Friday, February 4, 2011

As I was saying

The Anti-Empire Report

A cautionary tale

In July of 1975 I went to Portugal because in April of the previous year a bloodless military coup had brought down the US-supported 48-year fascist regime of Portugal, the world's only remaining colonial power. This was followed by a program centered on nationalization of major industries, workers control, a minimum wage, land reform, and other progressive measures. Military officers in a Western nation who spoke like socialists was science fiction to my American mind, but it had become a reality in Portugal. The center of Lisbon was crowded from morning till evening with people discussing the changes and putting up flyers on bulletin boards.

The visual symbol of the Portuguese "revolution" had become the picture of a child sticking a rose into the muzzle of a rifle held by a friendly soldier, and I got caught up in demonstrations and parades featuring people, including myself, standing on tanks and throwing roses, with the crowds cheering the soldiers. It was pretty heady stuff, and I dearly wanted to believe, but I and most people I spoke to there had little doubt that the United States could not let such a breath of fresh air last very long. The overthrow of the Chilean government less than two years earlier had raised the world's collective political consciousness, as well as the level of skepticism and paranoia on the left.

Washington and multinational corporate officials who were on the board of directors of the planet were indeed concerned. Besides anything else, Portugal was a member of NATO. Destabilization became the order of the day: covert actions; attacks in the US press; subverting trade unions; subsidizing opposition media; economic sabotage through international credit and commerce; heavy financing of selected candidates in elections; a US cut-off of Portugal from certain military and nuclear information commonly available to NATO members; NATO naval and air exercises off the Portuguese coast, with 19 NATO warships moored in Lisbon's harbor, regarded by most Portuguese as an attempt to intimidate the provisional government. In 1976 the "Socialist" Party (scarcely further left and no less anti-communist than the US Democratic Party) came to power, heavily financed by the CIA, the Agency also arranging for Western European social-democratic parties to help foot the bill. The Portuguese revolution was dead, stillborn. 1

The events in Egypt cannot help but remind me of Portugal. Here, there, and everywhere, now and before, the United States of America, as always, is petrified of anything genuinely progressive or socialist, or even too democratic, for that carries the danger of allowing god-knows what kind of non-America-believer taking office. Honduras 2009, Haiti 2004, Venezuela 2002, Ecuador 2000, Bulgaria 1990, Nicaragua 1990 ... dozens more ... anything, anyone, if there's a choice, even a dictator, a torturer, is better.

There is more to this article at

William Blum is the author of:
  • Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2
  • Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower
  • West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir
  • Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire
Portions of the books can be read, and signed copies purchased, at
Previous Anti-Empire Reports can be read at this website.

1. William Blum, "Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower", pages 187, 228 for sources


  1. Yes; the US really isn't big on democracy in other countries. Which begs the question about Iraq and Afghanistan and "democracy" in those places, post-US invasions.

  2. Once again the sign of how quickly the US can turn on it's puppets, ah, er, "friends." People like Saddam H, Manuel N, etc., etc.

  3. The CIA undeniably has a checkered past when it comes to covert operations. I sometimes think if the American public could get a comprehensive accounting of the agency's hits and misses when it comes to meddling in other countries' internal affairs, sentiment for cutting it down to a shadow of its size and budget would be overwhelming.

    That said, and in response to Rob-bear, I notice that virtually all Latin American nations have somehow managed to go democratic without being subverted by the U.S. We're just not seeing the the cycles of strong-man repression or oligarchies leading to revolutions that give way to military coups and in time, strongman takeovers again, the way we used to.

    The U.S. appears, if anything, to be bending over backward to not be heavy handed in dealing with the fledgling "democracies" in Afghanistan and Iraq. Maybe lessons have been learned. I hope so, anyway. The spectacular failures begat by toppling Mossadegh in Iran and trying to topple Castro in Cuba alone should've been hard lessons enough to chasten the CIA and U.S. policy makers.

    One of my biggest hopes for Egypt is that there will be no CIA meddling in what's going on there.

  4. SW, the CIA will be everywhere in Egypt. The Suez Canal is too important to leave to chance, and for that I don't blame USA for being very concerned. Possibly if they had worked hard at developing a true democracy in an economically developing nation, they wouldn't have that concern now. The noose seems to be slowly tightening on all of us. Including ordinary Americans.

  5. Also, SW, wrt Latin America, USA is in there making sure the "wrong" parties don't get elected. True reformers who play by the rules are defeated or disappeared.
    Those that survive, Castro, Morales, Chavez tend not to play by the rules and are vilified for it. Condemning them for failure is hardly fair considering what they are up against.

  6. I tend to agree with those that say, "If democracy succeeds in the Middle East and other areas, maybe we could try it in the US."


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