Observing Our Hermanos de Armas: U.S. Military Attaches in Guatemala, Cuba, and Bolivia, 1950-1964

By Robert O. Kirkland | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE

U. S. Attachés, Guatemala, and the Overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz, 1950-1954

In June 1954 the elected Guatemalan government of President Jacobo Arbenz was overthrown, ushering in forty years of dictatorial and pseudo-democratic government. Both internal and external forces were involved in the overthrow, although different authors attribute more influence to one factor than the other. Authors like Jim Handy attribute the golpe mostly to internal factors. 1 Conversely, U. S. diplomatic historians have tended to emphasize the United States’ role in organizing an invasion under Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas as the driving force behind Arbenz’s fall. Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer, authors of the expose Bitter Fruit, stress that the primary motivation behind Operation PBSUCCESS (the Central Intelligence codename for the operation to overthrow Arbenz) was the desire to protect United Fruit Company (UFCO) investments in Guatemala. 2 Piero Gleijeses, author of Shattered Hope, argues that there was not one “convenient villain” that caused the overthrow of Arbenz. Although the United States was the dominant player, there was also “a complex interplay of imperial hubris, security concerns, and economic interests” that ultimately led to Arbenz’s undoing. 3


HISTORIOGRAPHY AND ATTACHÉ MEASUREMENT CRITERIA

All the above authors concur, however, on the central role the military played in the overthrow of Arbenz. Scholars who have studied the Guatemalan military and its role tend to emphasize several factors within the military that factored into the golpe. Piero Gleijeses, who has written extensively on this era, notes that the military was the strongest institution within the country and was so powerful that it could make or unmake presidents. According to a U. S. State Department intelligence report cited by Gleijeses:

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