We all know corporations are capable of doing terrible things. It’s almost like a pastime for them, from using child slave labor to pushing baby formula on mothers in Africa, indirectly killing thousands of infants. These corporations are pretty shameless when it comes to making just one more dollar.
But did you know that they even attempted to, or have succeeded, in overthrowing sovereign governments? That’s right, some corporations in history have decided that they’d be able to make more profit if they didn’t have the pesky government stopping them.
It should be noted that most coups on this list weren’t exactly the corporation storming government offices. Instead, the majority of these sinister plots were done through buying political influence, funding rebel groups, or enlisting the help of a military to do their dirty work. Either way, here are four times a corporation overthrew a sovereign government – and you probably haven’t heard of them.
How Rich Farmers May Have Overthrown the Queen of Hawaii
While it may have been taught in school, many have forgotten that Hawaii was its own kingdom before it became a US territory and eventually a state. It wasn’t until 1893 that a committee of foreigners overthrew the Queen of Hawaii, Lili’uokalani. The Committee of Safety was composed of 13 people, many of whom were rich plantation owners.
These plantation owners didn’t like the direction the monarchical government was moving in Hawaii and wanted the island to be annexed by the United States. The political system of the United States would favor these white male business owners and allow them to exploit the land far greater than they ever could under Queen Lili’uokalani’s reign.
The Committee gathered non-natives and weapons, and the coup began on January 17th, 1893. They stationed themselves outside the palace and awaited the Queen’s answer. At the same time, they began petitioning the US government and expressed great concern for what was happening on the island. They explicitly mentioned the danger the property of American residents faced on the islands.
Eventually, the chairman of the Committee read a proclamation outside the palace declaring the abolishment of the monarchy and a new, provisional government – the Republic of Hawaii. The Republic was ruled by its first and only president, Sanford B. Dole, a relative of James Dole. James Dole would eventually move to the island and began a business that would grow into an international conglomerate, the Dole Food Company. As for the Republic, well, it only took a few years for the United States government to annex it and another five decades more for it to become a state.
How Chiquita Possibly Overthrew the Government of Guatemala
Chiquita is known for many products; you’ve probably seen their stickers on bananas in your grocery store. Little did you know that at one point, they were called the United Fruit Company (UFC) and they helped overthrow the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Árbenz.
In the 1950s, the UFC was involved in all sorts of countries in Latin America, at first for good but often for the worst by the time they were done. Guatemala was no different, especially when Jacobo Árbenz began proposing agrarian reform and new labor laws that would have crushed UFC’s profit margins and land ownership in the country.
At the time, everyone and their mother in the US government had some tie to UFC. The Secretary of State was a member of a law firm that represented UFC, his brother was the director of the CIA, and on the board of the UFC, the Assistant Secretary of State was once president of UFC, and the list keeps going.
So it should come as no surprise that UFC lobbied the Eisenhower administration that Árbenz was looking to turn communist and ally with the Soviet Union. In the 50s, that was all that needed to be said before suddenly, the United States had a malignant interest in you. Eventually, Árbenz was removed from power by an opposing colonel and his forces that were trained by the CIA in a covert operation.
A CIA-Backed Coup of Iran for Oil, What’s New
In the early 1900s, the British government purchased controlling shares of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (Anglo-Persian Oil Company at the time). With their majority share, they bled Iran dry of profits and oil for decades until, eventually, something had to burst.
In the late 1940s, nationalistic sentiment had begun to rise in Iran, and they especially did not like the idea of a foreign government sucking their oil right out of the ground. Prime Minister Ali Razmara attempted to negotiate with the British government but had no success. Many felt that he was weak in his efforts to negotiate with the West and didn’t like how he ignored the rising nationalism at home.
Razmara would eventually be assassinated, and just a year later, the Iranian parliament voted to nationalize the AIOC, and a new leader was voted in, Mohammed Mossadegh, the leader of the National Front. After Mossadegh refused to negotiate with the British on foreign control of the new nationalized AIOC, Britain began plotting a coup to regain control of the oil fields.
After imploring the United States that Iran would turn communist along with the rest of the Middle East, the CIA and British intelligence began orchestrating a coup by destabilizing the country. Eventually, Mossadegh would be ousted, the AIOC would return to British control, and they would change its name to none other than… British Petroleum (BP).
The US Almost Gets a Taste of Their Own Medicine
The Business Plot would have been a sick sense of irony for the United States government – and spelled disaster for its population and the rest of the world. The Business Plot was a 1933 conspiracy to overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt and install a puppet that would more closely align with large corporations’ interests.
The plot begins with a man named Smedley Butler, a decorated and respected officer from the Marine Corps. He alleges that a group of businessmen approached him with an offer to help establish a fascist dictatorship with him at the helm of 500,000 soldiers. Butler claims that this coup was being led by none other than J. P. Morgan, a large banking firm that you may even hold an account with today.
Butler went to congress with all of this information, and an investigation was subsequently held to determine the truth. All involved parties, of course, denied these allegations, and many accused Butler of simply playing an elaborate trick on everyone. No one was ever charged or publicly held accountable for this plot, and some historians today argue if there even was one. We may never know if Butler was telling the truth or if there is even another plot like it brewing today.
You might be wondering, is that it? It’s only happened four times throughout history? No. It’s not rare, or really all that uncommon in history, for corporations or rich nobles of the past to influence a government to the point where it’s overthrown or bows to their every whim. This still happens today due to lobbying and corporations favoring parts of the world where corruption goes unchecked.
It’s important to remember that most corporations exist for one purpose – to enrich the value of the stock for their shareholders. If that means toppling a government in Central America for an extra percent of growth come quarter four, so be it.