Better Late than Never, I Suppose…

Fifty-seven years after a U.S.-supported military coup overthrew democratically elected Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz, the government of Guatemala has finally apologized. The 1954 coup took place after Arbenz, who sought to use the recently-restored democratic process in Guatemala to address the inequalities in Guatemalan society, nationalized lands that the United Fruit Company owned but was not using. Arbenz’s hope was that the lands could be provided to the landless poor so that they could support themselves. In response, in true Cold-War style, U.S. secretary of state John Foster Dulles and his brother Alan Dulles, who headed the CIA, supported a coup to remove Arbenz, declaring him a “threat” to democracy; unsurprisingly, Alan Dulles was also a former member of the Board of Directors for United Fruit Company. While the U.S. hoped the move would “restore democracy,” the 1954 coup sent Guatemala into a spiral of violence and civil war that would last through the 1980s and leading to the murder of hundreds of thousands of people, including entire indigenous villages who had nothing to do with the fighting. The apology to Arbenz in 2011 can’t undo any of that, but at least the government finally offered a formal apology to the dead president, even if it is merely symbolic at this point.

…UPDATE [CS]: Lillie perfectly summarizes another reason why the apology still matters: “A ‘sorry’ in itself is not justice. However, I always like to note these steps taken and I find the public engagement with memory issues interesting – even further afield, if you think of examples like the NY Times.”

About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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