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In Bed With the Enemy: Foreign Leaders the CIA Helped Bring to Power

Two of the CIA's first successful coups revisted 


Brazil has been rocked by massive political turmoil on a scale unseen in decades, with many calling Dilma Rousseff's removal from power a coup that can be traced back to Washington. This would make it the latest victim of the Central Intelligence Agency, which has been in the business of regime change since the 50's; here are two early examples.

Other prime cases in point include Iran and Guatemala.

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Rioters armed with staves shout slogans, during riots in Tehran, August 1953

The 1953 Iranian coup

In 1951, the Iranian government nationalized the British owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) after the AIOC refused to revise the terms of its lopsided contracts with Tehran. In response, the UK and the US devised a plan, known as Operation Ajax, to remove Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh from power.

The operation involved bribing Iranian military officials, politicians and the clergy, as well as carrying out a massive propaganda campaign. As part of these efforts, the UK and the US forced Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, to dismiss Mosaddegh and appoint General Fazlollah Zahedi as the next prime minister.

The first coup failed, forcing the Shah to flee the country. American and British intelligence services then staged pro-Shah riots that ended in Mosaddegh's arrest. The Shah returned to Iran and ruled for 26 years. He was later deposed in the 1979 Iranian Revolution. 

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This 1954 file photo shows Guatemalan Col. Castillo Armas (C) surrounded by supporters days before Armas led a coup that deposed President Jacobo Arbenz. Armas assumed the presidency 01 September and would be assassinated while in office 26 July 1957

The 1954 Guatemalan coup

In 1944, the Guatemalan Revolution removed US-backed dictator Jorge Ubico from power. His successor, Juan Jose Arevalo became the country's first democratically elected president, who remained in office until 1951. Arevalo's defense minister Jacobo Arbenz was elected the country's next leader.

Arevalo and Arbenz's social reforms included raising minimum wages, spending more on education and introducing near-universal suffrage.

The United States was opposed to Guatemala's new leadership and their policies. In addition, the US-based United Fruit Company, whose profits were affected by the Guatemalan reforms, lobbied extensively for Arbenz's removal.

US President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized the CIA to train and arm mercenaries who later deposed Arbenz. The force was led by Carlos Castillo Armas, who became Guatemala's next dictator after the coup.


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