Four enlarged photos of people who disappeared on an art canvas displayed at the Parque por la Paz Villa at Grimaldi. It is the former Chilean dictatorship’s principle center for detention, torture, and extermination.

How the U.S. Threatens Democracy in Latin America

This year and next, the electoral cycles of countries throughout the Americas will align. Guatemala and Paraguay decided presidential contests earlier this year, with Argentina’s presidential runoff scheduled for November (AS/COA). Next year, El Salvador, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Uruguay will have presidential elections, as will the United States (AS/COA). U.S. commentators are already critiquing Latin American countries, denouncing fake news in Mexico (AP News), and lamenting the region “waxing nostalgic for dictators” (Bloomberg). 

But the U.S. falls far short of meeting the democratic goals it sets for Latin America. This trope likely helps the U.S.’s continued attack against Latin American immigrants and Latine communities. It also ignores the fact that multiple Republican candidates have proposed starting a “new Mexican-American war” after the 2024 election ((Vox). And multiple Latin American countries have higher voter turnout than the U.S. (Pew). It adds legitimacy to bipartisan efforts to criminalize Latine communities, to say nothing of the proposal by multiple Republican presidential candidates to start a “new Mexican-American war” after the 2024 election (Vox). 

In fact, the United States has acted as anything but the promoter of democracy in the Americas. 


• Support solidarity throughout the Americas with the Progressive International

Support the families of Central American migrants who disappeared in the United States.

• Consider: What were you taught about Latin American countries in school? What about historical and contemporary U.S. interventions? How were you taught to think about these countries in relation to the United States? How many Latin American countries can you identify on a map

Fifty years ago this week, the U.S. sponsored the overthrow of Chile’s democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende. Dictator Augusto Pinochet took power in a violent military coup with U.S. approval. During his reign, he tortured and disappeared tens of thousands of civilians to “exterminate leftism” in the country. 130,000 people were arrested in his first year alone (Britannica). The U.S. also sponsored military dictatorships in Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, and Guatemala (Bloomberg).

U.S. corporations have directly controlled the politics and economies of entire Latin American countries. The United Fruit Company was a U.S.-based multinational company that sold tropical fruits grown on Latin American plantations in the U.S. and Europe. Its fast growth and dominance in the industry relied on exploiting low-wage workers and impoverished communities. Since its fruit plantations were so central to many countries’ economies, the United Fruit Company became one of the most powerful forces in the region. With U.S. government support, the company used violence and intimidation to repress labor unions and prevent democratic policies (ThoughtCo). Countries like Costa Rica and Guatemala, which were effectively ruled as colonies by corporations like the United Fruit Company, were referred to as “banana republics,” which inspired the name for the eponymous fashion retailer.

Today, the company is now known as Chiquita, but the oppressive tactics remain. Over the past 15 years, the company has funded and trained traffickers and death squads to maintain its control (The New Republic). In Colombia between 1997 and 2004, “Chiquita loading facilities [were] used to bring 3,400 AK-47 assault rifles and five million rounds of ammunition into the country” in 2001 for right-wing death squads trying to suppress labor unions (The New Republic). In 2014, the Supreme Court protected Chiquita by preventing the families of those murdered by Chiquita from suing the corporation in U.S. courts (Reuters).  

United Fruit Company’s strategy of peasant massacres and colonial rule paid off. The corporation is thriving today, though it’s now known as Chiquita. Chiquita paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to “narco-traffickers and right-wing death squads.” The United States has “intervened” in foreign elections more than any other country, twice as much as Russia and the U.S.S.R. combined (NPR). By this standard, the United States government is actually the worst enemy of democracy on the world stage. And U.S. election meddling in Latin America didn’t end with the Cold War. In the 21st century, the U.S. has sponsored coups or coup attempts in Haiti (four times), Venezuela (four times), Cuba (twice), Bolivia (three times), Honduras (twice), Ecuador (twice), Guatemala, Argentina, El Salvador, Brazil (twice), Peru, and Nicaragua (Monthly Review). These anti-democratic attacks have carried on through all presidential administrations, Republican and Democratic. 

This isn’t to say that there aren’t authoritarian governments in Latin America, like that of El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele, who suspended constitutional rights and arrested tens of thousands to combat the MS-13 gang (CNN). But MS-13 is a U.S. export. It was originally founded in Los Angeles (BBC). The political situation in El Salvador is a U.S. export, as well. The United States spent $1 million a day to support the authoritarian Salvadoran government during the country’s civil war. Green Berets and the C.I.A. organized death squads that massacred entire villages. Seventy-five thousand people died in the civil war, with 85% killed by the U.S.-supported regime (Washington PostU.S. Institute of Peace). 

No country is perfect. Having a sense of humility and perspective allows us to appreciate other nations in the Americas sometimes succeed where the U.S. still struggles. Mexico, which recently federally decriminalized abortion, will elect one of two female candidates as its next president. In a plebiscite following nationwide town hall meetings, Cuban voters approved a progressive Family Code that empowers gay parents, adolescents, and “social-affective parentage” in non-traditional families (Reuters). America isn’t a country. It’s a continent. This year, let’s reconsider what supporting democracy and self-determination across the Americas can actually mean. 


• In 1973, the U.S. engineered a dictatorial coup against the democratically elected president of Chile. 

• Though it portrays itself as a defender of democracy, the United States has intervened in foreign elections more than any other country—by far. 

• Prejudices about countries throughout the Americas fuel discrimination in the U.S. and anti-democratic attacks abroad like G.O.P. proposals to reinvade Mexico. 

1200 823 Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee is a writer and organizer plotting a better world in Philadelphia. His work has previously appeared in Notes From Below, Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, Plan A Magazine, ROAR Magazine, and Teen Vogue.

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