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Geoff Carlsson


(August 1954)

From Socialist Review, Vol. 5 No. 12, August 1954.
Transcribed by Mike Pearn.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The events in Guatemala over the last few weeks must have considerably shaken the faith of that ever-dwindling body of “Socialists” who believe that the United Nations would protect the weak nations from the aggressors.

More than at any time before, the United Nations Organisation has been shown to be completely in the pocket of the Americans, and no one dare move until the Americans give the signal. For without the shadow of a doubt, the overthrow of the elected government of President Arbenz was the work of the American State department, carried out in the interests of American capitalism in general and the United Fruit Company in particular.

Using the well-worn formula of “discovering Communist conspiracies,” coupled with the appeals to keep the American states free and democratic, the agents of Washington went to work to undermine and destroy one of the very few territories of the American continent where a certain amount of freedom and democracy did exist. The regime which has just been overthrown was set up in 1944, and in the following year a new constitution was introduced which had many progressive features, and represented a great advance for the ordinary people of Guatemala. For the first time literate women of eighteen years and over were allowed to vote and hold office. The constitution reaffirmed the principle that no President should immediately succeed himself, and in the event of any attempted transgression the right of the people to rebel was sanctioned. Even the representatives of the National Assembly, who were elected by popular vote for a period of four years, could not be re-elected until a further period of four years had elapsed. In an attempt to forestall the military dictatorships which constantly plague South and central American countries, the Constitution stated that no member of the armed forces could be elected to the National Assembly or be elected President. Trade unions were recognised for the first time and a comprehensive system of social security was outlined in a law passed in October 1946.

Under a Department of Education, a national system of education was maintained from kindergarten through university, and was compulsory for all children between seven and fourteen years. An indication of the seriousness in which education was viewed can be gained by reference to the national budget for 1951–52. The national budget was announced as 60,366,317 quetzal, and out of this sum 7 million (or 12 per cent) was allocated to the Ministry of education. For defence the sum was 5 million quetzal. In the 1954–55 budget of 68 million quetzal, over 10 million quetzal was provided for education, and 6,500,000 for defence. There are very few countries today that could boast of having allocated more money to education than to armaments.

The United Fruit Company

In 1952 an Agrarian Reform Law was passed, under which one-quarter of the land owned by the United Fruit company was confiscated. This land was uncultivated and was expropriated in order to be divided among the landless peasants. Compensation was paid to the ex-owners at the value they themselves had declared previously when they had been assessed for income tax. The United Fruit Company was paid 609,000 quetzal (the amount they had declared when assessed), but alas, the United Fruit Company said they had made a mistake, and in turn claimed 15 million quetzal as the value of the land, nearly 25 times their previous estimate. In all, the Fruit Company had 174 thousand acres of land taken from them, and it was used in a manner that was in keeping with then most urgent needs of the people of Guatemala.

The United Fruit Company, which owns many millions of acres in central and South American Companies also has other assets through which they attempt to control these countries. In Guatemala they even own their own railway system, and, in conjunction with the International Railroads of Central America (US capital), they control the land communications of that country. In a report from the International bank of Reconstruction, freight charges in Guatemala were the highest in the world, and it cost less to send goods across the Atlantic than it did to send them from Puerto Barrios to Guatemala City 200 miles. Incidentally the United Fruit Company also owns the piers and dock installations at Puerto Barrios, and operates the only regular passenger service from the United States to Guatemala. Of course the Fruit Company also has its friends in higher circles. Dr Juan Manuel Galvez, President of Honduras the country from which the attacks were launched, has for many years been the Honduras legal representative of the United Fruit Company. Mr Dulles, the United States Secretary of State, also has an interest in preserving the United Fruit Company, not only in the interests of American capitalism in general, but due to the fact that he is a partner in a law firm which acts as legal advisors to the Company.

Mr Spruille Braden, who was formerly Assistant Secretary of the American Department of Inter-American Affairs, is now the Public Relations Officer for the United Fruit Company. It was on the responsibility of the American Department of Inter-American Affairs that an embargo was placed on aid to Guatemala, and at the same time an increased supply of planes and napalm bombs was sent to Honduras. In March 1953 Mr Spruille Braden declared that suppression “even by force” of the Government of Guatemala “would not constitute an intervention in its internal affairs.” Mr John Foster Dulles, speaking on June 30th, declared that the overthrow of the Arbenz government was a “new and glorious victory.” The facts presented above should be sufficient to cast doubts on the story that was peddled by the national press that the events in Guatemala were purely those constituting civil war, or were just another example of a typical South American revolution.


The UNO demonstrated its complete bankruptcy as a world force interested in preserving freedom and the rights of minorities, by its failure to take action over this destruction of a democratically elected government. Can hypocrisy reach greater heights when one recalls the speech made by the Chairman of the Security Council, Cabot Lodge, on June 18th, the day before the invasion of Guatemala. “I hope I will never see the day when a small country comes to the United Nations and asks for protection, and is greeted with the question, ‘What’s the hurry?’” On June 25th the Security Council ruled the Guatemala question off the agenda.

Of course the Soviet Union did its best to make political capital out of these events, and by the use of the veto managed to keep the matter before the United Nations, instead of its being handed over to the organisation of American States. The fact that the Americans have the majority in the United nations serves them well in their international struggle against the Soviet bloc, it gives them “legal” cover to take whatever action they deem necessary to preserve what is termed “the free world”. Like its predecessor, the League of Nations, the UNO is doomed to failure. Its purpose, that of maintaining peace, freedom, human dignity, outlawing poverty, etc, etc, is an impossible task for capitalist society which, by its very nature creates the forces that drive to war. The society which, in the interests of profit, creates unemployment and poverty; the monstrous system which creates hydrogen bombs and other weapons of mass destruction, cannot solve thee major problems confronting mankind without first destroying the basic reasons for all these problems, namely the capitalist economic system. Any worker who believes that the United Nations would take such steps is living in a dream world. The tiny state of Guatemala held no power whatever in the international arena. It was not a Soviet satellite state, yet because it attempted to improve the standard of living of the ordinary people of that country, it came into conflict with the United Fruit Company, and hence the United States. The United Nations, the handmaiden of the Americans, would do nothing. The execution squads are busy, trade union members go in fear of their lives, the forty-five members of the strike committee of the banana-workers’ union who were involved in a dispute with the United Fruit Company have already paid with their lives. British workers must pay heed to these lessons, which are being taught at the expense of so much bloodshed. To say that it could never happen here is a very dangerous illusion. The German workers experienced it in 1933, the Malayans in 1948, Kenya Africans in 1952, and the East Berlin workers in 1953, and the workers and peasants of Guatemala in 1954.

Wake up, labour! Our voice must be heard. We must oppose with every weapon at our disposal these oppressions being carried out against our class brothers in other countries.

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