For the first time in 57 years, the government of Guatemala is issuing an official apology to the family of the former President of the Republic of Guatemala, Colonel Juan Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, for human rights violations by the Guatemalan state.
Arbenz, one of the icons of the revolution of 1944, was ousted from the Presidency of the Republic by a coup led by the CIA, on June 27, 1954, under false accusations of communism. At that time, his family’s property was confiscated illegally and he was deported, along with his family. Arbenz was also publicly humiliated by being forced to strip naked before cameras at the Guatemala airport.
After many decades, a Friendly Settlement Agreement was signed by the State in the case of Guatemala vs. Jacobo Arbenz in May, 2011, and processed by the State of Guatemala and the Commission on Human Rights, a body of the Organization of American States.
In addition to the apology, the Guatemalan government also agreed to revise textbooks in Guatemala to include Arbenz’ positive influence on the country (the so-called Guatemalan Spring). Also, Arbenz’ biography will be rewritten, the national highway he built will be named after him, and a new educational program will be created to train government staff so that they always take into account the needs of farmers and indigenous people, as Arbenz promoted during his tenure.
In 1954, through a secret mission the CIA led an overthrow of President Jacobo Arbenz, a democratically elected leader in Guatemala, based on trumped-up charges of communism. However, the main reason for the American-led coup was that American financial interests had been put at risk.
The Boston-based United Fruit Company (now called Chiquita Banana) owned most of the land in Guatemala by way of a deal with Dictator Jorge Ubico in which he granted the American company land free of taxes for 100 years. Their financial position was threatened by the agrarian reform that Arbenz was introducing that had been approved by the Guatemalan congress. Also, the construction of a highway to the main port of export challenged the American International Railways company, which charged onerous tolls because it was the only way to reach the port. And the construction of the hydroelectric plant Jurun Marinala would have freed Guatemalans from dependency on the US and thus would have broken the monopoly on electricity of Bond and Share, an American-owned company.
The coup orchestrated by the Eisenhower administration and the Dulles brothers at the CIA and State Department (who were on the board of directors for United Fruit Company) forced Arbenz into exile and the U.S. imposed a junta government that imposed terror, repression and silence among its citizens. As a result, for the next 50+ years, there has been more violence and civil bloodshed than most countries have ever seen. More than 200,000 students, workers, professionals, farmers and non-combatants were killed, and more than one million people became refugees.
To date, the U.S. government has never issued an apology to the people of Guatemala or to the Arbenz Family.