Guatemala: A Rotten Apple

In 1944, a popular revolution in Guatemala overthrew the US-backed dictator, a vicious tyrant named Jorge Ubico. Out of the revolution came Guatemala’s first democratic election, won by Juan José Arévalo. The new leader, Arévalo, established a liberal, capitalist society, basically modelled on Roosevelt’s New Deal. He implemented a minimum wage law, increased educational funding and introduced near-universal suffrage.

Six years later, in 1950, Arévalo’s defence minister Jacobo Árbenz was elected President. Árbenz continued the social reforms and granted land to peasants who were victims of debt slavery before Arévalo. Together, the two post-Revolution leaders had brought about the most democratic government Guatemala had ever had. All was relatively good, it seemed. But policy makers in the US were not happy. Despite the policies born out of the Revolution being moderate and, despite the fact that only four out of fifty seats in Congress were held by communists, the US government saw the new society as exactly that – communist. Why? Because of the United Fruit Company.

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