Opinion, Siskiyou

Guatemalans at the Border

A few months ago, while watching the news, a segment dealing with the border came on, which seems to be a regular occurrence lately. It was mentioned that large number of asylum seekers are coming from Guatemala and I wondered why, what is going on in Guatemala that would cause so many people to leave their home and head north to the U.S.? So, I sat down in front of my laptop and googled Guatemala. Little did I know I was headed down a deep rabbit hole. 

To better understand how Guatemala got to where it is today, go back to 1954 and the CIA backed coup that removed Guatemala’s democratically elected president, Jacobo Arbenz. He was replaced by a former Guatemalan colonel. Three years later the colonel was murdered by the palace guards, and three years after that a civil war broke out last lasted around 36 years, ending in 1996. 

Gang activity grew, along with drug cartels and sex trafficking. Police and government officials are bribed, resulting in 97% of murders going unsolved. To read some of the details regarding gang activity leaves me feeling these people are living in a nightmare. Girls are kidnaped and forced into prostitution or become sex slaves to gang members. If they resist, they are killed and their bodies, often mutilated, are dumped on the side of the road. To make matters worse, photos of the dead girls are often posted around the town or village, a way of intimidating and creating fear. Girls are also vulnerable to the sex traffickers, where they may be shipped off to western Europe or the U.S. Others may become part of the sex tourism trade, which I wasn’t even aware existed in Guatemala. According to one report, “tourists” come from Europe, Canada and the U.S. and pay to have sex, and sometimes this includes minors. It’s uncomfortable writing about these facts, but I feel it’s important if we want to understand what is driving some people to our border. 

The rabbit hole. 

United Fruit company, UFCO, a Boston based company, owned about a million acres of land in Guatemala and controlled most of the banana business. President Arbenz was purchasing land back from United Fruit and distributing it to mostly indigenous Mayan peasants. One example of how this was happening, there was a plot of land that was valued at a little over $600,000, according to UFCO’s tax reporting. The Arbenz government offered United Fruit that amount, and UFCO said no, the land’s true value was $16 million. That created problems for United Fruit, who weren’t too happy with the changes being made by this democratically elected president. Also, UFCO owned the only railroad, which was used to bring bananas to the loading docks on the Atlantic coast of Guatemala, which UFCO also controlled. United Fruit owned the telephone network and pretty much had grown accustomed to getting their way under the previous dictators. It was easier for UFCO to work with one person, a dictator, as compared to a democratically elected president and an administration. You only had one person to bribe. According to David Talbot, author of “The Devil’s Chessboard” the Guatemalan diplomat representing the U.S., offered President Arbenz $2 million dollars to back off on his land reforms, and Arbenz refused the offer. Then he was threatened physically and Arbenz still refused to cooperate with UFCO. He had sealed his fate at that point. That’s when the plan for the coup was hatched.

This is where the story takes a suspicious, almost sinister turn. After winning the 1952 presidential election, Dwight Eisenhower appointed Allen Dulles as Director of the CIA, and his older brother, John Foster Dulles, as Secretary of State. Both brothers had worked at a large Wall St. law firm that specialized in international law and representing multinational corporations. Allen had been a board member at United Fruit Co. and brother John had represented UFCO as their lawyer. Eisenhower’s personal secretary was married to United Fruit’s PR man. After the coup, Eisenhower’s undersecretary of state was named to United Fruit’s board of directors. All Allen Dulles had to do was tell President Eisenhower that Guatemala was headed towards communism, and Ike was supportive of the coup. This was when the cold war with Russia was ramping up and the Washington consensus was, stop communism at all costs. The problem was, there was no evidence to support the fact that President Arbenz was a communist, so a propaganda plan was hatched to make it appear that Guatemala was turning towards communism and Eisenhower gave Dulles the thumbs up. The coup was successful.

Bottom of the rabbit hole.

I have always believed that the deep state existed, maybe a loosely organized group of rich, powerful people, who were able to influence our government in Washington. David Talbot’s book, “The Devil’s Chessboard,” introduced me to the CFR, the Council on Foreign Relations, founded all the way back in 1921. Its members are executives from large multinational corporations, companies such as Chase Manhattan, GM, Coca-Cola, Oil companies, defense contractors, some politicians (Secretary of State, CIA Director), maybe even some from the media corporations. The following is a quote from “The Devil’s Chessboard”; “When he (Allen Dulles) took extreme action – or “ executive action” in the CIA’s euphemistic parlance for political murder – he did so with the confidence that he was implementing the will of his circle (CFR) – not the will of THE people, but of HIS people.” 

Another quote, page 551; “Dulles was invited to play leadership roles in these organizations (Princeton Board of Trustees, his alma mater, the Council on Foreign Relations and various defense advisory and blue-ribbon committees) because the men who funded them knew that he shared their aggressive views about maintaining America’s wealth and prestige in the world. The men who sat on Dulles’ board of directors, as it were – the men with whom he discussed major decisions, exchanged correspondence, and shared sunny getaways – occupied the very center of American power. Threats to these men’s wealth and stature brought out their lethal impulses. This is when they turned to Dulles, the gentlemanly enforcer with the ice-blue eyes.”

The U.S. has claimed for decades that we support and defend democracy around the world and oppose human rights abuse. The 1954 coup destroyed a young democracy, Arbenz was only Guatemala’s second president, after years and years of being ruled by dictators. Shortly after taking power, the former army colonel started undoing the reforms the two presidents before him had put in place, which led to Guatemalans fighting back, not wanting to give up the progress their country had achieved. They were willing to die to get their country back. Starting with the army colonel being placed in power, the US government started sending financial aid to Guatemala, something like $20 million the first year. This continued for the next three decades, not only money but training, by the CIA, in guerilla warfare. The 1980’s were especially bad for Guatemalans, which was the time of “Scorched Earth”, where soldiers would go into the hills and destroy, mostly indigenous Mayan villages. From a paper I read that was  published in 2020, pregnant women were eviscerated, in public, and sometimes beheaded, women were raped in public. The report I read said survivors had told these stories when they were interviewed. What’s really hard to take is that there were documents released by our government that indicate the State Dept. knew about these atrocities and money continued to be sent to the Guatemalan government. This was the time of the Iran – Contra affair, for those of you old enough to remember that mess. Some know this as the “Silent Holocaust” or the “Guatemalan Genocide”. Guatemalans know it as La Violencia.

I have long thought that our government has subscribed to the philosophy of, “The End Justifies the Means”, especially when it comes to foreign policy. When you open that door and cross through, the question is, how far will you go? Will you approve of something that is unethical, immoral? Illegal? Murder? David Talbot’s book, “The Devil’s Chessboard” answers that question for me. What have been the long-term effects of coups, such as the one in Guatemala? 36 years of civil war. That could not have been good for United Fruit’s bottom line, and turned out to be a tragedy for Guatemala. The CIA has sponsored coups in Iran, Indonesia, a failed coup in Cuba. I could even make the argument that our policies in the middle east created the climate that led to 911, the attack on the Twin Towers. When will the government, the deep state learn that the end doesn’t justify the means, unless you are willing to give up your humanity. You can’t take it with you. 

One Comment

  1. Great and eye opening article. I have a new perspective and a little more compassion for the border situation now. Thanks Jim Perdue

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