Guatemala has officially apologized to the family of a former president who was ousted in a coup and was forced to live in exile until his death. His son said this: “My family suffered a lot in exile. We suffered the consequences of an injustice that took place in 1954, when an agency from a very powerful country, the United States, acted on the interests of a powerful North American company called the United Fruit Company… Here started the injustice, and we call on the United States to recognize their errors.” The United States has yet to do so. Here’s the story.
As the Second World War was drawing to a close, just one month after American troops took the beaches of Normandy, the Guatemalan people were ousting a dictator. This was Jorge Ubico, a man who worked closely with the United States and against the best interest of the Guatemalan people. This benefitted the United Fruit Company (now called Chiquita), an American corporation, which owned more land in Guatemala than anyone else, its only railroad and electricity producing capabilities. What followed the overthrow was about ten years of representative democracy, which proved more than frustrating for United Fruit and the White House. This political system was swiftly ended in 1954 by a coup d’état orchestrated by the Central Intelligence Agency.
By this point, the cold war had passed its initial stages and fear of communism was high. McCarthyism was rife amongst politicians, and the American Government used this as a veil through which it enacted its foreign policy. This consisted of overthrowing governments, which were mostly fair democracies, that would not comply with their imperial demands (if the people truly had any power within a foreign third world government, it was considered adverse to economic interests and so, had to be dealt with. A democracy that served American interests was good). Guatemala had become one such democracy and the White House was not pleased. Matters became worse for Eisenhower’s administration when Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán was elected president and began to threaten United Fruit’s interests and the US’s influence with land reforms. Through these land reforms, 1,500,000 acres were distributed to 100,000 families and Árbenz himself gave up 1,700 acres.
The CIA wrote in a memorandum in 1952 that, in Guatemala, the “persecution of foreign economic interests, especially the United Fruit Company” had received “the support or acquiescence of almost all Guatemalans” and that the government was proceeding “to mobilize the hitherto politically inert peasantry”. This highly alarmed the offices in Washington; they felt that the “virus” had to be dealt with. Using the land reforms as proof of Árbenz’s communist ideology and the support of the upper class in Guatemala (who had lost much of their land), the CIA effectively overthrew Árbenz and exiled him. He died in Mexico, in 1971.
What is important to understand is that this economic imperialism is not only characteristic of the Cold War; the United States continues today and a new enemy has risen to take the spotlight. Where the western world once feared communism, now it fears terrorism and if you were alive during the Cold War, I’m sure you could draw parallels with the propaganda and fear mongering of yesterday and today. The purported role of the United States government throughout the world is the crusher of evil and the fighter for democracy but its true goal is solely economic in nature. As protests sweep the Arab world and the US fights for democracy in Libya, bear this in mind.