from the book
The CIAs Greatest Hits
by Mark Zepezauer
If you ever need a reminder that the CIA
was founded and run by lawyers, you won't need to look any further
than the overthrow of Guatemalan democracy. The Dulles brothers
were partners in the Wall Street law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell;
time permitting, they also worked for the US government. With
John Foster Dulles heading the State Department and Allen Dulles
heading the CIA, they were the czars of Eisenhower's foreign policy,
and they made sure that the interests of Sullivan & Cromwell
clients weren't ignored.
In 1951, Jacobo Arbenz was elected president
of Guatemala by a landslide in a free and fair election. He hoped
to transform Guatemala "from a backward country with a predominantly
feudal economy to a modern capitalist state." The CIA, however,
weighed in heavily on the side of feudalism.
When Arbenz appropriated some unused land
controlled by the Rockefeller-owned United Fruit Company (for
which United Fruit was duly compensated), the company undertook
an extensive PR campaign in the US, designed to paint Arbenz as
a tool of the "international Communist conspiracy."
John Foster Dulles, ever alert for opportunities to roll back
the red menace-and to help out a valued client-convinced Ike that
Arbenz must go.
Brother Allen's CIA was only too happy
to take the job, which ended up costing only about $20 million.
The agency sponsored a propaganda offensive and hired about 300
mercenaries who sporadically sabotaged trains and oil supplies.
Finally, in June of 1954, unmarked CIA
planes staged a series of air raids on the Guatemalan capital
and dropped leaflets demanding Arbenz's resignation. At the same
time, CIA-run radio stations warned of the impending invasion
of an occupying rebel army (actually the agency's 300 hired thugs).
Considering discretion the better part of valor, Arbenz fled,
leaving Guatemala in the hands of the CIA's hand-picked stooge,
General Castillo Armas.
The CIA has always been particularly proud
of the Guatemalan operation, which inaugurated a series of bloodthirsty
regimes that murdered more than 100,000 Guatemalans over the next
40 years. In retrospect, however, some CIA veterans concluded
that it may have come off too easily, leading to a certain overconfidence.
As one CIA officer put it, "We thought we could knock off
these little brown people on the cheap."