Today is the anniversary of the CIA’s first Latin American coup: the 1954 coup in Guatemala that overthrew the democratically elected left-leaning president Jacobo Árbenz and replaced it with a brutal 40-year US-backed military dictatorship that would oversee the torture and mass murder of hundreds of thousands of people, mostly leftists, as well as the genocide of Guatemala’s Indigenous people, the Maya.

When Árbenz took office, he had proposed land reforms that would redistribute undeveloped lands to landless people, which was considered a threat to the interests of the powerful US-based United Fruit Company. Despite his moderate leftist policies, he was labelled a communist by Washington and the US company lobbied for his removal. Unable to force the changes diplomatically, the US government planned and funded an invasion through the CIA and local military agents.

On June 18, 1954, planes dropped leaflets demanding that Árbenz resign immediately or various sites would be bombed. That same afternoon, the planes returned to machine-gun houses, drop bombs and strafe the National Palace. The CIA offered payments to army officers to surrender their troops. Army commander Castillo Armas persuaded Guatemalan military officers to force Arbenz to resign and replaced him.

United Fruit Company was given all of its land back and fruit worker unions were banned. The terror carried out under the dictatorship would continue for 40+ years.

A young Che Guevara, who was there at the time, saw activists who he was organizing with murdered, in hiding or exile and concluded from it that you can not just peacefully build “democratic socialism” in the backyard of the US and took those lessons as he participated in the Cuban Revolution.

Mexican painter Diego Rivera tells the story of the coup in his painting “Gloriosa Victoria”. Castillo Armas greets the US secretary of state, who holds a bomb with the face of US president Eisenhower, surrounded by people who were murdered in the coup. To his left is the US ambassador with military officers and the CIA director. On the right, the archbishop of Guatemala who blesses the act, while Guatemalans protest and suffer.

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