Julio Gonzalez Gamarra, Vice President and Deputy of the Parlamento Centroamericano, head of the monetary and finance committee, former president of the Parliament, settles into his seat at the head of the conference table. Carmen Aida, daughter of Cesar, will translate for us.
“Why do you think Arbenz was overthrown?”
Julio is dressed formally, in a brown suit and matching tie. He considers the question, sizing me up. He is a statesman, and a seasoned veteran of both Guatemalan and Central American politics. He measures his words carefully.
Carmen Aida, says, “OK, he is going to tell you.”
“I’m going to tell you first who I am.”
I ask him to tell me if any of the questions are too sensitive, if he would rather not answer.
He answers, “No, for me, it is fine. First, I am going to show you this picture. This is Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, ex-president of Guatemala. And this on the right is Juan Jose Arevalo and this in the center is my father. My father was the second most important person in Guatemala at this time. Humberto Gonzalez Juarez. He started the first radio station in Guatemala. At this moment, we have 65 radio stations. My father started the station that became the large group that exists today. Then, my father was the secretary, at this time the only secretary to the president.
“When I was in the Congress in 1994, we made a resolution saying these men were heroes in Guatemala. My family was exiled and went to Uruguay and Mexico for five years. My father had permission from the next president to return, but with the condition that he not get into politics. In the seventies, they killed my father. In the nineties, they killed my brother. That’s why I started in politics. If somebody knows the real truth, it is me.”
Julio looks again at the picture.
“The United States conducted a coup. And for three reasons.
“One was because of the agrarian land reform. With the land that was unused from the United Fruit Company.
“The only road that we had was the road to the Pacific. And all the Pacific coast was controlled by the United Fruit Company. One of its associates was the Secretary of State under Eisenhower, John Foster Dulles, and his brother was CIA head Allen Dulles.”
“There was an ambassador here, Peurifoy, and he was the contact with Foster Dulles. That’s one reason.
“Second. The railroad. Owned by the same group. United Fruit. When Arbenz was going to build the road to the Atlantic, then people were not going to use the railroad anymore. United Fruit didn’t want the road to the Atlantic built.
“And the third was the hydroelectric dam project. They were in opposition to the project. For the agrarian reform, there were like 25-30 rich families in Guatemala, very strong and allied with U.S capital. The government didn’t touch their land. Only the land that was not being used, which they offered to pay for. That land was to be distributed to 100,000 families.
“There was a group of Guatemalans who were not happy with the U.S. invasion. The U.S. had people in Honduras prepared to attack Guatemala, and they came every night with guns and bombs. The driver of the invasion was Foster Dulles supported by the President of the United States. The Arbenz government provided education with no cost and opened schools in the mountains and all over Guatemala. That was the more aggressive effort, education. But people, and especially the U.S., wanted to continue having slaves.”
I press the issue further. “With respect, the U.S. narrative in 1954 was that the CIA invaded to keep out godless Soviet communism. You’ve not mentioned this as a reason thus far, only economic reasons.”
“Guatemala already had a communist party that never had been in the government. It was very small.
I ask if he heard that Dulles sent a message through Peurifoy to Arbenz that the U.S. wanted no communists in the national life of the country, not the government, not the party.
“We already had a democracy in Guatemala because we had thrown out a dictator that we had for 23 years. Jorge Ubico. When they threw out Ubico, they gave participation to all the sectors. That was in 1945, when they came into the government. The revolution was in October of 1944.”
He gestures, “Definitely. The Army colonels were paid by the United States with ten thousand dollars per month. They were very well paid so they wouldn’t let in any communists.”
Each? (I had heard it was two thousand per month). Ten thousand per month? Yes, he answers. I exclaim, “Very nice!” We laugh.
“That is a secret. But everybody knows it. And they did that in all of Central America. They put a base in Honduras.
“After Arbenz, they went to the Dominican Republic to throw out their president. In Guatemala, the civil war was for thirty-six years. Then they started killing people who didn’t think the same as them. The guerrillas started because a group of young military officers went to the mountains.”
I ask, “So these are not communists, these are military men who were upset at the takeover of their country?”
“Yeah, that’s it. They were patriots who didn’t like what was going on.”
Part Two of the interview will be posted tomorrow.