. 15
( 52 .)


seats in Congress, the smallest component of Arbenz's ruling coalition which
commanded a total of 51 seats in the 1953-54 legislature.13 Communists held several
important sub-cabinet posts but none was ever appointed to the cabinet. In addition,
there were Communists employed in the bureaucracy, particularly in the administration
of land reform.14
Lacking anything of substance they could accuse the Guatemalan left of,
Washington officials were reduced to condemnation by semantics. Thus, communists,
unlike normal human beings, did not take jobs in the government”they "infiltrated" the
government. Communists did not support a particular program”they "exploited" it.
Communists did not back Arbenz”they "used" him. Moreover, communists
"controlled" the labor movement and land reform”but what type of person is it who
devotes himself in an under-developed country to furthering the welfare of workers and
peasants? None other than the type that Washington calls "communist".
The basic idea behind the employment of such language”which was standard
Western fare throughout the cold war”was to deny the idea that communists could be
people sincerely concerned about social change. American officials denied it to each
other as well as to the world. Here, for example, is an excerpt from a CIA report about

Guatemala, prepared in 1952 for the edification of the White House and the intelligence
Communist political success derives in general from the ability of individual
Communists and fellow travelers to identify themselves with the nationalist and
social aspirations of the Revolution of 1944. In this manner, they have been
successful in infiltrating the Administration and pro-Administration political
parties and have gained control! of organized labor ... [Arbenz] is essentially an
opportunist whose politics are largely a matter of historical accident... The
extension of [communist] influence has been facilitated by the applicability of
Marxist 'clich©s' to the anti-colonial and social aims of the Guatemalan

The first plan to topple Arbenz was a CIA operation approved by President
Truman in 1952, but at the eleventh hour, Secretary of State Dean Acheson persuaded
Truman to abort it.16 However, soon after Eisenhower became president in January
1953, the plan was resurrected.
Both administrations were pressured by executives of United Fruit Company,
much of whose vast and uncultivated land in Guatemala had been expropriated by the
Arbenz government as part of the land reform program. The company wanted nearly
$16 million for the land, the government was offering $525,000, United Fruit's own
declared valuation for tax purposes.17
United Fruit functioned in Guatemala as a state within a state. It owned the
country's telephone and telegraph facilities, administered its only important Atlantic
harbor, and monopolized its banana exports. A subsidiary of the company owned nearly
every mile of railroad track in the country. The fruit company's influence amongst
Washington's power elite was equally impressive. On a business and/or personal level,
it had close ties to the Dulles brothers, various State Department officials, congressmen,
the American Ambassador to the United Nations, and others. Anne Whitman, the wife
of the company's public relations director, was President Eisenhower's personal
secretary. Under-secretary of State (and formerly Director of the CIA) Walter Bedell
Smith was seeking an executive position with United Fruit at the same time he was
helping to plan the coup. He was later named to the company's board of directors.18
Under Arbenz, Guatemala constructed an Atlantic port and a highway to
compete with United Fruit's holdings, and built a hydro-electric plant to offer cheaper
energy than the US-controlled electricity monopoly. Arbenz's strategy was to limit the
power of foreign companies through direct competition rather than through
nationalization, a policy not feasible of course when it came to a fixed quantity like
land. In his inaugural address, Arbenz stated that:

Foreign capital will always be welcome as long as it adjusts to local conditions,
remains always subordinate to Guatemalan laws, cooperates with the economic
development of the country, and strictly abstains from intervening in the nation's
social and political life.19

This hardly described United Fruit's role in Guatemala. Amongst much else, the
company had persistently endeavored to frustrate Arbenz's reform programs, discredit
him and his government, and induce his downfall.
Arbenz was, accordingly, wary of multinationals and could not be said to
welcome them into his country with open arms. This attitude, his expropriation of
United Fruit's land, and his "tolerance of communists" were more than enough to make
him a marked man in Washington. The United States saw these policies as being inter-
related: that is, it was communist influence”not any economic or social exigency of

Guatemalan life”which was responsible for the government's treatment of American

In March 1953, the CIA approached disgruntled right-wing officers in the
Guatemalan army and arranged to send them arms. United Fruit donated $64,000 in
cash. The following month, uprisings broke out in several towns but were quickly put
down by loyal troops. The rebels were put on trial and revealed the fruit company's role
in the plot, but not the CIA's.20
The Eisenhower administration resolved to do the job right the next time around.
With cynical glee, almost an entire year was spent in painstaking, step-by-step
preparation for the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. Of the major CIA
undertakings, few have been as well documented as has the coup in Guatemala. With
the release of many formerly classified government papers, the following story has
Headquarters for the operation were established in Opa Locka, Florida, on the
outskirts of Miami. The Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza lent/leased his country
out as a site for an airstrip and for hundreds of men”Guatemalan exiles and US and
Central American mercenaries”to receive training in the use of weapons and radio
broadcasting, as well as in the fine arts of sabotage and demolition. Thirty airplanes
were assigned for use in the "Liberation", stationed in Nicaragua, Honduras and the
Canal Zone, to be flown by American pilots. The Canal Zone was set aside as a
weapons depot from which arms were gradually distributed to the rebels who were to
assemble in Honduras under the command of Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas before
crossing into Guatemala. Soviet-marked weapons were also gathered for the purpose of
planting them inside Guatemala before the invasion to reinforce US charges of Russian
intervention. And, as important as arms, it turned out, hidden radio transmitters were
placed in and around the perimeter of Guatemala, including one in the US Embassy.
An attempt was made to blow up the trains carrying the Czech weapons from
port-side to Guatemala City; however, a torrential downpour rendered the detonators
useless, whereupon the CIA paramilitary squad opened fire on one train, killing a
Guatemalan soldier and wounding three others; but the convoy of trains made it safely
to its destination.
After the Czech ship had arrived in Guatemala, Eisenhower ordered the stopping
of "suspicious foreign-flag vessels on the high seas off Guatemala to examine cargo".22
The State Department's legal adviser wrote a brief which concluded in no uncertain
terms that "Such action would constitute a violation of international law." No matter. At
least two foreign vessels were stopped and searched, one French and one Dutch. It was
because of such actions by the British that the United States had fought the War of
The Guatemalan military came in for special attention. The US ostentatiously
signed mutual security treaties with Honduras and Nicaragua, both countries hostile to
Arbenz, and dispatched large shipments of arms to them in the hope that this would
signal a clear enough threat to the Guatemalan military to persuade it to withdraw its
support of Arbenz. Additionally, the US Navy dispatched two submarines from Key
West, saying only that they were going "south". Several days later, the Air Force, amid
considerable fanfare, sent three B-36 bombers on a "courtesy call" to Nicaragua.
The CIA also made a close study of the records of members of the Guatemalan
officer corps and offered bribes to some of them. One of the Agency's clandestine radio
stations broadcast appeals aimed at military men, as well as others, to join the liberation
movement. The station reported that Arbenz was secretly planning to disband or disarm

the armed forces and replace it with a people's militia. CIA planes dropped leaflets over
Guatemala carrying the same message.
Eventually, at Ambassador Peurifoy's urging, a group of high-ranking officers
called on Arbenz to ask that he dismiss all communists who held posts in his
administration. The president assured them that the communists did not represent a
danger, that they did not run the government, and that it would be undemocratic to
dismiss them. At a second meeting, the officers also demanded that Arbenz reject the
creation of the "people's militia".
At one point, the CIA offerred Arbenz himself a large sum of money, which was
rejected. The money, which was deposited in a Swiss bank, presumably was offered to
induce Arbenz to abdicate or to serve as a means of later claiming he was corrupt.
On the economic front, contingency plans were made for such things as cutting
off Guatemalan credit abroad, disrupting its oil supplies, and causing a run on its foreign
reserves.23 But it was on the propaganda front that American ingenuity shone at its
brightest. Inasmuch as the Guatemalan government was being overthrown because it
was communist, the fact of its communism would have to be impressed upon the rest of
Latin America. Accordingly, the US Information Agency (USIA) began to place
unattributed articles in foreign newspapers labeling particular Guatemalan officials as
communist and referring to various actions by the Guatemalan government as
"communist-inspired". In the few weeks prior to Arbenz's fall alone, more than 200
articles about Guatemala were written and placed in scores of Latin American
Employing a method which was to become a standard CIA/USIA feature all
over Latin America and elsewhere, as we shall see, articles placed in one country were
picked up by newspapers in other countries, either as a result of CIA payment or
unwittingly because the story was of interest. Besides the obvious advantage of
multiplying the potential audience, the tactic gave the appearance that independent
world opinion was taking a certain stand and further obscured the American connection.
The USIA also distributed more than 100,000 copies of a pamphlet entitled
"Chronology of Communism in Guatemala" throughout the hemisphere, as well as
27,000 copies of anti-communist cartoons and posters. The American propaganda
agency, moreover, produced three films on Guatemala, with predictable content, and
newsreels favorable to the United States for showing free in cinemas.
Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York, a prelate possessed of anti-
communism, a man who feared social change more than he feared God, was visited by
the CIA. Would his Reverence arrange CIA contact with Archbishop Mariano Rossell
Arellano of Guatemala? The Cardinal would be delighted. Thus it came to pass that on 9
April 1954, a pastoral letter was read in Guatemalan Catholic churches calling to the
attention of the congregations the presence in the country of a devil called communism
and demanding that the people "rise as a single man against this enemy of God and
country", or at least not rally in Arbenz's defense. To appreciate the value of this, one
must remember that Guatemala's peasant class was not only highly religious, but that
very few of them were able to read, and so could receive the Lord's Word only in this
manner. For those who could read, many thousands of pamphlets carrying the
Archbishop's message were air-dropped around the country.
In May, the CIA covertly sponsored a "Congress Against Soviet Intervention in
Latin America" in Mexico City. The same month, Somoza called in the diplomatic
corps in Nicaragua and told them, his voice shaking with anger, that his police had
discovered a secret Soviet shipment of arms (which had been planted by the CIA) near
the Pacific Coast, and suggested that the communists wanted to convert Nicaragua into

"a new Korean situation". A few weeks later, an unmarked plane parachuted arms with
Soviet markings onto Guatemala's coast.
On such fare did the people of Latin America dine for decades. By such tactics
were they educated about "communism".
In late January 1954 the operation appeared to have suffered a serious setback
when photostat copies of Liberation documents found their way into Arbenz's hands. A
few days later, Guatemala's newspapers published copies of correspondence signed by
Castillo Annas, Somoza and others under banner headlines. The documents revealed the
existence of some of the staging, training and invasion plans, involving, amongst others,
the "Government of the North".24
The State Department labeled the accusations of a US role "ridiculous and
untrue" and said it would not comment further because it did not wish to give them a
dignity they did not deserve. Said a Department spokesperson: "It is the policy of the
United States not to interfere in the internal affairs of other nations. This policy has
repeatedly been reaffirmed under the present administration."
Time magazine gave no credence whatsoever to the possibility of American
involvement in such a plot, concluding that the whole expose had been "masterminded
in Moscow".25
The New York Times was not so openly cynical, but its story gave no indication
that there might be any truth to the matter. "Latin American observers in New York,"
reported the newspaper, "said the 'plot' charges savored of communist influence." This
article was followed immediately on the page by one headed "Red Labor Chiefs Meet.
Guatemalan Confederation Opens Its Congress".26
And the CIA continued with its preparations as if nothing had happened.

The offensive began in earnest on 18 June with planes dropping leaflets over
Guatemala demanding that Arbenz resign immediately or else various sites would be
bombed. CIA radio stations broadcast similar messages. That afternoon, the planes
returned to machine-gun houses near military barracks, drop fragmentation bombs and
strafe the National Palace.
Over the following week, the air attacks continued daily”strafing or bombing
ports, fuel tanks, ammunition dumps, military barracks, the International airport, a
school, and several cities; nine persons, including a three-year-old girl, were reported
wounded; an unknown number of houses were set afire by incendiary explosives.
During one night-time raid, a tape recording of a bomb attack was played over
loudspeakers set up on the roof of the US Embassy to heighten the anxiety of the
capital's residents. When Arbenz went on the air to try and calm the public's fear, the
CIA radio team jammed the broadcast.
Meanwhile, the Agency's army had crossed into Guatemala from Honduras and
captured a few towns, but its progress in the face of resistance by the Guatemalan army
was unspectacular. On the broadcasts of the CIA's "Voice of Liberation" the picture was
different: The rebels were everywhere and advancing; they were of large numbers and
picking up volunteers as they marched; war and upheaval in all corners; fearsome
battles and major defeats for the Guatemalan army. Some of these broadcasts were
transmitted over regular public and even military channels, serving to convince some of
Arbenz's officers that the reports were genuine. In the same way, the CIA was able to
answer real military messages with fake responses. All manner of disinformation was
spread and rumors fomented; dummy parachute drops were made in scattered areas to
heighten the belief that a major invasion was taking place.27

United Fruit Company's publicity office circulated photographs to journalists of
mutilated bodies about to be buried in a mass grave as an example of the atrocities
committed by the Arbenz regime. The photos received extensive coverage. Thomas
McCann of the company's publicity office later revealed that he had no idea what the
photos represented; "They could just as easily have been the victims of either side”or
of an earthquake. The point is, they were widely accepted for what they were purported
to be”victims of communism.

In a similar vein, Washington officials reported on political arrests and
censorship in Guatemala without reference to the fact that the government was under
siege (let alone who was behind the siege), that suspected plotters and saboteurs were
the bulk of those being arrested, or that, overall, the Arbenz administration had a fine
record on civil liberties. The performance of the American press in this regard was little

The primary purpose of the bombing and the many forms of disinformation was
to make it appear that military defenses were crumbling, that resistance was futile, thus
provoking confusion and division in the Guatemalan armed forces and causing some
elements to turn against Arbenz. The psychological warfare conducted over the radio
was directed by E. Howard Hunt, later of Watergate fame, and David Atlee Phillips, a
newcomer to the CIA. When Phillips was first approached about the assignment, he
asked his superior, Tracy Barnes, in all innocence, "But Arbenz became President in a
free election. What right do we have to help someone topple his government and throw
him out of office?"
"For a moment," wrote Phillips later, "I detected in his face a flicker of concern,
a doubt, the reactions of a sensitive man." But Barnes quickly recovered and repeated
the party line about the Soviets establishing "an easily expandable beachhead" in
Central America.28
Phillips never looked back. When he retired from the CIA in the mid-1970s, he
founded the Association of Retired Intelligence Officers, an organization formed to
counteract the flood of unfavorable publicity sweeping over the Agency at the time.

American journalists reporting on the events in Guatemala continued to exhibit
neither an investigative inclination nor a healthy conspiracy mentality. But what was


. 15
( 52 .)