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									     1954: Covert War in Guatemala
                                          John Foster Dulles claimed that Gua-
By Jim Huck, a college teacher of
                                          temalans were living under a “commu-
political science, U.S. history and
                                          nism type of terrorism” and President
international relations for 30 years.
                                          Eisenhower portrayed the government
                                          in Guatemala as a “communist dicta-

    n 1951, social democrat Jacobo
                                          torship.” The U.S. ambassador to Gua-
    Arbenz became Guatemala’s first
                                          temala said “we cannot permit a So-
    popularly elected president. In the
                                          viet Republic to be established between
1953-1954 legislature, Arbenz had a
                                          Texas and the Panama Canal.”
majority and the communists only had
                                                  Arbenz wanted land reform;
4 of 51 seats. But Secretary of State
                                          70% of the arable land was owned by
                           Allen          2.2% of landowners. In February 1953,
                                          Arbenz expropriated 40% of United
                                          Fruit Company (UFC) property, which       In 1952, Guatemalan Pres-
                            CIA           had close ties to the CIA. Walter Be-     ident Jacobo Arbenz’s land
                          Director        dell, former CIA Director and Under
                                                                                     reform law redistributed
                            (1953-        Secretary of State, had been a UFC
                                          executive. UFC used its Washington          1.4 million acres to more
                                          connections to influence the govern-       than 500,000 campesinos.
                                          ment to initiate clandestine operations
                                          against the new and fragile democracy.    arms which were sent on a Swedish
                                          The UFC president, Sam “The Banana        ship, Alfhem. The weapons were of
                                          Man” Zemurray, hired Washington           little use to the Guatemalan military.
                                          lobbyist Thomas Corcoran to meet key      They were comprised of cannons to be
     Operation PBFORTUNE                  Eisenhower assistants and encourage       used when mounted on railroad cars,

T    he first CIA effort to overthrow
    Arbenz was a collaboration with
Nicaraguan dictator Anastacio Som-
                                          a coup. Former UFC president, Tho-
                                          mas Dudley, was brother of Eisenhow-
                                                                                    anti-tank guns (but there were no tanks
                                                                                    in the area) and antiquated small arms,
                                          er’s first Assistant Secretary of State   most of which were inoperable.
oza, authorized by President Truman       for Central America. J.F.Dulles had               The CIA sent 30 planes to Nica-
in 1952. By February 1952, the CIA        been a partner with the Sullivan &        ragua, Honduras and Panama, and the
was writing memos, like “Guatemalan       Cromwell (S&C) law firm, which rep-       U.S. signed security treaties with Hon-
Communist Personnel to be disposed        resented UFC. [His brother] CIA Di-       duras and Nicaragua. The CIA flew
of during Military Operations,” outlin-   rector Allen Dulles, was an S&C at-       planes over Guatemala with Soviet
ing categories of people to be neutral-   torney doing litigation for UFC in the    markings. On June 18, CIA planes
ized “through Executive Action” (mur-     1930s. Ann Whitman, Eisenhower’s          dropped leaflets demanding Arbenz’s
der), imprisonment or exile.              personal secretary, married UFC’s         resignation, while CIA radio stations
     Operation PBSUCCESS                  main lobbyist. Assistant Secretary of     broadcast the same message. The CIA
                                          State John Cabot owned UFC stock and      distributed over 100,000 pamphlets
A     uthorized by President Eisen-
      hower in August 1953, this op-
eration had a $2.7 million budget for
                                          his brother was a its former president.
                                                  The CIA bribed top military
                                                                                    entitles “Chronology of Communism
                                                                                    in Guatemala” and made three films
                                          officers in Guatemala. They asked         critical of Arbenz. Over 27,000 anti-
“psychological warfare and political
                                          Arbenz to remove all communists from      Arbenz posters and cartoons were dis-
action” and “subversion.” The last
                                          his administration. When he said they     tributed in Guatemala. In Nicaragua,
stage of PBSUCCESS called for “roll-
                                          were no threat, he was asked to step      the CIA used [U.S.-installed dictator]
up of Communists and collaborators.”
                                          down, but he declined. Then, the CIA      Somoza to make a statement that So-
After the CIA installed Castillo Armas
                                          deposited a large sum of money in a       viet weapons were being secretly im-
in power, hundreds of Guatemalans
                                          Swiss bank to lure him into resigning.    ported and that Nicaragua was on the
were rounded up and killed. Between
                                                  Allen Dulles meticulously over-   verge of falling to communism.
1954 and 1990, human rights groups
                                          saw Operation Success. In December                The White House gave the CIA
estimate, the repressive operatives of
                                          1953, the CIA turned to Colonel           the approval to wage an open war
sucessive military regimes murdered
                                          Castillo Armas who issued a decree        against Guatemala. U.S. planes
more than 100,000 civilians.
                                          stating his intent to overthrow Arbenz.   bombed ports, military sites, airports,
Source: Kate Doyle and Peter                      In the spring of 1954, the CIA    schools and villages. The CIA broad-
Kornbluh, “CIA and Assassinations:        stepped up covert activities. In May      cast disinformation claiming that
The Guatemala 1954 Documents,” Na-        1954, Arbenz turned to Czechoslova-       rebels had seized villages and that
tional Security Archive Electronic        kia for military weapons in order to      Arbenz was being toppled. The UFC
Briefing Book No. 4. <        guard against a possible U.S. interven-   claimed that the Arbenz government
~nsarchiv/nsaebb/nsaebb4/>                tion. Arbenz purchased 2,000 tons of      was brutal and repressive, and pub-
14                                                                 Press for Conversion! Issue # 50 January 2003
lished fabricated pictures of mutilated
bodies in mass graves. The CIA drop-
ped hundreds of dummy parachutes to
convince Guatemalans that a major
U.S. invasion was imminent, that the
Guatemalan military had collapsed
and that any resistance was futile.
        In the U.S., the Eisenhower
administration disseminated stories
that Arbenz had arbitrarily imprisoned
thousands of political prisoners. The
White House attempted to block the
UN Security Council from forming an
committee to seek the truth about the
Arbenz government. The resolution
was defeated by a 5-4 vote.
                                            O     n May 17, 1954, the U.S. State Department announced that arms had ar-
                                                  rived from Czechoslovakia to Guatemala on the Swedish ship Alfhem.
                                            Washington failed to admit that because of an embargo implemented by the U.S.
        The CIA resorted to dropping
                                            and its allies, Guatemala couldn’t obtain defensive weaponry from anywhere
several dud bombs in Honduras. Be-
                                            else. Shortly after the Alfhem incident, the U.S. Air Force airlifted war materials
lieving that these sorties were flown
                                            to Honduras and Nicaragua that aided Castillo Armas, to enter Guatemala from
by Guatemalan planes, Honduras filed
                                            Honduras on June 19 [after which he took power in a CIA-organized coup].
complaints with the UN and the Or-
ganization of American States.              Source: Excerpt, Melissa Coy, “Bananas and Communism: The Guatemalan
        The coup was close to success       Coup, 1954,” <
when senior Guatemalan army offic-          example.htm>
ers issued an ultimatum to Arbenz. He
had to choose between resigning and
the military collaborating with the
                                                Arms Shipments on the Alfhem
CIA. One army officer was paid              By U.S. President Dwight D. Eisen-           By John Kyle Day, History Department,
$60,000 by the CIA to surrender his         hower (1953-1961).                           University of Missouri-Columbia.
command. The CIA was broadcasting
that the invaders were on the verge of
marching into Guatemala City. Colo-
nel Castillo Armas was nearing the
                                            I  n May things came to a head. On
                                               May 17, [Secretary of State] Dulles
                                            reported to the press that the U.S. had
                                                                                         W       hen the Arbenz government’s
                                                                                                 purchase of arms from Warsaw
                                                                                         Pact member Czechoslovakia was dis-
capital; but with only a handful of sol-    reliable information on a shipment of        covered aboard the freighter Alfhem
diers. The CIA bombed a British oil         arms [to Guatemala] from behind the          in May 1954, it set off a wave of pro-
tanker that they believed would deliver     Iron Curtain. The arms had been              test from both the U.S. government and
fuel for Arbenz’s military vehicles.        loaded on the Alfhem, a Swedish ship         the American media. Most within the
Finally, Guatemala’s foreign minister       chartered by a British company, at an        U.S. media agreed with Time’s assess-
attempted to strike a deal with the State   East German port.... We learned that         ment that Guatemala’s purchase of
Department, while the CIA continued         the cargo contained 2,000 tons of small      arms “amounted to the Red bloc’s first
to bomb economic targets and civil-         arms, ammunition and light artillery         public display of big-brotherly trust
ians. His pleas went unheard. U.S.          pieces manufactured in... Czechoslo-         and confidence” that a communist state
planes bombed a military base and de-       vakia. This quantity far exceeded any        could be successfully established in
stroyed the government radio station.       legitimate, normal requirements for          Central America (May 31, 1954). Paul
        On June 20, 1954, Armas en-         the Guatemalan armed forces.                 Kennedy of the New York Times stated:
tered Guatemala City in a station                   On May 19, Nicaragua broke           “People from Panama to the southern
wagon with about 140 soldiers in a few      diplomatic ties with Guatemala. Five         Mexican border have...been asking
trucks. The U.S. placed him in power        days later we announced that the U.S.        themselves...whether now is the time
and he immediately rescinded the land       was airlifting arms to Honduras and          they have been expecting and dread-
reform program. The land once owned         Nicaragua to help counter the danger         ing – the beginning of an all-out Com-
by the United Fruit Company was re-         created by the Czech shipment to Gua-        munist expansion from a Guatemalan
turned. The banana workers’ unions,         temala. Our initial shipment com-            bridgehead” (May 23, 1954).
peasant organizations and political         prised only fifty tons of rifles, pistols,           Clearly the U.S. used the
parties, were immediately banned.           machine guns, and ammunition,                Alfhem arms shipment as the pretext
Three-fourths of the population, those      hardly enough to create apprehension         for the launch of “Operation Success.”
making up the lower rungs of society,       in neighboring states.
                                                                                         Source: “The U.S. Media and the Gua-
were prohibited from voting.
                                            Source: Mandate for Change, The              temalan Coup d’etat of 1954,” Dela-
Source: Excerpt, Unleashing the CIA         White House Years, 1953-1956 (1963).         ware Review of Latin American Stud-
Across the Globe, <www.angelfire.           <        ies, Dec. 15, 2000. <
com/ca3/jphuck/Book16Ch.12.html>            ayers/chapter28/28.3.guatemala.html>         LASP/Vol2-1Day.html#bridgehead>
January 2003 Issue # 50 Press for Conversion!                                                                              15

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