Monday, August 06, 2007

Overthrow #8: Guatemala - Fake Civil War

Ahhh, been a little out of commission lately. The combination of this class I'm taking, tutoring, and the Portland opening of Ikea with the consequent assembly required left me actually quite busy last week. But no worries, I wil, trudge on to Guatemala.

Now, the Guatemala overthrow was extremely fucked up. It happened in the early 50's during the reign of the democratically elected Arbenz. He was a nationalist who felt a little bit funny about the fact that their economy was ruled by foreign businesses who didn't pay tariffs (and often little to no taxes). The most egregious offender was the infamous United Fruit (which Sam the Banana Man started) who by this point owned 20% (about 1/2 a million acres) of Guatemala's arable land, 85% of which they didn't even use. Arbenz passed a bill that would allow the government to buy back the foreign-owned land that wasn't being used.

United Fruit was obviously not happy about this. Lucky for them, not only did many high-ranking officials in Eisenhower's administration own stock in United Fruit, but the Secretary of State at the time, Dulles, grew convinced Arbenz was a communist being funded by the Soviet Union (no evidence has ever emerged to support this). In 1954 Eisenhower, behind the forceful urging of Dulles, decided to secretly fund Operation Success: a 4.5 million CIA operation to overthrow Arbenz.

And this overthrow is nuts. They picked former army officer (is it always a former army officer?) Castilla Armas to lead the "revolution". They had him invade from Honduras, while flying planes over Guatemala City, and broadcasting "Voice of Liberation" radio (which was supposedly somewhere in Guatemala, but actually in Florida). This continued for several days, with the CIA planes shooting up the airport and the "Voice of Liberation" radio giving false reports of popular unrest. Basically, the CIA had created and was carrying out its own civil war. Many Guatemalans were now assuming a Civil War was happening. Arbenz did not and made this public statement, "Our crime is having an enacted an agrarian reform which affected the interests of the United Fruit Company."

After this statement, things began looking up for him and Operation Success almost folded. Instead, the CIA architects decided to take it up a level and called for more planes to cause more destruction to Guatemala City. Eventually, Arbenz saw no other choice and abdicated. Soon after, Castilla Armas became Guatemala's new leader. Within weeks, the Land Reform bill was revoked (along w/ banning political parties and outlawing "subversive" literature).

The next 4 decades would be terrible ones for Guatemala. America would send hundreds of million of military aid to support one after another military dictators. Guatemalan resistance would head to the hills and engage in a guerrilla warfare. Between the rebels and the Army's killing (I mean, disappearances) of suspected rebels, around 200,000 people will die in Guatemala during this time (an estimated 93% were killed by the soldiers). Guatemala is now at peace with a democratically elected President, but much of the country remains impoverished with crime being a major problem.

Ranking (Worst to Least Worst)

1. Guatemala
2. Iran
3. Nicaragua
4. Honduras
5. The Philippines
6. Cuba
7. Hawaii
8. Puerto Rico

I know it seems like I'm just putting whichever I read most recently at the top, but this one does stand out to me as possibly our worst overthrow (although we still have Vietnam and Chile to get through). Like Iran and Nicaragua, a democratically elected President was overthrown. But the aftermath was the bloodiest. And even though things are going better there, whereas Iran still has their backlash regime, having been their recently, I know how much Guatemala still is still recovering. So yes, Guatemala, I give you #1 status, and am not sure anyone is going to knock you off the thrown.

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Blogger Michael5000 said...

Dulles was a freak. He'll be back for Vietnam week.

Your summer sounds like a real killer. I feel bad for you. All of those educational and household projects that you have to do, all piled on top of your job. Oh wait, you don't really have a job in the summer, do you. Never mind.

12:42 pm  
Blogger chuckdaddy2000 said...


I know, I've officially arrived at that summer feeling where I can't see how people actually have time to work w/ all these other things that need to be done.

2:30 pm  
Anonymous chaco said...

fake civil war...
dude, your description was really amazing. are you a teacher? this was a great stuff... i learned a lot

4:37 pm  

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