by Carlos Fuentes (translated by Evan Fowler
Two courageous American women, Jennifer Harbury and Carole Devine, have re-opened one of the darkest chapters of US foreign policy in Latin America. Ms. Devine's husband, Michael, was the owner of a hotel in one of the archeological regions of Guatemala. An American citizen, he was murdered in cold blood in 1990, for no apparent reason. Ms. Harbury's husband, Efraim Bamaca, a guerrilla leader during the long Guatemalan civil war, disappeared in 1992. Ms. Harbury, a young lawyer, was ready to go to any extreme in order to discover her husband's whereabouts. She first held a hunger strike in front of the Presidential Palace in Guatemala. Later, she appealed to the Congress of the United States, noting that the Guatemalan army had killed 100,000 people during the civil war. A perfect record," said Jennifer Harbury, pointing out that in Guatemala, military forces take no prisoners of war. The suspicion that Jennifer Harbury's husband was another one of the guerrillas captured and executed in a long war without prisoners was confirmed by Congressman Robert Torricelli (D-New Jersey). He also confirmed that Michael Devine was yet another civilian murdered, for seeing or discovering something he shouldn't have. Torricelli, a notorious enemy of Fidel Castro, attributed both crimes to Colonel Julio Alberto Alpírez, a Guatemalan officer on the CIA payroll. Torricelli's accusation exposed a factual link of complicity between the CIA and the Guatemalan governments: since 1954, the CIA has been the US Government's instrument to finance and support, both openly and secretively, a war without bounds, of the Guatemalan army and Government against its own people. Torture, murder, the charred ruins of Indian villages, ravaged lands, genocide: the United States has disbursed millions of dollars in support of a policy justified as a defense against communism, but constantly revealed as a campaign to keep in power the groups that have always dominated the political and economic life of Guatemala. This US guilt is old and worth remembering. In 1944, the last Guatemalan Tyrant of the old school, General Jorge Ubico, fell after 13 years of dictatorship, overrun by the democratizing wave of the anti-fascist World War II. For the first time in the Twentieth century, Guatemala had free elections; Dr. Juan Jose Arévalo and then Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzman were elected presidents in 1951. For one decade the citizens of Guatemala enjoyed what had been missing during the previous 100 years of tyranny: programs of popular education, tax reform, labor reform and agrarian reform. The democratically elected presidents of this era, Arévalo and Arbenz, stated their goals clearly: to achieve the transition of Guatemala from "a backward country with a mainly feudal economy, to a modern capitalist state." Education, Taxes, Collective Labor Contracts, and Land Redistribution: this minimal modernization program was rejected, first with contained anger, then with open hostility, and finally with treason by the Guatemalan oligarchy and its main ally, the United Fruit Co., a giant transnational corporation of the Central American economy. To educate the Indians and the peasants was anathema to the oligarchy. It was almost in violation of God's law. And to pay taxes was worse than an heresy, it was Communism. The United Fruit Company protested the new labor law enacted in 1947 and threatened to leave Guatemala before complying with new labor conditions, such as job security, accident compensation, health care, education, and maternal leave. But, the United Fruit Company (UFC) did not find support from the US Government which under President Truman, was still sticking to the "good neighbor policy' established by FDR during the Depression Era. However when the Republicans came to power, with the election of Eisenhower, the entente between the Guatemalan oligarchy, the United Fruit Company and Washington solidified. Eisenhower's Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, an experienced lawyer, negotiated a profitable agreement between United Fruit and the American monopoly on the Guatemalan train system. His brother, Allen Dulles, who had been the lawyer of a bank that channeled secret funds from the Central Intelligence Agency to Guatemala, was chosen by Eisenhower to head the CIA and John Moors Cabot, the appointed Deputy Secretary of State for Latin America, was also a large shareholder of United Fruit Co. When the Arbenz government tried to apply agrarian reform laws to idle land owned by the UFC in 1951, the company asked the CIA to overthrow Arbenz. Arévalo and Arbenz were inspired by the legislative measures of the American "New Deal." The Guatemalan Social Security Law came from the equivalent US law, the labor code was a reflection of the US Wagner Act, and the agrarian reform continued the principles established after the Mexican Revolution. Arévalo and Arbenz did not demonize their enemies. They asked all Guatemalans to support these fundamental steps for the modernization of the country. When the left offered its support, Arbenz asked also that of the right. However, the right, as conservative Mexicans did during the Mexican revolution, preferred to ask for foreign support, with the excuse that Arbenz was a marionette of International Communism. The machinery was well in place. Roosevelt's good neighborhood was replaced by the doctrine of hemispherical security. Its debut was during the X InterAmerican Conference in Caracas, in 1954. John Foster Dulles imposed an anti-communist resolution which passed with only one vote cast against it by Guatemala. A great speech was given against it by Guatemalan foreign affairs minister, Guillermo Torriello. Mexico and Argentina chose to abstain: the cost to Ruiz Cortines' Mexican Government was a devaluation of the peso. The Caracas resolution set the stage for a shameful invasion. Washington sent a threatening ambassador, John Puerifoy, to Guatemala in order to threaten the government. The US built up a press and disinformation campaign, as it did again in Chile in 1973. It authorized the CIA to rent an army (supposedly commanded by a Guatemalan, Carlos Castillo Armas) and to use mercenary pilots to bomb the Guatemalan capital. Arbenz's Government fell, and Castillo Armas took power. The confiscated land was returned to the United Fruit Co. The agrarian, tax and labor reforms were canceled. A war was declared on the indigenous population. Guatemala was the US base against the Salvadoran Revolution and the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Alaide Foppa, Rigoberta Menchu's family, hotel-owner Devine and guerrilla Bamaca were murdered. An American nun, Dianna Ortiz, lived to tell the story: she was raped in 1989 by three Guatemalan officers, burned a hundred times with cigarettes and thrown into a grave full of rats and corpses. The exodus, the pain of Guatemala is described on the great movie "El Norte" (The North); and the origin of the tragedy in the book by Kinzeer and Schlesinger, "Ripe Fruit." Is this what the US taxpayer money that financed the CIA went towards? In 1954 John Foster Dulles proclaimed Arbenz's fall as a "glorious victory for democracy." But democracy was the most obvious victim of the Guatemalan intervention. The foundations for democratic development in Guatemala were criminally frustrated. Washington asserted its right to defend Latin America from democracy, patronizing the overthrow and the murder of democratically elected Latin American heads of state, Arbenz, Goulart and Allende. Forty years haven't been enough to recover what was lost in 1954. Guatemala is the best example of how much Latin America lost to the hands of Cold War's "anti-communism." Not only was Central Europe victimized by an unpunishable Superpower. The parallels are strikingly evident: Guatemala and Hungary; Chile and Tchecoslovakia. The Government of the United States owes a profound apology to Guatemala and its people. We can only wish that the perseverance of the widows of Bámaca and Devine will help to end the corrupt activities of the CIA in Latin American countries. It's up to us to give ourselves a future full of hope. As in Buchenwald, as in Auschwitz, one day we Latin Americans will kneel on our common tombs and over the devastated land of our martyr sister Guatemala. Carlos Fuentes is a Mexican writer. This article is reprinted from EL PAIS INTERNACIONAL (Madrid), April 24, 1995.