The History of USA in Guatemala - Part I

The History of USA in Guatemala - Part I

A state of corruption, political influence, slavery and genocide.

When one thinks of an invasion in Guatemala and Mesoamerica, many immediately point to the Spanish Inquisition, which caused great suffering in our nation. However, this is unfortunately not the only time this country has been invaded. This is a land rich in resources, such as an abundance of valuable metals and very fertile soil, as well as a climate that permits agriculture to thrive all year. This country's wealth is incredible, since it is a megadiverse land, but sadly, some ambitious individuals realized its potential and began to exploit it.

When it comes to invasion, or individuals coming in to exploit our land and people, one of the most influential nations in history that have done this is the United States, whose effect was so powerful that it caused a more than 36-year long civil war. 

The story begins with the rise of the United Fruit Company, a major firm formed in 1899 by Minor C. Keith. This was a corporation that specialized in the trading of fruits from Latin American countries, particularly bananas. Many referred to it as The Octopus because its tentacles extended and influenced all places. Their impact was felt in numerous nations, including Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, and Guatemala. These countries were dubbed the Banana Republics, and this company had their direct effect on their economies and politics. Many refer to this period now as neocolonialism. 

They first arrived in Guatemala in 1904, under the dictatorship of Manuel Estrada Cabrera, who in this same year granted them the right to own the railroad, giving them already enormous influence. Year after year, president after president, the UFCO grew in power in this country, and they enjoyed significant benefits such as complete control over ports and railways, tax exemption, and the authority to hire and treat the workers as they saw appropriate. This corporation grew so strong that it eventually owned 42% of Guatemala's cultivable land, which had previously been owned by the Maya, as well as ports, railways, and the nation’s phone and telegraph system. Actually, 70% of Guatemala's exportations went to the United States. 

The U.S government would have a direct influence and contribution in the election of other dictators in whom they trusted would help the UFCO in gaining more power. In the instance of Jorge Ubico, for example, he was being protected by the U.S. embassy to ensure that he was not murdered or wounded in any way, and therefore became president, under "elections" in which he was the sole candidate. 

Many of these presidents would defend the UFCO at all costs, even killing those who protested against the terrible working conditions that they provided for their employees, as Decree 1816 stated that landowners were legally permitted to use violence and kill their employees if they saw fit. Conveniently, other laws stated that those who did not own land, like the Maya whose land had been stolen yet again, would be forced to work for free on UFCO and other plantations for 100 days out of the year.

It is crucial to understand why the U.S. government was so concerned for the well-being of the UFCO in Latin American countries. The United Fruit Company had a close relationship with the Eisenhower administration. The corporation was represented by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his New York law firm, Sullivan and Cromwell. Allen Dulles, the brother of John Foster Dulles and the head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was on the UFCO Board of Trustees and owned shares in the corporation. The company's head public relations officer, Ed Whitman, was married to Ann Whitman, President Eisenhower's private secretary. President Eisenhower himself had shares in this corporation. 

Also, The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, New York Herald Tribune, and New Leader, among other reputable North American newspapers and sources, printed pieces that pleased the company. 

After years of living in poverty, where slavery was disguised as law, and mass murder of workers was permitted with no legal repercussions, people became tired and began a revolution on October 20, 1944, forcing the resignation of Jorge Ubico. This resulted in what many consider to be the first elections, in which Dr. Juan Jose Arevalo was elected president, who built over 6,000 schools, established governmental health security for workers, and enacted clear labor laws that required these large corporations to have their workers work 8-hour shifts and pay a minimum wage. Under his presidency, Arevalo faced 30 attempts at coup d'etats from these powerful people who were not happy about the new laws. 

Following Arevalo came Jacobo Arbenz, another president whose primary objective was the well-being of Guatemalans. He did, however, do something that the UFCO did not approve of. Under Decree 900, he intended to allocate undeveloped and unused lands held by wealthy property owners, such as UFCO (which owned 42% of the land), to landless farmers, who made up 90% of the population. The United States regarded this as communism and overthrew him, replacing him with governments that supported them again.

All of this polarized the Guatemalan people, as the U.S. exerted direct influence over them, convincing them that Arbez was a communist. They achieved this by, for example, the CIA's development of "Liberation Radio," which broadcasted for two months, convincing people that the Arbenz rule was communist and brainwashing them into fear. 

These events eventually led to a 36-year long civil war, which has been recognized as genocide since the 1980s. This was a conflict between the M-13 guerilla organization and the Guatemalan military. 200,000 people were killed during this conflict and more than 200,000 indigenous people had to flee to Mexico. It is now known that the United States government provided military weaponry and methods, as well as training and assistance, to the Guatemalan military. They would also fly aircraft above the city and distribute propaganda pamphlets.

During this time, mass murder would occur in Guatemala's interior, violence and cruelty would be employed, and women would be raped by both the guerrilla and the military. People were labeled communists at the time and tortured for months. This conflict didn't conclude until 1996. 

Nowadays, there are many individuals who are still regarded as disappeared, and many people of this country have no idea what happened to their family members, or they have been discovered in mass graves. 

It is important to note that The United Fruit Company still exists today under their new name of Chiquita Brands International Inc., and they still work on Guatemalan lands.

It is absolutely heartbreaking to witness how the ambition of a few powerful people has once again resulted in the suffering of the people of this country, who have been exploited and murdered simply because they were born in a nation with abundant resources. Let us learn from our past in order to change the course of history; let us now sow the seeds for the future we desire, full of love, empathy, and care for others.


United Fruit Company - Wikipedia

Guatemalan_Coup_student:RS01.pdf (

La radio de los mil tiempos: Radio Liberación | RTVE Play


La United Fruit Company su historia en Guatemala - Mundo Chapín (

Video resources from Ronaldo Robles on

Picture obtained from:

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