Welcome to the fifth episode of Safe for Democracy, the podcast about the foreign policy disasters of the United States in the 20th century.
This is the fourth part of a series exploring the violent aftermath of the US-backed coup against Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, which was itself the subject of the first show.
Maybe some photos this time for context?
Up at the top there is General Efraín Ríos Montt, found guilty of genocide, hanging out with Ronald Reagan, who once said that the Guatemalan government had gotten a “bad rap” from the liberal press.
Reagan went on to give the man tens of million dollars in arms.
Here we’ve got what’s basically the letterhead of the EGP, the Ejercito Guerrillero de los Pobres, or the Guerrilla Army of the Poor. Their actual emblem is up at the top left, Che Guevara’s Korda Photograph in high relief with EGP down at the bottom.
It’s not easy to see from college campuses in the US, but actual revolutionaries also revered Ernesto. Especially appropriate since Che participated in the Agrarian Reform in the 1950s, and it was the US coup in 1954 that convinced him that the only way forward against imperial powers like the US was armed revolutionary action.
This is the emblem of the Organización del Pueblo en Armas, or the Organization of the People in Arms. I’m no expert in Guatemalan culture, but if its mythology is anything like Mexico’s, the volcano is a deeply national and deeply indigenous symbol of power and strength.
This is a poster for the National Guatemalan Revolutionary Unity, the organization that bound together the EGP, the FAR, the ORPA, and the PGT under one strategy. The URNG launched its most successful offensive as Ríos Montt was withdrawing government troops towards the cities. The land the revolutionaries claimed would later be “liberated” by Montt’s troops as they carried out a series of massacres aimed at destroying peasant culture (and, failing that, all of the peasants themselves) in the countryside.
Here we’ve got Óscar Humberto Mejía Victores, the unlikely savior. He deposed Rios Montt and ushered in the first real elections in Guatemala in decades.
Here’s Vinicio Cerezo, the guy who followed up on Mejia Victores and consolidated the new Guatemalan democratic process.
This is Juan Jose Gerarí Conedera, the former bishop of Verapaz, the former bishop of El Quiché, and the former bishop of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Guatemala. Gerardí was the Guatemalan counterpart to Bishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador.
Gerardí headed up the Catholic Truth Commission that worked in parallel to the Commission for Historical Clarification and produced its report a year earlier.
I hope you guys aren’t getting too tired of these two maps, and that they’re helping you out if you need them.
And last but never, not ever, least, the bibliography, for anybody who makes it this far down into the aftermath.
“Controlling the Counterinsurgency: Plan De Campaña ‘Victoria 82′” National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book. http://nsarchive.Gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB425/.
“The Guatemalan Military: What the U.S. Files Reveal“ National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book. http://nsarchive.Gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB32/vol2.Html.
“Attacks on Ex-Priests, Liberation Theology Misfire.” The Gazette, April 2, 1986.
“Guatemala Chief Hits Critics in US” 1954. New York Times (1923-Current File), Feb 5, 1954.
“Guatemala’s ‘Plot’ Charges Denounced.” The Washington Post (1923-1954), Jan 31, 1954.
Memory of Silence: The Guatemalan Truth Commission Report, edited by Daniel Rothenberg. New York, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
Amnesty International. 1976. Amnesty International Annual Report 1975-1976. London, UK: Amnesty International Publications.
Booth, John A. “Global Forces and Regime Change: Guatemala in the Central American Context.” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 42 (4): 59-87.
Cullather, Nick and Piero Gleijeses. 1999. Secret History: The CIA’s Classified Account of its Operations in Guatemala, 1952-1954. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
Geyer, Georgie Anne. “U.S. Role Grows in Guatemala Rebel Threat.” The Washington Post, Times Herald, Dec 13, 1966.
Goodsell, James Nelson. “US Steps Up Aid, Concern for Central America Nations.” Safe for Democracy. The Christian Science Monitor, Feb 20, 1980.
Hall, Patricia K. “Military Rule Threatens Guatemala’s Highland Maya Indians.” Cultural Survival Quarterly, Jun 30, 1986.
Houser, Henry P. “Guatemala’s Bishops Change Directions.” 1992. The Christian Century, Jun 17, 1992, 605.
Konefal, Betsy. For Every Indio Who Falls: A History of Maya Activism in Guatemala, 1960-1990. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2010.
Nairn, Allan. “The Guns of Guatemala: The Merciless Mission of Rios Montt’s Army.” The New Republic, Apr 11, 1983.
Novak, Michael. “The Case Against Liberation Theology.” New York Times, Oct 21, 1984.
Scharper, Stephen B. “Explaining Liberation Theology.” New York Times, Dec 2, 1984.
Schelsinger, Stephen and Stephen Kinzer. Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1982.
Schirmer, Jennifer. Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights: The Guatemalan Military Project : A Violence Called Democracy. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.
Schneider, Ronald M. Communism in Guatemala, 1944-1954: With a Foreword by Arthur P. Whitaker. (Pa. Univ. for Policy Research Inst. Ser. no. 7) Safe for Democracy (Praeger Pubns. in Russian Hist. and World Communism no. 80), 1959.
Susan Fitzpatrick Behrens. 2004. “From Symbols of the Sacred to Symbols of Subversion to Simply Obscure: Maryknoll Women Religious in Guatemala, 1953 to 1967*.” The Americas 61 (2): 189.
Tho, Brigadier General Tran Dinh. Pacification. US Army in Vietnam. Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History, 1980.
Aftermath Audio Acknowledgements
Calle 13. “El Aguante”
Candlegravity. “Tomie’s Bubbles”
Casa de la Memoria, Ciudad de Guatemala. “Promocional”
Cheremisinov, Sergey. “Pulsar”
Chomsky, Noam. “The Crimes of US Presidents”
Doctor Turtle. “Thought Soup”
Shaw, Jason. “Running Waters”
Weigl, Philipp. “The Scent of Cedars”
Yates, Pamela. “Interview with Rios Montt”
Zabriskie, Chris. “Cylinder Nine”
And that’s it for this run through of Safe for Democracy and this edition of the notes. If you made it this far, why not go ahead and share it on literally every single one of your social media profiles? You’ve got to have some kind of dedication to be reading the post post post scripts, so what could bugging a few relatives or old college friends hurt. Safe for Democracy this and that, all over the internet.