Cold War in Guatemala
Guatemala is known for being one of the most dangerous countries in Central America; nevertheless, it is not its fault that it is the way it is. During the Cold War there were many factors involved and many events that led to the Guatemala of today. It all began with the election of Colonel Arbenz during the “Ten Years of Springtime” which ended because President Eisenhower was influenced by his connections to Guatemala´s “state within a state,” (TWT) the United Fruit Company. His decision disrupted a prosperous time for the country and created a dictatorship that gave birth to an army that caused a civil war which lasted over thirty years.
Followed by a genocide that has the worst human rights record; it marked the beginning of a totally different Central American country that is now scarred and has not yet fully recovered from this disastrous event. Sometimes actions are committed for the right reasons but in a wrong way; the United States did exactly that. They changed an entire nation for their own interest by having most of the country under the control of an American-owned business, and ended up destroying it slowly and painfully with the result of a genocide and a thirty-year civil war.
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On the other hand, the Soviet Union only stood aside and let the country’s communism be taken over. From 1945 to late 1954 there was a time of prosperity in Guatemala known as the “Ten Years of Springtime. ” Juan José Arévalo, who was the president at this time, began the period of enlightenment by establishing the nation´s security system and health system. He also created a government bureau “to look at Mayan concerns” (TWT). He was followed by Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzman who won the elections of 1951.
During this time, most of the land in Guatemala was controlled by the United Fruit Company which was an American-owned company that directed the other two big enterprises in the country, the International Railway of Central America and Empress Electrica. Statistically speaking, seventy percent of the farm laborers and arable land were run by two percent of the landowners. One hundred sixty thousand acres of this territory were uncultivated so Arbenz came up with a land reform to redistribute these pieces of land to peasants, letting them have individually owned small farms.
The company was compensated but it still disagreed with the reform even though they did not lose much money. The United Fruit Company not only owned land though, it also owned the telegraph and telephone system of the country and most of the railroad track; therefore, it was labeled the “state within a state” (TWT). Connections between this huge enterprise and the United States’ government were really close, especially since so many members of both organizations had personal relationships with one another (TWT). This was the initial push towards American involvement in Guatemala.
What actually convinced President Eisenhower to step in, was when “Nicaragua’s president, Anastasio Somoza, solicited U. S. assistance to overthrow Arbenz” (Cold War Museum). The country was labeled “communist” and under this excuse, the containment policy was put to action. Aid was sent to the Guatemalan Army, including CIA planes and a CIA army. Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was overthrown and fled to Cuba (TWT). After the intervention, Colonel Castillo Armas became the new president after being chosen by the United States, “ensuring the promotion of American interests in Guatemala” (Cold War Museum).
The “Springtime” was over. After Armas, a succession of military dictatorships followed but, the economy of the country began to drop and the gap between rich and poor just got wider; guerrilla groups were beginning to appear. Since the 1960s, the CIA created links with the Guatemalan Army unit, also called the G-2, which killed thousands of Guatemalan civilians by having their own “torture centers and body dumps throughout Guatemala” (TWT). Public reports revealed that this army was the most repressive and in 1977, United States president Jimmy Carter cut off military aid (TWT).
Argentina, Chile, and Israel continued to play a major role by supplying weapons, building munitions, and training the Guatemalan soldiers. A genocide, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group. ” This event marked the 1980s for Guatemala. Violence was inevitable for the country, especially with an unstable government, a strong army, and a guerrilla group ready for a rebellion.
The soldiers of the Guatemalan army called themselves a “killing machine” and they began a “systematic campaign of repression and suppression” (PPU) against the Mayan Indians, a guerrilla group that was part of the resistance. For two years, they were hunted down and murdered while the army’s perception of the Mayan communities only grew worse with time. Six hundred twenty-six villages were destroyed, or “disappeared”; children were beat against the walls and thrown down pits, men were tortured until death, and women were sexually abused and tortured at the same time. This became known as the “Silent Holocaust” (PPU).
As a result, around 70,000 people died during this event and in the following years, from 1966 to 1990, an estimate of 200,000 murders occurred. There was almost a complete extermination of the Mayan communities (PPU). In 1986, “civilian rule and a new constitution were set up because, but the army held on its power because half a million Guatemalans were/are members of the army” (PPU). It took the Guatemalan leaders from both sides, the government and the resistance, five years to sign a peace agreement created by the United Nations to stop the thirty-year Civil War.
In 1994, the United Nations set up a human rights monitor in Guatemala called MINUGUA (TWT). MINUGUA highlighted many cases of torture and murder and came to the conclusion that human rights are violated on a daily basis. Guatemala today is still standing on the hope of a peace agreement that is still in progress. This peace agreement would also represent “democratic leadership, rights for indigenous people and displaced communities, demilitarization, constitutional reforms, an end to impunity, a Truth Commission, political participation, and attention to socio- economic issues such as land reform” (TWT).
The United States can help Guatemala by stopping the aid they continue giving to the army (TWT), by supporting political and economic reform, and ending the war they have against the Guatemalan people. Today, there are still investigators looking for those who survived the genocide or were a part of it to continue to bring justice to the Guatemalan people for their incredible loss of lives many years ago. For example, just recently, General Efrain Rios Montt, who ruled Guatemala from 1982 to 1983, was just convicted to eighty years of prison for the genocide of his people (CNN).
This is the first step the country of Guatemala has taken to move on from its horrible past. As is obvious, the Guatemalan country suffered greatly with the Cold War because of all the problems it created. The United States aided this country because of the containment policy at first but ended up supporting the army that caused the genocide, and eventually creating a civil war that lasted thirty years. Guatemala is doing much better in modern days, but it still has not fully recovered from such events that occurred in the past, a huge scar was left behind.