Part Two of my conversation with Guatemalan political veteran Julio Gonzalez. Part One can be read here.
And find out the latest on the Afterparty project here:
“Why do you think, as a seasoned political veteran, that the United States needed to maintain the justification that the action was needed to defend the freedom and security of the Guatemalan people, and keep out communism?”
He considers my question, then responds.
“The first reason was the economic interests they had in Central America. Guatemala was the most important. Shell, all the gas companies, car companies…we only had American cars, Chevrolet, Ford. Also because of the business that they had with the politicians. And because of the wood that they took out of the country. Everything was sold in the United States. After the English left the region, then all the wood went to the United States through Belize.
“You have agricultural products produced with poorly paid laborers. They right now buy a hundred pounds of coffee for a hundred dollars. They sell a cup of coffee in your country at four dollars. You can get fifty cups from one pound. So there would be two hundred dollars revenue for one pound. And then the people with the crops have to pay poor wages to their workers. So the war was between the owners of the land and the workers, because they were not paying good salaries. And, then, anyone who protested was called a communist.”
Gonzalez pauses. “Some people say 250,000 people were killed. I know of 175,000, and from that 6,000 were killed by the guerrillas, and the rest by the Army.
“People were not allowed to organize themselves. They were trying to form unions. The military started killing the students from the national university, San Carlos, the one you were at yesterday, and that’s why the students joined the guerrillas. While they talked about freedom of the press, in one year, nine radio journalists were killed.
“Rios Montt killed 16,000 in one year. That’s why they supported him. He wiped out small villages.”
I mentioned that I talked to someone who said that Rios Montt was innocent, that he had no blood on his hands. The former General and President was convicted last year of genocide and crimes against humanity. His conviction was overturned by a Guatemalan court.
Gonzalez laughed grimly. “Even though he was being judged in Spain. By a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Instead of being in jail, he is at home, but he cannot go out of the country. There is another case involving the killing of 280 adults and kids.”
I ask, “It sounds like there may be two interpretations of the communism issue. One was that the Soviet Union was going to come into our backyard, that there might be another Cuban missile crisis. But you are saying that the real issue regarding communism is the resistance to any changes in the economic environment that would affect profits of domestic and multinational companies.”
I mention that, after a US arms sales embargo to Guatemala, Arbenz bought weapons from communist Czechoslovakia. Gonzales responds, that, when he was a child, all the weapons he saw were made in the U.S.
I ask, “Am I to understand if this is all about money, that all the talk about ideology is bullshit?”
“It is because of the power the U.S. had on all of our countries. When you opened the archives, you could find the history there.”
I respond, “The Freedom of Information Act. Yes, ‘Bitter Fruit’ co-author Stephen Schlesinger forced the United States government to open many of those archives.
“Your father was very close to Arbenz. If it’s not too sensitive to ask, can you tell me about your father and brother? What stories do you remember your father telling you about Arbenz at that time?”
“That Jacobo Arbenz was a righteous person. My father was a loved leader, loved by a lot of people. There are a lot of people that say he was more loved than Jacobo Arbenz. And they were afraid that he was going to be in politics and again in the government. There was a list of politicians at that time and they started killing them. That way, they killed the leaders. My brother joined a strong man, Manuel Colon Marietta, the uncle of the last president, Colon. Manuel Colon Marietta went against the military directly. The military government killed my father and killed Marietta. When Arana was president, a colonel, they say that he killed 25,000 people during his government.”
“When you look today at United States actions in the Middle East, does any of that look familiar to you?”
“It’s the same tactic, but now they are at war for petroleum. It’s not the U.S., but the individual politicians. Because that’s the way they control the world, with oil, and that can take us to a Third World War. But now the countries have atomic bombs. And the one that throws the first one will be followed by others.”
“So the George W. Bush claim that it is freedom and democracy which motivated the US in Iraq is not persuasive to you?”
He laughs heartily.
“Iraqis tell me there is so much oil in Iraq, you can see it seep from the ground.”
“If you were President of the United States, how would you change the way the country behaves on the world stage?”
“They have to defend the position they have as being the most powerful country. In that way, they need to have their people inside our countries. They won two world wars. The Cold War was in order to remove all the leaders that they didn’t want, who were opposing them.”
I ask, “American thinkers like Kagan and Wolfowitz and Kristol say America has a moral obligation to bring freedom to the people of the world. Therefore we need a large military, and we need to be aggressive, with preemptive wars if necessary. What do you think of that idea?”
Gonzalez answers, “Look what they did with Saddam Hussein. They didn’t find any WMD. There is no excuse. They are focused on being the owners of the land. Of the whole world.”
“But I asked YOU if YOU were the President of the U.S., with all the knowledge and wisdom and experience that you have, what would you do differently?”
“In the first place, I’m not American.”
I smiled and exclaimed, “We can change the law! I’m speaking from a moral point of view, obviously.”
Julio smiles. “You can conquer the world with love and not by force.”
I laugh. “That’s a good way to close.”