The Coup

The Coup

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Hey, welcome to the first full episode of Safe for Democracy.  We’re going to be looking at Guatemala from 1930 or so until 1954, in the lead-up to the coup against President Jacobo Arbenz in the June of that year.

What comes after we’ll tackle in the next episode, which should come out sometime next week, if all goes well.

Here below are some sources and maps for anybody who wants help with the geography I’ll be talking about, but if you don’t need or don’t want that, go ahead and listen.

By the way, the cover image up there is La Gloriosa Victoria, a mural currently residing in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. Diego Rivera painted it about the events of this very episode. That’s Allen Dulles on the left shaking hands with Carlos Castillo Armas on the right, and it’s Eisenhower’s face on the bomb. The children are, of course, nameless Guatemalans.

Enjoy the show.



Excerpted from Nick Cullather's The Secret History
Excerpted from Nick Cullather’s The Secret History

Here we’ve got the plans for Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas’s ground forces at the outset of the invasion. See how even though he only had a few groups of men, he could preoccupy a large proportion of Guatemala’s small army by spreading them out over the long, forested border.


Here's another much larger, much more detailed map for reference. Click to see it full size.
Here’s another much larger, much more detailed map for reference. Click to see it full size.


And for anybody who needs it

Here’s a bibliography

“Guatemala Chief Hits Critics in U.S.”  New York Times (1923-Current File), Feb 5, 1954.

“Guatemala’s ‘Plot’ Charges Denounced.”  The Washington Post (1923-1954), Jan 31, 1954.

“President Arbenz of Guatemala Quits.”  Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Jun 28, 1954.

Arbenz, Jacobo. 1954. Resignation Speech. PaysDesVolcans. (Youtube).

Cullather, Nick and Piero Gleijeses. Secret History: The CIA’s Classified Account of its Operations in Guatemala, 1952-1954. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1999

McCann, Thomas and Scammel, Henry. An American Company: The Tragedy of United Fruit. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 1976.

Rivera, Diego. “La Gloriosa Victoria”.

Roettinger, Philip C. 1986. “The Company, then and Now.” The Progressive, July, 1986, 50.

Rothenberg, Daniel, ed, Memory of Silence: The Guatemalan Truth Commission Report. New York, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Schelsinger, Stephen and Stephen Kinzer.  Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1982.

Schneider, Ronald M. 1959. Communism in Guatemala, 1944-1954. (Pa. Univ. for Policy Research Inst. Ser. no. 7) (Praeger Publications in Russian History and World Communism no. 80).

Simons, Marlise. “Guatemala: The Coming Danger.” Foreign Policy 43 (1981) : 93-103.


5 thoughts on “The Coup”

  1. I very much enjoyed your first episode and thank you for it. A lot of work and thought went into that. I’ve always heard references to things like CIA coups in places like Guatemala, Iran, etc., to the United Fruit Company, so it was nice to hear the actual history. I’m subscribed and look forward to the next episode. It’s nice to have that Diego Rivera mural have some meaning now, too.

  2. As soon as you mentioned “Bitter Fruit” I realized this would be a regurgitation of the left wing narrative, and I didn’t listen to more than 6 minutes of your podcast. Sorry, but I’m a busy man. I have lived in Guatemala for the past 10 years, and at one point read quite a bit, mostly in Spanish, on Guatemalan history. I summarized that research in The Dark Side 1 ( Far from being democratically elected, Arbenz murdered his chief competitor, and became a typical Latin American caudillo, later sanctifying his position with an election under his control. The previous president, Arevalo, had been a modernizer, until Arbenz began a Leninist takeover of the country, using labor unions as his strong arm boys. I don’t really expect you to take time out from your busy schedule to read what I’ve wrote, but you should realize that there are conservatives, as well as liberals in this world, and not all of us are illiterate. As a teaser, let me say that the Dark Side 1 (only 10 pages) also proposes that US Special Forces trained the Guatemalan Army in counter insurgency warfare, which at the same time taught them insurgency warfare, and some of those officers went on to become insurgent leaders in the armed conflict. I’m not really expecting a response from you, but if any of this interests you, drop me an e-mail and I’ll give you some sitations and references.

    1. Hey Brian,

      So, if you’d listened to more than six minutes, you’d realize that the other pillar of the first episode is Nick Cullather’s CIA history, the one drawn directly from the Agency’s archive (and, surprise, the liberal narrative is also the CIA’s narrative, because it’s the only real narrative that exists).

      Likewise, I note that Arana was murdered by Arbenz/Arevalo supporters but I also don’t forget that he was himself planning a coup and that Arevalo considered his interference in the government too onerous to support.

      Likewise, literally every time somebody mentions a Marxist/Leninist “takeover” of a government in Latin America before the inevitable American intervention, it’s a fever dream. The PGT had no contact with the Comintern, and the only interest the USSR had in Guatemala was bananas, and that deal fell through.

      And yes, both Yon Sosa and Turcios Lima were trained either in the Panama Canal Zone or Fort Benning in Georgia before they started up the guerrilla in Guatemala, which is in the first six minutes of the second episode.

      Finally, the most important thing is that Arbenz was democratically elected. And rather than respecting the form of that election, whatever Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers’ paranoiac thoughts were about his support from the PGT (and indeed in the way that successive US regimes supported much less democratic, brutally authoritarian regimes in Guatemala ever afterwards, they used the CIA to throw down his government, which led to thirty solid years of violent repression and guerrilla war.

      1. Well said and thank you. I had dinner with Lt. Colonel Phillip Roettinger about 25 years ago, and have been to Central America 13 times. Also know ex-CIA agent John Stockwell, ex-CIA agent Robert MacMichael, and former US Customs-DEA agent Michael Levine. Had the chance to spend the day with them, hear them speak, then take them out to dinner as part of the CSUF University Lecture Series. Every invasion in our hemisphere since 1917 used the “Marxist-Leninist” excuse regardless of how far fetched. Only a naive child or ideologue would still accept that excuse in today’s better informed world..

        Patrick Young
        US Army Veteran
        Educator, US/World History and US Government

        1. I appreciate the comment, Patrick. The production values pick up pretty quick after this first show, so let me know if you’re still on board after a couple more. And tell your friends!

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