President Dwight Eisenhower and
excerpted from the book
Lying for Empire
How to Commit War Crimes With
A Straight Face
by David Model
Common Courage Press, 2005, paper
In 1954, the American government successfully orchestrated the
overthrow of the freely elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in
Guatemala and replaced him with their hand-picked alternative.
... nationalist ambitions in developing country where the government
sought to become independent of Washington's influence were usually
interpreted on the surface as communist subversion whereas the
greater threat was a weakening of the American sphere of influence.
As well, redistributing wealth or land was usually a sign that
the government was apparently poisoned by communist subversion.
Gabriel Kolko, in Confronting the Third World: United States Foreign
Policy 1945-1980, points out that:
Both privately and publicly, each [Eisenhower and Truman] attributed
to the Russians a transcendent ability to shape events in the
most remote countries, and even when they did not initiate them
they almost invariably knew how to exploit them... Russia "seeks
world rule through the domination of all governments by the International
Communist Party" as John Foster Dulles typically put it in
1957. Such conspiracies included "extreme nationalism"
as one of its tools. And he found their alleged ability "to
get control of mass movements" uncanny.
According to a number of scholars, the
hypothesis that international Communism infiltrated developing
world political and economic structures for the purpose of establishing
a communist government was inaccurate and missed the real motivations
for American foreign policy which was to expand the American Empire.
One possible rationale for American anti-communist
policies was their notion that a government which implemented
a social and economic system fundamentally different from the
U.S. system must be infiltrated with communist conspirators. Governments
which attempted to construct an economic system which was not
based on the market system threatened the sanctity of the United
States social and economic system which, in fact, serves the interests
of the wealthy. The fear was that an alternative system that was
perceived as more fair and equitable might undermine faith in
the American system. The fear was well founded since today the
United States has one of the highest poverty rates, infant mortality
rates, incarceration rates, and murder rates in the industrialized
world. It also has some of the poorest educational, health-care,
and welfare systems. So when freely elected governments in Nicaragua
or Guatemala implemented progressive land reforms, labour laws,
and welfare systems that benefited everyone, they evoked fear
in American elites that such ideas might become infectious. To
discredit governments that posed these threats, the U.S. government
condemned them as having been infiltrated by Communists. The United
States claim that Nicaragua and Guatemala were threats to the
U.S. because of communist infiltration was ludicrous. When President
Reagan warned that Nicaragua was only two days from Brownsville
Texas, his administration's intention was not to warn of a real
threat (a silly notion) to U.S. security, but to evoke fear in
order to justify intervention. William Blum, in Killing Hope:
US. Military and CIA Intervention Since World War II, points out
In cases such as the above-mentioned Grenada,
El Salvador, and Nicaragua, even if the particular target of intervention
does not present an immediate lucrative economic opportunity for
American multinationals, the target's socialist-revolutionary
program and rhetoric does present a threat and a challenge, which
the United States has repeatedly felt obliged to stamp out, to
maintain the principle, and as a warning to others; for what the
US has always feared from the Third World is the emergence of
a good example: a flourishing socialist society independent of
Noam Chomsky, in Understanding Power:
The Indispensable Chomsky, echoes the same theme when'-
Why do we have to get rid of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua? In
reality it's not because anybody really thinks that they're a
communist power about to conquer the Hemisphere-it's because they
were carrying out social programs that were beginning to succeed,
and which would have appealed to other people in Latin America
who want the same things.
... Edward Herman, in Beyond Hypocrisy: Decoding the News in the
Age of Propaganda, offers the same analysis that:
A basic feature of the MIC [Military-Industrial Complex] is that
it keeps developing weapons that the contractors want to sell.
The point is to command resources, maintain and enlarge profits,
and produce jobs. Missions are needed to justify weapons acquisition,
and they are usually couched in terms of some threat, some niche
that has to be filled to protect our national security.
William Blum, in Killing Hope, suggests
... one must examine the role of the military-industrial-intelligence
complex. The members of this network need enemies-the military
and the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency]-because enemies are
their reason d'etre; industry, specifically the defense contractors,
because enemies are to be fought with increasingly sophisticated
weaponry and aircraft systems.. . The executives of these corporations...
who continue to use their positions, their wealth, and their influence
... to nourish and to perpetuate the fear of communism, the enemy
Seventy percent of the land [in Guatemala] was owned by only 2.2%
of the population.
... the United Fruit Company whose major crop was bananas. The
United Fruit Company was originally the Boston Fruit Company founded
by Minor C. Keith whose original project was to build railways
in Central America. In order to finance his railway business he
began to sell bananas and by 1883 owned three banana companies
which became known as the United Fruit Company in 1899. It had
become the largest producers of bananas in the world. Much of
the cultivated land was providing food for the United States and
not for the hungry people of Guatemala.
United Fruit Company's president persuaded
other landowners to support Jorge Ubico for president in the mid-nineteen
thirties. The United Fruit Company was then granted more land
and a 99-year lease on all its land which now comprised half of
the land in Guatemala. The Company was also relieved of virtually
any taxation, import duties, and export taxes and was allowed
to greatly undervalue the worth of its land for taxation purposes.
By 1936, the Company paid virtually no taxes.
Arbenz won the next election in 1951 with the support of everyone
but the upper class receiving 60 percent of the vote. His intention
was to expand the reforms and programs which were introduced by
Arévalo. His objectives were to create an independent modern
industrial economy in order to raise the living standards of Guatemalans
and to reach out to the Mayan population in order to assess what
While his programs were egalitarian, they
were not communist in nature. He believed in capitalism with a
The large landowners constituted 2.2% of the population but owned
70% of the land.
An example of the frustration of the Arbenz government over idle
land was the fact that only 15% of the 550,000 acres of the United
Fruit Company's land was under cultivation.
Washington's position toward Guatemala had begun to change after
the revolution, particularly with every act of the Guatemalan
Government that threatened U.S. corporate interests. It was a
classical case of interpreting every attempt by the Guatemalan
Government to improve conditions for its people as further proof
that the government was infiltrated by communists whose ultimate
aim was to take power and then infiltrate other countries in Latin
Labour codes were one of the first ostensible
threats to American corporate interests. It raised suspicions
in Washington about Guatemala succumbing to communist infiltrators.
Beginning in 1946, a number of strikes were called against the
United Fruit Company over wages, overtime, and vacations. One
of the responses of the Company was to fire any workers who were
actively involved. After the government threatened to confiscate
some of the company's land, the company conceded but did not rehire
the workers. Paying time and a half for overtime, granting workers
ten days vacation every year, and paying $1.50 per day was not
acceptable to the Company. Negotiations broke down and another
strike occurred between 1948 and 1949. The United Fruit Company
refused to negotiate in good faith and attacked the Labour Code
as unfair despite the fact the Government was willing to send
the dispute to arbitration. The United Fruit Company threatened
to shut down its operations. In 1952, the Guatemalan labour court
ordered the company to take back the workers who had been fired.
Washington's first reaction to events
in Guatemala was that the government was discriminating against
American companies and, therefore, threatening relations between
the two countries. The CIA concluded that Guatemala was unfriendly
to American corporations.
Even before the new labour codes, President
Truman ordered the FBI to send agents to Guatemala to search for
radical influences and assess the politics of both major and minor
persons in the government. The FBI forwarded a number of reports
to Washington in which the agents provided an analysis of the
extent of communist infiltration. The objectivity of these reports
was completely undermined by the fact that the sources of information
were people who worked in the Ubico regime and who considered
any activism to improve the lives of Guatemalans as subversive.
Dictators in surrounding countries, such as Somoza in Nicaragua,
who were clients of the United States and opposed to any progressive
measures that might threaten their own positions continually condemned
Guatemala as a communist threat. The American House Subcommittee
on Communist Aggression was constantly identifying communists
in the Guatemalan government. William Blum in Killing Hope reported
The party formed by the communists..,
held four seats in Congress [in Guatemala], the smallest component
of Arbenz's ruling coalition which commanded a total of 51 seats
in the 1953-54 legislature. Communists held several important
sub-cabinet posts but none was ever appointed to the cabinet.
Jim Huck, in 1954: Covert War in Guatemala,
also points out the lack of communist influence in the legislature
by explaining that:
In the 1953-1954 legislatures, Arbenz
had a majority [government] and the communists only had 4 of 51
seats. But Secretary of State John Foster Dulles claimed that
Guatemala was living under a "communism type of terrorism"
and President Eisenhower portrayed the government in Guatemala
as a "communist dictatorship."
William Blum noted that:
The Soviet Union could be excused if it
was somewhat bewildered by all the rhetoric for the Russians had
scant interest in Guatemala, did not provide the country with
any kind of military assistance, did not even maintain diplomatic
L relations with it, thus did not have the normally indispensable
embassy from which to conduct such nefarious schemes.
In 1947, the unions in Guatemala celebrated May Day by marching
( through the capital. May Day or International Labour Day is
celebrated in many countries around the world but the United States
treated the celebration in Guatemala as a symptom of Communism
because International Labour Day is also celebrated in the Soviet
By the time that Arbenz implemented his new land reform program,
Washington was completely convinced that the Soviet Union had
successfully infiltrated the Arbenz administration and was preparing
to take over the reigns of government as a stepping-stone to infiltrating
other countries in the hemisphere.
As suspicions of Communism escalated,
pressure in Washington intensified for some kind of response not
only to the threat of Communism but also to the threat to American
corporate interests. In 1950, Truman's administration decided
that some action was needed but it was important that America's
role be completely invisible. From the first action to the eventual
overthrow of Arbenz, the American government was tenaciously committed
to maintaining secrecy in order to prevent public knowledge of
Another dimension of Washington's plan was to launch a propaganda
I campaign to create public awareness of events in Guatemala.
Truman set up the Psychological Strategy Board. Truman's most
effective propaganda weapon was the United Fruit Company's public
relations counsel, Edward Bernays. He embarked on a campaign to
clearly demonstrate the communist threat in Guatemala to the public.
Bernays' greatest asset was the publisher of the New York Times,
Arthur Hays Sulzberger. His Central American correspondent, Crede
Calhoun, hired Will Lissner who wrote a number of stories with
a powerful impact for the New York Times about the threat in Guatemala.
Other major publications followed suit and published similar articles
about Guatemala. In general, reporters were indoctrinated with
cold war propaganda which shaped their perceptions of events and
frequently determined how they framed their stories.
One of Bernays' coups was to invite a
number of important publishers and editors on a fact-finding junket
to Guatemala at the United Fruit Company's expense. Not only did
the company's officials select the sights to be observed, but
they were the major source of information for their guests ...
Under Eisenhower's administration, the State Department established
the United States Information Agency. William Blum, in Killing
Hope, observed that the operations of the United States Information
Agency commenced when it:
... began to place unattributed articles
in foreign newspapers labeling particular Guatemalan officials
as communist and referring to various actions by the Guatemala
Government as "communist-inspired." In the few weeks
before Arbenz's fall alone, more than 200 articles about Guatemala
were written and placed in scores of Latin American newspapers...
articles placed in one country were picked up by newspapers in
other countries, either as a result of CIA payment or unwittingly
because the story was of interest.
The objective of the propaganda campaign
was to persuade the American public that Communist infiltration
in Guatemala posed a threat to American security. Fear of communism
was an easier sell than the real motive which was the U.S. determination
to protect American corporate interests in Guatemala. One of the
explanations for this determination was the close ties between
the government and the corporate sector.
By the time that President Eisenhower assumed office, the momentum
for removing Arbenz from office was virtually unstoppable. According
to Gabriel Kolko, in Confronting the Third World:
The principle of overthrowing the Arbenz
government received the Eisenhower Administration's blessing immediately
upon coming to office, and from this time onward it mounted a
vast, sustained public-relations campaign to convince the U.S.
public and the world that Guatemala had been taken over by communists.
As before, United Fruit was involved in every phase of the administration's
Within months of assuming office, the
Eisenhower administration began plotting the overthrow of the
PBSUCCESS became the code name of the plot and its headquarters;
was set up in Opa Locka, Florida, on the outskirts of Miami. The
estimate of the costs of the operation was about $7 million and
it utilized 100 CIA agents. About 30 planes were stationed in
Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Canal Zone, which were to be flown
by American pilots. To reinforce the charges of Soviet infiltration,
Soviet-marked weapons were acquired to be o planted in Guatemala.
Once Arbenz was overthrown, the planners would need someone from
the Guatemalan opposition to become leader who was acceptable
to the United States. The CIA finally decided on Carlos Enrique
Castillo Armas, who received military training in the U.S. and
was the son of a wealthy landowner in Guatemala.
As part of the propaganda campaign, the CIA had to promulgate
the lie that the people of Guatemala revolted against the harsh
dictator, Arbenz, and succeeded. Several quotes from President
Eisenhower and others contributed to the propaganda about the
dissatisfaction of the peasants with Arbenz, such as:
* "The major factor in the successful
outcome was the disaffection of the Guatemalan armed forces and
the population as a whole with the tyrannical regime of Arbenz."
(Eisenhower, from Mandate for Change, The White House Years, 1953-1956)
* "...the people of Guatemala, in
a magnificent effort, have liberated themselves from the shackles
of international Communism." (Eisenhower from The CIA in
o "The Guatemalan regime enjoyed
the full support of Soviet Russia... [the] situation is being
cured by the Guatemalans themselves." (Allen Dulles, Director
of the CIA, in Killing Hope)
o "In conclusion, Mr. Chairmen, let
me state that the menace of communism in Guatemala was courageously
fought by the Guatemalan people themselves... Communist power
was broken by the Guatemalans alone... They fought the battle
which is the common battle of all free nations against Communist
oppression." (John E. Peurifoy, Ambassador to Guatemala,
Testimony before the Congressional Subcommittee on Latin America).
Since the fall of Arbenz and the installation
of an American handpicked leader, conditions in Guatemala have
harshly degenerated in terms of basic freedoms, human rights,
poverty, land ownership, health-care, and democracy. Armas was
the first in a succession of dictators who, with American support,
have inflicted a reign of terror and oppression on the Guatemalan
people. The American-supported dictators converted the economy
from one that served the interests of the people to one that served
the interests of Americans and in particular American corporate
These dictators depended on the United
States for financial aid and for training of their army in counterinsurgency
techniques. The U.S. set up a school called the School of the
Americas, located in Fort Benning, Georgia, for the purpose of
training soldiers and officers in Latin America in counter-insurgency
and torture techniques. Guatemalan dictatorships were confronted
with a number of insurgencies caused by a lack of freedoms and
growing poverty. The United States' objective was to ensure that
the Guatemalan army was prepared. In January 2001, the name of
the school was changed to The Western Hemisphere Institute for
Security Cooperation because of reports from human right's groups
condemning it as a school for training soldiers to violate human
The economy was transformed into an export-oriented
economy to serve the interests of the American multinationals
located in Guatemala. Now there was an inverse relationship between
the growing beef and agricultural exports and the prosperity of
most Guatemalans. As exports grew, the population suffered. Land
reform policies were reversed and the same concentration of land
ownership, where two percent of the people owned twenty percent
of the land, prevailed.
General Efráin Rios Montt took power by a coup in 1982
and promptly announced a state of siege. In the first six months
of power he had not only murdered 1600 Mayans and peasants but
he also brutally wiped 400 villages off the map. By 1993 conditions
in Guatemala had degenerated to the point where:
* Guatemala had a higher level of malnutrition
than Haiti; (UNICEF)
* One-quarter million children were orphaned;
* 87% of Guatemalans lived below the poverty
* 72% could not afford a minimal diet;
* 6 million had no access to health services;
* 3.6 million lacked clean drinking water;
* 2% controlled 70% of the land.
Richard H. Immerman, in The CIA in Guatemala, sums up the history
since 1944 as follows:
Castillo Armas was but first in a line
of Guatemalan presidents, all supported by the United States,
who in the name of anti-Communism have ruled by terror and repression.
Their effort to reverse the movement toward reform that began
in 1944 has not produced the stability so eagerly sought in Washington.
Rather, by pursuing programs inimical to the majority of Guatemalans...
They must live with chronic unemployment, chronic malnutrition,
high rate of illiteracy and infant mortality, and, for hundreds
of thousands of peasants, little or no land.
William Blum, in Killing Hope
... the educated, urbane men of the State Department, the CIA,
and the United Fruit Company, the pipe-smoking men of Princeton,
Harvard, and Wall Street, decided that the illiterate peasants
of Guatemala did not deserve the land which had been given to
them, that the workers did not need their unions, that hunger
and torture were a small price to pay for being rid of the scourge
If the United States was so confident about their Communist-infiltration
theory, then why was it necessary to manufacture outright lies
about Arbenz imprisoning thousands of his opponents and the Guatemalan
people leading the rebellion against Arbenz?
The United Fruit Company's publicity office
distributed fake photographs of mass graves filled with victims
of the atrocities committed by Arbenz. UFC's motive is easy to
understand but why did Washington perpetrate lies to convince
the world that there was a Communist threat to the entire hemisphere?
The CIA undertook a propaganda campaign
directed at the people of Guatemala in an effort to turn them
against Arbenz. According to Jim Huck, in 1954: Covert War in
.CIA planes dropped leaflets demanding
Arbenz's resignation, while radio stations broadcast the same
message. The CIA distributed over 100,000 pamphlets entitled "Chronology
of Communism in Guatemala" and made three films critical
of Arbenz. Over 27,000 anti-Arbenz posters and cartoons were distributed
There is no doubt that Eisenhower lied.
The evidence clearly reveals that there was no communist infiltration
in Guatemala to establish a base from which to infiltrate other
countries in the hemisphere. Arbenz was influenced by the ideals
of the revolution of 1944 and set out to implement land, labour,
educational, health, and political reforms to ameliorate conditions
for the majority of Guatemalans. All the arguments invoked to
reach the conclusion that Guatemala was infiltrated by communists
are invalid and border on the absurd.
Eisenhower's lies were very costly. For
the next 35 years, Guatemala was ruled by brutal dictators who
were supported by the United States and who reversed all the progressive
reforms of the revolution in addition to murdering approximately
The example of American intervention in Guatemala is very instructive
because of the pattern of American justification, motivation,
scare tactics, and lies which repeats itself in many other cases
of American intervention. The threat of Communism, protection
of American corporate interests, and the threat to American security
have characterized American foreign policy during the cold war.