"cuba will not be guatemala" -- 7/29/16

Today's selection -- from These United States by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore and Thomas J. Sugrue. In 1954, the United States overthrew the democratically elected government of Guatemala:

"Guatemala, a country of only about three million people, embodied not only the promise of democracy in Latin America and for the United States, [but also] the threat of leftism in the western hemisphere. In mostly rural Gua­temala, a small, corrupt, wealthy planter elite, enriched by global demand for coffee and bananas, controlled the government in the early twentieth century. The majority of Guatemalans, many of Indian descent, lived in near-feudal conditions, dispossessed of their lands and forced into labor.

"In 1944, Guatemalans toppled the autocratic regime of Jorge Ubico and a military successor. In the country's first-ever democratic election, they elected Juan Jose Arevalo, who promoted a version of social democracy, building a base in the countryside among landless and brutally exploited rural workers. Arevalo's successor Jacobo Arbenz, elected in 1951, instituted a sweeping land reform program, redistributing land long held by the plant­ers and international investors. Arbenz authorized the appropriation of some 225,000 acres of land belonging to United Fruit, an American-based firm.


Entrance façade of the old United Fruit Building at 321 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana.

"In 1954, a CIA-backed coup toppled Arbenz, denounced as a Com­munist and loathed by the planter elite and the U.S.-based companies in Guatemala. Post-Arbenz Guatemala became a case study in American Cold War policy in the developing world. Despite its rhetoric of democracy, the United Stares propped up authoritarian, anti-Communist regimes in the name of stability and security. To Eisenhower and his successors a dictato­rial, pro-United States regime was more useful than a democratically elected government that threatened American economic or geopolitical interests.

"On the ground in Guatemala oppression and instability flourished. The brutal regimes that succeeded Arbenz used the power of state to silence dissent, crush labor and land reform movements, and bolster the small elite that benefited from international investment. The United States did not merely tolerate such excesses under Eisenhower and his successors: it encour­aged them in the name of freedom. In 1966, again with CIA support, Gua­temala used advanced technology to gather information about dissenters. The regime created death squads and systematically began to 'disappear' its opponents, using the tactics of kidnapping, torture, and assassination to silence dissent. This brutality provided a blueprint for the 'dirty wars' con­ducted by American-backed dictatorships in Chile and Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s.

"The Guatemalan coup and repression -- like so many American Cold War ventures -- had unintended consequences. While the United States hoped that Guatemala would modernize, serving as a model for other coun­tries, many Latin American leftists took home a different lesson. If the results of democratic elections could be overturned by American interven­tion, then it would take other means to accomplish social and economic changes. For many on the left, that meant leaving New Deal-type programs to the side, rejecting elections, and instead seizing power outside the elec­toral process. Che Guevara, who led a Communist insurgency in Cuba, for example, promised that 'Cuba will not be Guatemala.' "


author:

Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore

title:

These United States: A Nation in the Making, 1890 to the Present

publisher:

W. W. Norton & Company

date:

Copyright 2015 by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore and Thomas J. Sugrue

pages:

367-369

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