A LIST OF FOUR: ASSASSINATIONS, COUP D’ETATS and DEMOCRACY

As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.
—George Orwell

It is 50 years this week since Patrice Lumumba was assassinated in what is now the largely disastrous Democratic Republic of Congo—previously the tyrannically oppressed Zaire and, I think, before that, for a few minutes, the Republic of Congo and before that, the colonized and relentlessly brutal Belgian Congo.

The colonial history (and King Leopold history) of the DRC is soul-numbing (see King Leopold’s Ghostwhich we used as reference in Uganda Rising). Joseph Conrad called the exploitation “….the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration.” Lumumba was this country’s first legally elected leader, and an outspoken pan-Africanist.

Military leader (and soon-to-be brutal dictator) Mobutu Sese Seko, supposedly in combination with the Belgian government (physically) and the American government (monetarily), forced Lumumba’s overthrow and eventual torture and murder.

In 1975, the so-called Church Committeethe United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities—revealed that CIA leader Allen Dulles (during the Eisenhower presidency) had, in his own words, called the assassination of Lumumba “an urgent and prime objective.”

Either way, warm Western support for the brutal tyrant Mobutu followed for decades (Mobutu visited the Nixon White House in 1973). In 1974, the Ali-Foreman ‘Rumble In The Jungle’ was fought in Kinshasa, doubling as a propaganda piece for Mobutu, who put up the dough (or at least the people did), while prisoners were locked up beneath the fight, in the torturous bowels of the stadium.

From the Guardian:

Ludo De Witte, the Belgian author of the best book on this crime, qualifies it as “the most important assassination of the 20th century”. The assassination’s historical importance lies in a multitude of factors, the most pertinent being the global context in which it took place, its impact on Congolese politics since then and Lumumba’s overall legacy as a nationalist leader.

That’s saying something, if you include, for example, Arch Duke Ferdinand of Austria.

So I was thinking about a few democratically elected (or somewhat democratically elected) leaders whose coup d’etats and/or assassinations with the help of foreign powers changed history in the latter half of the twentieth century, and wondered what the history may have been otherwise. Who knows? Democracy remains troubled in all four areas mentioned: the Middle East, Africa, Central America and sometimes in South America. Heck, I guess it’s troubled everywhere.

Here’s a list of five that I think every history student, or person in general, should be aware of, whatever their ideological stance on the events. Add any more that you think of. There will be no test on Monday.

1) Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, 1953, Iran. Yes, there was a burgeoning democracy in Iran. Enter Britain, America and the Shah. Oh yeah, and oil.

2) Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, 1954, Guatemala. Yes, democracy. Enter: the United Fruit Company and the Dulles brothers.

3) Patrice Lumumba, 1961, Republic of Congo (see above).

4) Salvador Allende, 1973 (September 10th), Chile. Elected. Enter IT&T, Henry Kissinger and Augusto Pinochet.

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”
—Henry Kissinger

5) Okay, okay, the originally elected Ugandan Milton Obote doesn’t count like the others. He had become a brutal tyrant himself. But with the help of British and, ironically, Israeli agents—I say ironically because of the later so-called Operation EntebbeObote was overthrown and replaced by the likely even more tyrannical Idi Amin (see the clip below).

Here’s to history, learning and loving more,

Pete

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