Making Guatemala a Killing Field
There was one place in Central America that did get some US media
coverage before the Sandinista revolution, and that was Guatemala.
In 1944, a revolution there overthrew a vicious tyrant, leading
to the establishment of a democratic government that basically
modeled itself on Roosevelt's New Deal. In the ten-year democratic
interlude that followed, there were the beginnings of successful
independent economic development.
That caused virtual hysteria in Washington. Eisenhower and Dulles
warned that the "self defense and self-preservation"
of the United States was at stake unless the virus was exterminated.
US intelligence reports were very candid about the dangers posed
by capitalist democracy in Guatemala.
A CIA memorandum of 1952 described the situation in Guatemala
as "adverse to US interests" because of the "Communist
influence... based on militant advocacy of social reforms and
nationalistic policies." The memo warned that Guatemala "has
recently stepped-up substantially its support of Communist and
anti-American activities in other Central American countries."
One prime example cited was an alleged gift of $300,000 to Jose
As mentioned above, Jose Figueres was the founder of Costa Rican
democracy and a leading democratic figure in Central America.
Although he cooperated enthusiastically with the CIA, had called
the United States "the standard-bearer of our cause"
and was regarded by the US ambassador to Costa Rica as "the
best advertising agency that the United Fruit Company could find
in Latin America," Figueres had an independent streak and
was therefore not considered as reliable as Somoza or other gangsters
in our employ.
In the political rhetoric of the United States, this made him
possibly a "Communist." So if Guatemala gave him money
to help him win an election, that showed Guatemala supported Communists.
Worse yet, the same CIA memorandum continued, the "radical
and nationalist policies" of the democratic capitalist government,
including the "persecution of foreign economic interests,
especially the United Fruit Company," had gained "the
support or acquiescence of almost all Guatemalans." The government
was proceeding "to mobilize the hitherto politically inert
peasantry" while undermining the power of large landholders.
Furthermore, the 1944 revolution had aroused "a strong national
movement to free Guatemala from the military dictatorship, social
backwardness, and 'economic colonialism' which had been the pattern
of the past," and "inspired the loyalty and conformed
to the self interest of most politically conscious Guatemalans."
Things became still worse after a successful land reform began
to threaten "stability" in neighboring countries where
suffering people did not fail to take notice.
In short, the situation was pretty awful. So the CIA carried out
a successful coup. Guatemala was turned into the slaughterhouse
it remains today, with regular US intervention whenever things
threaten to get out of line.
By the late 1970s, atrocities were again mounting beyond the terrible
norm, eliciting verbal protests. And yet, contrary to what many
people believe, military aid to Guatemala continued at virtually
the same level under the Carter "human rights" administration.
Our allies have been enlisted in the cause as well- notably Israel,
which is regarded as a "strategic asset" in part because
of its success in guiding state terrorism.
Under Reagan, support for near-genocide in Guatemala became positively
ecstatic. The most extreme of the Guatemalan Hitlers we've backed
there, Rios Montt, was lauded by Reagan as a man totally dedicated
to democracy. In the early 1980s, Washington's friends slaughtered
tens of thousands of Guatemalans, mostly Indians in the highlands,
with countless others tortured and raped. Large regions were decimated.
In 1988, a newly opened Guatemalan newspaper called La Epoca was
blown up by government terrorists. At the time, the media here
were very much exercised over the fact that the US-funded journal
in Nicaragua, La Prensa, which was openly calling for the overthrow
of the government and supporting the US-run terrorist army, had
been forced to miss a couple of issues due to a shortage of newsprint.
That led to a torrent of outrage and abuse, in the Washington
Post and elsewhere, about Sandinista totalitarianism.
On the other hand, the destruction of La Epoca aroused no interest
whatsoever and was not reported here, although it was well-known
to US journalists. Naturally the US media couldn't be expected
to notice that US-funded security forces had silenced the one,
tiny independent voice that had tried, a few weeks earlier, to
speak up in Guatemala.
A year later, a journalist from La Epoca, Julio Codoy, who had
fled after the bombing, went back to Guatemala for a brief visit.
When he returned to the US, he contrasted the situation in Central
America with that in Eastern Europe. Eastern Europeans are "luckier
than Central Americans," Godoy wrote, because while the Moscow-imposed
government in Prague would degrade and humiliate reformers, the
Washington-made government in Guatemala would kill them. It still
does, in a virtual genocide that has taken more than 150,000 victims
[in what Amnesty International calls] "a government program
of political murder."
The press either conforms or, as in the case of La Epoca, disappears.
"One is tempted to believe," Godoy continued, "that
some people in the White House worship Aztec gods-with the offering
of Central American blood." And he quoted a Western European
diplomat who said: "As long as the Americans don't change
their attitude towards the region, there's no space here for the
truth or for hope."
from the book What Uncle Sam Really Wants, published in 1993
Tucson, AZ 85751
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other Noam Chomsky books published by Odonian Press
Secrets, Lies, and Democracy
The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many
Uncle Sam Really Wants