US Sponsored Terror and Genocide in Guatemala The Glorious Victory

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

Carlos Fuentes is a Mexican writer. This article is reprinted from EL
PAIS INTERNACIONAL (Madrid), April 24, 1995.

[thistle homepage] [Volume 9] [9.6 - contents]