World / Politics

Before Venezuela, U.S. has long history of intervention in Latin America's affairs


Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accuses the United States of trying to orchestrate a coup against him. While the U.S. says it is trying to rescue Venezuela’s democracy, Washington has a long history of interventions — military and otherwise — in Latin American politics.

Since the advent of the Monroe Doctrine in the early 19th century, the United States has involved itself in the daily affairs of nations across the hemisphere, often on behalf of North American commercial interests or to support right-leaning forces against leftist leaders.

That military involvement petered out after the end of the Cold War, although the U.S. has been accused of granting at least tacit backing to coups in Venezuela in 2002 and Honduras in 2009.

Now the U.S. has backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who on Wednesday declared himself interim president, saying it was the only way to end the Maduro “dictatorship,” in Venezuela, from where millions have fled in recent years to escape sky-high inflation and food shortages.

Guaido has said he needs the backing of three critical groups: the people, the international community and the military.

While Wednesday’s declaration drew tens of thousands to the streets, and over a dozen nations in the region in addition to the U.S. are pledging support, the military’s backing is far from certain because Maduro has worked to cement the support of troops with bonuses and other special benefits.

The U.S., Canada and numerous Latin American and European countries have recognized Guaido’s claim to the presidency.

President Donald Trump promised to use the “full weight” of U.S. economic and diplomatic power to push for the restoration of Venezuela’s democracy.

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said Thursday, “Venezuela is in our hemisphere, I think we have a special responsibility here, and I think the president feels very strongly about it.”

A Trump administration official justified the recognition of Guaido by saying that Venezuela, whose elections last year were widely criticized as flawed, is bound by a commitment to democracy made in the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Maduro on Thursday ordered all of Venezuela’s diplomats home from the United States and closed its embassy. Maduro warned that if U.S. officials “have any sense” they will pull their diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, rather than defying him.

“They believe they have a colonial hold in Venezuela, where they decide what they want to do,” Maduro said in an address broadcast live on state TV. “You must fulfill my order from the government of Venezuela.”

The Trump’s administration leading role in recognizing Guaido as interim president returns the U.S. to a more assertive role in Latin America than it has had for years.

Some of the most notable U.S. interventions in Latin America:

1846: The United States invades Mexico and captures Mexico City in 1847. A peace treaty the following year gives the U.S. more than half of Mexico’s territory — what is now most of the western United States.

1903: The United States engineers Panamanian independence from Colombia and gains sovereign rights over the zone where the Panama Canal would connect Atlantic and Pacific shipping routes.

1903: Cuba and the U.S. sign a treaty allowing near-total U.S. control of Cuban affairs. U.S. establishes a naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

First quarter of the 20th century: U.S. Marines repeatedly intervene in Central America and the Caribbean, often to protect U.S. business interests in moments of political instability.

1914: U.S. troops occupy the Mexican port of Veracruz for seven months in an attempt to sway developments in the Mexican Revolution.

1954: Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz is overthrown in a CIA-backed coup.

1961: The U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion fails to overthrow Soviet-backed Cuban leader Fidel Castro but Washington continues to launch attempts to assassinate Castro and dislodge his government.

1964: Leftist President Joao Goulart of Brazil is overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup that installs a military government lasting until the 1980s.

1965: U.S. forces land in the Dominican Republic to intervene in a civil war.

1970s: Argentina, Chile and allied South American nations launch a brutal campaign of repression and assassination aimed at perceived leftist threats, known as Operation Condor, often with U.S. support.

1980s: The administration of President Ronald Reagan backs anti-communist Contra forces against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government and backs the Salvadoran government against leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front rebels.

1983: U.S. forces invade the Caribbean island of Grenada after accusing the government of allying itself with communist Cuba.

1989: U.S. invades Panama to oust strongman Manuel Noriega, who once was a valued CIA intelligence source, as well as one of the primary conduits for illicit weapons, military equipment and cash for U.S.-backed counterinsurgency forces in Latin America.

2002: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is ousted for two days before retaking power. He and his allies accuse the U.S. of tacit support for the coup attempt.

2009: Honduran President Manuel Zelaya overthrown by military. U.S. accused of worsening situation by insufficient condemnation of the coup.