Monday, August 11, 2014

Guatemalan Coup d’état, 1954

Jacobo Árbenz

“In 1954, my team fumbled the Guatemalan socialist intervention and Arbenz was forced to resign. I was in the dog house again. I was ordered to get to know the new North American “vectors" since it looked like I wasn’t going to be based in Europe anymore. This apparently regretful turn in my espionage career turned out to be very fortunate. I spent the rest of the 1950s becoming very interested in American pop culture, which I had largely been sheltered from during my youth in Paris. This is when my love of American rhythm and blues was embedded and led to my early interest in Frank Zappa’s work at Studio Z in Cucamonga, California.”
Bob Dobbs interviewed by Joan d’Arc
Paranoia Magazine, Issue 44, Spring 2007


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 President Jacobo Árbenz and installed a military regime in his place.

Guatemala had been ruled since 1930 by the staunch anti-communist dictator General Jorge Ubico, supported by the United States government. He also openly identified as a fascist; he admired Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler, saying at one point: “I am like Hitler. I execute first and ask questions later.”

His regime was one of the most brutally repressive military juntas in the history of Central America. In return for U.S. support he gave hundreds of thousands of hectares of Guatemala’s prime agricultural land to the American United Fruit Company, as well as allowing the U.S. military to establish bases in Guatemala. In addition, a handful of U.S. corporations controlled Guatemala's primary electrical utilities and the nation's only railroad.

Ubico implemented a system of debt slavery and forced labor and passed laws allowing landowners to execute workers as a "disciplinary" measure.

These highly repressive policies resulted in a popular revolt against Ubico in 1944, led by students and progressive factions within the military. Ubico resigned on 1 July 1944 and democratic elections were held a year later.

In 1945, the Guatemalan bourgeoisie — approximately 2.2 per cent of the national population — owned 70 per cent of the arable land of Guatemala, yet economically exploited only 12 per cent of that land, whilst 58 per cent of that farmland remained idle, untilled, and unproductive; whilst the remaining 97.8 per cent of the Guatemalan population were landless laborers.

In 1950, Jacobo Árbenz won the presidential election with more than 3 times as many votes as the runner-up.

President Árbenz advocated the labour union organization of the working class, and land reform for the landless-peasant majority of the population who had been victims of debt-slavery under Ubico. 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.

In March 1953, the Árbenz Government expropriated idle United Fruit Company farmlands, for which the company was compensated according to the worth of the land claimed in May 1952 tax assessments (which they had often dramatically understated to avoid paying taxes). Land was paid for in twenty-five year bonds with a 3 percent interest rate.

As the land expropriations occurred throughout 1953, the United Fruit Company asked the Eisenhower Administration to compel the Árbenz Government to rescind the land reform laws. To involve the politically reticent President Eisenhower, the UFC employed the public relations-and-advertising expert Edward L. Bernays to create, organise, and direct a psychologically inflammatory, anti–communist campaign of disinformation, by print and radio, film and television, against the liberal Árbenz Government of Guatemala.

The public-opinion pressure generated by the UFC disinformation campaign compelled President Eisenhower to become involved in the private-business vs. national-government quarrel of the United Fruit Company and the Árbenz Government, lest his government appear to be “soft on Communism” in Guatemala — a serious personal imputation and great political accusation of which the American public took serious note, especially during the Red Scares of the McCarthy Era (1947–57) of US national politics.

Although few knew it then, both CIA director Allen Dulles and his brother, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, were major shareholders in United Fruit and Allen Dulles severed as a member of the company's board of directors. John Foster Dulles and the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell had been legal counsel for the United Fruit Company for decades.

Congress, the CIA, and Guatemala, 1954, Center for the Study of Intelligence,

CIA and Guatemala Assassination Proposals, 1952-1954 (PDF), CIA History Staff Analysis by Gerald K. Haines (CIA staff historian), June 1995.

An Apology for a Guatemalan Coup, 57 Years Later, The New York Times.

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