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June 27, 2004

More Horrible Anniversary

If you want to know more about the US coup in Guatemala fifty years ago today, one of the best sources is Bitter Fruit by Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer. The excellent book Killing Hope by William Blum has a great deal of information both on the coup itself and the consequences since. One chapter is online here.

It's encouraging that there are a few stories about the anniversary in the US media. That wouldn't have been the case in 1964, 1974, 1979, 1984, or 1994.

Boston Globe: "Fifty years after coup, Guatemala struggles"

San Francisco Chronicle: "Coup still scars Guatemalans 50 years later"

AP: "Guatemala: Anger lingers over CIA role in overthrow 50 years ago" (as of today apparently picked up by just one US paper)

The Capital Times (Madison): "Guatemalans know U.S. record, sympathize with suffering Iraqis"

Commondreams has also published several pieces that have not appeared elsewhere:

"Guatemala and the Forgotten Anniversary"

"Remembering Guatemala, 1954: It’s the Impunity, Stupid"

Finally, a story about the ongoing consequences of Guatemala's history is here. This story (about the hideous murders of hundreds of Guatemalan women) reminds me of a bitter Guatemalan joke from the early nineties: "If Jeffrey Dahmer lived here, he'd be president."

Posted at June 27, 2004 11:48 AM | TrackBack

The Guatemalan coup is also a famous example of blowback. Because Arbenz was a progressive left-leaning president, Guatemala attracted left-wing volunteers from all over Latin America who wanted to be a part of this thing, which looked like it could be a model for the rest of the hemisphere.

One of these young idealists was Che Guevarra. Before he became a revolutionary, he was a left-wing doctor with a desire to help the poor and disposessed with his medical skills.

After the coup, he (along with many other young Latin American leftists) concluded there was no way to elect a progressive government that meant anything, because if you did, the U.S. would take it down. Che concluded that the only way to set up a left-wing government in Latin America was to take it and hold it by force--and arm yourself well enough to discourage American intervention.

This is precisely what he did in Cuba and what he tried to do in Congo, Argentina and Bolivia. Likewise, armed leftist revolutionary movements popped up all over Latin America--many manned by the same idealists who had been so disillusioned by the brutal end of the Arbenz experiment. And these leftist armed insurrections were often used as the justification for military governments coming into power (Uruguay and Argentina, for instance) or for military governments turning up the repression levels (in Brazil).

The point is that had the U.S. encouraged democracy in Guatemala in 1954 instead of snuffing it out, the history of Latin America in the '60s, '70s and '80s might have been much more peaceful and democratic. Maybe. The Guatemalan coup was a tragedy for Guatemala and for an entire continent.

Posted by: Robert Boyd at July 1, 2004 04:39 PM