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Toppling Iran: a Precusor to Latin America

In order to look at the U.S.’s “great emphasis” and “support” for democracies around the world, one needs to examine the past; yet the past often remains shadowed in archives and libraries and is not known to the majority of society today.

By Devin Razavi-Shearer

In many ways histories and legacies are purposely subverted and forgotten in order to forge ahistotical narratives to uphold the status quo version of history. This in turn allows states the power to reshape and manipulate political language and dialogues in order to fit their current political needs. Currently the United States’ foreign policy has been justified through the buzzwords and catchphrases of democracy and liberty. However in reality their actions speak louder than these superficial terms. In order to look at the U.S.’s “great emphasis” and “support” for democracies around the world, one needs to examine the past; yet the past often remains shadowed in archives and libraries and is not known to the majority of society today.

invasion headlines Many have heard of the US backed coup of Salvador Allende in Chile and the replacement of US-friendly dictator, Pinochet. Yet this coup occurred twenty years after the first CIA coup in Iran in 1953. This was the beginning of long trend of deceptive American backed coups. The second was the coup of the democratically elected president in Guatemala in 1954. These models hold great relevance for they provide a historical context for the system as well as for current events in Latin America and the Middle East. In both cases the focus of the government was turned upon these countries because of the concerns of corporations. Once the corporations had made their complaints, the terror language of the day of “communist influence” was used in order to justify and uphold governmental actions. Let us turn to the history and roots of the coup in Iran. In 1901 Iran signed an oil concession to William K. D’Arcy. This gave him the sole rights to explore, exploit and export petroleum. This included a stipulation which would grant only 16% of royalties to the Iranian government. After areas were found that would support commercial oil production, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and much later BP-British Petroleum) was formed in Britain to use the concession. Five years later the British Government took control of APOC through holding 51% of the shares. There were a great deal of conflicts between the Iranian government and APOC, understandably considering the definite colonial relations and a new concession was signed in 1933. This gave Iran a 4% tax on royalties, as well as payments by the ton of oil produced. It also allowed other countries to enter Iran and develop the oil industry in some way. Even so, the government was losing a great deal of capital from this increasingly profitable natural resource and was not building up their own means of production. During World War II, Britain occupied Iran in order to keep oil lines open for the Allies and to keep oil from the Nazis. The exploitative relationship continued and it was known to many that the British Government got more money from taxing AIOC, than the Iranian government got from its royalties.

The Iranian government through the Majils, the parliament, began addressing the oil issue and in the 1949 elections many politicians were elected on platforms of nationalism including the nationalization of the oil industry. They began negotiating for a fifty-fifty profit sharing agreement, however AIOC denied it until 1951. By this time the nationalists had gained more power and rejected the offer, instead voting to nationalize the oil industry in March of 1951. In addition, due to pressure from the Majils and demonstrations in the streets the Shah named Dr. Mohammad Mosaddeq as prime minister. Mosaddeq had been involved in the nationalist movement in Iran and had been a stanch critic of the British control of the Iranian oil industry. In September the British pulled out thus stopping oil production and they imposed a worldwide embargo on Iran’s oil. AIOC attempted to renegotiate, but the nationalists would have none of it, wanting their full demands met. This did hurt the economy and yet people continued to rally behind Mosaddeq. This is apparent when in 1952 the Shah refused to give up military control and thus Mosaddeq resigned. For three days pro-Mosaddeq protests and rallies took over the country and the Shah reappointed Mosaddeq.

The British approached the United States government for help, yet the Truman administration did not object to Iran’s national aspirations. This changed quickly as a result of three developments; the anti-communist sentiment that took a firmer hold on the United States, the election of the Eisenhower administration, and the fact that an Iranian General approached the American Embassy in regards to an army led coup. In addition, Mosaddeq’s coalition was starting to fall apart and the Tudeh, Iranian Communist Party, was active and growing. Thus allowing the United States to further justify its actions through stopping ‘communist domination’ as opposed to the original fact that it was brought to their attention by a colonial power and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The CIA gave $1 million initially to fund the project that would become known as Project TPAJAX. This plan would become the basis for other coups throughout the world. In mid-June of 1953 the final plan was developed in London between American and British agents. This included the centrality of General Zahedi whom was a critic of Mosaddeq. The plan included the ways of disseminating propaganda including making “black” or false pamphlets representing Mossadeq, Tudeh and other parties and figures in order to incite conflicts in Iran. TPAJAX also discusses giving large amounts of money to supporters of the cause. It detailed ways into coercing the Shah into supporting the plan for an “independent Iran” and to get him to sign documents that would give him full control of the military. The document also states that if the Shah would not agree then they would ask Zahedi to go ahead without the Shah’s support. Though the plan was extremely detailed of possible outcomes and alternative plans, there were still a great deal of setbacks.

Initially the Shah refused time and time again to become involved until Eisenhower stated publicly that America would not allow Iran to become Communist. On August 13th the Shah signed the papers and the coup started on the 15th. This initially failed and Mossadeq was able to rally the loyal members of the military to help defend his position. The CIA attempted to show the documents signed by the Shah decreeing the dismissal of Mossadeq and the appointment of Zahedi, but they still had difficulties in gaining support and the Shah fled to Baghdad. After the coup Mossadeq unfortunately dissolved parliament and let down his guard. In turn the anti-Mossadeq forces regrouped and called upon religious leaders to help fight against communism. The Shah left to Rome and thus leading some to believe it was the end of the Dynasty protesters dismantled a great deal of statues depicted the Shah or his father. All was thought to have failed but on August 19th many newspapers published the Shah’s decrees and royalists took to the streets. Taking control of Tehran radio gave the royalists a chance to speak to the nation and told of the decrees and the coup’s success, leading Zahedi to come out of hiding and speak on the radio. Mossadeq and his supporters were rounded up and arrested and the last Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was put into power. The coup had succeeded and even though it came so close to failing, the United States government saw it as an amazing success, which could of course be repeated.

In Guatemala the United States worked alone but they used many of the same methods as well as more of their own direct military involvement. Once again however, the coup was lobbied for by a large corporation and there was the use of anti-communist rhetoric to support the actions.

In 1944 the dictator of Guatemala, Jorge Ubico was forced out by a student led revolution and Jose Arévalo was became the first democratically elected leader of the country. Arévalo was popular and called himself a “Christian Socialist”. This of course worried Washington, but not as much as the actions of his successor, Jacobo Arbenz whom was elected by over 60% in 1950. Arbenz advocated union rights, land reform and a nationalist standpoint wishing to end Guatemalan reliance upon the United States. In 1952 Arbenz instituted, Decree 900, or the agrarian land reform act. In formulating the ways in which this plan could work, he secretly contacted members of the PGT, the Guatemalan communist party. Decree 900 was formulated in order to help redistribute the land of Guatemala, taking into account that 2.2% of the population owned 70% of the arable land. The land redistribution would only apply to land holdings of 672 acres or more being uncultivated and estates between 224-672 acres that were cultivating less than 2/3 of the land. Even the State Department issued a report on the reforms stating that only 1,710 of the 341,191 private landholders would be affected. These 1,710 landholders did hold over half of the land of all private landholders. By 1954 over 1.4 million acres had been expropriated given to over 100,000 families (thus 500,000 Guatemalans) of landless peasants. The United Fruit Company owned a large portion of the arable land, and they had a monopoly on banana exports as well as much of the communications systems in the country. In 1953 Guatemala started expropriating land from the United Fruit Company (coming between 178,000-653,00 acres depending on the source) whom lost more land than any other single company or individual. Guatemala offered to pay $525,000 for the land, what United Fruit had listed on taxes, and yet United Fruit wanted $16 million, which was demanded in turn by the US State Department. This means that they were either lying in order to get away without paying full taxes, or that they were now inflating the price of the land, once it was going to be taken. The United Fruit Company had lobbying power as well as connections to the government directly.

Operation PBFORTUNE had been created by the CIA in 1951 in order to figure out how to oust Arbenz if he became a “Communist threat”. It was not decided upon until 1952 and was later abandoned for it had been discovered. PBFORTUNE however had set up relations with Guatemalan exile, Castillo Armas, and showed support for an armed uprising. After the success in Iran, a new operation named PBSUCESS was formed in order to take out Arbenz. Assassination was always an option in which the CIA was willing to use in this plan (Allende in Chile), however they did not need to due to their success. The CIA also had the backing of the dictatorships in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic in denouncing Guatemala and helping in any way they could. $2.7 million was allocated for the operation, including large amounts of arms and ammunitions, and the United States went ahead with their plans.

The CIA used propaganda, as in Iran, to attempt to change the minds of people especially the military. The propaganda, which was used, discussed nonexistent civilian uprisings, military defections, deaths of political leaders and other lies. The CIA also directly told The New York Times not to use reports from a certain reporter in regards to Guatemala. In addition most articles within the United States used information which came from United Fruit Company sponsored information. Through everything that happened, there is documented evidence pointing to the fact that the Eisenhower was aware and participated in the operation. On June 17th, 1954 Armas crossed the border into Guatemala with over 400 people, including some trained in special tactics. This initially failed and the rebels were being defeated, thus Arbenz ordered the military to pursue the rebels. As in Iran, the CIA had gotten military leaders in Guatemala to support their plans somewhat, but they needed more justification. This justification came through the bombing of the capital as well as Zacapa and Chiquimula by the CIA as well as the refusal on June 25th by the Chief of Staff to follow Arbenz’s orders to distribute weapons to the people as well as political parties. Arbenz realized the coup had succeeded and resigned on June 27th. After a few attempts at power by other leaders, Armas was able to consolidate rule and begin his reign of terror. The United States government publicly championed the revolution as one done fully by the people of Guatemala.

In both cases authoritarian dictators were put into place in turn arresting and torturing thousands as well as taking away a great deal of civil liberties and democratic reforms. Yet, both of these dictators were on friendly terms with not only the United States but with corporations as well. After Guatemala, the United States felt it could topple almost any government in the world and indeed they did have a hand in many. The initial two operations were used as a basis for further actions. Notably the Bay of Pigs invasion and subsequent failure in Cuba was based upon Operation PBSUCESS. These types of interventions or operations are far from over and continue today. By examining contemporary issues, without the aid of classified documents not yet released, one can undoubtedly see the hand of the United States.

In April of 2002, there was a failed coup in Venezuela against the government of Hugo Chavez. This attempted coup was documented by a group of Irish filmmakers whom were in Venezuela making a documentary about Chavez and happened to be there when the attempted coup took place. There footage was made into the film “The Revolution will not be Televised” which gave one a first hand glimpse at a coup in action. When examining what events took place with the historical context of the coups in Iran and Guatemala one can easily see that the CIA had a hand in the attempted coup. Chavez’s politics consist of nationalism, democratic socialism, anti-imperialism, as well as a critic of the exploitative neo-liberal globalization policies and the United States. On April 6th, the Workers Confederation of Venezuela called for a strike over wages and was joined by the employer’s association. It seems interesting that a union, at least an actual effective one, would ever go on strike with their employers. This is not to suggest United States influence in particular here, but to show the strange stance of a union, which has been accused of corruption. The next day Chavez ordered a 20% raise of the minimum wage but the strikes continued. The news networks were very supportive of the strike as well as opposition to Chavez. In turn the government blocked information of the strike of 16 channels. By the 11th the largest group of strikers seen in the strike yet occupied the state owned oil companies headquarters in the capital of Caracas. Both Carlos Ortega and Pedro Carmona, the leaders of the union and employer association urge the crowd to march on the presidential palace and demand resignation. Violence broke out between the strikers and Chavez supporters resulting in at least twelve deaths and 110 wounded. The ways in which the commercial media networks showed the events implied propaganda methods. This can be seen for the government was blamed for the deaths in the violence that ensued, even though when one examines all of the videos taken, there was definite manipulation in ways in which clips were put together in order to make a certain point. Also, when Chavez was addressing the nation, the networks replayed images of the violence next to his speech. After the speech all news broadcasts were cutoff. Troops from a fort in Caracas deployed tanks on one of the main highways and General Hector Ramirez along with ten other generals asked for the resignation of Chavez because of the violence in the protests. All of the state television networks were occupied by rebels and taken off the air, while all of the commercial networks immediately resume their broadcasts. Early in the morning of April 12, the media said that Chavez turned himself over to the military and the Navy announced that it was joining the coup. Then it was announced that Chavez has resigned and many of the top officials in the military joined the coup with Pedro Carmona subsequently announcing that he would assume the presidency. The Attorney General then stated that Chavez has not resigned but Carmona went ahead and immediately reverses many of Chavez’s reforms and dismissed many governmental ministers, legislators, and judges. This would seem like the successful end of a media-manipulated (propaganda) coup that had the support of not only wealthy leaders but of some military commanders as well, yet the situation has just begun.

On April 13th, Chavez supporters take to the streets and General Raul Baudel stated that he still supports Chavez. One of the new ministers stated that Chavez had not resigned and the Army Commander Efrain Vasquez stated that military support of the new government was conditional. The head of the National Assembly said that the Assembly does not recognize this new government and Chavez supporters took back the state news as well as the presidential palace. Chavez’s ministers came back and the vice president was sworn into office, leading Carmona to announce his resignation immediately. The next day Chavez was returned to the presidential palace and took up his post. Carmona was immediately put under house arrest but fled to Columbia and now resides in Miami.

From the CIA documents of their operations in Iran as well as in Guatemala one can see that the main ways in which they form a coup involve a lot of propaganda (including the take over of broadcasting systems or the formations of new ones) and the help of wealthy individuals as well as military generals. These all come into play in the situation in Venezuela. In addition, Miami is known as a base for political exiles that the United States uses to help take on governments they oppose, especially that of Cuba. The fact that Carmona resides there and has not been sent back to Venezuela to face his charges, implies that the United States government is supportive of him one way or another.

These cases show the way in which the United States government has directly taken out democratically elected governments. Indeed it is not ‘communism’ or ‘Islamofacism’ which justifies these actions, but it is the United States fear of nationalist government whom do not support their policies. All of these leaders studied in this work have been nationalists thus putting the interest of their people and the people of their country ahead of corporations or alliances with world powers. Even today, Hezbollah and Hamas are depicted as ‘terrorist’ or ‘Islamofacist’ groups, when in fact Hezbollah is a secular Lebanese nationalist party, and Hamas is a Palestinian nationalist party, both being part of the democratic electoral process. Their nationalism includes providing social services for their people as well as engaging in self-defense on behalf of the people they support and on behalf of their lands. There is no doubt that the United States, through the CIA will continue in their policies. Yet, by keeping current political discussions ahistorical as well as keeping much of the past hidden, the important question of ‘why do they hate us?’ can be replied to with false answers of ‘our freedom’ or ‘our liberty’. The government has denied any part in the attempted coup of Chavez, and without the historical context of the government lying about other covert operations; one could easily frame Chavez as crazy and anti-American for implicating the United States. Bringing about education or more complete histories is necessary in order for the United States to advance and learn from mistakes. This would also bring about a more educated populace which would then understand current issues critically and more fully. Ahistorical discussions give the government a great deal of power and manipulation for “Ignorance is Strength” for the state, while “Education is Liberation” for the people and change.

Devin Razavi-Shearer is a Ethnic Studies student at University of Colorado, and anti-capitalism/ human rights activist.

Copyright © Devin Razavi-Shearer. Image (1944) from the leftist newsmagazine PM . All rights reserved.