Despite its lush mountainous beauty and temperate climate, Guatemala is not currently a country that tourists are particularly attracted to. Even though I was invited on a Guatemalan tour by very close friends I declined because of the prevalent hostile environment of murder, kidnapping, violence and drugs. I regret that decision. My friends went, enjoyed themselves, saw wonderful sites, met interesting people and returned safely bringing me a small Indian-made doll. Unfortunately, Guatemala has been a haven for violence, war and civil unrest since the early 1950’s. In 1998 “As a result of the continual war, Guatemala's Supreme Court registered more than 35,000 widows and 200,000 orphans due to political violence; more than 440 villages were destroyed; at least 100,000 civilians have died due to political violence since 1954.” [i]
One might naively inquire how a small Christian country could harbor such violence and injustice. In 1944 the Guatemala economy was mostly agricultural. Two percent of the landowners owned 72 percent of the land. Ninety percent of the landowners held a mere 15 percent of the productive land. Poverty stricken Indians labored like slaves for 150 days each year on sprawling plantations in lieu of taxes. Illiteracy was 75 percent among the general population and 95 percent among the Indians. Life expectancy was fifty years for Ladinos (Spanish/Indian blood) and forty years for Indians. [ii] The major financial benefactor was United Fruit Company. [iii] This company was the largest employer with 40,000 jobs in a country with fewer than a million working aged men. United Fruit also owned the only railroad, the only major port, the telephone and telegraph service and was the biggest influence on the United States owned electric facility. [iv]
Direct United States government involvement into Guatemala, the CIA's first covert operation in Latin America, in one of the many so-called banana republics, began in 1947 instigated by the United Fruit Company. They used their high priced Washington lobbying firm and a considerable public relations campaign which convinced the American public that Guatemala had become a Soviet satellite. Thomas G. Corcoran, a high powered lawyer, proposed the idea of a CIA overthrow of Arbenz. His like-minded associate, General Walter Bedell Smith, Director of Central Intelligence (from October 1950 to February 1953 under Truman and Under Secretary of State under Eisenhower) took the idea of a CIA overthrow back to his boss, Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles. The Dulles brothers, Allen and John were previously partners in the law firm, Sullivan and Cromwell that collected fees from United Fruit Company with their big acquisition of the Guatemalan and other Central American railroads.
In 1952 President Truman authorized Operation PBFORTUNE which was in collaboration with Nicaraguan dictator Anastacio Somoza in an attempt to depose Guatemala President Jacobo Arbenz, who had been popularly elected in 1950 by 65 percent of the vote. He was intent on a program of socio-economic policies to benefit Guatemalans and give them equal rights. President Arbenz wanted to implement land reforms by seizing the largest landholdings, with full compensation, and then distributing these 1.5 million acres of seized land to 100,000 non land-owning families. He even confiscated his own family’s land. United Fruit Company was only cultivating 85% of the land that they owned. He also wanted to build an alternative to the United Fruit port, a highway as an alternative to the United Fruit railway, and an alternative to the U.S. owned electric company. [v] He permitted free expression, legalized unions, and allowed diverse political parties.
United Fruit had, for years, enjoyed special tax breaks (they paid none) which would be lost under these new government programs. They also undervalued their holdings in order to minimize real estate taxes. Previous compliant dictators had agreed to these concessions in exchange for United Fruit support and special financial considerations. Their personal greed obliterated whatever concern they should have had for the Guatemala citizens.
Charles R. Burrows of the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs at the State Department wrote in 1953, “Guatemala has become an increasing threat to the stability of Honduras and El Salvador. Its agrarian reform is a powerful propaganda weapon; its broad social program of aiding the workers and peasants in a victorious struggle against the upper classes and large foreign enterprises has a strong appeal to the populations of Central American neighbors where similar conditions prevail.” [vi]
The CIA, developed to perpetuate American business interests, described the Arbenz policies as “an intensely nationalistic program of progress colored by the touchy, anti-foreign inferiority complex of the 'Banana Republic.” [vii] Obviously, Arbenz was more interested in helping the citizens of Guatemala than he was in sustaining the overgrown influence of the very profitable United Fruit Company which has since metastasized into a dozen other Caribbean nations. The CIA, on behalf of United Fruit, labeled Arbenz a communist even though his land reform plan was within the guidelines of the U.S. State Department seven years later as part of President Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress program. [viii]
As early as February of 1952 “CIA Headquarters began generating memos with subject titles such as ‘Guatemalan Communist Personnel to be disposed of during Military Operations,’ outlining categories of persons to be neutralized ‘through Executive Action’--murder--or through imprisonment and exile. The ‘A’ list of those to be assassinated contained 58 names, all of which the CIA has excised from the declassified documents.” [ix] Additional prominent individuals were to also be eliminated “immediately in the event of a successful anti-Communist coup.” This, of course, would require money, training and the establishment of assassination squads. Potential assassination targets might include journalists, doctors, teachers and patriots (insurgents?).
A well-documented CIA orchestrated overthrow, called Operation PBSUCCESS was authorized by President Eisenhower in August 1953 with a budget of $2.7 million budget for “psychological warfare and political action” and “subversion”. For American media purposes it was the beginnings of what would come to be called an intervention supposedly to keep a particular country “safe for democracy” or as in our current Iraqi war farce – to establish democracy. The word intervention is actually double-speak for destabilization which is a primary function of the CIA on behalf of big American business.
United Fruit Company also hired John Clementz as a part time publicist. Clementz was employed full time as an executive of the Hearst Newspaper chain. It’s handy to have such media connections. Hearst had a subsidiary: Hearst International News Service which was then one of the three major news services. It has since merged with United Press to form United Press International. United Fruit also managed to influence the New York Times to move their Central American correspondent before the overthrow took place as he might report things they didn’t want reported. [x]
“In 1954, the US was at the height of its anti-communist crusades, and Central America was the focus not only of the virulent policies of the day but also of the Dulles brothers, John Foster, the secretary of state, and Allen, chief of the CIA, the agency that engineered the coup. The Dulles brothers, stockholders in the United Fruit Company (UFCO), had a significant financial interest in seeing that pro-UFCO dictators remained in charge. Allen Dulles, prior to taking over at the CIA, was president of UFCO. John had been UFCO's lawyer.” [xi]
It is not unusual or inconsequential to have elite well connected individuals easily move from powerful government positions to influential business situations and vice versa. Business frequently has political ramifications and when business is sufficiently successful, they significantly influence or establish political policy for their own benefit and to suppress competitors. For instance, Halliburton stock holder Dick Cheney [xii] previously had a very substantial position with that company which is currently receiving multiple no-bid contracts, along with their subsidiary companies, in Iraq and the regions affected by Hurricane Katrina. According most individuals, this would be a great conflict of interest but these circumstances are infrequently mentioned in the mass media and if they are noted – the rationalization is that Halliburton is the one and only qualified company. Media connections are invaluable!
Then there is Donald Rumsfeld who was on the board and “attended nearly all of the board meetings” [xiii] of the Swiss-based ABB Company between 1990 and February 2001. In 2000 (based on a Clinton era contract) ABB sold $200 million worth of components to North Korea to allow construction of two nuclear reactors. Greed does not recognize boundaries or loyalties. In 1988 Rumsfeld was selected as a director at the Gilead Sciences, one of the industry's premier biotechnology companies. Rumsfeld also served as chief executive officer of G. D. Searle, a worldwide pharmaceutical company, from 1977 to 1985. [xiv] It was during his stint at Searle that he visited Saddam Hussein at the request of President Reagan. [xv] He was also at Searle when they made mega money over the highly controversial poisonous product aspartame. [xvi] With his previous government connections, he was able to get this human pollutant passed by the FDA without adequate testing. [xvii]
The symbiotic relationship between government and big business makes no distinction between political parties – they are both compromised. It is really all about money. The liberals, the conservatives, the Democrats, the Republicans – they are all influenced and prostituted by lobbyists, who often write congressional bills. The majority of politicians have their hand out for big business campaign contributions. There are exceptions, of course – I can think of one, Ron Paul.
Jacobo Arbenz, popularly elected in 1950, was only the second democratically elected president that Guatemala had ever had. After the successful overthrow the CIA planned to replace him with the American business friendly general, Guatemalan Castillo Armas. Prior to the overthrow, CIA agents actually accompanied United Fruit executives around the country to evaluate prospective Guatemalan leaders who would guarantee the implementation of a strong-arm government conducive to the business requirements of United Fruit and the International Railways of Central America, which they owned. That man would be Castillo Armas.
The coup, led by Castillo Armas, consisted of 150 men but the CIA convinced Arbenz and the Guatemalans that there was a major invasion. United Fruit Company gave permission to the CIA to use their railway and port to smuggle arms, men and equipment. They also allowed the CIA to use their radio stations to transmit propaganda while jamming all Guatemalan stations. The CIA hired American pilots to bomb strategic points in Guatemala City. [xviii] Assumedly, there were individuals killed in these bombings, which apparently was not even a consideration in the quest for the almighty dollar. Nor the massive killings in the decades that followed: “Through decades of war, the United States trained Guatemalan troops at the infamous School of the Americas and backed military regimes that were systematically torturing and killing civilians under the guise of battling communism and maintaining a suitable atmosphere for international commerce.” [xix] Why is it that the elite place less value on the life of an Iraqi or a Guatemalan?
So the CIA simulated a major invasion of a country and used their radio stations to disseminate fitting information according to their agenda while jamming (censoring) other stations. They also used available transportation to smuggle arms, men and equipment. And lastly, they hired pilots to bomb and kill unsuspecting citizens. May we assume that these initial tactics have become much more sophisticated over the subsequent years since 1954?
Arbenz, given what he was led to believe, was forced to resign on 27 June 1954. Resignation and compulsory exile are preferable to assassination. He was the second leader of a foreign country to be toppled by the CIA. The first was Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran, on 19 August 1953. Arbenz fell just ten months later. After Arbenz fled a round-up for the neutralization of so-called Communists and collaborators was undertaken, setting a precedent for future target countries. On orders from the CIA puppet Castillo Armas hundreds of Guatemalans were rounded up and killed. “Between 1954 and 1990, human rights groups estimate, the repressive operatives of successive military regimes murdered more than 100,000 civilians.” [xx]
Bloodshed and despair at the hands of successive right wing barbaric dictators has been the lot of the citizens of Guatemala – all financed by trusting, distracted American taxpayers who are force-fed by government/corporate media propaganda. We blindly fund American big business friendly governments convinced by our complicit government that the Guatemalan people would fall prey to dreaded communism if we withhold our support. Yet, because of our blood-soaked money, they fall prey to their own barbaric, American installed puppet leaders.
Sabino Perez, who watched in 1982 as his village went up in flames, said, “You can give money to reconstruct a country after a war, but you can't reconstruct the lost humanity. You can build buildings--but nothing can bring the dead back to life.” [xxi]
National Catholic Reporter; 2/13/1998
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