Trained in the U.S.A.

The United States has a long history of inadvertently (and sometimes not so inadvertently) training future coup plotters around the world.

Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images



Country: Mali

Training: U.S. military officials have acknowledged that Sanogo “participated in several U.S.-funded International Military Education and Training (IMET) programs in the United States, including basic officer training,” though it’s not yet clear which courses he took. He has affirmed receiving U.S. training in several interviews, but has declined to elaborate. Until this month’s events, the United States allocated $600,000 per year for military training in Mali as part of an effort to combat Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Back home: On March 22, Capt. Sanogo and a renegade group of officers calling themselves the National Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State overthrew the government of President Amadou Toumani Touré. (Touré himself first took power in a 1991 coup but quickly handed over the presidency to a civilian government and was then elected a decade later.) The soldiers felt they were insufficiently supported in their fight against Tuareg rebels in the country’s north. The junta has dissolved the country’s governing institutions and closed its borders while several key international organizations have suspended Mali’s membership. The United States has denounced the coup and cut off military aid.

Although Sanogo’s supporters are already referring to him as le président, he has vowed that he will not cling to power and will quickly turn over his office to a civilian government, though this is a bit odd given that an election was already scheduled for next month.


Country: The Gambia

Trained: Jammeh, then a captain, attended a military police training course at Fort McClellan, Alabama, in 1994.

Back home: Only 29 years old and just returned from his training in Alabama, Jammeh and four other junior officers led a bloodless coup in 1994, overthrowing longtime democratically elected president Dawda Jawara. Jammeh promised that his would be a “coup with a difference” and that he would stand down “as soon as we have set things right.” Eighteen years later, he is still in power.

In addition to brutal crackdowns on the opposition and the press, Jammeh has become known for his eccentricities, including promoting a banana-and-herb cure for AIDS and rounding up those suspected of sorcery. After he was re-elected in 2011 to a fourth term in a widely criticized election, His Excellency the President Sheik Professor Alhaji Doctor Yahya Jammeh, as he calls himself, told his critics they could “go to hell” and vowed to rule for a billion years.


Country: Haiti

Trained: Biamby received infantry training at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1980 and 1985. François received small-arms and ammunition repair training at the Army Odrnance School in Aberdeen, Maryland, and the Savanna Army Depot in Illinois in 1983.

Back home: In 1991, Biamby, the Army chief of staff, and François, chief of the national police, led a coup along with Army Gen. Raoul Cedras to overthrow President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, installing Cedras as leader of the country. (It is also frequently reported that Cedras received trainingin the United States though the Pentagon claimed at the time to be unable to find any record of him training.)

Cedras’s three years of rule were characterized by human rights abuses, including the murder of hundreds of Arisitide supporters by François’s death squads and a massive increase in cocaine smuggling, reportedly organized by the police chief. But, under international pressure, the regime stepped down in 1994 and allowed Aristide to return to power. Cedras was reportedly given a million-dollar “golden parachute” by the U.S.  government to convince him to leave. Both he and Biamby are reportedly living in Panama. François was arrested in Honduras in 1997 and held on drug charges for several months but then released after a court denied a U.S. extradition request. His current whereabouts are unknown.

Aristide was again overthrown in 2004, this time by rebel leader Guy Phillipe, who had also reportedly received training by U.S. Special Forces.


Country: Honduras

Training: According to the advocacy group SOAWatch, Vasquez took a combat arms training course at the School of the Americas (SOA) in 1976 and another on small unit training in 1984. The SOA was a controversial U.S. military training program for Latin American military officers, a number of whom went on to be implicated in human rights abuses or military coups. The school was officially closed in 2000 but critics allege that similar training is taking place under the auspices of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation based in Ft. Benning, Georgia.

Back Home: Honduras’s constitutional crisis of 2009 began when then President Manuel Zelaya ordered Vasquez, then commander of the Honduran armed forces, to help administer a referendum that would have allowed him to run for reelection. Vasquez refused, believing the referendum to be illegal, and was dismissed by the president.

As Zelaya moved ahead with the referendum, Vasquez and his allies supervised a plan to seize the ballots around the country, arrest the president, and remove him from the country. Elections were held several months later and Vasquez was named head of Honduras’s government-owned telecoms company in 2010. He has suggested he may run for president in 2013.


Country: Panama

Training: Took four courses on command at SOA between 1963 and 1967

Back home: In 1968, the left-leaning anti-militarist Arnulfo Arias was elected president of Panama, promising to regain control of the Panama Canal and reassert civilian control over the country’s military. He took office on Oct. 1 and was removed from power 10 days later in a military coup led by Lt. Col. Torrijos, fleeing — ironically– to the U.S.-controlled Panama Canal Zone. (Arias had bad luck with coups: It was the third time he had been ousted from power by the military.)

The new junta quickly disbanded all political parties and arrested hundreds of political opponents. Torrijos, who promoted himself to brigadier general a year later, ruled Panama for 13 years, consolidating political power in the hands of the military elite. He is best remembered internationally for negotiating the treaty with U.S. President Jimmy Carter that returned the canal to Panamanian control in 2000.

Torrijos died in a plane crash in 1981, after which his fellow SOA graduate Manuel Noriega quickly became the de facto ruler of the country.


Country: Guatemala

Training: Montt attended a training course at SOA in 1950.

Back home: More than three decades of civil war and military dictatorship began in Guatemala following the U.S.-backed coup that overthrew leftist President Jadobo Arbenz Guzman in 1954. In 1982, following an election widely viewed as fraudulent, Montt — by then a general — seized power in yet another CIA-backed coup.

Montt led the country for only 18 months before he was himself overthrown in a coup, but during that time thousands of peasants were killed as the military hunted down leftist opponents in the countryside. Despite CIA reports of an increasing number of bodies “appearing in ditches and gullies,” the Reagan administration lifted the U.S. arms embargo on Guatemala during this period. He was also a close friend of U.S. preachers Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who praised his anti-Communist Christian message.

During his time out of power, Montt was accused of having ties to organized crime. In 2003 he made an unsuccessful run for the presidency of Guatemala. In January 2012, he was indicted on charges of genocide against native Guatemalans and crimes against humanity. The prosecution has implicated him in the deaths of at least 1,771 people.


Country: Bolivia

Training: Took a motor vehicles course at SOA in 1956 and received more training at Ft. Hood, Texas, in 1960

Back home: The career soldier served as a military attaché in Washington, minister of education, and director of the Argentine military academy before he first attempted a coup against leftist president Juan Jose Torres in 1971. Several months later, he returned from a brief exile in Argentina to finish the job and declare himself president. Banzer survived 13 coups during his rule before allowing elections and conceding defeat in 1985. It’s estimated that during Banzer’s first period of rule, more than 15,000 people were arrested and 200 killed for political reasons.

In 1997, he was elected president again and ruled until 2001 when, stricken with cancer, he handed over power to his vice president. He was known as a strong supporter and ally of the U.S.-led war on drugs. He died in 2002.

Joshua E. Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy.

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