[Marxism] Thwarting Democracy in Iran and Guatemala

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Sun Nov 30 07:34:17 MST 2003

I missed the conference on "Thwarting Democracy in Iran and Guatemala":

"Thwarting Democracy in Iran and Guatemala: What Have We Learned 
Fifty Years After the U.S. Sponsored Coups? An Exploration" (November 
13-15, 2003), Northeastern Illinois University, 

Did anyone get to attend it?

*****   New York Times   November 30, 2003


Revisiting Cold War Coups and Finding Them Costly


SOON after the C.I.A. installed him as president of Guatemala in 
1954, Col. Carlos Castillo Armas visited Washington. He was unusually 
forthright with Vice President Richard M. Nixon. "Tell me what you 
want me to do," he said, "and I will do it."

What the United States wanted in Guatemala - and in Iran, where the 
C.I.A. also deposed a government in the early 1950's - was 
pro-American stability. In the long run, though, neither Colonel 
Castillo Armas nor his Iranian counterpart, Shah Mohammed Reza 
Pahlavi, provided it. Instead, both led their countries away from 
democracy and toward repression and tragedy.

How did this happen? From the perspective of half a century, what is 
the legacy of these two coups?

Several dozen scholars, including leading experts on Iran and 
Guatemala, gathered in Chicago this month to consider those 
questions. Their conclusions were grim. All agreed that both coups - 
the first that the C.I.A. carried out - had terrible long-term 

"It's quite clear that the 1953 coup cut short a move toward 
democracy in Iran," said Mark J. Gasiorowski, a historian at 
Louisiana State University who began studying that coup in the 
1980's. "The United States bears responsibility for this."

Iranians wrote a constitution and elected a parliament early in the 
20th century. Their progress toward democracy stopped after the 
Pahlavi dynasty took the throne with British help in 1921, but 
resumed after World War II. By the time of the 1953 coup, Iran was 
more free than at any time before or since.

The verdict on Guatemala was even harsher. Within a few years after 
the 1954 coup, Guatemala fell into a maelstrom of guerrilla war and 
state terror in which hundreds of thousands of people died.

"The C.I.A. intervention began a ghastly cycle of violence, 
assassination and torture in Guatemala," said Stephen G. Rabe, a 
historian from the University of Texas at Dallas and author of 
"Eisenhower and Latin America: The Foreign Policy of Anticommunism."

"The Guatemalan intervention of 1954 is the most important event in 
the history of U.S. relations with Latin America," Mr. Rabe said. "It 
really set the precedent for later interventions in Cuba, British 
Guiana, Brazil and Chile. The tactics were the same, the mindset was 
the same, and in many cases the people who directed those covert 
interventions were the same."

President Harry S. Truman authorized creation of the C.I.A. in 1947, 
and during his administration it carried out covert actions. Truman 
refused, however, to authorize the overthrow of governments. That 
changed when Dwight D. Eisenhower became president in 1953.

On Aug. 19, 1953, Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh of Iran became 
the first victim of a C.I.A. coup. Ten months later, on June 27, 
1954, President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala became the second.

The recent Chicago meeting, at Northeastern Illinois University, was 
the first time scholars have considered these two coups together. 
Some of the participants have taken anti-interventionist positions in 
the past, but all are respected scholars in their fields. Several 
have devoted years to studying either the Guatemala coup or the one 
in Iran. Some now see them as constituting a single historical 
moment, the beginning of an era of C.I.A.-backed coups around the 

Eisenhower ordered these coups for a combination of economic and 
political reasons. Elected Iranian and Guatemalan leaders had 
challenged the power of large Western corporations, Mr. Mossadegh by 
nationalizing the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and Mr. Arbenz by forcing 
the United Fruit Company to sell some of its unused land for 
distribution to peasants. American officials charged that both were 
leading their countries toward Communism, but recent research 
suggests that the likelihood of Communist takeovers in Iran and 
Guatemala was exaggerated.

Mr. Mossadegh pursued a neutralist foreign policy and cooperated with 
Communist members of parliament to win approval of social reforms, 
but was not inclined to socialism. American officials who were 
assigned to monitor Communist movements in Iran during the 1950's 
admitted years later that they had routinely overstated the strength 
of these movements.

Mr. Arbenz was more sympathetic to socialist ideas, and bought 
weapons from Czechoslovakia after Washington blocked access to other 
sources. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles sought to link him to 
a Soviet bid for influence in the Americas. "Fifty years later," Mr. 
Rabe said, "still no link has been established."

After installing friendly leaders in Iran and Guatemala, the United 
States lost interest in promoting democracy in either country. "There 
was no democratic agenda," asserted Cyrus Bina, an economist from the 
University of Minnesota at Morris. Both countries fell into 
dictatorship and bloody upheaval.

In Iran, the shah's regime imprisoned dissidents and alienated 
religious leaders by imposing secular reforms. Many democrats and 
leftists made common cause with fundamentalist clerics. "The only way 
they were able to develop was in the mosque," Mr. Bina said.

Fariba Zarinebaf, a historian at Northwestern University, said the 
most profound long-term result of the 1953 coup may be that it led 
many Iranian intellectuals to conclude that although Western leaders 
practiced democracy at home, they were uninterested in promoting it 
abroad. "The growing disillusion of Iranian intellectuals with the 
West and with Western-style liberal democracy was a major development 
in the 1960's and 70's that contributed to the Islamic revolution," 
she said.

If the overthrows in Iran and Guatemala marked the beginning of the 
coup era 50 years ago, this year's invasion of Iraq suggests that the 
era has ended. Governments like Saddam Hussein's learned to protect 
themselves against coups, participants at the conference said. 
"Conditions in the world are more constricting today and it is more 
difficult, I believe, to pull off coups," said Douglass Cassel, a 
Northwestern University law professor. In Iraq this year, the United 
States invaded instead. That option would probably have been closed 
during the cold war, when the Soviet Union was likely to have opposed 
it. . . .

<http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/30/weekinreview/30KINZ.html>   *****

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