Throughout history, regime change often has ulterior motives – particularly when it comes to control of natural resources. The history of such operations dates back to the late 1800’s, with the overthrowing of the Hawaiian government, and spans across many continents and administrations.
Former bureau chief for The New York Times and Latin America correspondent for The Boston Globe, Stephen Kinzer, argues in his book “Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq” that there are three eras of America’s regime change activity:
One of the most infamous and drawn out instances of this resource-focused regime change began in 1876 with the government of Honduras. The Honduran government gave tax exemptions along with plots of land to foreign corporations in order to expand their mining and agriculture industries.
Some native Hondurans were able to exploit these Liberal economic policies to their benefit, but the vast majority of the allowances actually went to American corporations which had the capital on hand to purchase the land and quickly develop it.
The result of these policies was the total dominance of U.S.-based corporations throughout Honduras, with the major stakeholders being Standard Fruit (now Dole Food Company), the Cuyamel Fruit Company, and the Tela and Trujillo Railroad Companies (which were subsidiaries of United Fruit).
By 1929, the United Fruit Company operated across 650,000 acres and controlled all of the major ports and railroads. The total dominance of American corporations drove nearly all local competition out of business, and gave rise to “company towns” – where the influence of these companies were so strong that they actually outweighed the authority of the government.
From 1903 to 1925 American troops were inserted into Honduras several times during the widespread “Banana Wars” that took place across Central America and the Caribbean. U.S. troops would shut down the insurrections, revolutions and even disputes throughout the region that stemmed largely from economic conditions.
Other nations to become part this trend included Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama, Nicaragua, Haiti, The Dominican Republic and Mexico. Two-time Medal of Honor recipient Major General Smedley D. Butler addressed these issues in his short work published in 1935 entitled, “War is a Racket.”
I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. – Major General Smedley Butler, “War is a Racket”, 1935.
In more recent history, Iran was targeted because they began to demand an equal share of the oil profits from the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now known as British Petroleum, or BP) who was operating their oil fields. The British government bought a controlling share of the company, effectively nationalizing oil production in Iran and using it as the primary fuel source for the Royal Navy during World War I.
Mohammad Mosaddegh felt that the 16% profit share offered by the British was too little, and instead sought an amount closer to 50% – an amount considered the norm elsewhere in the world. Mosaddegh was elected Prime Minister and nationalized Iran’s petroleum industry and oil reserves, making him enormously popular among the Iranian people. Time Magazine even went as far to call him the “Iranian George Washington.”
Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, known primarily as “the Shah”, was installed as a strongman to ensure that foreign oil companies could continue pumping Iranian oil. Now instead of Iranian fields being open to just the British, five American oil companies, in addition to Royal Dutch Shell (now known as “Shell”) and the Compagnie Française des Pétroles, were free to operate in the country.
After 26 years of ruling with an iron fist, The Shah was overthrown during the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the country officially became an Islamic Republic. Relations with the West deteriorated, leading to the Iran hostage crisis in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. The revolution was led by Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, who became the 1st Supreme Leader of Iran, a position now held by Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hoseyni Khamenei. The blowback that ensued is considered by many, including the CIA, to be at least partially responsible for the strong anti-American and anti-Western sentiment still present in the region today.