was critical background material that I don’t recall Koppel ever revealing. In addition, by ‘Nightline’ playing, ad infinitum, the hostage situation, it helped to undermine [support for] Democratic President Jimmy Carter and, eventually, it led to the GOP’s Ronald Reagan capturing the White House, in 1980. Once in office, Reagan began to systematically undercut the social justice programs enacted under FDR’s ‘New Deal.’ He also greatly enlarged the Pentagon’s budget, assaulted Organized Labor, [introduced the ‘Racket of ‘Deregulation’ all to the glee of the Wall Street Wirepullers], and created national deficits of unprecedented proportions.” (4)

Finally, the U.S. record in overthrowing governments around the world is a sordid one. It is also a stain on our Republic as Kinzer’s book so resounding shows. On a karmic level, some of the evil we’ve unleashed by our numerous criminal enterprises has, indeed, come home to roost. It is long past the time for our Republic to end this “perversion of its historic mission.”



2. See, “All The Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror,” by Stephen Kinzer.

3. “Blowback” by Chalmers Johnson. Check out:


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William Hughes
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