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Tradition, Change and Triumph

by: Donavan N. Johnston

When groups of people are scared, there can be serious consequences to the actions that follow. Being scared can bring fear despair and a loss of hope to the people being scared. The people might begin to look for answers in places where they cannot find them. When someone is scared, new ideas and thoughts do not become the answers they are looking for. Instead, they become the cause of what is scaring them. There are times when the people of a land feel as though that when they are scared they need to protect themselves from a tyrannical leader. While a leader might not be scary, the ideas and thought he posses become scary and fearful to the people. They might trust the leader, yet they are scared of the principals and ideas he or she supports. There are other times when fear does not come from the leader rather it is the ideas that float around from person to person. A person can start a rumor, or someone is misquoted and their words or ideas begin to float amongst the community. A final form of fear can come from protecting one's values and holding on to them. When are values are compromised because we feel threatened a, we might be scared that even if we try we will loose those that we hold dear.

Communism can be one of those things that scare people. The ideas and principles of Communism can be trace its roots to Germany in the nineteenth century, and in the First World War Communist, leaders caused a revolution in Russia and took over the land. The leaders unified their people and brought prosperity to the land. In the 1930's, when other lands were suffering from a depression and economic hardship, the Soviet Union was building up and prospering under the Communist rule. After the Second World War, there was a fear that Communism would spread and dominate the world. The United States wanting to protect democracy was determined to prevent its spread. Trying to prevent the spread of Communism the United States sent troops to the Korean peninsula to stop the Communist leaders. The issued attacks by the United States saved only half of the peninsula from falling under the Communist rule. After the Korean Conflict, the United States attempted to extinguish other brushfires of Communism around the world and for the most part these attempts were successful .

The country of Guatemala , which boarders the countries of Mexico , Honduras , El Salvador and Belize , had been under a democratic rule for a long time. Having declared their independence in 1821, the country had gone under different rulers. During the nineteenth century, Guatemala experienced a series of leaders, and governments. These leaders tried to help lead Guatemala into the future they wanted. When the Second World War came, there was an outcry for answers to their problem they had, and a search for new hopes to their answers. Communism appeared to be one way to find the answers the people wanted. While Communism may have been the answer to help bring stability to Guatemala in the mid twentieth century, the United States secretly prevented it from being established. This action taken by the United States held to remove Communism, and bring democracy back to Guatemala .

The Guatemalan Revolution that occurred in the mid twentieth century began at the tail end of the Second World War. In 1949, there was an election to decide the new President of Guatemala. The candidates for office were Jacobo Arbenz Guzman and Gen. Francisco Javier Arana. The projected election appeared to be a close election. However, in 1949 Jacobo Arbenz Guzman had his rival Gen. Arana killed leaving Arbenz to become the successor of President Juan Jose Arevalo. According to the constitution of Guatemala Arevalo could not succeed himself in office.

The political styles of the two men were polar opposites from one another. Arevalo who was a left wing intellectual of the Populist had brought the long sought reforms Guatemala had been hoping for. This included social and economic reconstruction, all that were back by the United States and it approval . With the election of Arbenz Guzman to the Guatemalan Presidency, there was a change of government philosophy style. Arbenz Guzman was a military leader. He had graduated from the national military academy and married into a family of Salvadorian coffee planters. Many in their family snubbed him because of his military background and ideas .

Arbenz Guzman won the election in November of 1950 by a wide margin and in March of 1951, he became President of Guatemala. Arbenz declared the aim of his government would be the promotion of Capitalism. However, many feared that the new President was pro Communist. One group of people who at first did not fear Arbenz with his Communist affiliations is the United States government. The state department described Arbenz government as a moderately liberal stable form of government . Even Arbenz Guzman's foreign minister denied that there was any Communist infiltration of the government . Yet rumors circulated among the people, creating a scare that the communists were going to overrun the government .

The Communists up until this time had been unsuccessful in their attempts to establish a following. Between the time of the two world wars, party leaders had tried to establish themselves and were unsuccessful at doing so. However, in 1945 Guatemala established a law allowing for the creation of parties, thereby providing the first real opportunities for them . In February of 1952, the left-wing parties formed the National Democratic Front that included the Communist. By March of 1952 Estrada de la Hoz, a communist, was elected president of the Congress . The Communist undeniably succeeded in occupying other government posts such as the department of Agrarian Reform, and in the trade union largely because of the lack of political sophistication prevailing political parties in the country . For all their gains in political office, the communist leaders did not fill many more. These included the offices of National Police and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and most domestic bureaucracies other than land reform and communications agencies. In fact, the Catholic Church held more power and influence then the Communist .

With the election victory secured, Arbenz Guzman began to institute new laws and reforms that went against the Arevalo presidency. One of these laws was the Agrarian Law. This was, while justifiable in Spanish and English eyes, aimed at the idle land in Guatemala . The purpose of the Agrarian law brought reform to the large land plantations in Guatemala . For many years this land never been worked or tilled, so when Arbenz Guzman came into power he used this law to break the plantation up and gave the land to people to use . The implantation of the law had the effect of crystallizing the clash of political elements because it shifted an immense amount of political power to the agrarian masses . During the time this law was in operation, over 100,000 families received a total of 1.5 million acres of land. This included the 1,700 acres that President Arbenz Guzman owned . There became trouble with this law however. The first trouble stop of course was the pervious landowners. The implantation of the new law caused a general detest among the people for the President. The former landowners began to harass the peasants who took over the lands. Often the peasant would have the poorest of lands, and be left to struggle with what they had. The law tried to bring stability and order to the land, instead brought chaos and trouble.

Part of that trouble came from the United Fruit Company. Begun around the beginning of the twentieth century, United Fruit was one of the world leaders in bananas, and coffee. They had ties to business in the United States , Europe , and even Asia . For some people in Guatemala United fruit was the enemy, a symbol of the United States controlling their land. The chance to bring and break down United Fruit was an opportunity welcomed by some of the people, while others were not sure it was the correct answer. Not only did the company control the fruit market, they also controlled the railroad and had control over other communications areas. They were also among the largest landholders. The Fruit Company was big business in Guatemala and in Latin America . They controlled 40 percent of the Guatemalan economy and owned 6 percent of the agricultural land. Their payroll and operating expenses amounted to 15 to 16 million dollars per year with United Fruit paying an additional 1 million in taxes to the Guatemalan government . At the implementation of the Agrarian law, the United Fruit had of vast amounts of fertile lands it held on Pacific coast confiscated .

In some sense, United Fruit was benevolent and paternal to workers. The employees for the Fruit Company enjoyed better working conditions than most farm laborers in Guatemala . The company provided housing for the works, medical treatments and even schooling for the workers children. The owners of the United Fruit Company during this time came from The United States Southern region. The people who were not of the Caucasian race had certain expectations and codes that they had to follow when a Caucasian person was around them. One of these codes is that in the presence of a white person they must remove their hat . The Fruit Company had not been without its troubles before the Arbenz Guzman administration. Under the Arévalo administration, he established a labor code giving industrial workers the right to organize and classifying estates employing 500 or more as industries. The law affected many of the larger fincas as well as state farms, but United Fruit contended—and the Embassy agreed—that the law targeted the company in a discriminatory manner . These announcements lead to a series of strikes with workers demanding better conditions and wage of a $1.50 per day .

In an attempt to seize, the lands from the United Fruit Company President Arbenz enlisted the help of the law to gain the lands. When the United Fruit Company would not give up there lands under the Agrarian law, the issue came before the Guatemalan Supreme Court. The members of the Supreme Court were loyal to Arbenz, in that he had recently removed four members of the court. The court that backed Arbenz and his petition, denied the United Fruit request and the government took over the lands. The government did however compensate the company for their lands paying around $600,000 for 300,000 acres of land. This upset the company even more and sent them looking for outside help .

Another aspect that the people of Guatemala knew is that America supported the United Fruit Company and that these Americans backers were strong anti-communist people. The Communist party was well aware of the ties the two had, and in their propaganda, they used it. One United Fruit's public relations director told audiences, “Whenever you read 'United Fruit' in Communist propaganda, you may readily substitute ' United States .'" On the other hand, President Arbenz Guzman took a soft stance on Communism . The United States , the Communists insisted, were the only set of outside supporters that backed the Fruit Company and that the United States held plans to attack and protect the Company at all costs . In the 1940's the United Fruit Company came to the United States and asked them for their help. One of the reason they received their help came by the company was able to influence most of the diplomats because of a lack of knowledge of the region . However, the United States Department of State official documents do not support that charge. Official United States documents discuss the role of labor unions in Guatemala and their stance against communism. The United States federal government has declassified a document that describes the government's position when it comes to the local leaders and unions in the Guatemalan area. In it the government states:

Local union leadership probably is less consistently in Communist hands. One important United Fruit Company union, at least, has sharply vacillated between Communists and opportunists. Anti-Communists or opportunists have offered especially strong resistance to Communist infiltration in the railway union which has a membership of 4,400 and which, by US standards, most closely approximates a trade union .


The lines were drawn and there was hope that this was not another flare in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union . This position from the United States left people involved with the two parties two choices. Either they could align themselves with Arbenz Guzman government who promised not step down from his stance on Communism, or they could align themselves with the United Fruit Company and their backers. With the two sides in opposition, there appeared to be no way out except for a revolution.

The main struggle of the Guatemalan revolution forced on the aspects of what President Arbenz Guzman wanted, and what the United Fruit Company wanted. The main trouble came from who back each other. President Arbenz Guzman got his support from the Communist party and party leaders, the United Fruit Company on the other hand had support from the United States and its governmental departments. The United States was determined to keep Communism out of Latin America . In October of 1953, the United States sent John E Peurifoy as ambassador to Guatemala . He kept intense pressure on the Communist to leave the area, while at the same time leaders were planning on how to remove the communist from their land. United States planners decided to employ simultaneously all of the tactics that had proved useful in previous covert operations. This operation would combine psychological, economic, diplomatic, and paramilitary actions . The first item the used was propaganda in the radios. The anti communist got a hold of one of Guatemala 's radio stations and began to broadcast their message across the airwaves . The radio teams were diligent in their work. Day and night, they broadcasted their propaganda over the radio waves. During their work they created the impression that rebels were everywhere in Guatemala . Pretending to be part of a major insurgent force, announcers appealed to the citizens to assist Liberation planes by locating drop sites for the partisans. In reality, some planes did drop, near the Honduras boarder and it was enough to convince the local peasants that the invasion was in full force. Trying to call the fears of his people, President Arbenz Guzman took to the airwave; yet, not everyone heard his message because the CIA had jammed the address .

The next area the planner focused on was the economy of Guatemala . Guatemala 's economy was vulnerable to economic pressure, and they planned to target oil supplies, shipping, and coffee exports. The government assigned an "already cleared group of top-ranking American businessmen in New York City " to put covert economic pressure on Guatemala by creating shortages of vital imports and cutting export earnings. Supplementation for this program came from an overt multilateral action, possibly by the OAS, against Guatemalan coffee exports. The planners believed that the use of economic pressures would "damage the Arbenz government and its supporters without seriously affecting anti-Communist elements ." This also appeared to be successful because outside forces and not internally controlled the economy of Guatemala . Yet, the invasion was still on.

In 1954, the revolution took place to overthrow the communist leaders out of power in Guatemala , but this overthrow would not come easy. The United States began to send planes and troops into the country to help the liberators in the search for freedom. In June of 1954, the United States lost three planes that communist leaders shot down. This clearly signaled that, even though they United States said they were not involved, they were. The collation sent in other planes to destroy the Governments radio, yet, accidentally hit the wrong station blowing up an American evangelical station. Luckily, no one was in the building when it was bombed . The United States gave replacement planes to the revolutionist. The liberators turned around and bombed the capital city with their newly acquired planes. During this time, President Arbenz Guzman continued to press for more diplomatic relations. Because he felt secure enough in his diplomatic relationships, he rejected any advice to leave the capital. This proved to be his downfall.

In late June of 1954, the United Nations dispatched forces to help control the situation in Guatemala . The Guatemalan government began to use the principles of United Nation to justify their position, and to reiterate why the American should stay out of their lands. The Untied States, however, did not want the United Nations involved because other leaders would condemn the United States in its anti-communist position if they did it alone. The United States also wanted to control the issue, keeping this a local affair. When Britain , who is on the United Nation's Security Council, began to question the United States ' involvement in Guatemala President Eisenhower responded that the British have no right in sticking their nose into matters that concerned this hemisphere . The United Nation measure to block the United States failed when Britain and France abstained from the voting on a measure that would have condemned the United States involvement in Guatemala . Thus, the fighting kept going and by June of 1954, the liberation forces reached the capital and began to put pressure on President Arbenz Guzman. Realizing he had no backers and that his cabinet member were being arrested, Arbenz Guzman addressed his country to tell them he was stepping down from power and that he was no longer be President of Guatemala. The Revolution to remove the communist was over.

In the aftermath of the Revolution, there were many consequences. A significant change was that occurred is that the government purged the entire communist population from the land. When the government found supporters of Communism, they had them arrested, deported or executed. The Government of Guatemala restored democracy, and soon after, they held free elections. Many of the socio-economic laws that occurred before the communist take over were not continued. If the former laws still existed, succeeding governments began to start gradually diminishing the old Communist laws. This occurred became most of them were not considered “Radical” enough to bring Guatemala on par with the rest of the world . Laws such as the Agrarian Law were overturned, and the people lost the land that the Arbenz government had given them. Last, the United Fruit Company and the United States began to server their ties. The United States began to look at the Banana production by the Fruit Company and the United States viewed it as violation of the United States ' anti-trust laws . In the end, the two separated and never acknowledged the others help in the crisis.

Communism can scare people. It is a fear that it will bring down democracy and make the people of a land subject to whatever laws the leaders see fit. In Guatemala , the people were searching for answers. They had social problems, there economic problems, and leadership problems. The elected a President whom they believed would be the answer they sought. However, the president came with a group of people that the outside world did not approve of. The Communist came in to Guatemala to help the citizen out of their economic problems. Reforms came to people and changes occurred. Yet, a major economic player in Guatemala became scared when they found out what style of government reforms the new President was bring to their lands. This major economic player had backing from forces outside of Guatemala that held to the same belief the company held. The collation to remove the Communist leader created a revolution to overthrow the government of the land. The battle became intense and the struggles ran deep. In the end, the major economic force got it what it wanted. In return, they left Guatemala in shambles, no better off then before the election. Being scared brings out these outcomes, and the effects of being scared can influence a country for generations to come.

Matray, James I. Truman's Plan for Victory: National Self-Determination and the Thirty-Eighth Parallel Decision in Korea The Journal of American History , Vol. 66, No. 2. (Sep., 1979), 314-333.

Chardkoff, Richard Bruce Communist toehold in the Americas : a history of official United States involvement in the Guatemalan crisis, 1954. Ann Arbor , Mich. University Press. 1975, 22-25

Parkinson, F. Latin America , the cold war & the world powers, 1945-1973: a study in diplomatic history. Beverly Hills , CA. Sage Publications. 1974, 39

Payne, Walter A. The Guatemalan revolution, 1944-1954. Stockton , CA : University of Pacific . 1968., 16

Immerman, Richard H. Guatemala as Cold War History Political Science Quarterly , Vol. 95, No. 4. (Winter, 1980-1981), 634-635

Parkinson, 39

Chardkoff, 16

Schlesinger, Stephen C; Kinzer, Stephen Bitter fruit: The untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala Garden City, NY: Doubleday. 1982., 56

Parkinson, 39

Ibid., 40

Schlesinger, 60

Payne, 18

Schlesinger, 54

Payne, 19

Schlesinger, 55

Wasserstrom, Robert Part 1: Latin America Revolution in Guatemala : Peasants and Politics under the Arbenz Government Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 17, No. 4, Peasants and Political Mobilization. (Oct., 1975), 449

Payne, 20

Schlesinger, 71

Cullather, Nick; Gleijeses, Piero Secret history the CIA's classified account of its operations in Guatemala , 1952-1954 Stanford, Calif : Stanford University Press. 1999, 16

Schlesinger, 72

Wasserstrom, 455

Cullather, 16

Richards, Michael D;  Riley, Philip F Term Paper resource guide to twentieth-century world history Westport , Conn. : Greenwood Press. 2000, 159

Payne, 20

Gleijeses, Piero Shattered Hope : the Guatemalan revolution and the United States, 1944-1954 Princeton , N.J. : Princeton University Press. 1991, 4

State, Department of 1952-1954, Guatemala [online] Washington DC . [cited 2 April, 2004 ]

Cullather, 40

Ibid., 41

Schlesinger, 169

Cullather, 41

Schlesinger, 176

Ibid., 181

Payne, 26-27

Schlesinger, 220