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1954 Guatemalan coup d'état

1954 Guatemalan coup d'état
Date18–27 June 1954
Result Jacobo Árbenz overthrown; Guatemalan Revolution ended; Military Junta assumes power.
23x15px Guatemalan Government

23x15px Military of Guatemala

Supported by:
23x15px United States

Commanders and leaders
Jacobo Árbenz
Carlos Enrique Díaz de León
Elfego Hernán Monzón Aguirre
Carlos Castillo Armas
José Luis Cruz Salazar
Mauricio Dubois
File:President Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles in 1956.jpg
Operation PBSUCCESS: US President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, the executor and the advocate of the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état that installed the right-wing dictatorship

The 1954 Guatemalan coup d’état (18–27 June 1954) was a covert operation carried out by the United States Central Intelligence Agency that deposed the democratically elected President Jacobo Árbenz and ended the Guatemalan Revolution. Codenamed Operation PBSUCCESS, it installed the military regime of Carlos Castillo Armas, the first in a series of military dictators that ruled Guatemala.

Guatemala had been ruled since 1930 by the dictator General Jorge Ubico, supported by the United States government. His regime was one of the most brutally repressive military juntas in the history of Central America. In return for US support he gave hundreds of thousands of hectares of highly fertile land to the American United Fruit Company (UFCO), as well as allowing the US military to establish bases in Guatemala.[1][2][3][4][5] In 1944, Ubico's repressive policies resulted in a large popular revolt against him, led by students, intellectuals, and a progressive faction of the military. In what was later called the "October Revolution", Ubico was overthrown, resulting in Guatemala's first democratic election.[6]

The elections were won by Juan José Arévalo who was leading a coalition of leftist parties known as the Revolutionary Action Party. He implemented a series of social reforms including minimum wage laws, increased educational funding and near-universal suffrage. Despite his policies being relatively moderate he was widely disliked by the United States government and the United Fruit Company, whose hugely profitable business had been affected by the end to brutal labor practices. Arévalo appointed Jacobo Árbenz as his defense minister, and he played a crucial role in foiling many of the 25 coup attempts that took place during Arévalo's presidency.[7][8]

Fresh elections were held in 1950. Arévalo did not contest, and Árbenz won in a landslide, receiving three times as many votes as Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes, his nearest challenger, in elections that were generally fair.[9] Árbenz continued the social reform policies of his predecessor and also began an ambitious program of land reform, which attempted to grant small land-holdings to peasants who had been victims of debt slavery prior to Arévalo. This policy expropriated large tracts of un-farmed private land, and redistributed it to landless laborers. Árbenz himself gave up a large portion of his land-holdings. This policy was greatly resented by the UFCO, who had benefited until then from Ubico's largesse. The company lobbied the US government to topple Árbenz.[10] A paramilitary invasion by the CIA overthrew Árbenz in 1954, and installed the military dictator Carlos Castillo Armas.[10]

Following the coup Guatemala was ruled by a series of US-backed military regimes until 1996. The coup sparked off the Guatemalan Civil War against leftist guerrillas, during which the military committed massive human rights violations against the civilian population, including a genocidal campaign against the Maya peoples.[11]

Historical background

The Monroe Doctrine placed the Republic of Guatemala under the US hegemony of the Western Hemisphere

The Monroe Doctrine

Further information: Monroe Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine was a philosophy of foreign policy articulated by US President James Monroe in 1823. It warned the European powers not to indulge in further colonization in Latin America.[12][13] The stated aim of the doctrine was to maintain order and stability, and to make certain that access to resources and markets was not limited.[13] Historian Mark Gilderhus states that the doctrine also contained racially condescending language, which likened Latin American countries to fighting children.[13]

The US did not initially have the power to enforce the Monroe doctrine. Over the course of the 19th century many European powers withdrew from Latin America, and the US expanded its sphere of influence.[12] In 1895, Grover Cleveland laid out a more militant version of the doctrine, stating that the US was "practically sovereign" on the continent.[13] Following the Spanish–American War in 1898, this aggressive interpretation was used to create a US economic empire across the Caribbean, such as with the 1903 treaty with Cuba that was heavily tilted in the US favor.[13] US President Theodore Roosevelt believed that the US should be the main beneficiary of production in central America.[14] The US enforced this hegemony with armed interventions in Nicaragua (1912–33), and Haiti (1915–34).[15] The US did not need to use its military might in Guatemala, where a series of dictators were willing to accommodate US economic interests in return for US support.[15] From 1890 to 1920, economic control of Guatemalan resources and economy shifted away from Britain and Germany to the United States, which became the dominant Guatemalan trade partner.[15] However, the Monroe doctrine continued to be applied to the country, and was used to justify the coup in 1954.[16]

Authoritarian governments

Further information: Manuel Estrada Cabrera and Jorge Ubico
File:Manuel Estrada Cabrera 01.jpg
Manuel Estrada Cabrera, Dictator of Guatemala from 1898 to 1920. Cabrera granted large concessions to the American United Fruit Company
File:Ubico Castaneda, Jorge.jpg
Jorge Ubico, the dictator of Guatemala from 1931 to 1944. He passed laws allowing landowners to use lethal force to defend their property

The surge in global coffee demand in the late 19th century led to the Guatemalan government making numerous concessions to plantation owners, such as by passing legislation that dispossessed the communal landholdings of the indigenous population and allowed coffee growers to purchase it.[17][18] Manuel Estrada Cabrera, president of Guatemala from 1898 to 1920, was one of several rulers who made huge concessions to foreign companies, including the United States-based United Fruit Company (UFC), which purchased large areas of land at favorable prices.[19] The company had a monopoly over the highly lucrative banana trade, and due to its close relationships with the Guatemalan dictators, also controlled the docks, the railroad, and the communications in the country.[20] The US government was also closely involved with the Guatemalan state, frequently dictating financial policies, and ensuring that US companies were granted several exclusive rights.[21] When Cabrera was overthrown in 1920, the US sent an armed force to make certain that the president remained friendly to the United States.[22]

Fearing a popular revolt following the unrest created by the Great Depression of 1929, wealthy Guatemalan landowners lent their support to Jorge Ubico, who had become known for his efficiency and ruthlessness as a provincial governor. Ubico won an uncontested election in 1931,[17][18] with the United States also lending him heavy political support.[22] Ubico's regime quickly became one of the most repressive in the region. He abolished debt peonage, replacing it with a vagrancy law, which stipulated that all landless men of working age needed to perform a minimum of 100 days of forced labor annually.[23] He authorized landowners to take any actions against their workers, including executions.[23][24][1] Ubico was a big admirer of European fascists like Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, but was driven to ally with the United States for geopolitical reasons.[25] Following the American lead he declared war against Germany and Japan in 1941, and arrested all people of German descent in the country.[26] He continued to make massive concessions to the United Fruit Company, such as giving it Script error: No such module "convert". hectares of public land,[27] and exempting it from all taxes.[28]

Ubico amassed a large personal wealth, claiming an annual salary of $215,000.[28] He was strongly anti–communist, reacting several peasant rebellions with incarcerations and massacres.[28][1][29][30][5] He held the indigenous Mayan people in high contempt, likening them to donkeys.[1] Ubico continued to receive support from the US right through his period in power.[1]

Guatemalan Revolution

Main article: Guatemalan Revolution

The repressive policies of the Ubico government resulted in a popular uprising led by university students and middle-class citizens in 1944.[31] Ubico fled, handing over power to a three-person junta led by Federico Ponce Vaides. The junta continued Ubico's policies until it was toppled by the October Revolution. The movement had the aim of transforming Guatemala into a liberal capitalist society.[31] The free election that followed installed a philosophically conservative university professor, Juan José Arévalo, as the President of Guatemala (1945–1951); and established a new political constitution that allowed the legal possibility of expropriating unused farmland for the benefit of the Guatemalan peasant majority. Yet, the liberal social and economic policies, derived from the new political constitution and the “spiritual socialism” philosophy of President Arévalo, provoked the ruling class gentry and the urban bourgeoisie to first distrust, and then accuse the President of Guatemala of supporting communism — a serious personal imputation and political accusation during the Cold War, of which the US Government took serious note. Furthermore, in 1947, the Arévalo Government promulgated a liberal labour law that favoured the rights of workers, and implicitly attacked the exploitative business practices of the United Fruit Company.

In turn, the private business complaints of the UFC prompted the US embassy in Guatemala City to send alarmist political intelligence to Washington, DC — that Guatemalan President Arévalo allowed political rights to Guatemalan communists. Moreover, in keeping with his spiritual-socialism philosophy, President Arévalo supported the Caribbean Legion, a group of reformist Latin American military officers and intellectuals who advocated the deposition of right-wing dictatorships in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Venezuela; the CIA described the Caribbean Legion as a politically destabilizing force, dangerous to US geopolitical interests in the Western Hemisphere. As a participant in the October Revolution of 1944, army Captain Árbenz facilitated the transition from military dictatorship and military government to representative democracy, when he, and a comrade officer, Major Arana, forsook the Presidency of Guatemala for constitutional government; such personal and professional integrity earned them, and the Guatemalan Army, much popular respect as patriots. Later, in 1950, Jacobo Árbenz as presidential candidate received 65 per cent of the votes. In post-dictatorship Guatemala, the Political Constitution of Guatemala allowed only a six-year term, and forbade presidential re-election.

Land reform

Main article: Decree 900

The biggest component of Árbenz' policy was his agrarian reform bill.[32] Árbenz drafted the bill himself with the help of advisers that included some leaders of the communist party as well as non-communist economists.[33] He also sought advice from numerous economists from across Latin America.[32] The bill was passed by the National Assembly on 17 June 1952, and the program went into effect immediately. The focus of the program was on transferring uncultivated land from large landowners to their poverty stricken laborers, who would then be able to begin a viable farm of their own.[32] Árbenz was also motivated to pass the bill because he needed to generate capital for his public infrastructure projects within the country. At the behest of the United States, the World Bank had refused to grant Guatemala a loan in 1951, which made the shortage of capital more acute.[34]

The official title of the agrarian reform bill was Decree 900. It expropriated all uncultivated land from landholdings that were larger than Script error: No such module "convert".. If the estates were between Script error: No such module "convert". and Script error: No such module "convert". in size, uncultivated land was expropriated only if less than two-thirds of it was in use.[34] The owners were compensated with government bonds, the value of which was equal to that of the land expropriated. The value of the land itself was the value that the owners had declared in their tax returns in 1952.[34] The redistribution was organized by local committees that included representatives from the landowners, the laborers, and the government.[34] Of the nearly 350,000 private land-holdings, only 1710 were affected by expropriation. The law itself was cast in a moderate capitalist framework; however, it was implemented with great speed, which resulted in occasional arbitrary land seizures. There was also some violence, directed at land-owners, as well as at peasants that had minor landholdings of their own.[34]

By June 1954, 1.4 million acres of land had been expropriated and distributed. Approximately 500,000 individuals, or one-sixth of the population, had received land by this point.[34] The decree also included provision of financial credit to the people who received the land. The National Agrarian Bank (Banco Nacional Agrario, or BNA) was created on 7 July 1953, and by June 1951 it had disbursed more than $9 million in small loans. 53,829 applicants received an average of 225 US dollars, which was twice as much as the Guatemalan per capita income.[34] The BNA developed a reputation for being a highly efficient government bureaucracy.[34] The loans had a high repayment rate, and of the $3,371,185 paid out between March and November 1953, $3,049,092 had been repaid by June 1954.[34] The law also nationalized roads that passed through redistributed land, which greatly increased the connectivity of rural communities.[34]

Contrary to the predictions made by the detractors of the government, the law resulted in a slight increase in Guatemalan agricultural productivity, and to an increase in cultivated area. Purchases of farm machinery also increased.[34] Overall, the law resulted in a significant improvement in living standards for many thousands of peasant families, the majority of whom were indigenous people. [34] Historian Piero Gleijeses stated that the injustices corrected by the law were far greater than the injustice of the relatively few arbitrary land seizures.[34] Historian Greg Grandin stated that the law was flawed in many respects; among other things, it was too cautious and deferential to the planters, and it created communal divisions among peasants. Nonetheless, it represented a fundamental power shift in favor of those that had been marginalized before then.[35]

Role of the United Fruit Company

The former headquarters of the United Fruit Company, which had a large role to play in instigating the 1954 Guatemalan coup d’état
Main article: United Fruit Company


The United Fruit Company (UFC) had been formed in 1899 by the merger of two large American corporations.[36] The new corporation held large tracts of land across Central America, and also controlled the railroads in the region, which it used to support its business of exporting bananas.[37] By 1900 it had become the largest exporter of bananas in the world.[38] By 1930 it had an operating capital of 215 million US dollars, and had been the largest landowner and employer in Guatemala for several years.[39] Under the dictatorships of Manuel Estrada Cabrera and Jorge Ubico, the company had been granted a large number of economic and legal concessions in Guatemala that allowed it to massively expand its business. These concessions frequently came at the cost of tax revenue for the Guatemalan government.[38] The company supported Jorge Ubico in the leadership struggle that occurred from 1930 to 1932, and upon assuming power, Ubico expressed willingness to create a new contract with it. This new contract was immensely favorable to the company. It included a 99-year lease to massive tracts of land, exemptions from virtually all taxes, and a guarantee that no other company would receive any competing contract. Under Ubico, the company paid virtually no taxes, which greatly hindered the Guatemalan government's ability to deal with the Great Depression of 1929-32.[38] Ubico requested the UFC to cap the salary of its workers at only 50 cents a day, so that workers in other companies would be less able to demand higher wages.[39] The company also virtually owned Puerto Barrios, Guatemala's only port to the Atlantic ocean, allowing the company to make profits from the flow of goods through the port.[39] By 1950, the company's annual profits were 65 million US dollars, twice as large as the revenue of the government of Guatemala.[40]

Effects of the October revolution

Due to its long association with Ubico's government, the United Fruit Company (UFC) was seen as an impediment to progress by Guatemalan revolutionaries after 1944. This image was worsened by the company's discriminatory policies towards its colored workers.[40][41] Thanks to its position as the country's largest landowner and employer, the reforms of Arévalo's government affected the UFC more than other companies. Among other things, the labor code passed by the government allowed its workers to strike when their demands for higher wages and job security were not met. The company saw itself as being specifically targeted by the reforms, and refused to negotiate with the numerous sets of strikers, despite frequently being in violation of the new laws.[42] The company's labor troubles were compounded in 1952 when Jacobo Árbenz passed Decree 900, the agrarian reform law. Of the Script error: No such module "convert". that the company owned, 15% were being cultivated; the rest of the land, which was idle, came under the scope of the agrarian reform law.[42]

Lobbying the United States

The United Fruit Company responded with intensive lobbying of members of the United States government, leading many US congressmen and senators to criticize the Guatemalan government for not protecting the interests of the company.[43] The Guatemalan government responded by saying that the company was the main obstacle to progress in the country. American historians observed that "To the Guatemalans it appeared that their country was being mercilessly exploited by foreign interests which took huge profits without making any contributions to the nation's welfare."[43] In 1953, Script error: No such module "convert". of uncultivated land was expropriated by the government, which offered the company compensation at the rate of 2.99 US dollars to the acre, twice what the company had paid when it bought the property.[43] More expropriation occurred soon after, bringing the total to over Script error: No such module "convert".; the government offered compensation to the company at the rate at which the UFC had valued its own property for tax purposes.[42] This resulted in further lobbying in Washington, particularly through Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who had close ties to the company.[43] The company had begun a public relations campaign to discredit the Guatemalan government; it hired public relations expert Edward Bernays, who ran a concerted campaign of misinformation to portray the company as the victim of the Guatemalan government for several years.[44] The company stepped up its efforts after Dwight Eisenhower had been elected in 1952. These included commissioning a research study on Guatemala from a firm known to be hawkish, which produced a 235-page report that was highly critical of the Guatemalan government.[45] Historians have stated that the report was full of "exaggerations, scurrilous descriptions and bizarre historical theories."[45] The report nonetheless had a significant impact on the members of Congress that it was sent to. Overall, the company spent over a half-million dollars to influence both lawmakers and members of the public in the US that the Guatemalan government needed to be overthrown.[45]


File:Truman initiating Korean involvement.jpg
Operation PBFORTUNE: President Harry Truman authorized the CIA to effect a Guatemalan coup d’état in 1951
Main article: Operation PBFORTUNE

The US government had become more hostile to the new Guatemalan government over the years of Arevalo's presidency. This was due partly to the intensification of the cold war, as well as a reduction in the massive concessions that the United Fruit Company had enjoyed under Ubico.[46] In addition, the company carried out an intensive lobbying campaign within the US to discredit the Guatemalan government.[47] The worries of the US increased after the election of Jacobo Árbenz in 1951 and his enactment of Decree 900, the agrarian reform law, in 1952.[48][49] The new law benefited approximately half a million people ;[34] however, several hundred thousand acres of uncultivated land belonging to the United Fruit Company were expropriated. The compensation it was granted was based on the valuation the company had used for its tax payments. Since this was a major undervaluation, the company was unhappy with its compensation,[43] and intensified its lobbying against the Guatemalan government in Washington.[43]

In April 1952 Anastasio Somoza García, the US-backed dictator of Nicaragua, made his first state visit to the US.[50] Somoza made several public speeches praising the United States, and was awarded a medal by New York City.[51] During a meeting with Truman and his senior staff, Somoza said that if the US gave him the arms, he would "clean up Guatemala."[51] The proposal did not receive much immediate support; however, Truman instructed the CIA to follow up on it. The CIA contacted Carlos Castillo Armas, the Guatemalan army officer who had been exiled from the country in 1949 following a failed coup attempt against the president.[52] In the belief that Armas would lead a coup with or without CIA assistance, the CIA created a plan to supply him with weapons and $225,000.[50]

The coup was planned in detail over the next few weeks by the CIA, the United Fruit Company, and Somoza. The CIA contacted Marcos Pérez Jiménez and Rafael Trujillo the US-supported right-wing dictators of Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, respectively. The two dictators were supportive of the plan, and agreed to contribute some funding.[53] Although PBFORTUNE was officially approved on September 9, 1952, various planning steps had been taken earlier in the year. In January 1952, officers in the CIA's Directorate of Plans compiled a list of "top flight Communists whom the new government would desire to eliminate immediately in the event of a successful anti-Communist coup."[54] The CIA plan called for the assassination of over 58 Guatemalans, as well as the arrest of many others.[54]

The CIA put the plan into motion during the autumn of 1952. A freighter that had been borrowed from the United Fruit Company was specially refitted and loaded with weapons in New Orleans under the guise of agricultural machinery, and set sail for Nicaragua.[55] However, the state department became aware that many details of the plan had already become public knowledge, thanks to Somoza discussing it openly with his government officials.[56] This came to the attention of Dean Acheson, the secretary of state, who called off the plot.[56] The freighter was redirected to Panama, where the arms were unloaded.[53] However, the CIA continued to support Castillo Armas; it granted him a retainer of $3000 a month, and gave him the resources to maintain his rebel force.[50]


The coup d’état

In the post–War US, the departure of the cautious Truman Administration (1945–53) and the arrival of the adventurous Eisenhower Administration (1953–61), abetted by the right-wing Cold War national political climate, rekindled Presidential interest in covert operations, which reanimated CIA advocacy of a paramilitary invasion of Guatemala to depose President Árbenz and his government. Strategically, President Eisenhower favored the secret warfare of covert operations, as cost-effective means for combating the world-wide hegemony of the USSR. In that context, the US National Security Council revived the Guatemalan coup d’état after reviewing the malleability of anti–Árbenz politics, and because of the successful Anglo–American 1953 Iranian coup d’état effected by the CIA and the SIS against the elected Government (1951–53) of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh.[citation needed]

1954 Guatemalan coup d’état: the memorandum that describes the CIA’s organisation of the paramilitary deposition of the Guatemalan government of President Jacobo Árbenz, in June 1954.

To initiate Operation PBSUCCESS, the CIA selected the Guatemalan politico-military leader who would succeed Árbenz as President of Guatemala, and establish a pro–American Guatemalan government. The three exile candidates were: (i) the coffee planter Juan Córdova Cerna, formerly of the Cabinet of Advisors to the reformist President Juan José Arévalo (1945–51), and who also was a business consultant to the United Fruit Company, which he aided in repressing a workers’ revolt. (ii) General Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes, a department governor under General Ubico; he was pro–Nazi until 1943, when he changed fascist allegiance for democratic allegiance, and became pro–US; as such, he mediated the overthrowing of General Juan Federico Ponce Vaides, one of the triumvirate junta who succeeded the deposed dictator, General Jorge Ubico. (iii) Col. Castillo, a contemporary of Jacobo Árbenz at the Guatemalan national military academy. As the most politically amenable white-horse caudillo, the CIA appointed Col. Castillo as leader of the Guatemalan army of liberation, the core of Operation PBSUCCESS.

Because of the continual bureaucratic postponements of the paramilitary invasion, the CIA worried that their Guatemalan army of liberation, or any other Guatemalan armed rebel-group, might prove over-eager and prematurely launch a coup d’état. The worry proved true on 29 March 1953, when a futile raid against the Army garrison at Salamá, in central Guatemala, was launched by a rebel group associated with Col. Castillo — one of three men whom CIA considered installing as President of Guatemala. Besides the military defeat and the jailing of the seditious rebels, the failed invasion provoked the political response most feared by CIA — the Árbenz Government repressed and jailed the anti-Communists connected with the exiled rebels, and all other potentially treasonous right-wing politicians. Most Guatemalans supported the President’s repression, because the exile rebels and the domestic politicians sought to subvert the constitutionally-elected government of Guatemala with the aid of a foreign power, the United States. The jailing of the CIA’s Guatemalan secret agents rendered them operationally ineffective; thus, the CIA then relied upon the ideologically-fragmented Guatemalan exile-groups, and their anti-democratic allies in Guatemala, to realize the coup d’état against President Árbenz.[57]

In December 1953, the CIA established the operational headquarters of their Guatemalan army of liberation in suburban Florida; then recruited aeroplane pilots and mercenary soldiers, supervised their military training, established the radio station La Voz de la Liberación (The Voice of Liberation) to broadcast disinformation and propaganda; and arranged for increased diplomatic pressure upon Guatemala to reverse Decree 900 — especially as it applied to the United Fruit Company. Moreover, despite being unable to halt the exportation of Guatemalan coffee, the US ceased selling arms to Guatemala in 1951—meanwhile signing bilateral defense agreements and increasing arms shipments to Honduras and Nicaragua, and promising the Guatemalan military that they too could obtain arms if Árbenz were deposed. In 1953, the State Department aggravated the American arms embargo by thwarting Árbenz Government arms purchases from Canada, Germany, and Rhodesia. Faced with dwindling supplies of matériel, and having noted the unusually armed borders of Honduras, El Salvador, and other neighbor countries, President Árbenz acted upon the intelligence indications of an imminent paramilitary invasion of Guatemala — confirmed by a defector from Operation PBSUCCESS — and bought matériel in the Eastern Bloc.[58] The Árbenz Government bought surplus Wehrmacht matériel from the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, a Communist satellite country of the USSR. The weapons were delivered to Guatemala at the Atlantic Ocean port of Puerto Barrios, by the Swedish freight ship MS Alfhem, which sailed from the port of Szczecin in the People's Republic of Poland, a Communist satellite country of the USSR. The US State Department and the CIA tried to halt the arms-laden MS Alfhem en route to Guatemala; in one instance, the CIA seized the freight ship MS Wulfsbrook, having mistaken it for the MS Alfhem. Nonetheless, despite the intelligence failure having allowed “Communist Czech arms” to reach Guatemala, in the American press, to the American public, the CIA misrepresented the arms purchase as a Soviet provocation in “America's Backyard”.

Guatemalan response

The Árbenz Government originally meant to repel the invasion by arming the military-age populace, the workers’ militia, and the Guatemalan Army. However, resistance from the armed forces, as well as public knowledge of the secret arms purchase, compelled the President to supply arms only to the Army.[59] Although the purchase of surplus Wehrmacht arms had been from Czechoslovakia, not from the USSR, the Operation PBSUCCESS propaganda misrepresented the business transaction as proof of direct Soviet interference in the Western Hemisphere — a geopolitical impingement upon the US hegemony established in the Monroe Doctrine (1823). To the American public, the US press reported that the Republic of Guatemala was suffering an externally instigated, vanguard party Communist revolution, like the Communist revolutions occurred in the Eastern European countries at the borders of the USSR. The disinformation and propaganda planted in the US news media, about the Guatemalan–Czech arms purchase, and the arrival of the weapons to Guatemala, provoked much popular support for US military intervention. The resultant domestic support allowed the Eisenhower Administration to increase the intensity of its open and secret intervention against the Republic of Guatemala.

Monroe Doctrine hegemony: the CIA army of Col. Carlos Castillo Armas invaded the Republic of Guatemala from Honduras and from El Salvador.

On 20 May 1954, the US Navy began air and sea patrols of Guatemala, under the pretexts of intercepting secret shipments of weapons, and the protection of Honduras from Guatemalan aggression and invasion. On 24 May 1954, the US Navy launched Operation HARDROCK BAKER, a blockade of Guatemala, wherein submarines and surface ships intercepted and boarded every ship in Guatemalan waters, and forcefully searched it for Guatemala-bound weapons that might support the “Communist Árbenz Government”. The blockade included British and French ships, which violations of maritime national sovereignty neither Britain nor France protested, because they wished to avoid US intervention to their colonial matters in the Middle East; additionally, the blockade facilitated further psychological warfare against the Guatemalan Army. To disseminate propaganda, the military aeroplanes of Col. Castillo flew over Guatemala City, dropping leaflets that exhorted the people of Guatemala to "Struggle against Communist atheism, Communist intervention, Communist oppression . . . Struggle with your patriotic brothers! Struggle with Castillo Armas!"

The messages were meant to turn the Guatemalan Army against President Árbenz, personally, and against Communism, as economic policy. Moreover, the rebel aeroplanes flying over the cities were perceived as practicing bombing runs, which Guatemalans perceived as indicative of an imminent invasion. On 7 June 1954, a contingency evacuation-force of five amphibious assault ships, a US Marines helicopter-assault Battalion Landing Team, and an anti-submarine aircraft carrier, were despatched to blockade the Guatemalan sea lanes.

Propaganda and disinformation

The Guatemalan coup d’état much depended upon psychological warfare, because the 480-soldier Guatemalan army of liberation was over-matched by the Guatemalan Army; thus, deception by feint was most important.[60] The CIA used propaganda in the forms of political rumour, air-dropped pamphlets, poster campaigns, and radio (the mass communications medium that successfully deceived most of the Iranian populace to accept the foreign deposition of the elected PM Mohammad Mosaddegh). In third-world Guatemala, few people owned radio receivers; nonetheless, Guatemalans considered the medium of radio as an authoritative source of information. As directed by CIA case officers, from Florida, right-wing student groups successfully conducted internal propaganda, such as publishing El combate (The Combat), a weekly political pamphlet, covering walls and buses with the number 32 — referring to Article 32 of the Guatemalan Constitution, which forbade foreign-financed political parties; the propaganda claims received much attention from the local and the national press. Other psychological warfare techniques included character assassination with signs that read: A Communist Lives Here affixed to the houses of Árbenz supporters; and the month-long daily delivery of false death-notices to President Árbenz, his Cabinet of Advisors, and known Communists.

In due course, the disinformation-propaganda campaign provoked the Árbenz Government to politically repress the Guatemalan right wing, by arresting rightist students, limiting freedom of assembly, and intimidating newspapers. Furthermore, the CIA expected gossip (word-of-mouth) to assist in propagating anti-Communist claims against the elected Árbenz Government. From Florida, The Voice of Liberation radio station, which claimed to be broadcasting from the Guatemalan jungle, transmitted music, “news”, disinformation, and anti–Árbenz propaganda. Most of the radio programming was for the general populace, yet some propaganda specifically was a seditious call-to-arms meant to appeal to the right-wing men of action in the officer corps of the Guatemalan military, whose treasonous complicity was essential to the success of the deposition of the elected Árbenz Government. The collaboration of the Guatemalan army (ca. 5,000 soldiers) was most important, because, as a professional military force, they could readily out-fight and defeat the CIA mercenary army of liberation led by Col. Castillo. The CIA knew that the Castillo army could not conquer Guatemala with 480 mercenary soldiers. Hence, the importance of propaganda, of the co-optation of the Guatemalan military-officer corps to the usurpation of Guatemalan representative democracy, by overthrowing the “Communist government” of President Árbenz.

The CIA invasion of Guatemala

At 8:00 p.m. on 18 June 1954, Col. Castillo's Ejército de liberación invaded Guatemala; in four groups, the 480 soldiers entered the country at five key points of the Honduras–Guatemala border and of the Guatemala–El Salvador border. Multiple attacks, along a wide front, were meant to impress the populace that the Republic of Guatemala was being invaded by a military force superior to and of greater size than the Guatemalan Army. The four-group dispersal of the CIA mercenary army meant to minimize the possibility of a militarily decisive rout, and of the coup d’état being thwarted, with a single, unfavorable battle. Ten saboteurs, tasked to destroy key bridges and telegraph communications, would hinder the Guatemalan national defense, preceded the main attack force of the liberationist army. Nonetheless, the CIA ordered Col. Castillo to avoid fighting the Guatemalan Army — lest the defenders co-ordinate tactics, and either kill or capture the CIA invaders. As psychological warfare, the course of the 1954 Guatemalan coup d’état invasion was meant to provoke popular panic, by giving the populace the impression of strategically insurmountable odds against successfully defending Guatemala, which, the CIA believed, would compel the national populace and the Guatemalan Army to side with, rather than repel and defeat, the invaders led by Col. Castillo. Throughout the invasion, the Voice of Liberation broadcast false news of a popular, right-wing counter-revolution spontaneously occurring throughout Guatemala; of great military forces being welcomed, and joined by the local populace, to overthrow the Communist Árbenz Government.

Almost immediately, the forces of Col. Castillo met with decisive failure. Invading on foot and hampered by heavy equipment, in some cases, the invaders took days to reach their strategic objectives. The weakened psychological impact of the initial invasion allowed local Guatemalans to understand that they were not endangered. One of the first liberationist units to reach their strategic objective was a group of 122 mercenaries tasked to capture the city of Zacapa; despite their superior number, they were defeated by a 30-man platoon of the Guatemalan Army; only 28 mercenaries survived the battle. Elsewhere, in northern Guatemala, a 170-mercenary unit was defeated when they attempted to capture the guarded port city of Puerto Barrios. When the chief of police saw the mercenary invaders, he armed the local longshoremen and assigned them defensive positions. Hours later, after the defensive battle, most of the 170 mercenaries had been killed or captured; some escaped, and fled to Honduras. Within three days, the Guatemalan Army had rendered combat-ineffective two of the four units of Col. Castillo's liberation army. To recover the initiative, the Colonel ordered an air attack upon Guatemala City; the desultory attack upon the national capital failed — a slow aeroplane only managed to bomb a small oil tank, which fire the defenders quickly extinguished.[61]

Árbenz' resignation

Despite his tactical and strategic successes in defending the Guatemalan republic, President Árbenz ordered his military commander to allow the liberation army of Col. Castillo Armas to advance deep into Guatemala. Although the mercenary army of the CIA were not a significant military threat, the President and the military commander did fear US military intervention if the Guatemalan military decisively defeated the CIA invasion. In the event, such geopolitical fear—US military occupation—soon panicked the Guatemalan officer corps; no tactical commander wished to provoke the intervention of the US military forces who were then blockading Guatemala. Psychologically, the presence of the US Navy’s amphibious assault force prompted rumours, nation-wide, that the US Marines already had established a beachhead in Honduras, and were en route to invading Guatemala. President Árbenz feared that the military officers would be intimidated to side with Col. Castillo Armas; days later, the Army garrison at Chiquimula surrendered to the CIA's liberacionista army.

The CIA exerted air power against the Árbenz Government with a "Liberation Air Force" of US military and mercenary personnel who conducted air raids against Guatemalan military targets and cities.[59] Early in the morning of 27 June 1954, a CIA Lockheed P-38M Lightning attacked Puerto San José and dropped napalm bombs on the British cargo ship, SS Springfjord, on charter to the US company W.R. Grace and Company Line, which was being loaded with Guatemalan cotton and coffee.

At 08.00 hrs. President Árbenz was told of the air attack and responded with consternation that Col. Castillo Armas and his American mercenary invaders had targeted a foreign merchant ship, in violation of international law regarding the distinctions between combatants and non-combatants in warfare. In the event, the CIA psychological warfare succeeded, and provoked an officers' revolt; which crisis of confidence, the President explained to his Cabinet of Advisors, made his presidency untenable, and, at 21.15 hrs., on 27 June 1954, Jacobo Árbenz resigned the Presidency of Guatemala, for exile in Mexico.


Main article: Operation PBHISTORY

After the PBSUCCESS coup d’état the CIA launched Operation PBHISTORY, a document analysis team in Guatemala with the intelligence remit to collect and analyze Árbenz Government and Guatemalan Labour Party documents that would be evidence to support the CIA's ideological and geopolitical belief that, under Árbenz's presidency, the Republic of Guatemala was a Western-hemisphere Communist puppet state in the hegemony of the Soviet Union. CIA intelligence analyses, of some 150,000 pages of Guatemalan Government and Labor Party documents, found no substantiation of the key geopolitical premise (Soviet political involvement) that justified the secret US paramilitary invasion of Guatemala, and the deposition of the elected Árbenz Government.[61] The socialism practiced by the Árbenz Government was unrelated to the Cold War geopolitics of the US and the USSR. Yet, some US businessmen and military officers believed that the nationalism of President Árbenz was a communist threat to the business interests of American multinational corporations, and advocated and supported the coup d’état against his government, despite the Guatemalan majority’s support and attachment to the original political principles of the Guatemalan Revolution.[62]


Main article: Guatemalan Civil War

In the aftermath of the Guatemalan coup d’état that deposed President Árbenz, the usurper government of Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas, had difficulty persuading the officer corps of the Guatemalan Army to abandon their Constitutional allegiance to the head-of-state President, and become the Guatemalan Army commanded by Col. Castillo Armas. In the event, most of the officer corps abandoned the elected President of Guatemala, because, as political conservatives, they disliked Decree 900 and the socio-economic changes promulgated, yet neither did they prefer the reactionary régime of Col. Castillo Armas, that soon reversed the progressive changes effected by the deposed Árbenz Government and Decree 900.

The response of the Guatemalan nation, to having had their elected government usurped, by right-wing counter-revolution, varied by social class. The upper-class landowners welcomed the end of Decree 900, and expected the U.S. to reinstate their monopoly ownership of expropriated agricultural lands. Likewise, the native Maya had political opinions about the counter-revolution, those who benefited from Decree 900 were unhappy, whilst those who lost lands to Decree 900 were happy, especially those Maya whose autonomous communities had lost political power to the Árbenz Government;[citation needed] other Maya Guatemalans favored President Árbenz, like most Guatemalans, because they understood the socio-political importance of Decree 900 for eliminating the feudalism that for centuries had retarded the social, economic, and cultural progress of Guatemalan society.

In the cities of Antigua Guatemala, San Martín Jilotepeque, and San Juan Sacatepéquez pro–Árbenz armed groups fought the Castillo Armas Government, because of the forced presidential resignation, and because they had benefited from Decree 900. In the event, the US-installed military government of Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas proved reactionary, and reversed the land-reform expropriations, returned the farmlands to private owners, for which reason some Guatemalan farmers burned their crops as economic protest.

Military government reinstated

In the eleven days after the resignation of President Árbenz, five successive military junta governments occupied the Guatemalan presidential palace; each junta was successively more amenable to the political demands of the U.S., after which Col. Castillo Armas assumed the Presidency of Guatemala. As the Guatemalan head-of-state, the Colonel began the policy of violent repression against the peasantry that was maintained by successive administrations after him.

International opinion reviled the Guatemalan coup d’état, the French and British press, Le Monde and The Times, attacked the United States’ coup as a “modern form of economic colonialism”. In Latin America, public and official opinions expressed much political criticism of the U.S., and Guatemala became symbolic to many of armed resistance to the perceived U.S. hegemony over Latin America. The Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld (1953–61), said that the paramilitary invasion with which the U.S. deposed the elected government of Guatemala was a geopolitical action that violated the human-rights stipulations of the UN Charter; moreover, the usually pro–U.S. newspapers of West Germany condemned the Guatemalan coup d’état. Historically, the Director of the Mexico Project of National Security Archives, Kate Doyle, said that the 1954 Guatemalan coup d’état was the definitive deathblow to democracy in the Republic of Guatemala.

Civil War in Guatemala

File:Marco Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo DN-SN-86-05174.JPEG
Democracy restored: Vinicio Cerezo, President of Guatemala (1986–1991)

In the aftermath of the coup and the rolling-back of the progressive policies of the civilian governments, a series of leftist insurgencies began in the countryside.[63] This triggered the thirty-six-year Guatemalan Civil War, between the US-backed military government of Guatemala and the leftist insurgencies, which frequently had a large degree of popular support.[63] The largest of these movements was led by the Guerrilla Army of the Poor, which at its largest point had 270,000 members.[63] The civil war ran from 1960 to 1996. By the end of it 200,000 civilians were dead.[63] During the civil war, atrocities against civilians were committed by both sides; however, 93% of these violations were committed by the United States-backed military,[63] which included a genocidal scorched-earth campaign against the indigenous Maya population in the 1980s.[63] The violence was particularly brutal during the presidencies of Ríos Montt and Lucas García.[64] Numerous other human rights violation were committed, including massacres of civilian populations, rape, aerial bombardment, and forced disappearances.[63] These violations were partially the result of a particularly brutal counter-insurgency strategy adopted by the government.[64][63] The civil war came to an end in 1996, with a peace accord between the guerrillas and the government of Guatemala, which included an amnesty for all the fighters, both among the military and the guerrillas.[64]

Apology to Árbenz

In October 2011, the government of Guatemala formally apologized to Juan Jacobo Árbenz, the son of the deposed President, Jacobo Árbenz. At the same time, the textbooks used in the public school system were revised to portray Árbenz in a positive light, depicting him as a Guatemalan patriot. A highway was also renamed in his honor. The Árbenz family continue to request an apology from the government of the United States for having overthrown the government of Guatemala in 1954.[65]

See also

Notes and references


  1. ^ a b c d e Streeter 2000, pp. 11-12.
  2. ^ Immerman 1982, pp. 34-37.
  3. ^ Cullather 2006, pp. 9-10.
  4. ^ Rabe 1988, p. 43.
  5. ^ a b McCreery 1994, pp. 316-317.
  6. ^ Immerman 1982, pp. 41-43.
  7. ^ Streeter 2000, pp. 15-16.
  8. ^ Immerman 1982, pp. 48-50.
  9. ^ Gleijeses 1991, p. 84.
  10. ^ a b Paterson 2009, p. 304.
  11. ^ May 1999, pp. 58-91.
  12. ^ a b Streeter 2000, p. 8.
  13. ^ a b c d e Gilderhus 2006.
  14. ^ LaFeber 1993, p. 34.
  15. ^ a b c Streeter 2000, pp. 8-10.
  16. ^ Smith 1995, p. 6.
  17. ^ a b Forster 2001, pp. 12–15.
  18. ^ a b Gleijeses 1991, pp. 10–11.
  19. ^ Chapman 2007, p. 83.
  20. ^ LaFeber 1993, pp. 76-77.
  21. ^ LaFeber 1993, p. 77.
  22. ^ a b Streeter 2000, pp. 10-11.
  23. ^ a b Forster 2001, p. 29.
  24. ^ Gleijeses 1991, p. 13.
  25. ^ LaFeber 1993, p. 79.
  26. ^ Gleijeses 1991, p. 20.
  27. ^ Gleijeses 1991, p. 22.
  28. ^ a b c Streeter 2000, p. 12.
  29. ^ Immerman 34-37.
  30. ^ Cullather 1999, pp. 9-10.
  31. ^ a b Streeter 2000, pp. 12-13.
  32. ^ a b c Immerman 1982, pp. 64–67.
  33. ^ Gleijeses 1991, pp. 144–146.
  34. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Gleijeses 1991, pp. 149–164.
  35. ^ Grandin 2000, pp. 200–201.
  36. ^ Immerman 1982, pp. 68-70.
  37. ^ Schlesinger & Kinzer 1999, pp. 65-68.
  38. ^ a b c Immerman 1982, pp. 68-72.
  39. ^ a b c Schlesinger & Kinzer 1999, pp. 67-71.
  40. ^ a b Immerman 1982, p. 73-76.
  41. ^ Schlesinger & Kinzer 1999, p. 71.
  42. ^ a b c Immerman & 1982 75-82.
  43. ^ a b c d e f Schlesinger & Kinzer 1999, p. 72-77.
  44. ^ Schlesinger & Kinzer 1999, pp. 78-90.
  45. ^ a b c Schlesinger & Kinzer 1999, pp. 90-97.
  46. ^ Cullather 1999, pp. 14-28.
  47. ^ Cullather 1999, p. 18-19.
  48. ^ Cullather 2006, pp. 14-28.
  49. ^ Gleijeses 1991, p. 228.
  50. ^ a b c Cullather 1999, pp. 28-35.
  51. ^ a b Gleijeses 1991, pp. 228-229.
  52. ^ Gleijeses 1991, pp. 59-69.
  53. ^ a b Gleijeses 1991, pp. 229-230.
  54. ^ a b Haines 1995.
  55. ^ Gleijeses 1991, p. 230.
  56. ^ a b Cullather 2006, pp. 28-35.
  57. ^ Cullather 1994, p. 21.
  58. ^ Cullather 1994, p. 36.
  59. ^ a b Gordon 1971.
  60. ^ Kornbluh 1997.
  61. ^ a b Cullather 1999, p. 90.
  62. ^ Schlesinger & Kinzer 1999, pp. 65-99.
  63. ^ a b c d e f g h McAllister 2010.
  64. ^ a b c May 1999, pp. 68-91.
  65. ^ Malkin 2011.



External links

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