The United States of America has consistently touted itself as a model for democracy and freedom, and while that may be on such a grand, idealistic level, the U.S. has also lent its support and had plenty of involvement in regimes with less than democratic records. From overthrowing or invading nations outright, to supporting brutal military regimes, U.S. foreign policy has covered all its bases when it comes to diametrically opposing what it stands for as a nation at home, and what it stands for as a nation abroad. Politics, especially on the international stage, have no straight lines, they are markedly blurred, and being the most powerful nation in the world is an un-envious position to be in to begin with. With that said, while the U.S. has done plenty of good for the world at large, the country’s Machiavellian approach to foreign policy has often times done more harm than good, as these U.S. supported dictators reveal.
8. Sergeant Fulgencio Batista: Cuba
Sergeant Batista first seized power of Cuba during a military coup in 1932 as President Roosevelt’s handpicked man to counteract the leftists that were attempting to take power on the island nation at the time. During Batista’s reign as President of Cuba American business interests flourished making many companies, particularly in the sugar trade, immensely wealthy. Furthermore, Batista also allowed Havana to become a Las Vegas type of city with American mobsters running a gambling empire that catered to America’s elite. If that wasn’t bad enough, while Batista kept the leftists in line, he also managed to starve his country and turn Havana into a major international drug port. After Fidel Castro’s attempted coup in 1953, Batista spent the last six years of his rule repressing freedom of speech and human rights, and used death squads to torture and execute suspected rebels, all under then U.S. President Eisenhower and the CIA’s watchful eye. Castro finally deposed Batista for good in 1959.
7. President Chiang Kai-Shek: Taiwan
Chiang Kai-Shek was a brutal dictator any which way you put it. But he was also a Chinese Nationalist fighting against Mao Tse-Tung’s Communists in the Chinese Civil War, so he was a natural choice for the U.S. to support. After thousands of his own Nationalist Army soldiers defected, Chiang was forced to flee to Taiwan. There, he continued to ruthlessly and corruptly impose his regime on the population. Under Chiang’s rule, nearly 85% of the population was disenfranchised with his leadership, but because he was staunchly anti-communist the United States still declared his government in Taiwan to be the true government of China. Taiwan was also the first home to the World Anti-Communist League, which had ties to the CIA, and gave military groups a home to train for coups in Latin America, and also contributed to Ronald Reagan’s Presidential campaign. Though Chiang Kai-Shek died in 1975, Taiwan still suffers from many of his policies to this day.
6. President Suazo Cordova: Honduras
Honduras had a long history with the U.S. based United Fruit Company, but when former President Anastasio Somoza was overthrown for the more pro-American Cordova, the relationship between the nations went well above and beyond the fruit market. In 1978, the year before the coup, Honduras received $16.2 million in U.S. aid. By 1985 during the height of Reagan’s Presidency the Honduran government was receiving nearly $231 million. The reason? President Cordova, working with the CIA and the Honduran military allowed Honduras to become a training center for U.S. funded Nicaraguan contras. Honduran General Gustavo Alvarez in particular was in charge of the training, and the founding of a death squad named the Cobras. The Cobras remain one of the most brutal special operations squads ever known as victims of the Cobras were stripped, bound, thrown into pits, and tortured before execution. This same General Alvarez received the Legion of Merit from the Reagan administration for encouraging the success of democratic processes in Honduras.
5. President Samuel Doe: Liberia
Not surprising to see a president of perpetually war torn Liberia on this list. A country that initially was founded by freed slaves in the U.S. Liberia has been consistently one of the worst cases of the plight of Africa since the end of imperialism, and former President Samuel Doe is an a excellent example as to why. Samuel Doe was a warlord in every sense of the word, coming into power in an extremely bloody military coup, as a Sergeant dressed in full military gear. After declaring his allegiance to the United States during the Cold War, Doe traded in his military fatigues for a business suit and lived a life of luxury on American aid. As Doe pocketed most of the nearly $500 million in American aid money Liberia received between 1980 and 1985, the country’s economic output decreased by more than 13%, health care became non-existent and by 1985 over 80% of the country was illiterate. That was all fine and well for President Doe however; it left him plenty of money to buy himself more than sixty separate Mercedes for himself and his governmental ministers, give the Liberian soccer team a million dollars for beating Ghana and create a second budget for Liberia, 40% of the country’s wealth, all of which went directly into the President’s bank account. Rival Charles Taylor ultimately assassinated Doe in 1990 amidst rumors of a planned coup.
4. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi: Iran
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, known better as the Shah of Iran, was the last pro-American ruler of the country before the Iranian revolution in 1979 that brought the word Ayatollah into popular culture in the West and made an entire generation of Iranians see America as the “Great Satan.” In fact, the Shah and U.S. support for him went a long way in creating the conditions for the revolution in the first place. After the CIA toppled the leftist government in Iran in 1953, Pahlavi was placed in power and gave Iranians an ultimatum; join his political party and vote for him or go to jail or die. The 1954 elections were a mere smokescreen; the Shah’s security agents raided religious schools and threw hundreds of students from rooftops, his party received 100% of the vote and, in a twist of irony, there were actually more votes cast for the party than there were voters themselves. After his decisive ‘victory’ in the 1954 elections, the Shah made quick work of any dissidents with the creation of the SAVAK, the CIA trained and managed Iranian secret police. SAVAK’s methods of torture were so severe they belong in a separate article all to themselves. Eventually Iranians had enough of the Shah and “the Great Satan” and a revolution began in 1978 that deposed him.
3. General Augusto Pinochet: Chile
General Augusto Pinochet not only represents the mass hysteria of anti-socialist sentiment that permeates American foreign policy, but he also encapsulates all that has been wrong with U.S. involvement in Latin America. On September 11, 1973 in a coup that was in part planned and aided by the CIA, Pinochet deposed democratically elected socialist President Salvador Allende, then swiftly instituted a military dictatorship thus ending civilian rule in Chile. Not only did the American government provide support to the Pinochet government prior to the coup, the CIA also actively supported the military dictatorship after the overthrow of Allende. The U.S. even made many of Pinochet’s officers into paid contacts of the CIA or U.S. military, despite the fact some were known to be involved in human rights abuses. But, in an effort to combat socialist ideals, the ends justify the means. After all, in his own words, Pinochet proclaimed, “democracy is the breeding ground of communism.” To ensure democracy would not rear its head again during his reign, Pinochet reportedly interned 80,000 Chileans, executed at least 3,197 more and further still tortured about 29,000 people accused of dissent. At the time of his death in 2006 Pinochet had been indicted on 300 counts of human rights violations, as well as tax evasion and embezzlement.
2. General Manuel Noriega: Panama
Noriega is the perfect example of how you’re a protégé of the American government one day and in an American prison for doing what you’re told by that same government the next. Noriega started working with the CIA, making the partnership official in the late 1960s, right into the 1980s. His closest contact with the American government was none other than former President George H.W. Bush, who, as head of the CIA in 1976 was paying Noriega $100,000 a year as an asset. Noriega was important to the U.S. in the attempt to destabilize Nicaragua and aid the contra rebels. He also had a propensity for drug dealing, shipping cocaine to the U.S. with CIA knowledge, in exchange for those very weapons that armed the contras. After Noriega fell out of favor with the U.S. over his refusal to support an invasion on Nicaragua, his former employers turned on him and arrested him for all of the crimes they had turned a blind eye to for over a decade. Indeed the 1988 Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations proclaimed:
“It is clear that each U.S. government agency which had a relationship with Noriega turned a blind eye to his corruption and drug dealing, even as he was emerging as a key player on behalf of the Medellín Cartel (a member of which was notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar).” Noriega was allowed to establish “the hemisphere’s first narco-kleptocracy.”
Noriega has spent the last half of thirty years either on trial or in jail, and at age 80, it’s a good bet he’ll die that way.
1. President Saddam Hussein: Iraq
Shocking right? After the U.S. invasion of Iraq during Operation Desert Storm, and later Operation Iraqi Freedom under the leadership of the Presidents Bush, it’s hard to believe that at one point the American government aided the Iraqi dictator during the Iraq-Iran war during the 1980s. The Americans needed Hussein as an ally against a newly hostile Iran following the Iranian Revolution, and as such they armed the Iraqi army with massive amounts of firepower in order to combat the Islamic Republic. What’s more chilling however, is the amount of biological agents the Americans sent to Iraq; the US Department of Commerce licensed 70 biological exports to Iraq between May of 1985 and 1989, including at least 21 batches of lethal strains of anthrax. Furthermore, other chemical weapons such as nerve gas and blister agents such as mustard gas are exported and used by Hussein. In the last major battle of the Iraq-Iran war, 65,000 Iranians are killed, many with poison gas. The Iraq regime also used chemical weapons against minority Kurds killing over 100,000 civilians and destroying over 1,200 Kurdish villages; the exact crime Saddam Hussein was condemned to die for after coalition forces captured him during the last invasion of Iraq. It’s ironic that the government responsible for delivering the chemical weapons to Hussein to carry out the genocide against the Kurds ultimately became the government who in large part was responsible for his being executed for it, but as many other dictators on this list have learned, being an ally of America is an ever swinging pendulum of foreign policy.
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