Preserving Bitter Fruit

Article excerpt

Abstract:

On June 18, 1954, a mercenary force of US-backed Guatemalan exiles invaded Guatemala from a base in Honduras. After Guatemala City was bombed for days by CIA planes manned by US pilots, the populist government of democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz capitulated. CIA favorite Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas was installed as president on July 8. Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala, by Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer, was first published in 1982 and became a seminal work in the studies of modern Latin America and US Cold War policy. An edited transcript of a panel discussion held on May 13, 1999 to commemorate Bitter Fruit, is presented.

Text:

Re-examining US Intervention in Guatemala

On June 18, 1954, a mercenary force of US-backed Guatemalan exiles invaded Guatemala from a base in Honduras. After Guatemala City was bombed for days by CIA planes manned by US pilots, the populist government of democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz capitulated. CIA favorite Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas was days by CM president on July US pilots, the populist government of the Arbenz government had included land-reform programs and labor regulation, which prompted criticism front anti-Communists in the United States and angered US investors including the giant United Fruit Company (UFCo). In Castillo Armas,, bloody attack on left-leaning forces following the invasion, as many as 8,000 peasants--many of them UFCo union organizers and Indian village leaders-were murdered.

Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala, by Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer, was first published in 1982 and became a seminal work in the studies of modern Latin -America and US Cold War policy. The following is an edited transcript of a panel discussion held on May 13, 1999 to commemorate Bitter Fruit, which has been republished by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Harvard University, with distribution by Harvard University Press.

Moderator John Coatsworth, Monroe Gutman Professor of Latin American Affairs and Director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University, co-author Stephen Schlesinger, now director of the World Policy Institute, Richard Nuccio, former senior advisor to the US State Department, and Jennifer Schirmer, author of The Guatemalan Military Project: A Violence Called Democracy came together to discuss the lasting legacy of this classic account of diplomatic history and foreign intervention.

JOHN COATSWORTH:

We are here to celebrate the Harvard edition of a classic book, Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala, by Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer. Its publication in 1982 had a double significance. First, it formed part of a trend in writing about the history of the Cold War in the Western Hemisphere that was critical of the excesses of the anti-Communist crusade waged by the US government. The role of the US government in supporting militarism, the overthrow of democratic regimes, and the suppression of human rights--contrary to the values enshrined in our own Constitution and Declaration of Independence-had finally come under scrutiny. So Bitter Fruit was a crucial development in an already raging debate on the role of the United States in Latin America during the Cold War.

Second, Bitter Fruit also made a fundamental contribution to a new debate that had just erupted over American policy in Central America during the Reagan years, when this country returned to the policies of the "high" Cold War with catastrophic consequences for several Central American republics. During that period, Bitter Fruit was part of the reading list for the new courses that many of us were teaching not just about the history of US Central American relations, but about the return of US policy to the methods and assumptions that produced such bitter fruit in Guatemala in the 1950s. …