Guatemala

The US’ Interest: The United Fruit Company

  • Labour reforms introduced by the governments of Arévalo and Árbenz made the operation of the United Fruit Company, which relied heavily on exploitative labour practices, less profitable.
  • Formed in 1899, the UFC was an American multinational corporation that operated in a number of countries in Central America, the Caribbean, and South America.
  • The company involved itself in the politics of the regions where it was operating in order to secure government concessions that allowed it to control land which would otherwise have been distributed to peasants.
  • As distributing land to peasants was exactly the aim of Árbenz's land reform program, the UFC launched a lobbying campaign to persuade the US to overthrow the Guatemalan government.
  • The UFC is now Chiquita.

Operation PBFortune: A Precursor to the Coup d'État

  • A CIA operation named Operation PBFortune was authorized by President Truman in 1952.
  • The CIA secured support from Nicaragua's US-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza García, and from Juan Manuel Gálvez, right-wing president of Honduras.
  • Guatemalan military officer Carlos Castillo Armas, who had been living in exile after a failed coup against Arévalo, was to lead an invasion from Nicaragua.
  • Somoza and Gálvez were not as taciturn about the CIA's involvement as the US would have wished them to be. US Secretary of State Dean Acheson was worried that the image of the US would be damaged, were the details of the coup to become public, and after he spoke to President Truman, Operation PBFortune was cut short.

Operation PBSuccess: The Coup d'État

  • The CIA's ties to Armas were far from being severed. They paid Armas a 'retainer' of 3000 dollars a week, which allowed him to maintain a militia.
  • When Eisenhower took office as president in 1953, the US foreign policy's anti-communist element was in for a boost. In August 1953, President Eisenhower authorized Operation PBSuccess, which was to overthrow Árbenz.
  • An invasion led by Armas was accompanied by a massive propaganda campaign that served multiple purposes:
    • To convince the people of Guatemala and other Latin American countries that Armas' invasion had succeeded.
    • To portray Armas as a liberator from communist oppression.
    • To vilify those who opposed the coup, and instil fear of them in the Guatemalan population.
  • Abandoned by a demoralized military, Árbenz saw no other way to put an end to the invasion than to resign. His taped resignation speech was broadcast on 27 June 1954, and he went on to live in exile in Mexico.
  • Presidency of Guatemala was held by Díaz, Chief of the Guatemalan Armed Forces, and Colonel Monzón, each of them remaining in office for mere days before eventually being succeeded by Carlos Castillo Armas. Armas' installation as president was overseen by John Peurifoy, US Ambassador to Guatemala.

Operation PBHistory: The Wrap-up

  • Facing international outrage at the coup against Árbenz, the CIA thought it wise to retroactively produce evidence for the Árbenz government's suspected collusion with the Soviet Union, which would provide at least some measure of justification for the coup in the eyes of the Western Bloc.
  • Apart from scouring documents, the CIA team instructed Armas to create an anti-communist task force (the Comité de Defensa Nacional contra el Comunismo) that, on top of being an intelligence service, was afforded some police powers. The Comité could arrest anyone on the mere allegation of being a communist or communist sympathizer.
  • Although the operation was not able to find the evidence it sought for, the creation of the Comité laid the foundation for further anti-communist intelligence operations in Latin America. The documents seized were exploited to discredit Árbenz even years later.