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US-Guatemala (1901-2002)

Project: History of US Interventions
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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Guatemala suffers under a succession of dictators. During the period, the United Fruit Company (UFCO), which is exempt from taxes, exerts significant influence within the country. (Gleijeses 1992; Woodward 1999; Schlesinger and Kinzer 1999)

The dictator Jorge Ubico is overthrown and Guatemala enjoys what is known as the “ten years of spring” with two popularly elected and reformist presidents. The second president during this era, President Jacobo Arbenz (1951-1954), permits free expression, legalizes unions, allows diverse political parties, and initiates basic socioeconomic reforms. One key program is a moderate land reform effort aimed at alleviating the suffering of the rural poor, by which only plantations of very high acreage are affected, and only in cases where a certain percentage of such acreage is in fact lying unused. In these extreme cases, the unused portions of the land are not expropriated, but simply purchased by the Guatemalan government at the same value declared on the owner’s tax forms.The property is then resold at low rates to peasant cooperatives. To set an example, President Arbenz starts with his own lands. (Gleijeses 1992; Woodward 1999; Schlesinger and Kinzer 1999)

The land redistribution collides with the interests of the United Fruit Company (UFCO), for whom 85 percent of the 550,000 acres they own are uncultivated. The US government demands extra compensation for the United Fruit Company over what has already been given. (Gleijeses 1992; Woodward 1999; Schlesinger and Kinzer 1999)

Charles R. Burrows of the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs writes: “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.” (Gleijeses 1992, pp. 365; Chomsky 1993; Siekmeier 1994, pp. 26)

CIA covert Operation PB Success successfully removes Guatemalan leader Arbenz from power. (Gleijeses 1992; Central Intelligence Agency 1994; Doyle and Kornbluh 1997; Hunt 10/1997; Woodward 1999; Woodward 1999; Schlesinger and Kinzer 1999) The CIA director at this time, Allen Dulles, was formerly the president of the United Fruit Fruit Company (UFCO) and the previous CIA director and under-secretary of state, General Walter Bedell Smith, is on the company’s board of directors. Smith will become UFCO’s president following the overthrow. (Blum 1995) Allen Dulles’ brother, John Dulles, who is Secretary of State, previously worked as a lawyer defending the United Fruit Company. (Ginsberg 1996; CNN 2/21/1999)

Following the CIA coup, Guatemala plunges into a civil war and 40 years of American-trained death squads, torture, disappearances, mass executions, with an estimated toll of 100,000 victims. (Keen 1992, pp. 537-538; Carmack 1992; Woodward 1999)

Guatemalan President Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes is overthrown in a coup and succeeded by his minister of defense, Enrique Peralta Azurdi. According to some sources, the coup plotters were given a green light by President John F. Kennedy, who opposed Fuentes’ decision to allow former president Juan José Arevalo to return from exile and participate in the upcoming presidential elections. (Geyer 1967; Rabe 1999, pp. 75)

US Army intelligence manuals provided to Latin American military officers attending the US Army’s “School of the Americas” advocate executions, torture, blackmail and other forms of coercion against insurgents and sanctions the use of “fear, payment of bounties for enemy dead, beatings, false imprisonment, executions and the use of truth serum” to recruit and control informants. (Priest 9/21/1996)

Guatemala seeks to reduce infant mortality by regulating the marketing of infant formula by multinationals in conformity with WHO guidelines and according to international codes. Infant mortality rates drop significantly. However, one company, the Gerber Corp., refuses to comply. Guatemala spends five years trying to get it to comply, but in 1993, the company threatens a WTO complaint and US sanctions. Guatemala backs down in 1995 and Gerber Corp. is exempted from the regulation. (Global Exchange 11/15/1999; Montague 11/18/1999)

Amnesty International, in its annual report on US military aid and human rights, states that “throughout the world, on any given day, a man, woman or child is likely to be displaced, tortured, killed or ‘disappeared’ at the hands of governments or armed political groups. More often than not, the United States shares the blame.” (Chomsky 1998)

A Historical Clarification Commission report concludes that US-supported Guatemalan security forces had been responsible for most of the human rights abuses that occurred during that country’s decade-long civil war, including torture, kidnapping and the murder of thousands of rural Mayans. These findings contradict years of US official denial. The commission estimates over 200,000 Guatemalans were killed in the civil war, the most brutal armed conflict in Latin America history. (Farah 3/11/1999; Commission for the Historical Clarification 4/2000)

US President Bill Clinton apologizes to Guatemalans for decades of US policy in support of a murderous military that “engaged in violent and widespread repression,” costing the lives of over 200,000 civilians. That policy “was wrong,” the president declares, “and the United States must not repeat that mistake.” (CNN 3/10/1999; Babington 3/11/1999; BBC 3/11/1999; Doyle and Osorio 2000)

A nonviolent demonstration is held calling on the US Army to close its infamous School of the Americas, located at Fort Benning, Georgia. (Rodriguez 11/19/2000; School of America's Watch 7/12/2001) The school trained more than 60,000 Latin American military officers over the past 50 years (CNN 4/3/2000) , many of whom were since implicated in egregious human rights abuses (see March 15, 1993). (Rodriguez 11/19/2000; Minor 11/20/2000; School of America's Watch 7/12/2001) 1,700 of the protestors are thrown in jail, including an 88-year old nun. (Minor 11/20/2000; Goodstein 6/24/2001)

Guatemala is ranked 120th out of 173 countries in the UN Development Index. (United Nations 2002)


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