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US Regime Changes in Latin America:  Over Time Puppet Regimes Have Been Reversed

By James Petras

Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, February 11, 2019 

Venezuelan workers support Maduro, February 4, 2019  


US Regime Changes:  The Historical Record           

            As the US strives to overthrow the democratic and independent Venezuelan government, the historical record regarding the short, middle and long-term consequences are mixed. 

            We will proceed to examine the consequences and impact of US intervention in Venezuela over the past half century.

            We will then turn to examine the success and failure of US ‘regime changes’ throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

Venezuela:  Results and Perspectives 1950-2019

            During the post WWII decade, the US, working through the CIA and the Pentagon, brought to power  authoritarian client regimes in Venezuela, Cuba, Peru, Chile, Guatemala, Brazil and several other countries.

            In the case of Venezuela, the US backed a near decade long military dictatorship (Perez Jimenez ) roughly between 1951-58.  The dictatorship was overthrown in 1958 and replaced by a left-center coalition during a brief interim period.  Subsequently, the US reshuffled its policy, and embraced and promoted  center-right regimes led by social and christian democrats which alternated rule for nearly forty years. 

            In the 1990’s US client regimes riddled with corruption and facing a deepening socio-economic crises were voted out of power and replaced by the independent, anti-imperialist government led by President Chavez.

            The free and democratic election of President Chavez withstood and defeated several US led ‘regime changes’ over the following two decades.

            Following the election of President Maduro, under US direction,Washington mounted  the political machinery for a new regime change.  Washington launched, in full throttle, a coup by the winter of 2019.

            The record of US intervention in Venezuela is mixed:  a middle term military coup lasted less than a decade; US directed electoral regimes were in power for forty years; its replacement by an elected anti-imperialist populist government has been in power for nearly 20 years.  A virulent US directed coup is underfoot today.

            The Venezuela experience with ‘regime change’ speaks to US capacity to consummate long-term control if it can reshuffle its power base from a military dictatorship into an electoral regime, financed through the pillage of oil, backed by a reliable military and ‘legitimated’ by alternating client political parties which accept submission to Washington.

            US client regimes are ruled by oligarchic elites, with little entrepreneurial capacity, living off of state rents (oil revenues). 

            Tied closely to the US, the ruling elites are unable to secure popular loyalty.  Client regimes depend on the military strength of the Pentagon ---but that is also their weakness.

Regime Change in Regional-Historical Perspective

            Puppet- building is an essential strategic goal of the US imperial state.

            The results vary over time depending on the capacity of independent governments to succeed in nation-building.

            US long-term puppet-building has been most successful in small nations with vulnerable economies.

            The US directed coup in Guatemala has lasted over sixty-years – from 1954 -2019.  Major popular indigenous insurgencies have been repressed via US military advisers and aid.

            Similar successful US puppet-building has occurred in Panama, Grenada, Dominican Republic and Haiti.  Being small and poor and having weak military forces, the US is willing to directly invade and occupy the countries quickly and at small cost in military lives and economic costs. 

            In the above countries Washington succeeded in imposing and maintaining puppet regimes for prolonged periods of time.

            The US has directed military coups over the past half century with contradictory results.

            In the case of Honduras, the Pentagon was able to overturn a progressive liberal democratic government of very short duration.  The Honduran army was under US direction, and elected President Manual Zelaya depended on an unarmed electoral popular majority.Following the successful coup the Honduran puppet-regime remained under US rule for the next decade and likely beyond.

            Chile has been under US tutelage for the better part of the 20th century with a brief respite during a Popular Front government between 1937-41 and a democratc socialist government between 1970-73. The US military directed coup in 1973 imposed the Pinochet dictatorship which lasted for seventeen years.  It was followed by an electoral regime which continued the Pinochet-US neo-liberal agenda, including the reversal of all the popular national and social reforms.  In a word, Chile remained within the US political orbit for the better part of a half-century.

            Chile’s democratic-socialist regime (1970-73) never armed its people nor established overseas economic linkage to sustain an independent foreign policy.

            It is not surprising that in recent times Chile followed US commands calling for the overthrow of Venezuela’s President Maduro.

Contradictory Puppet-Building

            Several US coups were reversed, for the longer or shorter duration.

            The classical case of a successful defeat of a client regime is Cuba which overthrew a ten-year old US client, the Batista dictatorship, and proceeded to successfully resist a CIA directed invasion and economic blockade for the better part of a half century (up to the present day).

            Cuba’s defeat of puppet restorationist policy was a result of the Castro leadership’s decision to arm the people, expropriate and take control of hostile US and multinational  corporations and establish strategic overseas allies – USSR , China and more recently Venezuela.

            In contrast, a US military backed military coup in Brazil (1964) endured for over two decades, before electoral politics were partially restored under elite leadership.

            Twenty years of failed neo-liberal economic policies led to the election of the social reformist Workers Party (WP) which proceeded to implement extensive anti-poverty programs within the context of neo-liberal policies.

            After a decade and a half of social reforms and a relatively independent foreign policy, the WP succumbed to a downturn of the commodity dependent economy and a hostile state (namely judiciary and military) and was replaced by a pair of far-right US client regimes which functioned under Wall Street and Pentagon direction.

            The US frequently intervened in Bolivia, backing military coups and client regimes against short-term national populist regimes (1954, 1970 and 2001).

            In 2005 a popular uprising led to free elections and the election of Evo Morales, the leader of the coca farmers movements.  Between 2005 – 2019 (the present period) President Morales led a moderate left-of-center anti imperialist government.

            Unsuccessful efforts by the US to overthrow the Morales government were a result of several factors:  Morales organized and mobilized a coalition of peasants and workers (especially miners and coca farmers). He secured the loyalty of the military, expelled US Trojan Horse “aid agencies’ and extended control over oil and gas and promoted ties with agro business.

            The combination of an independent foreign policy, a mixed economy , high growth and moderate reforms neutralized US puppet-building.

            Not so the case in Argentina.  Following a bloody coup (1976) in which the US backed military murdered 30,000 citizens, the military was defeated by the British army in the Malvinas war and withdrew  after seven years in power.

            The post military puppet regime ruled and plundered for a decade before collapsing in 2001.  They were overthrown by a popular insurrection.  However, the radical left lacking cohesion  was replaced by  center-left (Kirchner-Fernandez) regimes which ruled for the better part of a decade (2003 – 15).

            The progressive social welfare – neo-liberal regimes entered in crises and were ousted by a US backed puppet regime (Macri) in 2015 which proceeded to reverse reforms, privatize the economy and subordinate the state to US bankers and speculators.

            After two years in power, the puppet regime faltered, the economy spiraled downward and another cycle of repression and mass protest emerged.  The US puppet regime’s rule is tenuous, the populace fills the streets, while the Pentagon sharpens its knives and prepares puppets to replace their current client regime.


The US has not succeeded in consolidating regime changes among the large countries with mass organizations and military supporters.            

Washington has succeeded in overthrowing popular – national regimes in Brazil, and  Argentina . 

However, over time puppet regimes have been reversed.            

While the US resorts to largely a single ‘track’ (military coups and invasions) in overwhelming smaller and more vulnerable popular governments, it relies on ‘multiple tracks’ strategy with regard to large and more formidable countries.            

 In the former cases, usually a call to the military or the dispatch of the marines is enough to snuff an electoral democracy.            

In the latter case, the US relies on a multi-proxy strategy which includes a mass media blitz, labeling democrats as dictatorships, extremists, corrupt, security threats, etc.            

As the tension mounts, regional client and European states are organized to back the local puppets.            

Phony “Presidents” are crowned by the US President whose index finger counters the vote of millions of voters.  Street demonstrations and violence paid and organized by the CIA destabilize the economy; business elites boycott and paralyze production and distribution... 

Millions are spent in bribing judges and military officials.            

If the regime change can be accomplished by local military satraps, the US refrains from direct military intervention.            

Regime changes among larger and wealthier countries have between one or two decades duration.  However, the switch to an electoral puppet regime may consolidate imperial power over a longer period – as was the case of Chile.            

Where there is powerful popular support for a democratic regime, the US will provide the ideological and military support for a large-scale massacre, as was the case in Argentina.            

The coming showdown in Venezuela will be a case of a bloody regime change as the US will have to murder hundreds of thousands to destroy the millions who have life-long and deep commitments to their social gains , their loyalty to the nation and their dignity.            

In contrast the bourgeoisie, and their followers among political traitors, will seek revenge and resort to the vilest forms of violence in order to strip the poor of their social advances and their memories of freedom and dignity.            

It is no wonder that the Venezuela masses are girding for a prolonged and decisive struggle:  everything can be won or lost in this final confrontation with the Empire and its puppets. 


Peculiarities of US Imperialism in Latin America

By James Petras

Understanding imperialism as a general phenomenon loses sight of its modus operandi in
any specific and meaningful context. While the exercise of imperialist power is a
common strategy, its motives, instruments, objectives and engagement vary, depending
on the nature of the imperial ruler and targeted country.

Venezuela, the current target of US, President Donald Trump, is a case illustrating
the ‘peculiarities’ of imperialist politics. We will proceed to outline the background,
techniques and impact of the imperial power grab.

Historical Background

The US has a long history of intervention in Venezuela primarily to gain control
of its oil wealth. During the 1950’s Washington backed a military dictatorship --led by
Perez Jimenez-- until it was overthrown by mass alliance of revolutionary socialist,
nationalist and Social Democratic parties. Washington could not and did not intervene;
instead it sided with the center-left Democratic Action (AD) and center-right COPEI
parties which proceeded to declare war against the radical left. Over time US regained
hegemony until the economy went into crises in the 1990’s leading to popular uprisings
and state massacres.

The US did not intervene initially as it felt that it could co-opt Hugo Chavez
because he was unaffiliated with the left. Moreover, the US was militarily committed to

the Balkans (Yugoslavia) and the Middle East and preparing for wars against Iraq and
other nationalist countries which opposed Israel and supported Palestine.
Using the pretext of a global terrorist threat Washington demanded subordination
to its declaration of a world-wide ‘war against terrorism’.

President Chavez did not submit. He declared that ‘you do not fight terrorism
with terrorism”. The US decided that Chavez’s declaration of independence was a threat
to US hegemony in Latin America and beyond. Washington decided to overthrow
elected President Chavez, even before he nationalized the US owned petroleum industry.
In April 2002, the US organized a military-business coup, which was defeated
within forty-eight hours by a popular uprising backed by sectors of the military. A
second attempt to overthrow President Chavez was set in motion by oil executives via a
petroleum lock-out. It was defeated by oil workers and overseas petrol exporters.
Chavez national-populist revolution proceeded to nationalize oil corporations who
supported the ‘lock-out’.

The failed coups led Washington to temporarily adopt an electoral strategy
heavily financed via Washington controlled foundations and NGO. Repeated electoral
defeats led Washington to shift to electoral boycotts and propaganda campaigns designed
to illegitimatize the electoral success of President Chavez.

Washington’s failed efforts to restore imperialist power, boomeranged. Chavez
increased his electoral support, expanded state control over oil and other resources and
radicalized his popular base. Moreover, Chavez increasingly secured backing for his anti

imperialist policies among government and movements throughout Latin America and
increased his influence and ties throughout the Caribbean by providing subsidized oil.
While commentators attributed President Chavez mass support and influence to
his charisma, objective circumstances peculiar to Latin America were decisive. President
Chavez’s defeat of imperialist intervention can be attributed to five objectives and

1. The deep involvement of the US in multiple prolonged wars at the same time –
including in the Middle East,South Asia and North Africa distracted Washington.
Moreover, US military commitments to Israel undermined US efforts to refocus
on Venezuela.

2. US sanctions policy took place during the commodity boom between 2003 – 2011
– which provided Venezuela with the economic resources to finance domestic
social programs and neutralize local boycotts by elite allies of the US.

3. Venezuela benefited by the neo-liberal crises of the 1990’s-2001 which led to the
rise of center-left national popular governments throughout the region. This was
especially the case for Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Honduras.
Moreover, ‘centrist’ regimes in Peru and Chile remained neutral. Furthermore
Venezuela and its allies ensured that the US did not control regional organization.

4. President Chavez as a former military officer secured the loyalty of the military,
undercutting US plots to organize coups.

5. The world financial crises of 2008-2009 forced the US to spend several trillion
dollars in bailing out the banks. The economic crises and partial recovery

strengthened the hand of Treasury and weakened the relative influence of the

In other words, while imperial policies and strategic goals remained, the capacity of
the US to pursue conquests were limited by objective conditions.

Circumstances Favoring Imperial Interventions

The reverse circumstances favoring imperialism can be seen in more recent times.
These include four conditions:

1. The end of the commodity boom weakened the economies of Venezuela’s center
left allies and led to the rise of far-right US directed client regimes as well as
heightening the coup activities of US backed opponents of newly elected
President Maduro.

2. The failure to diversify exports, markets , financial and distributive systems
during the expansive period led to a decline in consumption and production and
allowed imperialism to attract voters, especially from middle and lower- middle
class consumers, employees, shop keepers , professionals and business people.

3. The Pentagon transferred its military focus from the Middle East to Latin
America, identifying military and political clients among key regimes – namely
Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru and Chile.

4. Washington’s political intervention in Latin American electoral processes opened
the door to economic exploitation of resources and the recruitment of military
allies to isolate and encircle nationalist, populist Venezuela.

Objective external conditions favored Washington’s imperial quest for
domination.Domestic oligarchic power configurations reinforced the dynamic for
imperial intervention, political domination and control over the oil industry.
Venezuela’s decline of oil revenue , the elite mobilization of its electoral base and its
systematic sabotage of production and distribution had a multiplier effect. The mass
media and the self proclaimed electoral-right embraced the US led far-right coup which
manipulated democratic and humanitarian rhetoric.

Washington heightened economic sanctions to starve the low income Chavista
supporters,and mobilized its European and Latin American clients to demand
Venezuela’s surrender while planning a bloody military coup.

The final stage of the US planned and organized miltary coup required three

1. A division in the military to provides the Pentagon and coup planners a
‘beachhead’ and a pretext for a US ‘humanitarian’invasion

2. A ‘compromising’ political leadership which pursues political dialogues with
adversaries preparing for war.

3. The freezing of all overseas accounts and closing of all loans and markets which
Venezuela continues to depend upon.


Imperialism is a central aspect of US global capitalism. But it cannot accomplish
its goals and means whenever and how it wishes. Global and regime shifts in the
correlation of forces can thwart and delay imperial success.

Coups can be defeated and converted into radical reforms. Imperialist ambitions
can be countered by successful economic policies and strategic alliance.

Latin America has been prone to imperial coups and military interventions. But it
is also capable of building regional, class and international alliances.

Unlike other regions and imperial targets, Latin America is terrain for class and
anti-imperialist struggles. Economic cycles accompany the rise and fall of classes and as
a consequence imperial power advances and retreats.

The US intervention in Venezuela is the longest war of our century-- (eighteen
years) – exceeding the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The conflict also illustrates
how the US relies on regional clients and overseas allies to provide cover for imperial
power grabs.

While coups are frequent, their consequences are unstable – clients are weak and
the regimes are subject to popular uprising.

US coups against popular regimes lead to bloody massacres which fail to secure
long-term large-scale consolidation.

These are the ‘peculiarities’ of Latin America coups. 


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