Most of the time I try to make my blogs light-hearted and slightly informative on my life and the work that I am pursuing. This, however, is not one of those blogs. I would like to relate to you part of the story of Guatemala’s history that I have recently derived from a book called Bitter Fruit. This is a tale of intrigue, deception, the dangers of excessive capitalism, and a unneccessarily bloody revolution. Do not read if you wish to perserve your gran ideal of American imperialism…
The story starts in 1944. A historically violent and oppresive dictator General Jorge Ubico was overthrown by a group of dissendent military officers, teachers, and liberal professionals in a movement that is later dubbed the October Revolutionaries. Spearheading the movement are two military officers Jacobo Arbenz and Francisco Arana.
The next ten years are referred as the ten years of spring in Guatemala. A civilian president Juan Jose Arevalo assumes the presidency in Guatemala’s first democratic election, and is succeeded in 1951 by Jacobo Arbenz. Both were outspoken against communism and supported political free speech and a land reform bill that was only controversial in the sense that it affected American interests in Guatemala. The land reform bill specifically affected the United Fruit Company in the way that the Guatemalan government was reclaiming unused land (paying for it in 5-25 year government bonds) and redistributing it to the severly oppressed class of indigenous people for agricultural use. Note that both Arbenz and Arevalo’s hero and inspiration for the new legislation was President Roosevelt’s New Deal (the main street in Guate City is even named after him).
Unfortunately for United Fruit, the Guatemala government under Arevalo also proposed to begin construting its own infrastructure to compete with United Fruit Company who controlled Guatemala’s only Atlantic port, the majority of the railroads, and the telegraph system. The idea was to remove United Fruit’s privileges in Guatemala (both tax and otherwise) to begin to benefit the Guatemalan people instead of a handleful of rich Americans who benefited off the banana trade in Central America.
Needless to say, United Fruit Company’s President and Board of Directors were less than thrilled. First of all with the land reappropriations: Guatemalan government offered to pay them the Q600,000 for the land (the estimated value that United Fruit itself reported a year before for tax purposes) instead of the Q15,000,000 that United Fruit claimed it was worth. Note the irony and the fact that this land was UNUSED by United Fruit to grow bananas.
United Fruit’s leaders had significant sway in the American government (most were well connected with or a part of the State Department and CIA). They arraigned a media campaign and subsequent support (in both paychecks and arms) for their handpicked revoluntionary: Carlos Castillo Armas. In the summer of 1954, the democratic goverment and its ten years of spring had come to an end under the American goverment’s premise that Guatemala’s land reform act was Communistic (note that both Guatemala presidents were outspokenly anti-Communist).
Armas was pliable for the U.S. and United Fruit Supply’s intents and purposes (American support was contigent on United Fruit’s privileges and land in Guatemala being restored); however, the unstable goverment gave way to a 36 year civil war from 1960 – 1996. The affects of U.S. action in the 1950’s are still being felt today.
I write so that us as Americans can remember a history that we were never told. And without any political agenda, I urge to remember the story of Guatemala…