Our "splendid little adventure" in Guatemala in 1954 bears striking resemblance to the Chilean experience, which is no coincidence. President Eisenhower's discovery of the cost-effectiveness and secrecy of covert operations laid the foundation for much U.S. Cold War policy. But Guatemala was even more exciting, since CIA operatives participated firsthand in overthrowing the freely elected government.
Whereas ITT was a major force in Chile, the United Fruit Company played the paramount role in Guatemalan politics. On various occasions the Guatemalan government attempted to tax the company's valuable 178,000 acres of property, only to be told that the property was not worth nearly what the Guatemalans thought. Therefore, any tax revenue from the property did not amount to as princely a sum as desired. In 1951, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman became president (no, not as a result of a coup). He definitely had leftist leanings, and one of his first actions was to confiscate the United Fruit Company's property. Here is the sweet irony: the compensation he offered corresponded to the low property value that the company itself had proclaimed previously! The U.S. could not tolerate this, nor Guatemala's importation of arms from Czechoslovakia. In response, the U.S. delivered arms to Honduras and Nicaragua, and the CIA began training Guatemalan exiles for an invasion. When the invasion got under way, CIA-piloted planes bombed the capital and several other cities. Arbenz lost the support of his military, and before long Carlos Castillo Armas was installed as head of state. He subsequently executed more Guatemalans than had died during the hostilities.
To reiterate what should be obvious by now,
this was a violation of Guatemala╠s sovereignty and an illegal, aggressive
use of force. Even if Arbenz had come to power by brutal force of
arms, the U.S. would not be legally justified in tearing down his rule.
To claim otherwise is to espouse what the Soviets once did: the Brezhnev
Doctrine. According to this, the USSR had the right to invade and
¤liberateË any country in the grips of illegitimate Western-style governance.
The U.S. properly labeled this doctrine as flagrantly illegal. It
is likewise illegal for the U.S. to unilaterally determine which governments
are legitimate and to intervene based on that evaluation.
CIA Factbook on Guatemala
1995 N.Y. Times article concerning Arbenz, upon the return of his remains to Guatemala
New York Review of Books by Theodore Draper: Analysis of CIA involvement in Guatemala
Cato Institute lays out a libertarian analysis of the wisdom of U.S. covert
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