154. Editorial Note

In March 1951, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was sworn in as President of Guatemala. A climate of labor unrest and fears of a possible Sovietization of Guatemala soon prompted opposition groups to begin plotting against the Arbenz regime. Prominent among the plotters was an exiled army colonel, Carlos Castillo Armas. Castillo Armas, based in Honduras, had the active support of Nicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza and the United Fruit Company. By early 1952, the CIA, concerned about Arbenz’s growing reliance on left-wing activists, including members of the Communist Party, had made contact with Castillo Armas. Plans for assistance were dropped in October 1952, however, after rumors of U.S. involvement became widespread and Arbenz’s forces began taking preemptive action.

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Guatemala re-emerged as a priority during the Eisenhower administration. On August 12, 1953, the Guatemalans announced their second expropriation of United Fruit Company land. On that same day, the Operations Coordinating Board authorized the CIA to proceed “on a basis of high priority” on the project which was to become PBSUCCESS. Utilizing a $3 million budget, the CIA trained Castillo Armas” men and expanded contacts with Guatemalan army officers in hopes of persuading them to overthrow the government from inside. Fears that Arbenz would form an open alliance with the Communists were reinforced when a Swedish ship carrying Communist-bloc weaponry arrived in Guatemala in May 1954. American officials used this event to reinforce Guatemalan army fears that Arbenz wanted to arm a people’s militia, under party discipline, to nullify the army’s power.

Castillo Armas and his men invaded Guatemala from Honduran territory on June 18, 1954, and were soon engaged in a series of inconclusive battles with larger Guatemalan army formations. Intense American diplomatic and propaganda pressure, as well as airstrikes by World War II era fighters flown by CIA contract pilots, created a sense of confusion and crisis among Arbenz and his regime. Meanwhile, clandestine CIA contacts with the regular army finally persuaded several powerful officers to confront Arbenz, who resigned on June 27, 1954. Over the next few days, American diplomats and intelligence officers helped broker the ticklish negotiations between Castillo Armas and the officers who led the coup. Castillo Armas was eventually installed as President of Guatemala. See Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, Guatemala.