- Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán
Infobox_President | name=Jacobo Árbenz
order=President of the Republic of Guatemala
March 15, 1951
June 27, 1954
Juan José Arévalo
Carlos Enrique Díaz de León
September 14, 1913
January 27, 1971
spouse=Maria Cristina Villanova
party=SocialistColonel Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán (
September 14, 1913– January 27, 1971) was the President of Guatemalafrom 1951 to 1954, when he was ousted in a coup d'étatorganized by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, known as Operation PBSUCCESS, and was replaced by a military junta, headed by Colonel Carlos Castillo, plunging the country into chaos and long-lasting political turbulence.
Quetzaltenango, he was the son of a Swiss pharmacistwho immigrated to Guatemala. His early years were marred by his father's suicide. Árbenz joined the army, attending Guatemala's military academy, and became a sub-lieutenant in 1935. He returned to the Guatemalan Military Academy in 1937 and served as a teacher of science and history. In 1939 he met his future wife Maria Cristina Villanova, who moved her husband towards socialist philosophy. Maria, a daughter of a wealthy Salvadoran landowner, had a huge impact on his life, and urged him to overthrow the Guatemalan government. Árbenz joined a group of army officers and helped to overthrow the dictator Jorge Ubico(1878–1946) in 1944. After the coup against Ubico, Árbenz served as Guatemala's defense minister in Juan José Arévalo's new government.
Presidency and coup
In March 1951, Árbenz assumed the presidency after Guatemala's second-ever universal-suffrage election, marking the first peaceful transition of power in Guatemala's history. He campaigned as a reformer and garnered 60% of the vote by promising to make Guatemala an economically independent, capitalist state that would shed its colonial-era dependence on the U.S. His predecessor, Juan José Arévalo, had successfully begun a series of reforms to open the political process to all citizens. Arévalo's extension of voting and labor rights threatened the power of the traditional elite and led to more than twenty failed coup attempts to oust him.
Árbenz continued Arévalo's reform agenda and, in June 1952, his government enacted an agrarian reform program, similar to the 1862
Homestead Actin the U.S. The new law ( decree 900) gave the government power to expropriate only uncultivated portions of large plantations. Estates of up to convert|670|acre|km2|1 were exempted if at least two thirds of the land was cultivated; also exempt were lands that had a slope of more than 30 degrees (a significant exemption in mountainous Guatemala). The land was then allocated to individual families in the attempt to create a land-owning yeomannation reminiscent of the U.S.'s own goals in the 1800s. Owners of expropriated land were compensated according to the worth of the land claimed in May 1952 tax assessments. Land was paid for in twenty-five year bonds with a 3 percent interest rate. [Stephen G. Rabe, "Eisenhower and Latin America: The Foreign Policy of Anticommunism." University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill.] Arbenz himself, a landowner through his wife, gave up convert|1700|acre|km2|0 of his own land in the land reform program. [Peter H. Smith, Talons of the Eagle: Dynamics of US-Latin American Relations, Oxford University Press, 2000]
land reformprogram was promoted as a means of remedying the extremely unequal land distribution within the country. It is estimated that 2% of the country's population controlled 72% of all arable landin 1945, but only 12% of it was being utilized. That is the proportion found in U.S. Agriculture, but without the corresponding wage differential or economic diversity: in 1950s Guatemala, the per capita income of agricultural workers was under $100 per year and the economy of Guatemala was barely industrialized while the US economy was highly industrialized and diversified.
While Árbenz's proposed agenda was welcomed by impoverished peasants who made up the majority of Guatemala's population, it provoked the ire of the upper landowning classes, powerful U.S. corporate interests, and factions of the military, who accused Árbenz of bowing to Communist influence. This tension resulted in noticeable unrest in the country. Carlos Castillo, an army officer, rebelled at the Aurora airport in the early 1950s, was defeated and shot, surviving his injuries. Castillo then spent some time in a Guatemalan prison before escaping and going into exile in 1951.
This instability, combined with Árbenz's relative tolerance of
Guatemalan Party of Labour(PGT) and other leftists influences, prompted the CIA to draw up a contingency plan entitled Operation PBFORTUNEin 1951. It outlined a method of ousting Árbenz if he were deemed a Communist threat in the hemisphere.
United Fruit Company, a U.S.-based corporation, was also threatened by Árbenz's land reform initiative. United Fruit was Guatemala's largest landowner, with 85% of its holdings uncultivated, vulnerable to Árbenz's reform plans. In calculating its tax obligations, United Fruit had consistently (and drastically) undervalued the worth of its holdings. In its 1952 taxes, it claimed its land was only worth $3 per acre. When, in accordance with United Fruit's tax claims, the Árbenz government offered to compensate the company at the $3 rate, the company claimed the land's true value was $75/acre but refused to explain the precipitous jump in its own determination of the land's value.
United Fruit had several ties with the U.S. government. U.S. Secretary of State
John Foster Dullesand his brother, CIA director Allen Dulles, had both worked for Sullivan & Cromwell, which had represented United Fruit's rail subsidiary. Eisenhower's trusted aide and undersecretary of State Walter Bedell Smithhad equally close ties to the company and had once sought a management position there. All three were shareholders in the company. However, John Foster Dulles did insist that the problem of "communist infiltration in Guatemala" would "remain as it is today" even if "the United Fruit matter were settled". [Michael Reid, Forgotten Continent, Yale University Press, 2006]
In 1952, the
Guatemalan Party of Labourwas legalized; Communists subsequently gained considerable minority influence over important peasant organizations and labor unions, but not over the governing political party and won only four seats in the 58-seat governing body. The CIA, having drafted Operation PBFORTUNE, was already concerned about Árbenz's potential Communist ties. United Fruit had been lobbying the CIA to oust reform governments in Guatemala since Arévalo's time but it wasn't until the Eisenhower administration that it found an ear in the White House. In 1954, the Eisenhower administration was still flush with victory from its covert operation to topple the Mossadegh government in Iran the year before. On February 19, 1954, the CIA began Operation WASHTUB, a plan to plant a phony Soviet arms cache in Nicaragua to demonstrate Guatemalan ties to Moscow. cite journal
last = Ward
title =Washington Unmakes Guatemala, 1954 Appendix A: Timeline of Events
Council on Hemispheric Affairs
url = http://www.coha.org/NEW_PRESS_RELEASES/Matt%20Ward/MW_Appendix_A.htm ] cite book
last =Piero Gleijeses
title =Secret History: The CIA's Classified Account of Its Operations in Guatemala, 1952-1954
id = Page 57]
In May 1954, Czechoslovak weaponry arrived in Guatemala aboard the Swedish ship "
Alfhem". The U.S. claimed this as final proof of Árbenz's Soviet links. Supporters for Árbenz, however, note that the Guatemalans repeatedly attempted to buy weapons from Western Europe and only turned to the Czechoslovaks after failing to purchase arms elsewhere. The Czechoslovaks supplied, for cash down, obsolete and barely functional German WWII weaponry. [ John Lewis Gaddis, "We Now Know" (1997), p.178]
The direct contacts between the Soviet Union and the Árbenz Government consisted of one Soviet diplomat working out an exchange of bananas for agricultural machinery, which fell through because neither side had refrigerated ships - and United Fruit was unlikely to help. The only other evidence of contact the CIA found after the operation were two bills to the Guatemalan Communist Party from a Moscow bookstore, totalling $22.95. [
John Lewis Gaddis, "We Now Know" (1997), p.178]
The Árbenz government was convinced a U.S.-sponsored invasion was imminent: it had previously released detailed accounts of the CIA's Operation PBFORTUNE (called the White Papers) and perceived US actions at the OAS convention in Caracas that year as a lead-up to intervention. The administration ordered the CIA to sponsor a
coup d'état, code-named Operation PBSUCCESSthat toppled the government. Árbenz resigned on June 27, 1954and was forced to flee, seeking refuge in the Mexican Embassy.
After the coup,
Frank Wisnerorganised an operation called PBHISTORYto secure Árbenz Government documents. PBHISTORY aimed to prove Soviet control of Guatemala and, in so doing, hopefully provide actionable intelligence with regard to other Soviet connections and personnel in Latin America. Wisner sent two teams who, with the help of the Army and Castillo Armas's junta, gathered 150,000 documents. Ronald M. Schneider, an extra-Agency researcher who later examined the PBHISTORY documents, found no traces of Soviet control and substantial evidence that Guatemalan Communists acted alone, without support or guidance from outside the country. [ [http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB4/cia-guatemala5_a.html "Operation PBSUCCESS: The United States and Guatemala, 1952- 1954"] , CIA History Staff document by Nicholas Cullather, 1994. Excerpt. Chapter 4.]
He initially stayed in
Mexico, and then he and his family moved to Switzerland. The Swiss government would not allow him to stay unless he gave up his Guatemalan citizenship. Refusing to do so, Árbenz moved to Paris, and then to Prague. Czechoslovak officials were uncomfortable with his stay, unsure if he would demand the government to repay him for the poor quality of arms that they had sold him in 1954. After only three months, he moved again, this time to Moscow. He tried several times to return to Latin America, and was finally allowed to move to Uruguayin 1957.
In 1960, after the
Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castroasked Árbenz to come to Cuba, which Arbenz readily agreed to. In 1965, his eldest and favorite daughter, a high fashion model, named Arabella, committed suicide, shooting herself in front of her boyfriend, the Matador Jaime Bravo, in Bogotá, Colombia. Árbenz was devastated by her death. He was allowed to return to Mexico to bury his daughter and, eventually, was allowed to stay in Mexico. On January 27, 1971, Árbenz died in his bathroom, either by drowning or scalding due to hot water. The circumstances under which Árbenz died are still suspect.
The son of Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán,
Jacobo Arbenz Villanova, is a Guatemalan politician.
* [http://www.fundacionjoseguillermocarrillo.com/sitio/discurso_jacobo_arbenz.php International Jose Guillermo Carrillo Foundation ]
History of Guatemala
* Stephen Kinzer, Stephen Schlesinger. "Bitter Fruit". 2005 Edition.
David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies
* Piero Gleijeses. "Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States, 1944-54." Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.
* Nicholas Cullather. "Secret History: The CIA's Classified Account of its Operations in Guatemala 1952-54." Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.
* CIA file about Operations against Jacob Arbenz http://www.foia.cia.gov/docs/DOC_0000919960/0000919960_0012.gif
* Richard H. Immerman. "The CIA in Guatemala: The Foreign Policy of Intervention". University of Texas Press, Austin, 1982.
* [http://www.unitedfruit.org/arbenz.htm United Fruit Company - Jacobo Arbenz] (Biography of Jacobo Arbenz by Marcelo Bucheli at the United Fruit Historical Society website)
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