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date: 01 October 2023

The CIA in Guatemalalocked

The CIA in Guatemalalocked

  • Stephen M. StreeterStephen M. StreeterHistory, McMaster University


Guatemala first came to the attention of the United States as a security threat after a middle-class revolution in 1944 overthrew a dictator who had long accommodated the United Fruit Company, the largest US foreign investment in the country. The new presidents, Juan José Arévalo (1944–1951) and Jacobo Arbenz (1951–1954), carried out a series of social reforms that upset the Guatemalan oligarchy and the Fruit Company. Arbenz’s Decree 900, which redistributed land from the wealthy to the poor, especially alarmed Washington because of the fear that nearby countries would adopt a similar program, thus endangering US foreign investments in the region. After the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration determined that Guatemala was becoming an intolerable communist threat, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began planning a covert operation to remove Arbenz. Operation PBSUCCESS was modeled on the covert action plan that was used successfully to depose the Iranian government in 1953. After bribing and threatening the Guatemalan military to cooperate, the CIA equipped and trained an exile army in Honduras that invaded Guatemala on June 17, 1954, and forced the resignation of Arbenz within ten days. The coup destabilized Guatemala, leading eventually to a brutal civil war that killed more than two hundred thousand Guatemalans.


  • History of Central America
  • 1945–1991
  • International History
  • Colonialism and Imperialism

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