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The War on Democracy

Watch on Vimeo or on John Pilger’s website.

2007 documentary by John Pilger

September 29, 2013

The War on Democracy is about how the Unites States manipulated Latin American governments over a period of fifty years. However the ‘war’ is ongoing. It is a war fought to maintain Unites States’ control over Latin America’s rich natural resources. It shows how media propaganda is a favourite tactic used to create false beliefs and fear in the minds of people unable to see U.S. hidden agendas. Against this backdrop, courageous leaders fight back on behalf of the people and nationalise their natural resources to protect them from corporate greed.

How did this ‘war’ begin? Why were there so many bloody coups where dictators took control of democratic governments and imprisoned, tortured, and killed thousands who dared to protest?

To answer this, it is necessary to explore a little bit of history. In Iran in 1953, the CIA showed how easy it was to overthrow a democratically elected leader. When Iran’s prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, nationalised the oilfields, the British company, now BP, lost access to their supply of cheap oil. Outraged, they sought America’s help to get it back. But it wasn’t until Ike Eisenhower became president that Allen Dulles, who was head of the CIA, was able to play the “communist” card and convince President Eisenhower that Iran could fall into Russian hands. President Eisenhower then authorised the CIA operative, Kermit Roosevelt, to organise a coup to oust Mossadegh.

Roosevelt covertly created chaos in Tehran by organising thugs, gangs, and rebels to demonstrate their support for Mossadegh in the streets. He urged them to smash shop windows and create mayhem. Roosevelt then organised pro Shah supporters to protest in the streets against Mossadegh. When opposing groups met, the violence escalated and drew in people who were not initially involved. Rioting went on for days, further fuelled by a bribed media who made false allegations that Mossadegh was a communist. Finally, after Roosevelt was also able to bribe a few military leaders, the coup against Mossadegh became a successful reality. This then became a blueprint for CIA organised coups in Latin America.

Problems began in Latin America when the Guatemalan democratically elected leader, Jacobo Árbenz, began carrying out land reforms. He gave fallow land to peasants to farm and expropriated 234,000 acres of land owned by United Fruit, an American company. They rejected his offer of compensation and a coup to oust him was organised. It was no coincidence that John Foster Dulles was a board member of United Fruit and was the American Secretary of State. His brother, Allen, ran the CIA. Mercenaries trained by the CIA at military bases in Honduras and Nicaragua, along with four fighter planes piloted by Americans, overthrew Árbenz in 1954. Col. Castillo Armas, put in power by the U.S. Plan, gave back the land to United Fruit, abolished the tax on interest and dividends to foreign investors, and jailed thousands of political critics.

A chilling statement made by Duane Clarridge, the CIA Chief in Latin America from 1981-1984, near the end of the documentary, highlights the current U.S. attitude in foreign policy:

“We’ll intervene whenever we decide it’s in our national security interests to intervene. And if you don’t like it, lump it. Get used to it, world. We’re not gonna put up with nonsense. If our interests are threatened, we’re gonna do it.”

“National security” interests are mostly to do with gaining control over other countries’ natural resources, as in the Middle East. In Latin America, where Venezuela is the third largest oil supplier to the U.S., the stakes are high. Those stakes become higher when left-wing governments nationalise their natural resources, as President Hugo Chávez did.

The War on Democracy begins with Hugo Chávez and the real story behind his attempted overthrow in 2002. But Chávez’s compassion for the poor and his commitment to improving their lives draws them from their homes and into the streets in the hundreds of thousands to demand the return of their beloved president.

Hugo Chavez. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Hugo Chavez. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In Chile, the democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, nationalised Chile’s copper mines. In retaliation President Nixon said, “We’re gonna make the economy scream.” Then on September 11, 1973, a coup organised by General Augusto Pinochet using British planes, bombed the presidential palace. Allende shot himself. Although Henry Kissinger denied any knowledge of the coup beforehand, secret documents revealed that in 1970, the CIA cabled its man in Chile, “It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup.” A United States official cabled back to Washington three years later, “Chile’s coup d’état was close to perfect.”

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales is the first democratically elected indigenous president. He offered a new democracy, new beginnings, and promised to reduce poverty. By nationalising oil and gas he became marked by the United States as another Latin American enemy against imperialism. In 2008 he accused the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia of “conspiring against democracy” and encouraging civil unrest. When he ordered him to leave the country, Washington retaliated by ordering the Bolivian ambassador out of the United States. In solidarity with Morales, Chávez ordered the U.S. ambassador out of Venezuela and said, “Go to hell, Yankee shits, here stands a dignified people. Go to hell a hundred times; we are the sons of Bolivar!”

The War on Democracy won ‘Best Documentary Award’ at the 2008 One World Awards, London. Watching it, I was particularly impressed with how it brought to life the true meaning of democracy, where leaders rather than politicians, work to create a more equal society by listening to the voices of the people. It is in stark contrast with the hollowed word democracy has become in many Western countries – more especially in the United States, where it has been corrupted to such an extent that plutocracy or oligarchy are best used to describe their style of government.

If we cherish our freedom, if we truly want democracy, we have to fight for it – and not only when it is threatened. We have to fight for it every day of our lives by making sure we stay informed and aware of what is happening politically and economically in our respective countries and around the world. We need to be like the soldiers who safeguarded city walls to make sure no enemy took them by surprise. We can do this by becoming watchful citizens who not only keep politicians honest and accountable, but make sure they work inclusively for the good of all. Simon Johnson, coauthor of 13 Bankers, reminds us that…

Powerful people always and everywhere seek to grab complete control over government, undermining broader social progress for their own greed. Keep these people in check with effective democracy or watch your nation fail.

And never was this statement truer than now as the gap between rich and poor in so many countries that adopted American neoliberal economic policies – New Zealand among them, grows wider by the year and begins to reflect what happened, and continues to happen, in Latin America. Perhaps while watching this documentary you will allow Chavez’s compassion for his people to awaken the rebel sleeping in you, and John Pilger’s words to ring loudly in your ears…

“President Bush has promised to rid the world of evil and to lead the great mission to build free societies on every continent. To understand such an epic lie is to understand history. Hidden history. Suppressed history. History that explains why we in the West know a lot about the crimes of others, but almost nothing about our own. The missing word is Empire. The existence of an American Empire is rarely acknowledged or it is smothered in displays of jingoism that celebrate war and an arrogance that says no country has a right to go its own way, unless that way coincides with the interests of the United States. For empires have nothing to do with freedom. They’re vicious, they’re about conquest and theft and control and secrets. Since 1945, the United States has attempted to overthrow fifty governments, many of them democracies. In the process, thirty countries have been attacked and bombed, causing the loss of countless lives. In my lifetime the following countries in Latin America have been assaulted by the United States – directly or indirectly – their governments replaced by dictators and other pro-Washington leaders:









El Salvador

French Guiana












Sadly, Hugo Chavez is no longer with us. He died of cancer earlier this year. President Chavez was a rebel who was not afraid to speak his mind. Famously he said about George W. Bush at the beginning of his address at the United Nations in 2006,Yesterday the devil came here. Right here. And it smells of sulphur still today.”

After watching this documentary I now understand why our New Zealand prime minster, John Key, did not attend his funeral – much to the puzzlement expressed by some of our journalists since he was visiting Latin American leaders at the time. Perhaps paying his respects to such a rebellious leader who had fallen out with Washington was not a politically wise move.

And now, at the UN General Assembly, Evo Morales has risen to take Hugo Chavez’s place as the outspoken Latin American Bolivarian rebel. He expressed his disappointment in President Obama for creating more war and conflict in the Middle East after promising to work towards peace. In the speech he gave, President Morales said…

“What peace can we speak of when military spending sacrifices the human rights of our peoples? How is it possible, when there are so many unemployed, for your (US) government, for your president, to spend 700 billion dollars on the military? It is not possible for these huge amounts of money to be spent on the military and on espionage when there are so many brothers and sisters in the United States without homes, without jobs, without schooling. I simply cannot understand how they can spend so much money to interfere in other countries while leaving their own unprovided for.”

H. E. Mr. Evo Morales Ayma, Pres. Plurinational State of Bolivia by UN Web TV
H. E. Mr. Evo Morales Ayma, Pres. Plurinational State of Bolivia by UN Web TV

During an interview with Eva Golinger about some of his controversial statements, President Morales summed up what has happened, and continues to happen, in the Middle East. I see it as a reflection of what Latin America has lived through under U.S. imperialism.

Now they are funding the rebels that fight against presidents who don’t support capitalism or imperialism… And where a coup d’état is impossible, they seek to divide the people in order to weaken the nation – a provocation designed to trigger an intervention by peacekeeping forces, NATO, the UN Security Council. But the intervention itself is meant to get hold of oil resources and gain geopolitical control, rather than enforce respect for human rights.

I salute Evo Morales for having the courage to tell it how it is. After all, he has also been caught up in the long war the United States has waged against the Latin American people struggling to create democracies that promote equal human rights and a fairer share of resources. “The world will be a better and safer place,” wrote Mark Weisbrot of The Guardian, “when more European countries, like most of Latin America, declare their independence from Washington.”

After watching The War on Democracy, perhaps you too will gain a greater understanding of the hidden atrocities that take place behind the scenes of the propaganda-drenched evening news, or within what is not permissible to say.

Watch documentary…

The rising of Latin America – the genesis of ‘The War On Democracy’
John Pilger writes about the making of his award-winning documentary…

In the 1960s, when I first went to Latin America, I travelled up the cone of the continent from Chile across the Altiplano to Peru, mostly in rickety buses and single-carriage trains. It was an experience my memory stored for life, especially the spectacle of the movement of people.

They moved through the dust of a snow-capped wilderness, along roads that were ribbons of red mud, and they lived in shanties that defied gravity. “We are invisible,” said one man; another used the term abandonados; an indigenous woman in Bolivia unforgettably described her poverty as a commodity for the rich. Continue reading…