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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]
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]
CIA covert Operation PB Success successfully removes Guatemalan leader Arbenz from power. [Gleijeses, 1992; Central Intelligence Agency, 1994; Doyle and Kornbluh, 1997; CNN Perspective, 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]
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. [North American Congress on Latin America, 1967; Rabe, 1999, pp. 75]
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; Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly, 11/18/1999]
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. [Washington Post, 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; Washington Post, 3/11/1999; BBC, 3/11/1999; Doyle and Osorio, 2000]
The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions enters into force. In accordance with the ratification procedure, this happens three months after 30 countries deposited their instruments of ratification at UNESCO. UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura notes, “None of UNESCO’s other cultural conventions has been adopted by so many states in so little time.” The 30 countries are Albania, Austria, Belarus, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Djibouti, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Guatemala, India, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Namibia, Peru, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Togo. By the time it comes into force, 22 more countries have deposited their ratification instruments at UNESCO. [UNESCO, 3/2007]
McClatchy reports that economies in Latin America are beginning to improve following the global financial crisis. The signs of the recovery include a “booming” construction industry in Peru, strong property sales in Peru, and expanding software companies in Chile. However, McClatchy says that the recovery in Mexico and other Central American countries is lagging behind, due to the slow recovery in the US. Prior to the global financial crash, Latin America had experienced its best five years of prosperity since the 1950s. [McClatchy Newspapers, 9/28/2009]
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