Photo: Bernardo Londoy/Flickr

It is a phenomenon rarely noted that virtually every left-wing government since the Second World War, almost all of them elected, has faced vicious, sometimes violent, obstruction by its enemies both internal and foreign. Many were overthrown. As Henry Kissinger explained just before the American-backed coup against Salvador Allende in Chile, “The issues are too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”

Not surprisingly, the histories of all such governments have, for better or worse, been deeply influenced by such hostile interventions.

Take Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. From the first, Chavez’s overwhelming electoral victories enraged the country’s largely white political and economic elite that had controlled its destiny for decades. Working closely with the U.S. embassy, and following the Kissinger Commandment, the elite organized a coup that the U.S. endorsed, an oil strike to undermine the country’s economy, a recall election, and a ferocious propaganda campaign by the powerful local elite-owned media to delegitimize and destabilize Chavez and his government.

Yet when he first came to power, Chavez was little more than a moderate nationalist reformer whose economic ideas came largely from American liberal John Kenneth Galbraith.

The attempted coup against Chavez was par for the course. In 1954, the CIA overthrew the Arbenz government of Guatemala for planning to return to hungry Guatemalans unused land owned by the United Fruit Company. Half a century of increasingly savage, even genocidal, American-backed governments followed.

The U.S. reaction to Cuba’s Fidel Castro was equally hysterical. Having forced out a harsh, venal, American-backed dictator, Cuba faced the wrath of Washington which conspired with his Cuban enemies to overthrow his new government. Castro began as a democratic socialist. But just as Chavez’s enemies pushed him far from his original intentions, so terrorists drove Castro into the welcoming arms of Soviet Communism, one of the great lost opportunities of history.

In Chile, of course, the military, emboldened by Richard Nixon and Kissinger and supported by local business and media, overthrew elected left-wing President Salvador Allende and tortured and murdered thousands of his supporters. In Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, Uruguay, Ecuador and Peru, during the savage American-backed Dirty Wars of the 1970s, military dictatorships mercilessly cut down tens of thousands of leftists of all shades well before they could achieve power.

In Nicaragua, the victory of the Sandinistas over a reactionary American-friendly regime led to the U.S.-created Contra forces invading and utterly destabilizing that poor country. Sandinista hopes to build a more equitable society were largely forestalled, just as the Americans intended. So determined was the Reagan administration to stop all dangerous leftist ideas from spreading to Florida and Texas that its CIA-trained and armed proxies killed some 200,000 people in Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador.

The U.S. and Britain also undermined the democratically-elected democratic socialist governments of Cheddi Jagan in Guyana and Michael Manley in Jamaica, leaving Guyana a wreck and Jamaica reeling from gang violence.

In Iran, Britain and the CIA organized a coup against Mosaddegh’s democratically elected nationalist government when it insisted that Iranians, not foreign corporations, should control the country’s great oil wealth. The Shah’s cruel regime satisfied the oil interests but led to the Khomeini Islamic revolution. Forget Argo’s glorification of the CIA. This is the real story of its role in Iran.

In the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected prime minister in its history, believed the plundering of the country’s natural resources by foreigners had gone far enough. Accordingly, Belgium, the outgoing colonial power, and the CIA conspired to murder him, delivering the country to Joseph Mobuto who made the Congo an ungovernable wasteland, enabling the horrific Congo wars of the past 15 years.

Canada has not been immune from the sabotaging of progressive governments, as I’ve documented in this space before. Bob Rae’s 1990 NDP government faced an unrelenting, brutal four-year onslaught, unprecedented in Canadian history, that successfully undermined the government’s agenda. The perpetrators included every manner of business big and small, not least Conrad Black, almost all private media, major lobbying/government relations firms, and the police.

Let me be clear. I don’t mean to justify the record of the governments that managed to retain office despite sabotage by right-wing forces. I’m not claiming that better governments would necessarily have emerged had they not been subverted. But they would have been different than they were. They would have had a fairer chance to implement their agendas. They would not have been diverted from their agendas, or embittered, by the need to spend precious energy and resources fighting ruthless, illegal, often violent, opponents. Of course foiling these governments, most of them democratically elected, was the very point of the interventions.

Then there are all those democratically elected leftist governments that were overthrown without a chance to implement their policies. Some of course will cheer this result. Yet in most cases — Chile, Guatemala, Iran, Congo — they were replaced by regimes as monstrous and repressive as any imaginable.

Then there’s Hugo Chavez. As David Edwards of Media Lens points out, unlike so many western leaders over the decades, the much-reviled Chavez invaded no other country, overthrew no other government, committed no mass murders, tortured and killed no one. All he did was to get re-elected repeatedly, improve the lot of the poor, and drive the western establishment crazy with his derisive taunts.

Now if only the Kissinger Commandment had worked against Chavez as it had with so many other elected leaders Kissinger’s kind couldn’t abide….

This article was first published in the Globe and Mail.

Photo: Bernardo Londoy/Flickr


Gerry Caplan

Gerald Caplan has an MA in Canadian history and a Ph.D. in African history from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. He is an author, teacher, media commentator,...