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The 1954 CIA Coup in Guatemala

The 1954 coup that deposed the democratically elected government of Guatemala has long been acknowledged to have been the result of CIA covert action. Recently declassified documents have shown a new, and more sinister light, on the CIA's involvement in an action that gave birth to some of the most brutally dictatorial regimes in modern history (see the CIA documents in the bibliography.) No one at this point will dispute the original involvement, but there are still those who maintain that this is all water over the dam of history and that the US has not had direct responsibility for the actions of a Guatemalan government since the 1954 coup. (Evans-Pritchard)

I intend to outline the background of the political circumstances that lead to the coup. This will include Guatemala, the US and the world scene at the time, when anti-communism contended with communism as state ideologies.

I will contend that the coup was all but inevitable in the prevailing political climate of 1954. But that still doesn't make it right. We have been finding out for nearly half a century how wrong it was. Opinions have always varied with the positions of their adherents, but I believe there is one thing that can no longer be disputed: the CIA catalyzed a turn for the worse, even to the inhuman, for many Latin American governments by its actions in managing the Guatemalan coup. They provided the essential weapon for the modern national security state, the knowledge of how to organize an efficient apparatus of state repression and terror.

'The wink and the nod' that it was all somehow acceptable to your primary sponsor caused many a dictator to adopt these methods to take and maintain power. Only recently have internal CIA documents become available, allowing researchers to begin to look inside the CIA itself. Partial as these releases are, they supply valuable insight into the machinations of this secretive organization. These documents outline the beginning of the Terror; let's hope we are seeing the end of it.

The early 1950s was a time of tension and uncertainty in the world. The Cold War replaced `hot' war. Humankind had gone from the terror of actual war to the terror of the potential of nuclear war. The situation was aggravated by the ongoing conflict in Korea which pitted the forces of the `Free World' against the specter of international Communism. Anticommunist hysteria gripped the US political scene, mirroring many of the excesses of the Stalinist enemy that it was in struggle with in the international arena.

The New York Times of the era carried news about a newly discovered Communist threat almost daily. Sen Joseph McCarthy would even accuse (although he could never prove) the CIA and other units of the Federal government of harboring 130 Communist infiltrators in their midst. (NYT, 6/3/54) J. Robert Oppenheimer, a leader of the US effort to build nuclear weapons, was accused of holding back the development of the hydrogen bomb and being insufficiently loyal. (NYT, 6/17/54) Subversive literature from Russia was said to be "clogging" the Customs Service. (NYT, 6/6/54) An ominous headline in the wake of Memorial Day 1954 read "Memorial Events Made More Somber By Soviet Menace". (NYT, 6/1/54) The dissenting voices were few, with only the muted protest of warnings about an "anti-intellectual fervor impeding" US scientists, as if the only criticism allowed of McCarthyism was that sometimes its wild accusations might slow down defense preparations. (NYT, 6/8/54)

The day after the Times reported the coup in Guatemala, it ran a notice that signs ordering civilians off the roads in the event of an air attack were to be taken down. Now that the Soviets had the hydrogen bomb the only hope for city dwellers was to flee to the countryside as quickly as possible. The editorial section had a cartoon, depicting Communism as a rabid dog in the manger of Peace, baring its fangs at the Free World, which was a frightened looking horse. (NYT, 6/20/54) As the coup wound to its quick conclusion the next week, an air raid test was announced for the lower East Side that posited an atomic weapon dropped within New York City. (NYT, 6/24/54)

Nearly every aspect of American culture was penetrated by this fear of `Reds under every bed' and it particularly influenced how we viewed developments in the area of international relations. Our views of other countries were almost wholly defined by our perception of whether they were `with us or against us' in the struggle against Communism.

Guatemala had experienced a revolution in 1944, which overthrew General Jorge Ubico, a corrupt, brutal dictator. Democracy took root there, but the country as a whole suffered from severely unequal development and was dominated by the US company, United Fruit (UFCO). UFCO sought to maintain the position of privilege that it had enjoyed under Ubico, who had gifted the company with large tracts of land and vigorously suppressed labor organizations. (CIAPBS, pg. 11) Indeed, the company viewed any change as a direct "assault on free enterprise." (CIAPBS, pg. 16)

UFCO was supported in this view by an arm of the CIA called the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC). The OPC was directed by Frank Wisner and was formed in 1948 to undertake "covert propaganda and antisubversive operations." As early as August 1950, the OPC warned "that Guatemala may become a central point for the dissemination of anti-US propaganda." (CIAPBS, pg. 18) Wisner would later be appointed to head the 1954 PBSUCCESS plan that would solve the problem of knocking down the `straw man' he had set up in Guatemala. Wisner's involvement in the creation and definition of the `problem', and then in its `solution', illustrates the enormous possibilities for abuse built into the CIA's charter. (CQ) Its abuse of this rather self-serving system is a recurrent theme in US politics.

The Guatemalan Revolutionary government, while acknowledged by the US Embassy as having "an unusual reputation for incorruptibility", was a thorn in the side of UFCO continuing business as usual. Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, a leader in the Army, was elected president of Guatemala in 1951 and continued the Revolution's moderate course. Arbenz had made his fame in the army by helping to put down an abortive coup attempt in 1949 by old guard officers of the army. (CIAPBS, pg. 13)

Among the plotters was Lt. Carlos Castillo Armas, who was captured, only to later escape to Honduras. The CIA would pick up his care and feeding and build the rebel army around his `leadership.' (CIAPBS, pg. 13) Castillo Armas quickly became the CIA's favorite candidate to replace Arbenz. There were several contenders for leadership of the opposition forces that the CIA manipulated to its benefit. Although he lacked combat experience, his "readiness to take fullest advantage of future CIA aid and assistance" ensured that he would be their man. (CIAPBS, pg. 41)

When Arbenz was elected in 1950, the State Dept. saw him as an "opportunist"; in other words, someone they thought they could deal with.(Immerman, pg. 107) UFCO continued pressing the State Dept. and the CIA for action. Neither organization seemed much inclined initially to take action, but the CIA quickly came around based on the views of the OPC. The OPC viewpoint quickly became the official one of the CIA, which pressured those in the State Dept. to come around in its views on Guatemala.

The propaganda campaign against Guatemala had an unintended consequence. Instead of intimidating Arbenz, it simply strengthened his coalition and allowed him to face down the demands that the US had made to purge his government of elements they didn't approve of.

UFCO was pushing hard for action, perhaps unaware that powerful forces were already at work behind the scenes. The first fruits of the situation actually fell into its lap quickly. The US Justice Department had been investigating the company since 1919 (the wheels of justice turn slowly) for antitrust violations related to its Latin American operations. Ironically, these violations, relating to its ownership of all shipping and railroads in several countries in addition to Guatemala, dovetailed with the criticisms that the Guatemalans themselves had made. This legal action was put on hold because the National Security Council worried that it might weaken efforts to contain Communism. The case was pursued after the coup, suggesting that the US government clearly wanted to use UFCO as part of it strategy in the short term and that the benefit to UFCO was mostly coincidental. (CIAPBS, pg. 19)

Meanwhile, planning for action against Guatemala moved into high gear. It is clear that action against Guatemala was contemplated under Pres. Truman. (see CIA documents dated 1952 in bibliography) As early as Jan. 26, 1952, the CIA was seeking a list from its operatives of the communist leaders that a new Guatemalan government would "eliminate" in the wake of a successful coup.(CIA#49) A list that the CIA had already made was included for confirmation. This was followed up with a request for a list of those to imprison (CIA#50) and an inquiry about additions to be made to lists already sent.(CIA#51) A $50,000 cash shipment is also detailed.(CIA#557) Tons of weapons were shipped to Nicaragua and [REDACTED] , which was most likely a location in Honduras. (CIA#559 and 560)

The plan the CIA had developed under Truman, codenamed PBFORTUNE, fell apart. This occured after the plan, under the pressures of inadequate planning and the US Presidential election already, was undercut by dictator Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua revealing the CIA's involvement. He bragged of their assistance to him, as the quid pro quo for his help, to other politicians in the region. This blew the cover of the operation as a "Latin American" movement.. (Immerman, pg. 120-122)

Rather than see its goals frustrated so easily, the CIA put the assets it controlled on ice until after the upcoming election.(CIAPBS, pg. 28) There is some controversy on the timing of the decision to act against Guatemala under the Eisenhower Administration. Some argue that no decision was made to carry out a coup until after a process of fact-finding and analysis resulted in a decision in late summer 1953.(Immerman, pg. 135) The official "General Plan of Action" is dated Sept. 11, 1953.(CIA#59)

I believe that the process was well underway in 1952 and it was the CIA's own institutional concerns that caused the cancellation of the action in 1952. In an era that condemned any perceived failure in the fight against Communism, I believe the CIA was loathe to take the chance of a failure which a new president could use as an excuse to clean house. Bureaucratic self preservation may well be why the coup was canceled, rather than the official excuse of Somoza's big mouth.(CIAPBS, pg. 27) It would be better for them to proceed with the plan under a new president whose own prestige would be tied to the portrayal of the operation, and whatever its outcome, as a success.

UFCO continued its attacks, waging an intense public relations campaign to portray the Guatemalans as having come under control of Communists, simply because Arbenz, as the US Embassy noted, had refused to remove Communists who held posts in his coalition government. The ruling coalition was dominated by moderates, with the tiny Guatemalan Communist party, the PGT, holding just four of the 61 seats the congress.(CIAPBS, pg. 20) The Communists held only a few posts in the Guatemalan government and, while valued for their support and assistance of Arbenz' program, they served as lightning rods for US disapproval.(CIAPBS, pg. 16)

The struggles of the revolutionary government to provide a more secure economic future for the people of Guatemala resulted in Decree 900, of June 17, 1952. The objective of the decree was to distribute some of UFCO's ill-gotten lands into the hands of small farmers by providing the peasants with low-interest loans with which to purchase the land. Ironically, even though UFCO had obtained the land under questionable circumstances, it would be compensated with bonds to be valued based on UFCO's own assessment of its worth. (Immerman, pg. 79-82) The CIA's own history states that "Decree 900 [was seen] as a moderate, capitalist reform," similar to other programs that the CIA itself was promoting in Latin America. What really counted to the CIA was the fact that this program was seen as being under the control of Communist-inspired forces.(CIAPBS, pg. 21 and 24)

Many have noted the very close connections between the US State Department, the CIA and UFCO that came about after the 1952 election resulted in the Republicans winning the White House. Newly elected Pres. Dwight Eisenhower appointed brothers John Foster Dulles, to Secretary of State, and Allen Dulles, to head the CIA, as key members of his foreign policy team. They shared intense feelings in favor of "free enterprise", anti-communism and a background as attorneys for UFCO and other international corporations. John Foster Dulles had even drawn up one of the agreements that provided Jorge Ubico with legal cover for his "gift" to UFCO of hundreds of square miles of Guatemalan public lands.(Immerman, pg. 124)

Many have taken the simplistic view that the Dulles brothers simply acted as agents of UFCO when they advanced the US government policies that coincidentally served UFCO's interests. The real truth is that the company needed no special pleading to have its interests served. The CIA's own report on the operation opens with a quote from Manuel Fortuny, a leader of the Guatemalan Workers Party (PGT). "They [the US CIA] would have overthrown us even if we had grown no bananas."(CIAPBS, pg. 9) Business and government interests have been seen as inextricably intertwined by most mainstream analysts of modern society, begging the question of the American people's interest. This is a trend which continues to today, as the World Trade Organization meets to consolidate corporate domination of the world's economy with the blessing and encouragement of the US government.

At least one source notes that Eisenhower actually approved the plan to overthrow the Guatemalan government, to be called PBSUCCESS, immediately after taking office in Jan. 1953.(Blum) It would appear that the CIA moved immediately to put Guatemala back on the front burner of covert operations and Eisenhower was already inclined to do so. This would put the internal machinations in the State Department and CIA in the following months more into the class of window dressing for a predetermined plan, than an actual decision-making process. Charles David (C.D.) Jackson, of the State Dept., headed up the Jackson Committee, which recommended a plan at the end of the first month of the Eisenhower Administration to roll back "Soviet aggression." (Immerman, pg. 130-132)

It is known with some certainty that Pres. Eisenhower had the expectation that covert action could take the place of direct military confrontation in the dangerous circumstances of the Nuclear Age.(CIAPBS, pg. 30-31) One danger that only gradually became apparent was the circumstances of the CIA's birth, when it was granted the twin responsibilities of intelligence and covert action. The US government as a whole has always relied on a system of checks and balances to insure accountability.

Yet the CIA has largely evaded these restrictions. It could make intelligence assessments that largely supported the aims of its covert action programs. The CIA could be both the prosecutor and judge of policy. During the 1950s and 1960s, the covert action department was clearly in charge of policy and manipulated the collection and analysis of intelligence to advance their aims. The temptation to see the world in self-serving terms would later lead the CIA astray and into disaster at the Bay of Pigs, but the roots of this flight from reality were in PBSUCCESS operation against Guatemala.(CIAPBS, Foreword)

A few in the State Dept. still counseled a policy of constructive engagement with the Arbenz government. Their arguments were quickly pushed aside by the Jackson Committee. It may be said that the CIA's targets for disinformation included the US government bureaucracy, by requiring them to persuade the State Dept. of the wisdom of a policy that they had already received permission for from the President. It is known that the ranks of ambassadors to Guatemala and the rest of Central America were rearranged to put a special team into place which would serve to assist the CIA, an effort which began as early as April 1953. The new group was hand-picked and had previous experience coordinating with the CIA in other State Dept. posts.(Immerman, pg. 136-138)

It should be noted here that Mr. Jackson was on leave from Time, Inc. to serve as a special adviser in charge of Cold War policy. This is a demonstration of the close ties between the US government and big business that fed the corporate group ethic that pervaded official US Government views throughout the Cold War and beyond. It didn't overthrow the Guatemalan government to serve UFCO's interest, but rather the general interest of international, corporate power.(Immerman, pg. 130)

All doubt about the inevitability of the coup is removed by a document from January, 1954 which makes clear that invasion plans are in their final stage.(CIA#29) Kits containing the latest technology clandestine radios are noted to be on schedule to arrive by mid-March.(Leach)

Time magazine itself demonstrated the public myopia that was willingly encouraged by the corporate insiders. It had continual, brief essays on the `dire' situation in Guatemala during the run-up to the coup in June 1954, placed in the "Hemisphere" section of the magazine. This emphasized the pervading US view that our relations with Latin America did not quite rise to the level of "Foreign Affairs", which was an entirely separate section of the magazine. Rather, their view of our relationship with the hemisphere assumed it was our `backyard', with the US having a special dispensation to dictate acceptable policy to our neighbors. The Time of the day faithfully repeated this view without question or nod toward a more balanced and thoughtful journalism that the `Free World's' moral superiority allegedly conferred.(Immerman, pg. 7-8)

This journalistic approach dominated all the national media of the US, leading me to conclude that once the decision was made to conduct the coup, it became inevitable. The media acted more as cheerleaders for official policy, than as the dispassionate observers and critics of policy.(NYT, May-June, 1954 and TIME, May-July, 1954) The only notable partial exception to this trend was Sidney Gruson's reporting for the New York Times. Having been previously expelled by the Arbenz government for his reporting, he was allowed to return in May 1954. His balanced reporting on a shipment of arms to allow Guatemala to defend itself in the face of the threat of invasion by the coup forces lead to his removal at the apparent behest of the CIA.(Immerman, pg. 235-236)

As part of the disinformation and covert action plan that the CIA conducted prior to the coup, Guatemala had its traditional sources of weapons in Europe cut off by the US. In the midst of a massive propaganda campaign, it was under constant threat by the coup plotters. When Guatemala turned to Soviet bloc sources as a last resort, the CIA propaganda masters made the most of it as `proof' of the Guatemalan government's betrayal of the hemisphere to Communist aggression.(Immerman, pg. 146-151, 155)

This was exactly the result the CIA sought, as it gave the color of hemispheric "self-defense" to the reality of US aggression against a sovereign state. This perception, upon which the success of PBSUCCESS turned, was carefully cultivated by the CIA propaganda machine as a counterweight to the traditional, more realistic Latin view, based on bitter experience, that Uncle Sam was not to be trusted.(Immerman, pg. 153)

Without going into the details of the coup itself, it is important to note an important fact about CIA covert operations that persists to the present day. The most critical aspect of these operations is not the actual overt or clandestine military force available. A memo from Nov., 1953 summarizes the plan for PBSUCCESS. In two-and-a-half pages, it details extensive planning for propaganda, disinformation and economic warfare. Military affairs take up two short paragraphs of the document.(CIA#61) Information warfare, the manipulation of public opinion, in particular US public opinion, is the final determinant of the success of an operation. In this sense, it can be said that the US public is one of the main targets of the CIA in any covert action. (Immerman, pg. 114) This level of organizational hubris, combined with the cloak of secrecy, render the CIA as a threat to the continuation of our democratic system.

It may seem that the release of the first (we hope) batch of declassified CIA documents only ties up a few loose ends if you were to read the report, "CIA and Guatemala Assassination Proposals 1952-1954," (CIA#3) declassified and released with approximately 750 other documents in 1997. Written in 1995, it serves as an interesting review of how the CIA wishes it will be portrayed in history, rather than a careful analysis of what the documents it was released with contain. These original source documents contain material that directly contradicts many of the assertions of "CIA and Guatemala Assassination Proposals 1952-1954" and shines new light on other parts of the historical record. I wish to examine several assertions of historical revisionism, in relation to the coup, of different ideological strains, that turn up repeatedly. A quick study of the CIA's own words will reveal their fallacy.

The first is the conclusion of the "CIA and Guatemala Assassination Proposals 1952-1954" report. (CIA#3) After concluding that "(p)roposals for assassinations pervaded both PBFORTUNE and PBSUCCESS" it asserts that "no covert action plan involving assassinations of Guatemalans was ever approved or implemented." Perhaps the CIA itself never did so, but the teaching contained within "A Study of Assassination," (CIA#36) along with the fact that "assassins were selected, training began, and tentative `hit lists' were drawn up" shows that the students learned well. (CIA#3)

A sign of their success is a list, of six pages, that is plainly noted to be "Guatemalan Communist Personnel to be disposed of during Military Operations". Although age would have already felled most of those who were unfortunate enough to have appeared on it, I rather doubt that most of those listed died natural deaths. Every name on the pages is blanked out. Why else after all this time would the CIA have redacted the names of these `Communists'? I would imagine that, rather than being concerned with the privacy of these people, or out of concern about revealing sources and methods, there is something else that causes the CIA to be so reticent. I'm sure that it would reveal the bloody `efficiency' of the client state they created.(CIA#52)

Many of the techniques mentioned in the "Study of Assassination" were subsequently applied with vigor and refined to ever higher levels of brutality in the drive to crush `Communism'. I believe this lead directly to the inhuman excesses of Central American governments in the following decades. There is that old saying about `give a man a fish and he eats today- teach a man how to fish and he will always eat' seems to have been the actual result of the CIA's plotting. Moral responsibility in such cases rests with the teacher, as much as with the student.

The conclusion of that argument leads us to the next, related argument. This one asserts, as in "They Didn't Need the CIA," that the governments of Latin America, Guatemala in particular, have always been well versed in brutality.(Evans-Pritchard) There is a certain amount of truth to that on a individual basis, as there often is in societies dominated by what are near feudal property relationships. However, prior to the CIA's counsel, the other nations of the hemisphere didn't generally make systematic efforts to kill off their opposition. Labor organizers and other leftists spent a lot of time in jails, but, with the exception of El Salvador's La Mantanza of 1932, there was rarely the kind of efficiency of effort that the Guatemalan conspirators were taught by the CIA.

This lesson, and its subsequent war on the common people of the countryside, was birthed from the obsessive political control mechanisms promulgated by the CIA. Providing better management techniques for repressive regimes requires one to share a moral responsibility for the outcome. I believe that the CIA cannot escape this responsibility for its actions in 1954, even leaving aside the fact that there would continue to be CIA aid, assistance, and money supplied to the repressive Guatemalan regimes of the next few decades.

The assertions of Communist dominance in the Guatemalan government before the coup still seem to serve to many as a justification for what occurred. Pres. Eisenhower claimed at the Illinois State Fair that, "(i)n Guatemala, the people of the region rose up and rejected the Communist doctrine..." (Immerman, pg.178) Yet the evidence shows otherwise. Even after the coup resulted in the capture of extensive collections of documents, which were reviewed by the CIA, precious little evidence of Communist participation in the government was revealed that wasn't already public knowledge.(Immerman, pg. 183-185) To put it simply, the Communists were operating as a legal participant in a democratic system. It was the CIA that transgressed the rule of law.

Follow-up reports by both Congress and the State Department right after the coup simply repeated the unsupported allegations that had been used for its initial justification. A telling quote by a newspaper editor friend of Pres. Eisenhower's, who visited Guatemala right afterward, sums things up.

"Yes, Guatemala has a very small minority of Communists, but not as many as San Francisco."(Immerman, pg. 183)

On the Left are those that claim the coup was simply a product of quid pro quo for UFCO. That idea should be quickly put to rest by the CIA's "Operation PBSUCCESS" report.(CIAPBS, pg. 19) The climate of the times, exemplified by the coverage in the New York Times and Time, was such that no reasonable argument could be made against intervention and that the specter of a Communist foothold in the Western Hemisphere was more than enough to motivate the coup. No corporate profits need be directly involved. Immediately after the coup, both houses of Congress passed resolutions (unanimously, except for a single vote) stating that the US would not tolerate Communism in the hemisphere. It was a thinly veiled threat to anyone else contemplating progressive changes in their countries that might displease the US.(Immerman, pg. 174)

Another argument is that the most significant action that the CIA took in this affair is the military aid that was given to the plotters. While this aid was important, the most crucial aspects of covert operations are the information warfare components. Of overriding importance is how the public perceptions of strength play out. The forces of Castillo Armas were weak and his tiny air force was piloted by American mercenaries in the service of the CIA. All observers agree in retrospect that the rebel forces would have been incapable of winning a direct confrontation with the Guatemalan Army.(Immerman, pg. 162 and 168) Yet the CIA's effective use of propaganda, combined with the overt diplomatic offensive by the US, caused the Guatemalan Army to turn on the Arbenz government, demanding his resignation, in what they saw as the only way to stop a mostly phantom attack.(Immerman, pg. 162) However, it should be noted that some military officials had been suborned by the CIA and may have simply waited for the opportune moment to what they may have known in private to be a little threat, but an abundant excuse, to betray their country.

I wish to conclude by saying that we, as Americans, all share a responsibility in the excesses of the CIA. The old ways die hard, as was clearly demonstrated in following decades. The continued existence of the CIA in its present form has become a threat to democracy, not just in other countries, but here in this country. The Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s is perhaps the most familiar example, so far, of this `backdraft' effect antidemocratic approaches to international problems can have. There are many, including myself, who feel that the election of an little known governor from a insignificant state to the Presidency is a product of this situation, its own quid pro quo, for his assistance in their time of need. (Reed/Cummings)

Arkansas was one of the major staging and training points for the Contra operation. Rumors of cocaine flowing into the US and cash flowing back to the CIA under the protection of then-Governor Clinton are quite possibly a reasonable explanation of his rise from obscurity. In the world of shadows, only the insiders know for sure. The rest of us will have to make educated guesses, until such time as the files of the CIA are thrown open, like the files of the East German Stasi were opened, to the disinfectant of daylight.

The 1954 CIA Coup In Guatemala

— Mike Lehman —

Annotated Bibliography

A Brief Note

I have added several additional sources to the bibliography, primarily from CIA original source documentation.

What I Didn't Include

I am personally familiar with a great deal of material on Guatemala. Even so, I found the vast amount of information that I hadn't seen to be both inspiring and intimidating. By concentrating on the actual facts of history itself, I've managed to come to grips with the ugly truth of the US legacy in Guatemala.

There is plenty of opinion out there on the subject. Much of it could be considered as partisan in some way and I've included representative samples here. I'm familiar with, or have read, much of it. My own bias is toward the Left, but I am quite familiar with much of the Right's viewpoint. I come from a military family and was involved with political-military analysis during the height of conflict in Central America in the bloody decade of the 1980s. That was when Washington's witch's brew of counter-insurgency and covert action came to a head, with the slaughter of over 100,000, mostly Mayan, Guatemalan citizens, by their own government. These horrendous events crushed a growing insurgency against one of the most repressive regimes in modern history.

Opinion, coupled with often highly partisan eyewitness reports, was all that most writers on this subject had to go by in writing of the circumstances of the time. This reason, coupled with lack of time, caused me to concentrate my efforts on what is now in the factual record, by using original source documents. Recent, partial declassifications have given us a look inside the Central Intelligence Agency's operations during the period leading up to the 1954 coup. Such classics as "Bitter Fruit" had to be passed over, but are still highly recommended for background for those unfamiliar with the issues.

Language was another barrier. The Internet turned up much information in Spanish, but my personal limitations in that language do not allow me to examine this interesting trove.

I also found references to the more general state of affairs during the early 1950s. Anti-communism was, for all practical purposes, a state religion in the US during this time. The French were under great pressure in Vietnam and Senator McCarthy saw Reds in places like the CIA, the Army, and throughout unions and academia. The threat of nuclear war was ever present. This is an interesting time in history. We will use it as background, but not to belittle its importance to the argument. It is crucial to appraise the tone of the era, but time and space constraints preclude the inclusion of anything but brief references to the tenor of the times.

A number of academic theses were also intriguing, particularly the ones that seem to take a businessman's point of view, but will have to be saved for another time, for lack of time. Recent news articles I've noted are good for their viewpoints, but lack the laser-like accuracy of the original documents that I've included in the annotated bibliography.

A monogram by a scholar at the USAF Air Command and Staff College would make for a good night's read, but is unlikely to yield significant new insight. Finally, an unattributed tome, called "The Story of Pres. And Mrs. Castillo Armas of Guatemala", strikes me as most likely to be CIA-source among my original list. I'll have to look that one up, some day.




Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Intervention Since World War II

Common Courage Press, 1995

I didn't read this, but it sounds like a good book to do, whenever I have time to read again. I quoted off of the advertising e-mail I received recently for it. I would like to examine his evidence for Eisenhower's Jan. `53 decision to act against Guatemala more closely.

CIA Documents- The CIA documents I referenced are available at the following


  • -click on the Popular Document Collection
  • -go to the Guatemala documents by clicking twice, where you will find a list of 756 documents. I will refer to them by their document number at this site.


CIA and Guatemala Assassination Proposals 1952-1954

CIA History Staff Analysis, Gerald K. Haines, June 1995 (Declassified 1997)

This is a key document, a great, ironic mea culpa, but in the end leaves smoking guns, begging questions, from Washington to Guatemala City.



Declassified Covert Action Document, January 22, 1954, Declassified May 15, 1997

This document contains a comprehensive strategic and tactical plan to overthrow the Guatemalan Government. Details of the plan demonstrate that the date of the plan is its most damning testimony. It clearly shows that the CIA was determined to depose the government, regardless of diplomatic and political developments, by late January 1954.



CIA Covert Action Document, December 31, 1953, Declassified May 15, 1997,, click on "Guatemala" twice, then click on Document #36

This is where things get down and dirty. There can be no dispute about the nature or intentions of this document. Many of the described methods became very familiar throughout Latin America, so it's crucial to remember where and by whom they were introduced. Except for 1932 in El Salvador, most leftists and Communists in Latin America were tolerated, except for frequent trips to prison, before the CIA became closely involved with their governments. The CIA brought `Norte Americano' efficiency to the `lackadaisical' Latin approach to political repression that existed prior to 1954.



Jan. 26, 1952; Declassified May 15, 1997

The title pretty much explains things. They almost couldn't wait to start the killing.



Jan. 29, 1952; Declassified May 15, 1997

Follow-up to preceding cable. I wonder how they decided between who kill and who to lockup. Did being on this list mean you weren't a good (enough) Communist?



Jan. 29, 1952; Declassified May 15, 1997

`Let's be sure we don't miss anyone.' Concern is expressed that if these folks aren't at least deported, any government the CIA might impose in Guatemala won't be able to stand for long.



CIA Covert Action Document, September 17, 1952 (note-actual date on document is Sept. 18, 1952), Declassified May 15, 1997

This is not the original list, but one that updated the original one the CIA supplied to Castillo Armas. He had a few additions of his own. It is interesting mainly because most of it is redacted. Even after all these years, the CIA isn't willing to say who they wanted dead. Maybe a comparison of who survived being listed, in the long run, to those who died under questionable circumstances in later years, would reveal that this whole process was not as benign as the June 1995 report made it out to be?



Sept. 11, 1953; Declassified May 15, 1997

Ever wonder what a CIA playbook looks like? The budget is even included.



Nov. 5, 1953, Declassified May 15, 1997

`Sticks and stones may break your bones,' but it's the words that kill you.



Jan. 19, 1952; Declassified May 15, 1997

The CIA starts to get excited about Castillo Armas' `potential.'



June 23, 1952; Declassified May 15, 1997

Money makes the world go round. It doesn't seem like it now, but $50,000 in 1952 was a lot of money.



Oct. 6, 1952; Declassified May 15, 1997

Somoza does his part. The first installment (8 tons) of arms will be sent by air to Managua.



Oct. 20, 1952; Declassified May 15, 1997

They didn't have C-5 aircraft in 1952. The other 73 tons to go by sea, once the CIA can find a "fishing or pleasure" boat that can carry a load like that. It must have been one hell of a bass boat.



Dec. 31, 1993; declassified May 15, 1997

This is actually CIA#756, page numbers as noted. Since I found it to be very useful and insightful, I used it as a major supplement to Immerman's book. It's interesting to note that this study makes major use of Immerman's book itself. Immerman must have got it right. They also use "Bitter Fruit" and another good reference, Piero Gleijeses' "Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States, 1944-1954".


RS-1 CIA Radio Set

Warren Leach, webpage, April 16, 1996

This is included as more of a physical exhibit, than an actual reference. It does demonstrate that the RS-1 radios mentioned in the invasion planning were (at the time) state-of-the-art equipment. The CIA spared no expense, or technology, to make this thing work. These radios were also, conveniently enough, compatible with equipment that contemporary US military forces were using. If you're in the CIA, it doesn't hurt to have back-up. Look what happened at the Bay of Pigs a few years later.

See also:


The New CIA, Congressional Quarterly, Dec. 11, 1992

The CQ Researcher

This is a straightforward document. It doesn't go into detail, but it does outline the congenital failure of the CIA's birth and existence- the conflict between developing accurate, unbiased intelligence and covert action. Most Americans have come to see these two as inseparable, but experts will acknowledge the inherent skewing of both by their interaction with each other. Even if you think the CIA is a generally good idea, this is an issue that keeps getting papered over, to the continued detriment of the US and the rest of the world. The more things change, the more they stay the same

Not Quoted

Reforming the CIA, Congressional Quarterly, Feb. 2, 1996

The CQ Researcher,

My main issue with this item is that the no-doubt highly paid staff at the CQ doesn't know the difference between "expropriate" and "appropriate". One definition serves as a fairly accurate, but overly concise, definition of the actual 1954 situation in Guatemala. The other serves as nothing more than anti-Communist propaganda. Guess which one they choose. I wonder what they were(are) still so afraid of in 1996(1999)?


They Didn't Need the CIA

Evans-Pritchard, Ambrose; The Spectator (Mar 20, 1999)

ISSN: 0038-6952, Accession No: 04206350

This is a fairly standard example of what much of the Right feels about the moral correctness of the CIA and the American Empire. "If it wasn't for the CIA, those gol-durned foreigners would kill each other in even more brutal ways!" The idea of the CIA as the leading light of Western Civilization pretty much died in the early 1960s, after the Bay of Pigs. Evans-Pritchard does the best he can to revive the myth, but leaves himself wide open, to the cruel reality of the facts as now admitted to, by those he takes as nothing more than good public servants, just doing their job.


The CIA in Guatemala: The Foreign Policy of Intervention

Immerman, Richard H.; Austin, Texas; University of Texas Press; 1982

ISBN 0-292-78045-1

This book forms the heart of my argument in the sense that it formed many of my opinions about the situation. It was written contemporaneously with "Bitter Fruit", but I've always felt it to be the better book. Immerman goes to the heart of the matter. The CIA conducted a coup to overthrow a democratically elected government to serve the internal policy of the United States. While United Fruit's interests were well served by the events, it was more coincidence, than fate, that the Dulles brothers, and their close relationship to UFCO, happened to serve in the government at the time of the coup.

Combined with the recently declassified CIA documents, it forms a damning case for the Agency's complicity for the murderous policies that characterized affairs of state in much of Latin America in following decades.


New York Times, various issues May 18 to June 30, 1954

What more is there to say about "the newspaper of record"? Plenty, and that is what I began to write this paper on. I then realized that, in some ways, the internal affairs of the Times are often as arcane as those of the CIA. And I didn't know them nearly as well. And a treasure trove of recent declassifications is now available on the Internet. James Reston's papers recently came to rest at the University of Illinois; maybe there will be more revealing developments soon. What we can say right now is that the Times served the CIA at a crucial moment, in a direct sense, and supported the CIA's efforts more generally by maintaining a sophisticated, yet party-line, worldview. To analyze this phenomenon is beyond the scope of this paper, but sounds like an inviting subject. I will use it, in the main, as background and timeline.


COMPROMISED: Clinton, Bush and the CIA

Clandestine Publishing, 1995

Perhaps the definitive book on what Iran-Contra really meant in our country. You may not believe it, but Terry Reed, a pilot/operative for the the CIA, seems to know what he's talking about. He seems to make sense of the unexplainable by telling you the unbelievable.


Time Magazine, various issues, May 10 to August 9, 1954

Time is even more scandalously imperialist in its views of Guatemala than the New York Times. There are "World Affairs" and then there is the "Hemisphere", making it something very closely akin to "our backyard" in the eyes of the editors. There's not really all that much there, and it's not that good. It serves mainly as a contemporaneous version of Evans-Pritchard's argument. It serves to remind one why it is important to study history, before our self-delusion leads us astray again.

CIA/Guatemala Reading List

The 1954 CIA Coup In Guatemala: End of the Innocence

--Mike Lehman--

The Story of the President and Mrs. Castillo Armas of Guatemala.
Anonymous (possibly CIA?); 1955
Accession No: OCLC: 13228321

Dependency and Intervention : The Case of Guatemala in 1954
Aybar de Soto, José M.; Boulder, Colo.; Westview Press; 1978
Accession No: OCLC: 4495665

Weekend in Guatemala
Asturias, Miguel Angel; Zürich; Rotpunktverlag, 1983
Accession No: OCLC: 18816487

The 1954 Guatemalan "Revolution" and the American Press
Bucklin, Steven Jay.; Dissertation: Thesis--University of South Dakota, 1986
Accession No: OCLC: 13979719

Guatemala's Reactionary Reversal : Castillo Armas and the Liberal Restoration, 1954-1957
Chambers, Paul; 1991
Accession No: OCLC: 24147127

Communist Toehold in the Americas : A History of Official United States Involvement in the Guatemalan
Crisis, 1954
Chardkoff, Richard Bruce, 1941-; Dissertation: Thesis (Ph. D.)--Florida
State University, 1967.
Accession No: OCLC: 15100096

CIA and Guatemala Assassination Proposals 1952-1954
CIA History Staff Analysis, Gerald K. Haines, June 1995 (Declassified 1997), click on "Guatemala" twice, then click on
Document #3

Declassified Covert Action Document, January 22, 1954, Declassified May 15, 1997, click on "Guatemala" twice, then click on
Document #29

CIA Covert Action Document, December 31, 1953, Declassified May 15, 1997, click on "Guatemala" twice, then click on
Document #36

CIA Covert Action Document, September 17, 1952, Declassified May 15, 1997, click on "Guatemala" twice, then click on
Document #52

RS-1 CIA Radio Set
Warren Leach, webpage, April 16, 1996

The New CIA, Dec. 11, 1992
The CQ Researcher,; keyword*1954***the justification for CIA intervention***

Reforming the CIA, Feb. 2, 1996
The CQ Researcher, - keyword*Guatemala *** interesting fumbling of history**
***Note- CQ Library claims to be a non-partisan guide to the issues, but has an obvious streak of anti-communism that clouds its analysis***

Guatemala's Insurgency : A Struggle Without End
Crisp, David Wayne, 1953-; Dissertation: Thesis (M.A.)--New Mexico State University, 1992
Accession No: OCLC: 25365883

Secret History; The CIA's Classified Account of its Operations in Guatemala, 1952-1954
Cullather, Nick, 1959- ; Gleijeses, Piero. ; Cullather, Nick,; 1959- ; Operation PBSUCCESS.
Publication: Boulder, Colo. :; netLibrary, Incorporated; 1999(1997),

Bombes sur le Guatémala
Désinor, Yvan M.; Port-au-Prince, Haïti :; Impr. de l'Etat, 1960
Accession No: OCLC: 18908049

French Culture and the Algerian War: Mobilizing Icons.
Philip Dine.
Journal of European Studies March-June 1998 v28 n1-2 p51(18)

The Art of the Coup: A Paper Trail of Covert Actions in Guatemala. Kate Doyle.
NACLA Report on the Americas Sep-Oct 1997 v31 n2 p34(6)

Our Dad was No Commie
New Statesman (1996), March 26, 1999 v129 i4429 p20(2)
(director Elia Kazan's winning of the 1999 Oscar Lifetime Achievemenaward)
(filmmaker Carl Foreman) Amanda Foreman;
Jonathan Foreman.

At Last: Guatemala. (possible end to civil war)
The Economist (US) Nov 16, 1996 v341 n7992 p42(1)

They Didn't Need the CIA
Evans-Pritchard, Ambrose; The Spectator (Mar 20, 1999)
ISSN: 0038-6952, Accession No: 04206350

Tres Ensayos Universitarios
Federación de Estudiantes Universitarios del Ecuador, Filial de Guayaquil; Guayaquil, Ecuador; 1955
Accession No: OCLC: 10876602

Guatemala 1954 : Cronica di una Morte Annunciata
Ganugi, Andrea; [Firenze] :; Firenze Libri, 1989
Accession No: OCLC: 33273924

Ending the CIA's Cold War legacy. (Restoring CIA's Honest Reporting of World Events)
Melvin A. Goodman.
Foreign Policy Spring 1997 n106 p128(16) Mag.Coll.: 88B3283.

Big Business and Public Policy : A Case Study of the United Fruit Company in Guatemala
Gronlund, Julie L.; James Madison University Dissertations Dept. of History Masters, 1989
Accession No: OCLC: 22855703

Liberación : Con Sangre, Sacrificos y Heroísmo se Ecribió la Historia d [i.e. de] Nuestra Segunda Independenc [i.e. independencia] : Reporte Gráfico de la Secretaría de Propaganda y Divulgación de la Presidencia de la República
Guatemala. Secretaría de Propaganda y Divulgación; ? 1954 1958
Accession No : OCLC: 12694422

Apuntes para una Interpretación de la Revolución Guatemalteca y de su Derrota en 1954
Guerra-Borges, Alfredo; Miami, Fla. :; Latin American and Caribbean Center, Florida International University, 1988
Accession No: OCLC: 22743322

The 1954 Revolution in Guatemala : A Study of the Roles of the U.S. Department of State, Central
Intelligence Agency and the United Fruit Company : a thesis in history
Hake, David G.,; Thesis; (M.A.)--Pennsylvania State University, 1988.
Accession No: OCLC: 40952819

The CIA in Guatemala: The Foreign Policy of Intervention
Immerman, Richard H.; Austin, Texas; University of Texas Press; 1982
ISBN 0-292-78045-1

Guatemala's 1954 Coup d'état : a thesis
Jenkins, David Robert, 1960-; Dissertation: Thesis M.A.)--University of New Orleans, 1986.
Accession No: OCLC: 14211255

Dangerous Liaisons: The U.S. in Guatemala. Susanne Jonas.
Foreign Policy Summer 1996 n103 p144(17) Mag.Coll.: 84B3219

"Let's maintain unity" : Railway Workers and the Guatemalan Revolution, 1944-1954
McLeod, Marc Christian, 1967-; [Austin, Tex.] :; Univ. of Texas, Austin, ILAS, 1993
Accession No: OCLC: 33380327

Railway Workers and Revolution in Guatemala : 1912 to 1954
McLeod, Marc Christian, 1967- ; ) Dissertation: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Texas at Austin, 1993.
Accession No: OCLC: 29211559

La Apremiante Urgentísima e Impostergable Restauración Constitucional en Guatemala
Nájera Cabrera, Antonio; Mexico, D.F. :; [s.n.],; [i.e. Guatemala :; Impr. Valenzuela,
Edition: 1a. ed., 1958
Accession No: OCLC: 29664057

Survivors, Victims Return to Guatemalan villages. (CIA-engineered coup in 1954 set
off a brutal 35-year civil war) Lorraine Orlandi.
National Catholic Reporter Jan 17, 1997 v33 n11 p15(1) Mag.Coll.: 87B5907

New York Times, various issues May 18 to June 30, 1954

La República de Guatemala ante las Naciones Unidas, el Consejo de Seguridad y la Organización de Estados Centroamericanos.
Osegueda, Raúl; Guatemala. Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, 1953
Accession No: OCLC: 12888755

Facsímil y Transcripción del Acta de la Independencia de Centro América: Himno Nacional de Guatemala
Palma, José Joaquín,; 1844-1911; [Guatemala] :; Secretaría de Propaganda y Divulgación de la Presidencia de la República; 1954
Descriptor: Propaganda, Anti-communist Specimens
Accession No: OCLC: 12377427 ***very interesting example****

Dos Yanquis más Contra Guatemala
Pellecer, Carlos Manuel; Guatemala, C.A. :; [Union Tip. Guatemala], 1983
Accession No: OCLC: 26907538

Intervention, oder, Zwölf Tage Krieg in Guatemala : Roman
Poppe, K. H. 1923- (Karl Heinz); Reprint, with new afterword. Originally published: Reinbeck bei Hamburg : Rowohlt, 1960.
Other Titles: Die Bananenkrieg. 1983; Intervention.; Zwölf Tage Krieg in Guatemala
Accession No: OCLC: 22136150

The United States' Role in the Overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 : Eisenhower's Latin American Policy
Porter, Christopher F., 1986 Thesis (M.A.) - California State University, Dominguez Hills, 1986
Accession No: OCLC: 40828196

Sí se Hizo la Liberación
Putzeys Rojas, Guillermo; Guatemala :; s.n.,; Tip. Nacional, 1976
Accession No: OCLC: 31133134

Foster Dulles e a Invasão da Guatemala
Ramos, Plínio de Abreu; São Paulo :; Editora Fulgor; 1958
Accession No: OCLC: 4842551

Julio : 2do Aniversario
Rivera Soto, Miguel; Guatemala :; s.n., 1956
Accession No: OCLC: 12352936

Political Risk Analysis : The United Fruit Company in the Context of the 1954 Coup in Guatemala
Rochowski, Anthony E.; Dissertation: Thesis (M.B.A.)-Hofstra University, 1987.
Accession No: OCLC: 17206905

Bitter Fruit : The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala /
Author(s); Schlesinger, Stephen C. ; Kinzer, Stephen.
Publication: Garden City, N.Y. :; Doubleday, Edition: 2nd ed, 1983

The C.I.A. Censors History. (Central Intelligence Agency and a Guatemala coup)
Stephen Schlesinger. The Nation July 14, 1997 v265 n2 p20(3) Mag.Coll.: 89L0097

CIA Coup Files Include Assassination Manual. (instructions for the 1954 coup against
Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, former president of Guatemala)(Column)
Jim Schrider.
National Catholic Reporter July 18, 1997 v33 n34 p10(1) Mag.Coll.: 89M6241.

Diálogos con el Coronel Monzón : Historia Viva de la Revolución Guatemalteca, 1944-1954
Sierra Roldán, Tomás. ; Monzón, Elfego H.; Guatemala :; [Editorial "San Antonio"], 1958
Accession No: OCLC: 22111010

Los Motivos del Derrocamiento del Presidente de Guatemala por La C.I.A. en 1954.
Shepard, Laura, Hickory, NC :; The Author, 1997

The Guatemalan affair : a critique of United States foreign policy
Taylor, Philip Bates; Reprinted from The American Political Science Review vol. L, No. 3, September, 1956./ Includes bibliographical references
Accession No: OCLC: 12705058

Time Magazine, various issues, May 10 to August 9, 1954

En Guatemala "Los Héroes Tienen Quince Años"
Wer, Carlos Enrique; Guatemala :; Editorial MARPRIN, 1993
Accession No: OCLC: 33064031

La posición de la United Fruit Company Frente a los Ataques del Comunismo en Guatemala
Whitman, Edmund S.; New York, 1955;
Cover title./ "Discurso Pronunciado ante la 'International Advertising Association', ...
Nueva York, Jueves, Febrero 24, de 1955."--Cover verso.
Accession No: OCLC: 38020173

Guatemala, A Troubled Central American Country
Wood, Walter D. ; Maxwell AFB, Al. :; Air Command and Staff College, Air University,
Accession No: OCLC: 14146086


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