U.S. Policy / Guatemala

Immerman, Richard H. The CIA in Guatemala: The Foreign Policy of Intervention. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982. 291 pages.

If forced to distinguish between the journalist and the academic, one definition might be that academics are almost always found working on topics after it's too late to do anything about it. To be sure, it's easier: sources are more widely available, the target has stopped moving, and passions have cooled. In this book, Richard Immerman, assistant professor of history at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, weighs in on U.S. intervention in Guatemala in 1954. In the 1980s an increasing number of university presses published historical studies of U.S. covert activities. Yesterday's denial becomes today's footnote demolishing the denial, but where were the professors when we needed them?

Better late than never, one assumes. Drawing on his Boston College Ph.D. dissertation (1978), Immerman ends up with 75 pages of endnotes and bibliography. The 200 pages of narrative present a well-crafted balance between Guatemalan history and its economy, the cold war milieu in Washington, the CIA at work, U.S. propaganda efforts and diplomatic maneuvering in the U.N. and elsewhere, the coup itself, and finally the cover-up. It was all so tidy that the CIA couldn't resist trying the same thing in Cuba seven years later.


North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 454, New York NY 10115, Tel: 212-870-3146. Guatemala. 1974. 264 pages.

NACLA began in 1966 and quickly became one of the most important research organizations to emerge out of the U.S. student movement. Through the mid-seventies their publications concentrated on the role of U.S. corporations and foreign policy in Latin America, with special emphasis on U.S. universities, development policy, police training, and CIA covert activities. Reports were well-researched, with more facts than analysis.

"Guatemala" is a prime example of quality progressive publishing. Twentieth century Guatemalan history is examined in detail, with special attention to the players behind the 1954 CIA-sponsored coup. U.S. economic imperialism, from United Fruit in 1954 to the major corporate players in the seventies, is presented along with key Guatemalan land-owning families.


Schlesinger, Stephen and Kinzer, Stephen. Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala. Garden City NY: Anchor Books, 1983. 320 pages.

This is one of the more complete accounts of the CIA operation to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954 -- a textbook case of how a superpower can destroy a Third World country at will. The propaganda which accompanied the military campaign required the loyal cooperation of the American media, because the world had to be convinced that Guatemala was being saved from a Soviet takeover. In fact, the Soviet union could hardly have had less interest in Guatemala and did not even maintain diplomatic relations with them.

What actually caused U.S. intervention was the nationalization by Arbenz of much of the land of United Fruit Company; it turned out that United was extremely well-connected in Washington and knew how arrange a fix. Arbenz was also unwilling to persecute Guatemalan communists and other leftists who had not committed any crimes.

The authors make extensive use of U.S. government publications and documents, as well as interviews with former CIA and other officials and individuals who played a role in the events. -- William Blum


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