Guatemala City 1944-1954

1944: Ubico Flees

kurtz phelan 600


A new generation of students has had enough of Ubico’s dictatorship. Under Ubico, Guatemala has been sold to U.S. corporations like United Fruit and the Great White Fleet. At the University of San Carlos an association of students protests the tyranny and organizes a series of strikes. Ubico strikes back, saying, While I am president, I will not grant liberty of press nor of association, because the people of Guatemala are not prepared for democracy… The students up the pressure and Ubico resigns, but a military group takes over and refuses to allow elections.

Students and professionals organize the Civic Union and plan a general strike. The junta arrests their leaders. Finally the Honor Guard of the Military School joins the students in a bloody battle that chases the junta from power.

-Jim Handy, Gift of the Devil, 104-5

1954: Bitter Fruit

castillo armas guatemala

Castillo Armas

The United States Information Agency (USIA) is ready to lie itself into history. They launch a sophisticated propaganda campaign designed to destabilize the government of Jacobo Arbenz. They distribute thousands of pamphlets and cartoons to newspapers and others ridiculing the Guatemalan government. They produce three movies on communism in Guatemala. A clandestine radio undertakes a classic disinformation campaign. Our job is to intimidate listeners… Panic and fear spread inside Guatemala.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) prepares and arms Castillo Armas with 170 mercenaries. The CIA calls them the Liberation Army. When they finally cross the border into Guatemala, the people do not support them and they quickly lose ground. The people do not want them. The United States does not let the will of the people or reality get in their way. The CIA and the USIA fabricate their own reality.

First they tell Castillo Armas not to move or engage in any battles. CIA pilots then leaflet Guatemala City, telling the people how the Liberation Army is winning great victories. One CIA propaganda chief says, Now is the time for the big lie. CIA radio broadcasts tell of the advance of two non-existent columns of troops, complete with face conversations between two imaginary commanders. Frightened Guatemalans flee the city until it is almost a ghost town. The CIA, with the help of the U.S. embassy, spreads rumors that a non-existent cruiser and an imaginary aircraft carrier are off the coast of Guatemala. Jacobo Arbenz and the people of Guatemala are the victims of two months of psychological warfare. Believing that thousand of people will be killed, Arbenz steps down as president to save lives. As he leaves the national palace he addresses the nation:

The Untied Fruit Company, in collaboration with the governing circles of the United States, is responsible for what is happening to us…

In whose name have they carried out these barbarous acts? What is their banner? We know very well. They have used the pretext of anti-communism. The truth is very different.  The truth is to be found in the financial interests of the fruit company and the other U.S. monopolies which have invested great amounts of money in Latin America and fear that the example of Guatemala would be followed by other Latin American countries…

-Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer, Bitter Fruit, 192-199

© 2022 Charter for Compassion. All rights reserved.