In 1997, the CIA finally declassified proof of their grubby involvement in the Guatemalan coup of 1954. The coup had been nothing short of evil, violently reasserting capitalist oppression in a nation just beginning to recover from years of tyrannical rule. More than a half-century after Guatemala’s elected president Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was overthrown in a coup planned by the C.I.A. and forced into a wandering exile, in 1994 US President Alvaro Colom apologized to Mr. Arbenz’s son Juan Jacobo and asked for forgiveness on behalf of the state for what he called a “great crime.”
In the video at the end of this article, you will see how the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) orchestrated the overthrow of Guatemala’s democratically elected president, Jacóbo Arbenz.
Battle To Stop The Spread Of Communism Across The Globe
After World War II American leaders were committed to preventing the Soviet Union from spreading communism across the globe. This concern generated much of U.S. policy toward Guatemala during the 1950s. Jorge Ubico Castañeda was a Guatemalan dictator ruling Guatemala for 13 years (1931–44). During Ubico’s rule, 2 percent of the population controlled more than 60 percent of the land, most of which was held by the American company United Fruit. The company also held a monopoly over the nation’s banana, utility, and railroad industries and controlled the country’s shipping center and activities at Puerto Barrios.
By the mid-20th century, governmental corruption had led to an obscene concentration of land ownership among a tiny minority of people–many of whom weren’t even Guatemalan. The US-based United Fruit Company, for instance, had acquired 42% of the land while paying zero tax and duty.
Juan José Arévalo Elected
But Things began to change in 1944 when the country’s first democratically elected president, Juan José Arévalo, took office. Introducing a series of progressive reforms–in health care, social security, and the protection of indigenous (Maya) rights–Arévalo was for most a light at the end of the tunnel. In 1951, the second democratically elected president, Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, continued this progressive reformist agenda by reclaiming land for the people under Decree 900. The new law ordered the expropriation of all property that was larger than six hundred acres and not in cultivation. which means he was dividing unused, uncultivated lands of the states among the landless owners. More importantly, it covered the vast holdings of the United Fruit Company, which owned some 600,000 acres-most of it unused.
Arbenz shocked UFCO officials, even more, when he actually confiscated a huge chunk of the company’s land and offered $1.2 million as compensation such reforms unsettled the United Fruit company’s management. as expected, the UFCO refused it. The fruit conglomerate reportedly funded a CIA coup of the Guatemalan government, code-named Operation Fortune.
At this point, the United Fruit Company went crying to President Eisenhower. And in response the US government (covertly) went to war, arming and training paramilitary thugs to overthrow the peaceful, democratically elected government. Although Árbenz actually offered to meet with the US president to discuss a peaceful resolution, he looks to have been ignored. Ultimately, he was overthrown and replaced with yet another American-controlled dictator named Castillo Armas.
Castillo Armas cancelled Decree 900 and returned all of the confiscated land to United Fruit. The group prevented the formation of political parties, blocked newspaper stories, and burned books.
Castillo Armas’s Rule
Critics across the globe felt differently about Castillo Armas’s rule. The British Labor Party described U.S. actions as a naked act of aggression, and anti-American protests swept across Latin America. Che Guevara was among these protestors. He had traveled to Guatemala in the hope of witnessing Arbenz’s reforms. Instead, he watched as the CIA dismantled Guatemala’s social progress. According to Guevara’s wife, it was the Guatemalan experience that inspired him to take up arms against “Yankee imperialism.” Guevara fled to Mexico City, where he met Fidel Castro. The two men traveled to Cuba to overthrow the government in 1959 and the rest is history.