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Destroying democracy behind a charade of anti-Communism,
This review is from: Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala, Revised and Expanded (Series on Latin American Studies) (Paperback)
Schlesinger's and Kinzer's classic study examines one of the more disgraceful chapters in the history of American foreign policy: the CIA-sponsored overthrow in 1954 of the democratically elected government of Guatemala. The long-term repercussions of this unprovoked excursion are still felt today; many Latin American countries still do not trust United States intentions because of our actions in both Guatemala and, two decades later, Chile.
"Bitter Fruit" explodes some cherished myths that apologists for the coup have proffered over the years. First, it's clear that Roosevelt rather than Stalin provided the inspiration to the presidencies of Juan Jose Arevalo (1945-1951) and Jacobo Arbenz Guzman (1951-1954). Both Arevalo and Arbenz were motivated by the policies and practices of the New Deal; their support for labor and their actions towards American businesses must be viewed in this light and were never any worse than the laws passed during the Depression in the United States. Regardless of whatever tolerance Guatemalan Communists may have enjoyed, or influence they may have had--and it's clear that they didn't have much--the Eisenhower administration was motivated as much by scorn of the Roosevelt and Truman years as by anti-Communism. (Tellingly, those who cite Che Guevera's presence in Guatemala often fail to note that his arrival, at the age of 25 in early 1954, postdated the planning of American intervention and predated by many years Guevera's notoriety.)
Second, the succession of American puppets who succeeded Arbenz were certainly not supported by the people of Guatemala: the ragtag opposition "army" never exceeded 400 troops in number, and none of the dictators during the next four decades could have survived a freely held election. Between 1954 and the early 1990s, tens of thousands of civilians were imprisoned, executed, or "disappeared" at the fleeting whims of a series of brutal tyrants--and this, to most Central Americans, is the "bottom line" legacy of American interference. Third, some defend American intervention because the Guatemalan land reforms in the early 1950s "stole" property from the United Fruit Company. What the supporters of the company's property rights rarely acknowledge is that one of the company's early founders, Samuel Zemurray, acquired its land, as well as a railroad monopoly, by organizing from New Orleans a coup in 1905 that overthrew the existing government and installing UFC's own puppet--all in violation of American law. In addition, when the Arbenz government attempted to compensate UFC for the land (all of it fallow), the company admitted that it had fraudulently undervalued their holdings for tax purposes at $627,000; the land was worth closer to $16 million.
And, finally, what is clear from Schlesinger's and Kinzer's account is that the Americans behind the 1954 coup, from Ambassador John Peurifoy to the Dulles brothers to Eisenhower himself, knew that what they were doing was indefensible. In order to "sell" the coup at all they had to invent a propagandistic war against a democratically elected government to a gullible American media. Not surprisingly, they covered up and denied American involvement not only at the time but during the ensuing years. Furthermore, many of the participants who survived into the late 1970s either confessed their regret to the authors of this book or admitted that the horrific long-term consequences of the coup in no way justified its short-term "success."
The American adventure in Guatemala was fostered by bad intelligence, furthered by greedy intentions, and executed with no coherent strategy, and it dealt a serious blow both to democracy and to the immediate and long-term interests of the United States government. Meticulously documented, this blood-boiling yet even-handed study should be read by all who are concerned by the consequences of ill-conceived, unilaterally executed, and short-sighted foreign policy planning.
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 26, 2008 11:13:15 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 26, 2008 11:13:59 AM PDT
There are people who cite Guevara's presence as justification for the coup and genocide? You'd think they'd want to hide that fact, given that the young Guevara's experiences in Guatemala are what, more than anything else, turned him into the anti-imperialist crusader "Che". Jon Lee Anderson documents this quite well--at the time of the CIA-led Guatemala coup, Che was an insignificant med school graduate looking for a medical job. He was sympathetic to the far left (although not a member of any far left party), but he didn't have any real hatred for the United States at that point. The U.S. essentially created "Che" as we know him today, and to the extent that he was responsible for the success of the Cuban revolution, the whole Cuban revolution can be considered blowback for Guatemala.
Posted on Oct 3, 2008 8:35:29 AM PDT
The Doctor says:
The sad thing is that most Americans know NOTHING about what their country did to Guatemala and later El Salvador and others. The blood of tens of thousands of central Americans is on the hands of the CIA and the US governments.
In reply to an earlier post on Jan 28, 2009 11:19:57 AM PST
born on the fourteenth says:
I'm old enough to have been alive and cognizant when these events occured. Taken out of context, they look terrible. But, you have to remember the climate of the times: The world was just coming out of WW II where a mad man (Hitler) caused unparalleled death and destruction. Other major mad men still existed in positions of power in the world (Stalin and Mao, possibly worse than Hitler). Civilized societies at that time (led by the US) did what they felt they had to do to prevent another world war. There is no doubt that if Mao and Stalin were not confronted wherever they tried to export the idiocy of communism the world would be a much worse place today.
Yes, it's not pretty and regretful, but the world owes a debt of gratitude to the civilized leaders who made the cruel but necessary decisions which stopped the irrational spread of communism until it died of its own poison.
Continue to read and inquire.
In reply to an earlier post on Jan 28, 2009 2:51:03 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 28, 2009 5:40:22 PM PST
D. Cloyce Smith says:
It is certainly remarkable that "Born on the fourteenth" is "old enough" to have been "cognizant" of causes and events that were, for the most part, kept secret from the American public at the time.
The "climate of the times" justification fails to answer why the Eisenhower administration felt threatened by the Guatemalans while the Truman administration had not been. Or perhaps the argument is that Truman had forgotten the lessons of WW II and Hitler(!), but Eisenhower suddenly remembered them?
As both the book and my review tried to make clear, fear of Communism had little to do with American support of the coup, and was proffered largely as an excuse--and not only did the "civilized leaders" during these events know it was a charade, but some of them afterward even admitted as much. The coup was undertaken more to defend the United Fruit Company, its tyrannical directors, its criminal actions, and (especially) its profits. Are we really to believe that Allen Dulles's and John Foster Dulles's extensive financial and personal ties to UFC did not affect their decisions? That UFC stocks and executive positions held by John Cabot and Thomas Cabot and Henry Cabot Lodge and Bedell Smith played no role in their advocacy of the coup?
It is certainly understandable, given the "climate of the times," why Americans living in the 1950s would have believed the excuses (and, yes, the lies) their government told them, but it doesn't excuse the government for telling them. Given the events of the last two years, is it really so hard to imagine "civilized leaders" who care more about profits than about keeping the world safe for democracy?
Finally, anyone who might "read and inquire" into this history would hesitate to call UFC company officials "civilized." They were often thugs, pure and simple, as were the succession of dictators they supported before and after Guatemala's brief experiment with democracy. Theirs was a villainy that began at the turn of the century, decades before Nazism, Stalinism, or the Cold War--long before, indeed, any of us living could have possibly been cognizant of it.
Posted on Dec 2, 2011 10:28:51 PM PST
Richard W. Stewart says:
I am retired and live in Guatemala much of the year and every time I hear people arguing about the effects of the American aided 1954 coup I have to ask myself - what Guatemala are they talking about?
The one I live in suffers much worse from the current American War on Drugs. That would the war supported by Mr. Obama, Mr. Bush, Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush again, all the way back to Mr. Nixon, more than $1,000,000,000,000 ago. [That would be a trillion, in case the zeros are making your head spin.]
Everything is clear in hindsight, of course, so it is easy to condemn America's support for the 1954 coup, but if you actually give a whit about Guatemala you will spend a few minutes of your day on the coup, and a few hours of your day trying to end America's War on Drugs.
All of Guatemala will thank you for it.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2012 4:56:55 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 31, 2012 8:37:20 AM PDT
J. CASELLAS says:
Yes the war on drugs is terrible and people get killed. But the American aided 1954 coup killed something deeper than that "Killed the Spirit of a nation" And what they thought they killed fireback on them a few years later.
Posted on Oct 15, 2013 2:44:15 AM PDT
John Werner says:
Why, at this late date, with so much bloodshed and anti-American blow-back does any US citizen feel it appropriate to dictate any foreign country's politics. Yes, and that definitely includes the "war on drugs" waged outside the borders of the United States. Globalism as practiced by our elected officials has failed miserably and strangely in the process helping Communist China to become the economic powerhouse it is today. It's time the government of The United States gets back to serving the actual citizens and not the mysterious cabal so often referred to, for lack of no one actually knowing who they are, the "shadow government". At least half of all our men in uniform need to be brought right back here to defend our actual borders and use the massive savings of fighting hopeless trillion-dollar wars to support American citizens. For instance, the debacle that is named "Obama Care" could be revamped into true cradle-to-grave medical care for all without the almost no longer existent middle-class having to be stomped into the ground further with yet another financial burden for which there is simply nothing left to fund. Everything this book reveals is basically still happening today in various parts of our world for which we simply should not be manipulating. The people of The United States must simply say no more globalism. If one needs to be convinced start your reading here with this book because it clearly is a study as to what we should have never done and should never repeat.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 28, 2014 1:01:34 AM PDT
Che Guevara was a mass murderer and a coward and there is no excuse for what he did. He may have hated the U.S., but one can fight an enemy without being a mass murderer.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 28, 2014 4:05:20 AM PDT
John Werner says:
He's no hero of mine. I'm sick of that graphic of his mug being thrown around as some kind of cool icon. I agree he was a murderer and his deceit made him a coward, a genuine psychopath, and sub-human.
Posted on Dec 20, 2015 8:18:05 PM PST
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