Andrew Pregnall: Reflections on Latin American Coups

For this Tuesday’s class, I read about U.S. involvement in Latin American political coups during the Cold War since I felt like there was an interesting juxtaposition between US and Latin American narratives surrounding the events. To explain, when I was in high school I remember these political coups being taught in one of three ways:

  1. Not mentioning the coups at all
  2. Mentioning the coups happened, but glazing over that the United States was involved in them
  3. Teaching that the coup happened and that there was US involvement in the coup, and presenting a narrative that US involvement was necessary and justified (to prevent the spread of communism, to protect US economic interests, to protect world peace, etc)

Outside of class, however, I remember reading commentary (mostly on social media websites) from Latinx people that explained why many Latin American countries have a very different view of the US military and intelligence systems (particularly the Marines and the CIA) because of their involvement in the overthrow of democratically elected (communist) governments. I read that often times authoritarian right-wing dictators were installed in place of these communist government, and, as a result, many Latin American peoples suffered human rights violations during this period (which the United States would ironically go on to critique).

Seeing as I read these perspectives in high school, I first wanted to find out all of the times/places that the United States was involved in a political coup in Latin American during the Cold War. Here is what I found:

  1. Guatemala (1954) – Operation PBSUCCESS
  2. Cuba (1961) – Bay of Pigs (Failed)
  3. Cuba (1960) — Operation MONGOOSE (Failed)
  4. Dominican Republic (1965)
  5. Chile (1973) – Project FUBELT
  6. Nicaragua (1982-1989) – Part of the Iran-Contra scandal
  7. Grenada (1983) – Operation Urgent Fury (Success)
  8. Panama (1989) – Operation Just Cause

Upon researching these individuals instances a little more closely, I did find some truth to the narratives I had been reading during high school. For instance, after the United States help overthrow Allende – the democratically elected president of Chile – a military dictatorship was installed with Augosto Pinochet at the helm. During his reign, 3000 Chilean political dissidents either disappeared or were killed and over 200,000 Chileans went into exile (BBC). Additionally, I found that many nations within the international community were not silent about the US involvement in these coups. For instance, after operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling US actions in Grenada a “flagrant violation of international law.” (Wikipedia)

Finally, in a brief search for more academic publications on US involvement in the Cold War I found two journal articles that seemed to focus on analyzing when the United States got involved in Latin American politics (in reference to coups). One article by Jorge I Dominguez argued that the United States only got militarily involved in Latin American when it felt ideologically threatened by communism; however, Dominguez concluded that these interventions did not constitute a drastic departure from previous US policy on the continent and thus did not have a major impact on long term relations. Although this was by no mean an extensive review of literature on the subject, I found it interesting that the top papers I found via search algorithms shared a similar narrative to what I was told in high school.

Word Count: 580

Bulmer-Thomas, Victor, and James Dunkerley, eds. “The United States and Latin America: The New Agenda.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.




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