Friday, October 21, 2011

Central America Links

Alma Guillermoprieto, always a great-storyteller, returns to El Salvador for the first time in thirty years. Check out her story on In the New Gangland of El Salvador. Here is one of her opening stories.
Is there a monument or a sign marking where the four Americanas were killed during the war?” I ask the driver of the hotel van.
Yes, up in the university, the UCA, where they died.”
No, those were the six Jesuit priests, years later, in San Salvador. I mean the nuns, in 1980, here.”
Oh,” he replies. “I don’t remember.”

El Salvador's Supreme Court (CSJ) ruled in favor of Servipronto. Servipronto took McDonald's to court because it claimed that McDonald's had illegally terminated its franchising agreement in 1996.The Golden Arches is on the hook for $24 million. You can read more background on the case through a few Wikileaks cables here.

The New York Times has coverage on President Colom's apology to the Arbenz family. They underplay the Cold War background of the coup a little too much for my taste. The US was willing to support a socially progressive government in Costa Rica at the same time that the coup in Guatemala happened.

The Costa Rican government and constitution was every bit as progressive as Guatemala. However, the Costa Rican government agreed to the US' request that it repress the communists. In Guatemala, Arbenz's reforms were almost certain to strengthen the small, but well-organized, communist party.

And here are two more links to stories about the life and death of Dean Brackley, SJ who passed away last weekend after a battle with pancreatic cancer. The Ignatian Solidarity Network has several links to Dean's talks and writings. CRISPAZ has reactions to his death as well.


  1. Probably the most significant reason for the difference in the U.S. stance towards Guatemala and Costa Rica was the role of the United Fruit Company, which had close ties with both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, and pushed very hard for the overthrown of Arbenz.

  2. It's not that United Fruit didn't play an important role in Guatemala. Obviously, they did. However, I think some really underestimate the Cold War fears about Guatemala - even if they were mainly misplaced.

    United Fruit was just as involved in Costa Rica. In 1954, the same year as the coup in Guatemala, it agreed to several reforms, including a one hundred percent increase in the amount of taxes it would pay. However, neither United Fruit nor the US were concerned that Figueres was a communist or that the reforms would benefit the communist party as was the case in Guatemala.

    Here are two Time magazine articles from the time talking about "Guatemala's Red-led land reformers." ( and

  3. It may be that United Fruit has much more to lose in Guatemala than in Costa Rica. According to "Bitter Fruit" (Chapter 6) by Schlesinger and Kinzer, Cold War fears about Guatemala were orchestrated by United Fruit, even providing multiple junkets to Guatemala for reporters from the Time as well as Newsweek, NY Times, UPI and others. Having said that, I wonder if too much isn't made of Arbenz as the good guy. Although his land reform policies toward UFC were jutifiable on legal grounds, they were an overreach politically under the circumstances. Evidence strongly suggests that he killed off his only serious opponent for the presidency, Colonel Francisco Arana, in 1949.

  4. Skip through to the 4:30 minute mark and the interview with Jose Manuel Fortuny (

    While it is only one data point, Fortuny even says that the US ambassador was concerned with the communists and didn't care much about the United Fruit issue.

    It's true. Arbenz has been romanticized a bit. He could get his hands dirty. However, he was better than those before him (Ubico) and those after him (take your pick).

    I still I don't think that the US should have moved to overthrow him. However, I'm not so sure that it would have acted as it did if it weren't for the fact that many members of the government thought that he was a communist or that the land reform and upcoming elections were going to strengthen the communists.