I meet Jorge Fuentes, Guatemalan congressman, Central American Parliament member, preacher and businessman at the home of Carmen Aida de Fernandez. I had been to the home earlier in the week, where I was invited for Sunday lunch, after I watched her sons and daughter run in the Guatemala City marathon.
Fuentes is dressed in a business suit, and speaks with an energetic, sometimes boisterous style. The voice of an evangelical preacher, which he is. Faith healer, too.
After opening pleasantries and a description of the project, we discuss the Main Event: the 1954 overthrow of democratically elected Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz.
Carmen acts as translator, but, in his enthusiasm, Fuentes frequently makes his points in English or performs his own translation. He uses his whole body when he speaks, often waving his arms or slamming things for dramatic effect. He begins with a provocative statement.
“The conditions of the time of Jacobo Arbenz are the same now. I understand that the North American government is the leader of the world. The world needs a leader. It”s a good leader. It has a philosophy of human rights. But the people in the CIA, the State Department, the embassies, their history with countries is not good. Because they partner with military governments and economic interests, so they put aside the interests of the people, as those interests have no value to them.
“Let”s say I am a dominant businessman in Guatemala and I have a problem with the president. And the President has ideas about social issues.” Fuentes knocks over the napkin holder with a wave of his right hand. “People? Bullshit. I will say, “The president is a bad man, a criminal, a communist.” I will talk to the army and give the cue. “Cut him down, he”s a communist.””
Does that still happen today?
“Yes, in Honduras, in many places. I could tell you some stories. OK, we are friends…”
Jorge reaches to hit the napkin holder again for effect. Carmen Aida objects, grabbing the holder, laughing, “I bought this in Chile!” I put my hand over my glass. “Just leave the water, Jorge.” We laugh, then he continues.
“An American comes and says I want to buy this company at x price. Then he eliminates the president if is not willing to give it to him. This is a real story, a real man, a friend, at 14 years old we went to school together. He had a lot of money. From Nicaragua, from the dictator Anastasio Somoza.”
He takes off his coat and tie.
“These names are in Serrano”s book, the second book. The second best seller in Guatemala. Jacobo Arbenz, he was fighting with commercial interests and they declared he was many things, including communist.”
Was he a communist? And if not, why was he called a communist?
“He took some ideas about redistribution of property. Let me tell you something. I am a businessman and a politician. My family, for many generations, has been in politics. I am trying to give you a bigger vision and Big broken hard drive data recovery is the latest trend to emerge because of these factors. with that vision you can change the names and times, and you will find exactly the same in all of Latin America. This originates in the colonies and the colonies had a certain structure.”
He asks for paper and I give him my notebook. He grabs my red ballpoint pen and furiously draws a diagram.
“The Catholic Church. The government. The economic leaders. The military. That is what you see in every town. If you go to any Central Park, you see this.
“This is the colonial structure. And there are tunnels at that time. The presidential house, the residence of the cardinal.”
I interrupt, “Was this institutional structure inherited from Spain, this close relationship between the military and government?”
He takes my pen again.
“Please keep it,” I laugh. “I bought a package on the bus for twenty five cents. They”re not very good.”
“They make an understanding between the military, the church, and the government. The church is looking out for the people, but the people do not have the power. The political sector is relegated, because the military sector commands the government, and the church looks to both the people and the political elites. The rich families have a good relationship with the cardinal. He is invited to the family parties. And the cardinal says, please give me money for my purse. A little check! His dignity, values, righteousness, everything is affected.”
I say, “And I would think, Jorge, that there would be a theological structure put forward by the cardinal to suggest to the masses that this system is the will of God. Even in Arbenz” times, there was a religious component to anti-communism. Godless, atheistic communism.”
Jorge answers, “I am Christian, and I am a preacher. I am full of the Holy Spirit. I pray for people to be healed. I love my Lord, He is the first place in my heart.
“The Catholic Church was the only church by law in many Latin American countries. We had a university founded years before the U.S. People, Creole people, began to think and to protest. President Rufino Barrios put out all the nuns and priests, throws them out of Guatemala. He put out the properties of the church. The church had too many properties, got too rich. He was a reformer.”
“That”s pretty strong.”
Fuentes: “At this moment, there is a revolution and they proclaim freedom of religion. Many countries did not have that. Guatemala started this. Then the church returns to Guatemala but they come like a dog with their tail between their legs. They lost their money, their power, their influence.”
“What did the powerful Catholic families think about this?”
Fuentes shrugged. “There was a revolution, obviously, and it affected the politicians and the military. Then the power increased in this triangle (economic, military, religious elites). The political sector came to have very little power. The economic sector put the military officers in the government. We had this for many years.”
“Guatemala was not a banana country. It has rich land. United Fruit had a strong position. But not as powerful as in banana countries like Honduras.”
I ask, “But Arbenz wanted agrarian reform and wanted to buy unused land from the company at the (undervalued) price that United Fruit paid as valuation for taxes. And United Fruit went to Washington and asked for an intervention. Weren”t they a significant factor?”
“Nah. United Fruit promoted another level of agriculture. They gave good salaries and promoted people. Nobody paid the salaries like the Americans, in any area that you looked. Communism, this is a phantom, a fantasy. Not real.”
“Fantasy? I think the Americans were legitimately concerned about communism in 1954.”
“Well. Let me explain something. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were living here in Guatemala. They were promoting a liberation army. The initial guerrillas were military men who they saw that the officers were subservient to the economic sector.
“In my personal opinion, the business sector of the U.S. was responsible for Castro. Cuba was the destination for cheap casinos, liquor, for tourists from the U.S. The military from the U.S. betrayed the Cuban military. The U.S. sent the military to rescue the soldiers in Cuba. The military then received a contrary order. The government wanted to have a crisis in Cuba because the tourism industry in the U.S. wanted to hurt Cuba.
“I came to Christianity with a Cuban pastor named Victor Toranzo, who was one of the two ministers who supported Castro and the revolution. The original revolution used the imagery of the Virgin Mary and the cross and the bible, because it was about the rescue of morality, of the economy and of the liberty of Cuba. Because the North American interests and investors and tourism turned Cuba into a cabaret. They said, we need to be free of these influences, their money, their boot on our neck.”
“What happened when Cuba became communist?”
“When Castro doesn”t receive support from the U.S., the Russians come to help him and he shakes their hand.”
“Was he Marxist before that?”
“No no no no no. He has Marxist ideas, these ideas were the moda, the fashion of these times. The modern thinking was liberty, socialism… everybody, all young people were talking about that. Everybody. The anti-communist leader of Guatemala, he was at one time working in these social movements. I was a deputy with him in the Central American parliament. The revolution of Castro was a revolution of freedom from the influence of the United States.”
Part two of the interview, on the emergence of narco trafficking and it”s effect on Guatemala, will be posted soon, along with an interview in Panama with Fuentes uncle and former president Jorge Serrano.