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    Repiglican Roast

    A spirited discussion of public policy and current issues

    Location: The mouth of being

    I'm furious about my squandered nation.

    Monday, October 29, 2007

    Guatemala 1953-1954


    In March 1953, the CIA approached disgruntled right-wing officers in the Guatemala 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 ClA's.

    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 emerged:

    Headquarters for the operation were established in Opa Locka, Florida, on the out skirts 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 portside to Guatemala City; however, a torrential downpour rendered the detonators useless, where upon 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". 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 181.

    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'.

    Arbenz himself was offered a bribe by the CIA, whether to abdicate his office or something less is not clear. A large sum of money was deposited in a Swiss bank for him, but he, or a subordinate, rejected the offer.


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