Latin America & Coups: A Historical Retrospective on Regime Changes

Image: Luis Chávez

Image: Luis Chávez

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
George Santayana 1906

We’ve heard several reports lately regarding foreign involvement in regime change around the world. Most recently accusations relating to foreign funding of opposition groups in the Ukraine and Venezuela open the door for a long overdue discussion on this topic. Just how much blame can be attributed to interference of foreign governments in regime changes worldwide? Well, it’s difficult to answer that question without empirical proof. We are slowly learning new information regarding how governments have meddled in the past so that’s a good place to begin to understand the present.

An article published by The Guardian in August 2013 revealed for the first time that the CIA admitted its involvement in the Iranian coup of 1953 that overthrew prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq. 60 years after the United States toppled the democratically elected government of Iran, we finally have proof by way of CIA documents that were declassified and published from the US national security archive at George Washington University. The 1953 overthrow of Mosaddeq may be the earliest incident that we currently have evidence of US meddling in foreign regime change. For the purpose of this article we will examine the lengthy history of coup d’etats in Latin America (which alone is enough material for several novels.)

Mother Jones published an article in January 2014 revealing foreign involvement in the Dirty Wars of Argentina. A memo discovered by Martin Edwin Andersen implicates Henry Kissinger of giving the “Green Light” for Jorge Videla, then dictator of Argentina to commit some of the most horrific human rights abuses ever seen in South America. This leads to speculation of US involvement in several South American regime changes since the “National Reorganization Process” as it was called when it began in Argentina 1976 affected not only Argentina but also spread to the rest of the southern cone of South America. Military dictatorships were installed during this time in Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.

Although this article was published recently, Kissinger’s involvement in The Dirty Wars was revealed in the book “Dictador” (Dictator in Spanish) published in 2001. The book describes a meeting between Argentine foreign minister César Guzzetti and Henry Kissinger in June of 1976 where Kissinger said,

“Hagan lo que tengan que hacer, pero háganlo rapido”
(Do what you have to do, but do it quickly).

That command initiated the kidnapping, torture and mass murder of an estimated 30,000 Argentine activists and dissidents which are now known as Los Desaparecidos, or “The Missing” most of whose bodies have never been recovered.

Image: Carlos Latuff

Image: Carlos Latuff

Just how much the US government has meddled in the affairs of foreign nations is yet to be discovered, but we thought it might be a good time to publish a historical list for reference purposes of all coups that have taken place in Latin America. This list may be incomplete, if we have missed a coup please let us know and we will add it to the list.

We are also including “accidents” which brought about regime changes such as the separate plane crashes of Jaime Roldós of Ecuador and Omar Torrijos of Panama in 1981. According to John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman, both incidents were planned CIA assassinations. Perkins’s information regarding the 1953 coup of Mosaddeq in Iran corroborates the information that was recently declassified in August 2013, so we feel his information regarding assassinations in Latin America is also accurate.


Without further ado… a list of coups in Latin America from 1943-present:

1943 – Argentina

1945 – Brazil, Venezuela

1948 – Venezuela

1952 – Cuba

1953 – Colombia, Guyana

1954 – Paraguay, Guatemala

1955 – Argentina

1956 – Honduras

1958 – Venezuela

1962 – Argentina, Dominican Republic

1963 – Guatemala, Ecuador, Honduras

1964 – Brazil

1966 – Argentina

1968 – Panama

1970 – Bolivia

1972 – Honduras

1973 – Uruguay, Chile

1975 – Peru, Honduras

1976 – Ecuador, Argentina (National Reorganization Process begins)

1978 – Honduras

1980 – Bolivia

1981 – Ecuador (Roldós assassinated), Panama (Torrijos assassinated)

1987 – Argentina

1988 – Argentina, Haiti (twice June & September)

1989 – Panama, Paraguay

1991 – Haiti

1992 – Venezuela, Peru

1993 – Guatemala

2000 – Ecuador

2002 – Venezuela

2004 – Haiti

2009 – Honduras

2010 – Ecuador

2012 – Paraguay

For a complete list of coup d’etats worldwide please click here.

About Author

Erin Gallagher is a multimedia artist, translator and writer for Revolution News.