Think Guatemala 1954, When Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela Springs To Mind
This analysis was prepared by COHA Staff
May 14th, 2007
In 1954, United Fruit, in concert with the CIA, successfully orchestrated the overthrow of Guatemala’s democratically-elected government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, charging that the Central American nation had fallen under communist influence. The demise of Arbenz took time to accomplish, with the fatal draught being a casual concoction of miscommunication, corporate arrogance, misinformation, outright deception, a naïve reform-minded government and arrogance on the part of the Eisenhower administration. Arbenz was neither a communist, nor was his government profoundly sympathetic to extreme leftist ideas as charged at the time by U.S. government officials and media outlets. Upon his election in 1951, Arbenz took office in a country in which 70% of the arable land was controlled by 2.2% of the population – only 12% of which was being cultivated at the time of his overthrow in 1954. Like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, he wanted to reform what was palpably neither a good nor just society.
Case Studies of Guatemala and Venezuela
The parallels between Guatemala in 1954 and present day Venezuela are uncomfortably close, which is cause enough for concern that the U.S. government and its compliant media have predictably taken sides. It was of little surprise therefore that land reform was one of the priorities chosen by the democratically-elected Arbenz just as it has become for President Chavez. Soon after taking office, both reformers similarly instituted wide ranging agricultural reform policies that sought to distribute uncultivated land to thousands of poor, landless peasants. Arbenz’s plan, however modest it initially was in scope, struck a raw nerve with the largest landowning enterprise in Guatemala, the United Fruit Company. The holdings of this agro-industrial giant in the country were 85% uncultivated, therefore facing heavy taxes under extant law. A similar shock faced Venezuelan land holders when their fallow and speculative land parcels were scheduled to be seized by the government, to be redistributed to landless campesinos.
Bananas or Oil, the Process is the Same
Back in the early 1950’s, United Fruit, a major hemispheric banana company with extensive ties to U.S. power brokers both within and outside the government, had consistently undervalued the worth of its land reserves for the purposes of evading heavy property tax obligations. Yet, when Arbenz approached United Fruit with a compensation plan for their land scheduled for expropriation, the company balked at the $3 per acre validation price. In fact, this was the artificially low figure which had been previously designated by the company itself for tax purposes. The Guatemalan government, for its part, claimed that in fact the true assessed value of the land should have been pegged at $75 per acre. The details of this squabble mattered little, because ultimately ‘might made right’, a parable regarding the articulation of U.S. hemispheric policy that Hugo Chavez would be well advised to have on his mind without interruption.
Read full report at Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA)