Friendly Reminder: The US Helped Overthrow a Democratic Government in Brazil

We know a lot about the crimes committed by the U.S. government during the Cold War, but there remain areas of Cold War foreign policy almost completely hidden from the public. One of those dark areas is the U.S. role in the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Brazil in 1964.

JFK and Goulart 2Yesterday, the National Security Archive posted transcripts of taped conversations in the Kennedy White House about deposing the Brazilian government. April 1 marked the 50th anniversary of the coup.

Almost two years before the April 1, 1964, military takeover in Brazil, President Kennedy and his top aides began seriously discussing the option of overthrowing Joao Goulart’s government, according to Presidential tape transcripts posted by the National Security Archive on the 50th anniversary of the coup d’tat. “What kind of liaison do we have with the military?” Kennedy asked top aides in July 1962. In March 1963, he instructed them: “We’ve got to do something about Brazil.”

The tape transcripts advance the historical record on the U.S. role in deposing Goulart — a record which remains incomplete half a century after he fled into exile in Uruguay on April 1, 1964. “The CIA’s clandestine political destabilization operations against Goulart between 1961 and 1964 are the black hole of this history,” according to the Archive’s Brazil Documentation Project director, Peter Kornbluh, who called on the Obama administration to declassify the still secret intelligence files on Brazil from both the Johnson and Kennedy administrations.

Revelations on the secret U.S. role in Brazil emerged in the mid 1970s, when the Lyndon Johnson Presidential library began declassifying Joint Chiefs of Staff records on “Operation Brother Sam” — President Johnson’s authorization for the U.S. military to covertly and overtly supply arms, ammunition, gasoline and, if needed, combat troops if the military’s effort to overthrow Goulart met with strong resistance. On the 40th anniversary of the coup, the National Security Archive posted audio files of Johnson giving the green light for military operations to secure the success of the coup once it started.

“I think we ought to take every step that we can, be prepared to do everything that we need to do,” President Johnson instructed his aides regarding U.S. support for a coup as the Brazilian military moved against Goulart on March 31, 1964.

But Johnson inherited his anti-Goulart, pro-coup policy from his predecessor, John F. Kennedy. Over the last decade, declassified NSC records and recently transcribed White House tapes have revealed the evolution of Kennedy’s decision to create a coup climate and, when conditions permitted, overthrow Goulart if he did not yield to Washington’s demand that he stop “playing” with what Kennedy called “ultra-radical anti-Americans” in Brazil’s government.

Once in a while, it serves as a helpful reminder to draw attention to the fact that, during the Cold War, the U.S. felt it had the prerogative to covertly overthrow whatever government they wanted, any time they wanted. It’s a kind of refutation to the picture most Americans have of their freedom-loving, stars-and-stripes government. Much of the U.S. involvement remains secret, but anecdotes about these kinds of deplorable yet routine policies are almost completely unknown to the broader public.

Were these crimes? Yep. Does that matter? Apparently not.

The Monkey Wrench in Israel-Palestine Talks


In negotiations with Israel and the U.S., the Palestinians threw down their wildcard this week. When the U.S. and Israel had essentially agreed upon an interim deal that was ludicrously one-sided in favor of Israel, the Palestinians announced they were moving ahead with the one thing that would have been prohibited in interim deal: pursuing further UN recognition.

As always, this will be branded as sabotage by the intransigent Palestinians. Like in the negotiations toward the very end of the Clinton administration, the myth that Yassir Arafat rejected “the best deal he was going to get” and abandoned the talks was propagated to no end, despite it being untrue.

According to the New York Times, the PLO made the provocative announcement to pursue further recognition at the UN “not to derail the peace process,” given that they are still technically in talks for another month or so and that the latest PLO statement says they “remain committed” to the talks until their scheduled end on April 29.

Critically, the interim deal would not have called on Israel to freeze settlement building. The PLO’s announcement could be a bargaining chip to alter the interim deal and pressure Israel to agree to a settlement freeze. This is extremely unlikely, given the apparent refusal of Washington to demand Israel stop building illegal settlements as part of a gradual annexation of the West Bank.

Israel and the U.S. have predictably condemned the PLO move. But this is what happens when you conduct negotiations in which one side has all the power and influence, and the other is kicked to the curb.

It’s hard to be optimistic about the future of these talks. According to Barak Ravid at Haaretz, the details of the interim agreement were just a bunch of “acrobatics” that “were intended to buy more time for sterile talks that are going nowhere.” There are all kinds of commentators trying to be diplomatic and blaming both Netanyahu and Abbas, but talks are “going nowhere” fundamentally because the right-wing leadership in Israel refuses to cede the West Bank to the Palestinians and, plainly, will do anything to prevent a Palestinian state.

Why the GOP will lose ’16 (hint: it’s spelled S-H-E-L-D-O-N)


That’s really the only word that comes to mind after reading Dana Milbank’s account today of the recent GOP pilgrimage to Sin City to kiss the ring of Sheldon Adelson, the 9th richest man in the world, and quite possibly the most  ideologically driven of them all. That’s not to say he can pick winners. Remember, Sheldon bombed as kingmaker in the 2014 elections (in fact, most people believe he actually blew the Republicans’ chances in the race entirely). He chose to plow $16 million of his personal coin into Republican has-been Newt Gingrich, who, let’s be serious, only runs for president these days to bolster his own marketing and fundraising schemes. The only effect was to injure Mitt Romney  in the primary. Romney never  fully recovered, and lost terribly to President Obama in November, despite of an infusion of Adelson cash later on. As they say, ‘heck of a job.

Sheldon Adelson, GOP kingmaker?
Sheldon Adelson, GOP kingmaker?

But that hasn’t stopped the first crop of 2016 nominee wannabes from jumping to Adelson’s whistle:  Republican Party players John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Scott Walker spent the weekend kowtowing like sops in a display Hollywood couldn’t have sketched out better. Mindful of their party’s family values, no doubt, they guilelessly delivered themselves up to the mogul of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation empire, square in the epicenter of blackjack and booze, prostitutes and pleasure. Milbank :

Adelson was hosting the Republican Jewish Coalition at his Venetian hotel and gambling complex, and the would-be candidates paraded themselves before the group, hoping to catch the 80-year-old casino mogul’s eye. Everybody knows that, behind closed doors, politicians often sell themselves to the highest bidder; this time, they were doing it in public, as if vending their wares at a live auction.

Adelson has bestowed great generosity on Republicans — $150 million in post-Citizens United cash to their candidates and causes during the last presidential election cycle — but clearly only those that adhere to his own fervently hawkish views on the Middle East. Adelson is unabashed defender of Israel who, according to The New York Times, “opposes any territorial compromise to make way for a Palestinian state.” He is openly Islamophobic, saying at one point that “not all Islamists are terrorists, but all the terrorists are Islamists,”  and defending Gingrich with vigor when the former Speaker of the House famously declared Palestinians “an invented people.”

Adelson has been known to underwrite congressional boondoggles to Israel, helping to shape their views on foreign policy. His attempt at influencing outcomes doesn’t end at the border. In 2007, according to The New York Times, Adelson started a free daily newspaper widely viewed as supportive of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “a close friend who shares his hawkish outlook.” The NYT also noted that at one point, Adelson was rumored to be calling for the ouster of Condoleezza Rice from the Bush Administration because she  — and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert — were “betraying Israel.”

Anything close to an Adelson foreign policy in the White House would be a nightmare, and most likely everyone knows it but that hasn’t kept power-desperate Republicans from taking his money. Aside from the millions he wasted on Gingrich, he’s sprinkled millions on other hawks, like John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, George W. Bush, and Eric Cantor, too.

And he’s known as a street fighter — aside from making his fortune in one of the most predatory and exploitive industries there is, in 2013 Adelson admitted he “might” have violated federal bribery laws during an ongoing investigation of his dealings with the Chinese. Adelson owns five of Macau’s 35 casinos (including the biggest, the Venetian Macau) and reportedly wants a much bigger imprint on the Chinese mainland. Investigators want to know more amid a number lawsuits alleging that Adelson bribed officials to exploit Macau, and to pursue his commercial interests in Beijing. According to Wikipedia, Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands brought in $4.2 billion in Macau-generated revenue in 2011 alone.

Many have sued Adelson, but not all win. According to The New York Times, his own sons sued him, alleged he cheated them, but they lost. Meanwhile Adelson is always suing others, and sometimes he wins.  He filed a libel suit against a Las Vegas newspaper columnist, John L. Smith, who eventually had to declare bankruptcy. He won a libel suit against the Daily Mail of London in 2008. The newspaper had accused him of pursuing “despicable business practices” and having “habitually and corruptly bought political favour.” Adelson said it was “a grave slur” on his “personal integrity and business reputation”, and he won a judgment of approximately £4 million as a result.

He filed a similar suit against a Wall Street Journal writer in 2012 who called him “a scrappy, foul-mouthed billionaire from working-class Dorchester, Mass.”

Adelson may have a team of lawyers to defend his name in the courtroom, and he may be able to call in the chits when he wants to massage or push legislation his way on the Hill, but delivering the next president is a fantasy he will likely never see realized. His zealousness appears to cloud his vision when it comes to picking favorites, and his favorites risk looking tawdry and bought when they take his money. And my, they look really foolish when they beg for it. According to Milbank:

Walker, the Wisconsin governor, pandered unabashedly by giving the Hebrew meaning of his son Matthew’s name and by mentioning that he displays a menorah at home along with the Christmas tree. And Christie, the New Jersey governor, gushed about his trip to Israel and the “occupied territories.”

That was a gaffe. Pro-Israel hawks consider the term pejorative and, at any rate, the more relevant occupied territory at the moment is the Republican Party — wholly occupied by billionaires.

But will they occupy the White House? If this kind of behavior is any indication, the answer is no.



Why Criticize Your Own Government — and leave out others?

This is the answer to the question posed in the title:

“My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that: namely, I can do something about it. So even if the US was responsible for 2% of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2% I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences. It is very easy to denounce the atrocities of someone else. That has about as much ethical value as denouncing atrocities that took place in the 18th century.

— Noam Chomsky, cited by Glenn Greenwald

Secret Recording of Dick Cheney Lamenting Middle East Policy & GOP ‘Isolationism’


Mother Jones has published another secretly recorded speech at a private Republican event. Rather than Mitt Romney’s embarrassing “47 percent” line, this one has former Vice President Dick Cheney lamenting the U.S.’s lack of control over the Middle East, NSA hate, and the danger of “the increasing strain of isolationism” in the GOP.

The private event was the much talked about Las Vegas meet-up of “the Republican Jewish Coalition” held at billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s hotel, “where several possible 2016 contenders, including ex-Governor Jeb Bush and current Governors Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and John Kasich, showed up to kiss the ring of the casino magnate, who’s looking to bankroll a viable Republican presidential candidate,” Mother Jones writes.

There is a lot worth addressing in Cheney’s speech (the dark joke about bombing Iran and the delusional defense of the NSA come to mind), but I wanted to just highlight his remarks on the Middle East and the alleged isolationism running through the GOP.

The former vice president said Obama has been a bust at home and abroad, proving to be a weak commander-in-chief and failing to project strength around the world. “The bottom line is,” Cheney groused, “the United States’ position in [the Middle East] is worse than at any time in my lifetime.” He added, “It’s reached the point where Israel and Egypt, [the United Arab] Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan are closer to one another—imagine that!—than any of them is to us… Nobody who’s been our friend in the past any longer has any sense of trust in we’ll keep our commitments, that we’ll be there in a crisis when they need us. On the other hand, none of our adversaries need fear us.”

This is a nice little summation of what Cheney thinks the thrust of U.S. policy in the Middle East should be. Aside from unequivocally and unconditionally supporting Israel (a prescription mentioned repeatedly in the audio recording), U.S. policy should keep all Middle Eastern states dependent on Washington, isolated from one another, and fearful of America’s war machine. This is how to maintain primacy over the region, and Cheney’s iteration conforms basically to how things have played out since WWII.

To keep the Middle Eastern states dependent on the U.S., you have to prevent independence, which means preventing democracy, economic development, and willful deviation from Washington’s demands. Keeping them from getting “closer to one another” than they are to us is vital in maintaining their dependence on the U.S. They shouldn’t be able to form their own alliances because they are not independent states, they are vassal properties belonging to America. And finally, they must all “fear us,” as Cheney puts it, because the threat of U.S. military force is paramount in enforcing obedience.

Cheney can hardly conceal his love of empire.

Continue reading “Secret Recording of Dick Cheney Lamenting Middle East Policy & GOP ‘Isolationism’”

John Kerry’s Unfair Interim Deal For Israel-Palestine


According to reports in the Israeli paper Haaretz, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is close to getting Israel and the Palestinians to agree on an interim deal. As reported by Barak Ravid, and translated into English from Hebrew by Ira Glunts, the five articles of the deal are as follows:

  1. The Palestinians will agree to extend the negotiations for a year, until 2015, and will refrain during this period from taking any unilateral actions at the United Nations.
  2. The United States will free the spy Jonathan Pollard before Passover.
  3. Israel will initiate a fourth round of prisoner releases that will include 14 Israeli Arabs [Palestinian citizens of Israel]
  4. Israel will release 400 Palestinian prisoners “who have no blood on their hands,” that only have a few months remaining on their sentences.  These prisoners to be released will be determined by Israel and will include women and minors.
  5. Israel will freeze most of the construction, except in East Jerusalem, and use restraint [rein in] in publishing building tenders and marketing land to contractors.

Let’s take these one at a time, in mixed order. Article 2 is particularly interesting. Pollard was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 after working as an Israeli spy, infiltrating the U.S. Navy, and secretly passing more than a million highly classified documents to Israel. Israel granted him citizenship in 1995, after eight years in jail, and has been lobbying for his release ever since.

I have to say I’m a little baffled as to why the issue of Pollard’s imprisonment is at all a part of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Pollard has nothing to do with the conflict over territory that has brought the parties to the negotiating table. All I can think is that this is some sort of concession the Israelis are demanding the United States pay for making them go through the trouble of negotiating, as opposed to perpetually and unquestioningly supporting Israel’s gradual annexation of what’s left of Palestine.

Articles 3 and 4 are interesting, too. Releasing 400 non-violent Palestinian prisoners who will be released in a few months anyway doesn’t seem like much of a concession to me. But Israel always characterizes its release of prisoners as a major, back-breaking concession. The inclusion of these articles in this interim deal serves the purpose of being something Israel can point to as a concession (since there are no others on this list).

Article 5, concerning settlement construction, is the most remarkable of all. Notice the incredibly vague and equivocal language. It sounds a lot like Israel will freeze most settlement construction, but taken as a whole it means nothing at all. There is precedent for this. Obama came into office in 2009 calling for a total freeze on settlement construction. Lacking leverage, Netanyahu agreed…and then kept building settlements anyways. Following the 10-month period in which the non-freeze freeze happened, Israel then rapidly increased the rate of settlement construction in what even the New York Times called “a settlement-building boom.”

Settlements, both existing settlements and new ones in construction, are illegal. They are a flagrant violation of international law. That Israel can continue to violate Palestinian sovereignty by building new, state-subsidized Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem while supposedly good faith negotiations move to the next phase is an affront to the senses. Can we image in a scenario in which the PLO is granted authority to continue illegal acts against Israel as an explicit part of an interim deal that is supposed to impose concessions on both sides?

Article 1 notes this interim deal will last for a year, during which negotiations will continue. Leaving aside, for now, all of the foreseeable problems that are bound to come with a final deal, it’s important to note that the Palestinians’ one point of leverage over Israel – full UN membership or even prosecution of Israeli war crimes at the ICC – is off the table in the interim.

Kerry has reportedly received Israel’s approval of this plan. He is waiting on the Palestinians.

Update: Here is the Palestinian response:

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — President Mahmoud Abbas says the Palestinians are “immediately” resuming their bid to win further U.N. recognition and has signed applications for 15 U.N. agencies and conventions.

Abbas’ surprise move late Tuesday could derail U.S.-brokered peace talks with Israel.