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The Guatemalan Civil War From All Sides

Works Cited


All countries have or will experience it at some time.  It’s an uprising and a breakdown occurring simultaneously.  A country’s people are torn and divided.  This thing which can affect a country so greatly is civil war.  Guatemala experienced a civil war from 1960 to 1996.  The causes of the war vary depending on whose point of view it is analyzed.  The following describes the causes of the Guatemalan civil war as perceived by the Maya, Ladinos, white plantation owners, the United Fruit Company, and The Eisenhower administration.

        From the perspective of the Mayan people of Guatemala, the revolution is greatly fueled by our people taking a stand against the unjust treatment we received from the Ladinos and the United Fruit Company.  They are taking our land, taking our president, and punishing us for organizing groups to rally against them.    When the big corporations came to Guatemala they declared that it was illegal for the Maya to have communal land holdings. The Maya were displaced and forced to move to other areas that had poorer soil and less desirable conditions. President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was a president for the native people.  He took back land from the United Fruit Company and gave divided it out amongst 100,000 Mayan people.  After trying the redistribute all the land that he had taken from the United Fruit Company, President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was ran out of the presidency because the Ladinos, corporations, and the American Government had vested interest in the United Fruit Company.  The Maya want social reforms so they could have an equal chance in the economy and it was said that the focal points for both sides, the Maya and the ladino plantation owners, was agrarian reform.  The Ladinos took Mayan land and forced them into other areas, took away the president that was for the people, and finally when the Maya tried to organize, they received poorer treatment than before.

        The Ladinos make up more than half of the population in Guatemala.  They are mixed with Spanish and Maya.  They want to divide themselves from the Maya culture because they feel superior and look to overpower the Maya by enforcing their political standing, influence, and wealth.  The Ladinos were the Guatemalan army, were trained by the CIA, fighting against the Maya.  The Mayan peasants were tortured and killed by the Ladinos and left to fight for themselves against a strong and well trained army.  The power of the Ladinos in Guatemala grew as they overpowered the Mayan.    They also wanted to rule the economy and because the Maya were the weakest group of the time they were the easiest to break down.  The Ladinos were a cruel and unforgiving group but did what they thought at the time was appropriate being a guerilla group. They beheaded and castrated men, women had their breasts cut off, and anyone who tried to help the Maya were punished or killed.  The literally took all means necessary to gain their power over the Mayan.

The early parts of the century exposed Guatemala to rough times in governmental stability resulting in just as rough times for the white plantation owner.  By the middle of the 1900s, the US became involved, driven by capitalism, and favoring plantations.  US and world trade continued to favor the white plantation owners but caused struggles with rebellions on the rise.  When the Great Depression hit the US, the export dropped nearly 15 million dollars through a 5 year span beginning in 1927.  This severe drop in export diminished the demand for plantation owners to deliver such large quantities of coffee.  This, of course, did not allow the plantation owners to utilize the full potential of the land.  To add to the problems caused by the depression, a succession of liberal presidents were elected in which, while good for the indigenous people of Guatemala, approximately 1.5 million acres of land owned by the large plantation owners was distributed among the Maya.  In 1954, the CIA successfully executed a covert operation and overthrew the currently elected President Arbenz of Guatemala.  Inevitably, the plantation lands were restored to the previous white plantation owners, including the United Fruit Company.  With the land allocated back to the white plantation owners, the Maya were obviously enraged.

        The representatives of the United Fruit Company believe that Guatemala had turned communist. The U.S. state department and United Fruit embarked on a major public relations campaign to convince the American people and the rest of the U.S. government that Guatemala was a Soviet “satellite”.  Ruled by a right-wing dictator who would do anything UFCO wanted, Minor Keith judged Guatemala to have "an ideal investment climate". In Guatemala, United Fruit gained control of virtually all means of transport and communications. United Fruit charged a tariff on every item of freight that moved in and out of the country. For many years, the coffee growers of Guatemala paid very high tariffs and it was reflected in the price of Guatemalan coffee on the world market.  The capital of the United Fruit Company empire was in Guatemala. From here it master-minded its empire and corrupted every level of government and politics in Guatemala.  UFCO had the unconditional support of right-wing dictators who maintained their power by terrorizing the people and arresting prominent citizens who were either killed on the spot or tortured in prison to extract confessions.  The U.S. replaced the freely elected government of Guatemala with another right-wing dictatorship that would again bend to UFCO's will. However, with a right-wing dictatorship back in power, Guatemala was thrown back into the dark ages and the stage was set for the next 30 years of repression and killing.

        The Eisenhower administration believes there was a real danger of communist aggression by the government of Guatemala.  After over throwing the government of General Jorge Ubico, Jacobo Arbenz had infiltrated and taken control of labor unions, the press and radio.  His influence was spreading rapidly with peasant organizations.  The America Republics are opposed to any infiltration of a communist sponsored regime in their mist.  The Guatemalan withdrawal from the organization of Central America States seemed to reinforce the concerns of local governments.  Ambassador to Guatemala, John E. Peuritoy, concluded without doubt, that the country had become a communist puppet regimen, and was a threat to the all of Central America.  The seizure of over 225,000 acres from several companies based in the U.S. without just compensation, including United Fruit Company, was discriminatory, and inflammatory.  It came to the administration’s attention that a huge shipment of arms from the communist block countries was smuggled into Guatemala.  Now the political threat had become a military threat.  This military threat brought the U.S. into the struggle, as the freedom of many stable Central America countries became a risk.      Communist infiltration has become a real threat in our time, one that must be addressed world wide if free countries are to survive.

        War entails the acquisition of power.  With many parties involved, the measures people will take to attain power are questionable at best.  The various groups involved in the Guatemalan civil war each had their own opinion on what was to happen.  This disagreement amongst the parties involved, the Maya, Ladinos, white plantation owners, United Fruit Company, and the Eisenhower administration is what ultimately led to the war.