Tag Archives: Central America

Iran IX: The End

Iran IX: The End

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We’re covering a pretty long period in this one, from half or most of the way through the war with Iraq all the way up to the present, although it’s a pretty quick hustle from Khomeini’s death in 1989 to today.

The two major players during this period, if not in Hashemi’s case always from an official position of power, were these guys:

That’s Hashemi Rafsanjani on the left, speaker of Parliament through the war, spokesman of the Supreme Defense Council over the same period, and President from 1989 to 1997. On the right is Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Supreme Leader after Khomeini despite a marked lack of religious or clerical qualifications (and they had to change the Constitution to make way for him). Rafsanjani and Khamenei were the most loyal and in Rafsanjani’s case the most capable men that Khomeini brought with him through the Revolution, and they were the ones he wanted to leave in his stead.

After Rafsanjani left office, this man came from nowhere to take the Presidency of the Republic away from the picked dude of the Establishment.

His name is Mohammad Khatami, and he was the figurehead of the first liberal (and reformist, as against the forces of conservatism and the status quo, embodied in the clique of Khamenei appointees in the veto-power-holding councils of government) resurgence. Khatami focused on political reforms. They were what Iran needed, but even a friendly Majlis couldn’t do anything to override the Council of Guardians, and spending all his time on stillborn (if necessary) policies left economics by the wayside and the great mass of poor Iranians underserved and feeling neglected.

Eight years of political impasse and economic stagnation under Khatami gave way in 2005 to the one Iranian besides Khomeini and Khamenei that we recognize in the United States:

Mahmud Ahmadinejad spent his Presidential career posturing and preening and spitting at the West, revelling in the polemics over Iran’s nuclear program and aiming at some sort of vaguely defined greater regional role while utterly failing to address any of the actual internal problems that brought him to power. I lay this in the show, but if you want any short and simple way to understand Ahmadinejad as an American, it’s this: he and Donald Trump are one and the same, although I think Ahmadinejad is probably smarter, or is now that Trump’s clearly in some sort of cognitive decline. They ran on similar populist platforms, they similarly failed to implement that populism in office, they filled the halls of government with total incompetents and they enjoyed the infamy they could create much more than the actual job of the Presidency.

Ahmadinejad’s total unfitness for the job didn’t prevent him from winning a second term with the help of some election rigging from Khamenei, which gave rise to the Green Movement in 2009 and the second Iranian liberal resurgence that led to the election of our last Iranian character, Hassan Rouhani, elevated to the Presidency in 2013 and re-elected just this past spring.

Rouhani’s popular, moderate, and reformist, and he’s doing what he can to bring women’s and minority rights, along with press freedoms and the justice system all into positions that we’d see as acceptable in the West. To do so he’s got to fight the entrenched interests of those on the Right, ranged around Khamenei and dug into every institution and structure of power in the country. Progress has been slow and it will be slow, but it’s only working by their own lights that the Iranians are going to be able to turn the Revolution around to the point where it’s fulfilling the dreams of all its original adherents and not just the most conservative ones.

The greatest threats to that progress are these two men right here, along, maybe, with Mad Dog Mattis and Chief of Staff John Kelly. All of them bear the typical American grudge against Iran, the one that necessarily understands our joint history to have begun in 1979 and not in 1953 and one which ignores our prominent role in the Iran Iraq War to focus on Iran’s rather less important place in the Lebanese conflicts from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Tillerson so far has slowed Trump’s attempts to unilaterally torpedo the nuclear deal, but otherwise he’s treated Iran like most US politicians: an unintelligible bad actor, always in need of a scolding from that paragon of good international behavior, the United States.

That attitude alone, expressed across the Administration, is bad enough for reformers like Rouhani in Iran who have stressed for decades the need to reach a detente with the West, but combined with Trump’s hamfisted attempts to bully Iran on the world stage, POTUS and all his merry men are doing what Americans have always done: cut the feet out from under every politician in Tehran who shares our values and interests while giving ammunition to the clerics and parochial conservatives who’d love to shut out the West and modernity forever.

And last but never least, references.

Abrahamian, Ervand. The Coup: 1953, the CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations. New Press, 2013.

Abrahamian, Ervand. A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge, GB: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Abrahamian, Ervand. Iran: Between Two Revolutions.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1974-1975 — Iran. 1 January 1975: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/pol10/001/1975/en/

Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1974-1975 — Iran. 1 June 1976: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/pol10/001/1975/en/

Axworthy, Michael. Revolutionary Iran: A History of the Islamic Republic. Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Baraheni, Reza. “Terror in Iran.” The New York Review of Books, 28 October 1976.

Byrne, Malcolm. “The Secret CIA History of the Iran Coup.” The National Security Archive, last modified 29 November 2000, http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB28/.

The Cambridge History of Iran: From Nadir Shah to the Islamic Republic. Edited by Peter Avery, Gavin Hambly and Charles Melville. Vol. VII. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Fanon, Franz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Weidenfeld1963.

Fatemi, N. S. 1985. “The Anglo Persian Agreement of 1919.” Encyclopaedia Iranica Vol II: 59.

Filkins, Dexter. “Rex Tillerson at the Breaking Point.” The New Yorker, 6 October, 2017.

Katouzian, Homa. The Political Economy of Modern Iran: Despotism and Pseudo-Modernism, 1926-1979. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1981.

Kinzer, Stephen. All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror. Wiley, 2003.

Roosevelt, Kermit. Countercoup: The Struggle for Control of Iran. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1979.

Rothschild, Emily. “Carter and Arms: No Sale.” The New York Review of Books, 15 September 1977.

Steel, Ronald. “Impossible Dreams.”  The New York Review of Books, 12 September 1968.


Audio Acknowledgements

“1998 Khatami Interview.” CNN. YouTube.

“Ahmadinejad: Bin Laden is in DC.” ABC News. YouTube.

“Axis of Evil Speech.” George W. Bush. YouTube.

“Ayatollah Khomeini Funeral.” hijazna. YouTube.

“CNN Report: ‘Green Movement Is Alive and Well” CNN. YouTube.

Doctor Turtle, “Lullaby for Democracy.”

“Iran: The ‘Pariah State’ |Iran & the West Part 2.” BBC. YouTube.

“Iran’s Rebel Ayatollah—Ayatollah Montazeri—Documentary.” IranDocumentary1. YouTube.

Krakatoa“See My Blue.”

“Modern Warfare: Iran-Iraq War.” International Television News. YouTube.

Persian Folk Music.” Traditional Music Channel. YouTube.

Sky News: Stuxnet—Technical Details.” Sky News. YouTube.

USS Vincennes Shoots Down Iranian Airliner.” TVO News. YouTube.

A Peculiar Institution

Today’s post is, to put it lightly, a long one. We’re cresting 4,000 words, and to make it easier for you, if you’ve got a real good handle on the DHS immigration memos already, go ahead and skip down to Part Two.

If not, keep reading, and you’ll get the whole story, from the deeper implications of the memos straight through to how they might, or maybe definitely probably will, create a new system of prison-based forced migrant labor in the USA.

Part One: Let’s Take a Longer Look at Those Memos

Like I said on Monday, the two memos from John Kelly—our new head of the Department of Homeland Security—were the most important thing to come out of last week. They spell out how DHS will go about implementing Trump’s immigration policy as outlined in his executive orders and elsewhere.

I gave a detailed run-through of the two documents on Monday, but the unifying theme was that DHS wants to massively expand the numbers and categories of migrants targeted for apprehension. It’s pretty well-known that President Obama deported more immigrants than any previous occupant of the Oval Office, but after the record-high for deportations in 2013, his administration shifted focus. They began deporting undocumented immigrants who had committed crimes after arriving in the US, almost but not entirely to the exclusion of migrants who had just crossed over and then quietly worked away at building a life here. Obama went further with DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allowed undocumented migrants who arrived as children to obtain work permits and to obtain protection against deportation.

Continue reading A Peculiar Institution

Aftermath Part III

Aftermath Part III

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Hey everybody, and welcome to the fourth episode of Safe for Democracy, the podcast about the foreign policy disasters of the United States in the 20th century.

This is the third part of a series exploring the violent aftermath of the US-backed coup against Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954.

If you’re just now coming to the podcast, it’d probably be best to start with episode one, which tackles the coup, and then come through the Aftermath in order. But if that’s not your game, fair enough, start right here.

Page Break

Last time we had a brief respite, tackling Liberation Theology, social Catholicism, jungle collectives, and the spirit of indigenous pride that had Mayas all over Guatemala taking to the streets and demanding their fundamental right to life and to culture.

We left off with General Kjell Eugenio Laugerud García in the Presidential Palace, and his relative leniency, after the murderous regime of the Butcher of Zacapa, Colonel Arana Osorio, was allowing Guatemalan civil society to flourish for the first time in decades.

That interstitial period is about to end, though, with the fraudulent election of General Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia, who will take a less generous view of what he sees as traitorous elements in the country.

La violencia and tierra arrasada are still one episode away, so we’ve got three more weeks to worry yet, but we won’t get all the way through this one unscathed either.

This time around, it’s earthquakes, committees of campesino unity, massacre in Panzos, and the helping hand of Ronald Reagan, as always, making war to make the world safe for democracy.

Maps and ephemera follow for anyone who’s game.

Continue reading Aftermath Part III

Aftermath Part II

Aftermath Part II

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Hi, and welcome to the third episode of Safe for Democracy.

Which is the second part of the Aftermath, which, in four shows, is the second part of our overarching series on Guatemala.



Last time we worked our way from the coup against Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 through the repressive regimes of Carlos Castillo Armas and Jose Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes and how they provoked the creation of a guerrilla movement and the way the State and the guerrilla came together in a conflagration of violence—in which the rebels got much the worst of things—towards the end of the 1960s.

This episode’s a little less dark.

Violence in Guatemala was cyclical: State repression provoked demonstrations and organizing on the part of the populace, which invited greater repression that tended to wipe opposition out. And in the lull after the greatest waves of violence gave Guatemalan society time to begin rebuilding itself, time and again.

Today’s show covers the last such lull that Guatemala would have for a very long time.

This time we’re looking at the growth of Liberation Theology and radical social Catholicism in Guatemala and the parallel and related growth of the pan-indigenous movement that gave Maya Guatemalans a commanding, national voice for the first time in centuries.

Continue reading Aftermath Part II

Aftermath Part I

Aftermath Part I

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Page Break

Hey everybody, welcome to Safe for Democracy and our second episode.

If you’ve listened to the first podcast, you know that we’d originally planned to do a quick one-two, one episode for the coup in 1954 and one to cover what happened afterwards. But history can balloon on you, and the material I wanted to breeze through in an hour and a half expanded to more than five hours. The script’s not done yet, but it’s over a hundred typewritten pages, and will be a good sight longer before it’s done.

Longer than my undergraduate thesis
Longer than my undergraduate thesis

So what we’ve decided to do is to break the Aftermath up into four parts, the first three being about an hour and the last one somewhat less than two. The feedback we’ve gotten on the first episode is that although everybody loves Dan Carlin, hour long shows are about as long as people want.

All of the shows of the Aftermath will have a bit more noise on them than I would’ve liked, but I recorded them in the quietest place I could get to in this Sierra, the bungalow of a fellow and still-active Peace Corps Volunteer, James Dykstra.

God, just look at him
God, just look at him

I’ve tried to strip out or avoid as much of that noise as I can, but bear with it; we’re talking a lot about campesinos in these shows, and a little bit of campesino ruckus on them can’t hurt too much.

As I release these every few weeks, I’ll have more time to get a headstart on our next topic, Operation Ajax and the coup in Iran, and I’ll have some breathing room to take care of other stuff in my life. Hope that works for you.

Now, on to the show itself.

Continue reading Aftermath Part I

The Coup

The Coup

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Hey, welcome to the first full episode of Safe for Democracy.  We’re going to be looking at Guatemala from 1930 or so until 1954, in the lead-up to the coup against President Jacobo Arbenz in the June of that year.

What comes after we’ll tackle in the next episode, which should come out sometime next week, if all goes well.

Here below are some sources and maps for anybody who wants help with the geography I’ll be talking about, but if you don’t need or don’t want that, go ahead and listen.

By the way, the cover image up there is La Gloriosa Victoria, a mural currently residing in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. Diego Rivera painted it about the events of this very episode. That’s Allen Dulles on the left shaking hands with Carlos Castillo Armas on the right, and it’s Eisenhower’s face on the bomb. The children are, of course, nameless Guatemalans.

Enjoy the show.



Excerpted from Nick Cullather's The Secret History
Excerpted from Nick Cullather’s The Secret History

Here we’ve got the plans for Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas’s ground forces at the outset of the invasion. See how even though he only had a few groups of men, he could preoccupy a large proportion of Guatemala’s small army by spreading them out over the long, forested border.


Here's another much larger, much more detailed map for reference. Click to see it full size.
Here’s another much larger, much more detailed map for reference. Click to see it full size.


And for anybody who needs it

Here’s a bibliography

“Guatemala Chief Hits Critics in U.S.”  New York Times (1923-Current File), Feb 5, 1954.

“Guatemala’s ‘Plot’ Charges Denounced.”  The Washington Post (1923-1954), Jan 31, 1954.

“President Arbenz of Guatemala Quits.”  Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jun 28, 1954.

Arbenz, Jacobo. 1954. Resignation Speech. PaysDesVolcans. (Youtube).

Cullather, Nick and Piero Gleijeses. Secret History: The CIA’s Classified Account of its Operations in Guatemala, 1952-1954. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1999

McCann, Thomas and Scammel, Henry. An American Company: The Tragedy of United Fruit. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 1976.

Rivera, Diego. “La Gloriosa Victoria”. https://www.flickr.com/photos/gobiernodeguatemala/5033870374.

Roettinger, Philip C. 1986. “The Company, then and Now.” The Progressive, July, 1986, 50.

Rothenberg, Daniel, ed, Memory of Silence: The Guatemalan Truth Commission Report. New York, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Schelsinger, Stephen and Stephen Kinzer.  Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1982.

Schneider, Ronald M. 1959. Communism in Guatemala, 1944-1954. (Pa. Univ. for Policy Research Inst. Ser. no. 7) (Praeger Publications in Russian History and World Communism no. 80).

Simons, Marlise. “Guatemala: The Coming Danger.” Foreign Policy 43 (1981) : 93-103.