All I know is that there was no persecution during his government, afterwards people began dying. Yankee imperialism brought him down. -- journalist Mario Sandoval Figueroa
In 1954 a CIA
-backed coup ended Guatemala
's 10-year experimentation with democracy. President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman
was taken to the airport, stripped to his underwear
, and forced to leave the country. Over the next 40 years Guatemala would endure Latin America
's longest civil war
. 100,000 people would die and another 40,000 disappear - mostly peasants killed by right-wing death squad
s or the military.
In 1944 Arbenz helped overthrow dictator Jorge Ubico and Guatemala's brief affair with democracy was begun. In 1950 he was elected President, but his reform efforts -- strengthening labor organizations, reclaiming (with compensation) and redistributing unused land owned by foreigners -- made him an enemy of the United States. And though the CIA was able to oust him, Arbenz became a symbol for Guatemalans struggling for democracy and social justice.
In 1995, when Jacobo Arbenz Guzman finally returned to Guatemala, an estimated 100,000 fervent supporters gave him a patriotic hero's welcome - even though he'd been dead for 24 years. Arbenz had died in exile in Mexico City in 1971.
So, on October 20, 1995 -- the 41st anniversary of Guatemala's 1944 October Revolution -- Arbenz's body was finally laid to rest in his homeland. Guatemalans fought to carry his casket. They sang patriotic songs and chanted, "Jacobo lives, the struggle continues!" And they loudly booed any military presence, not forgetting that the "People's Soldier" had been forced to resign and leave the country clad only in his underwear.
For further information on Jacobo Arbenz Guzman
, Guatemala's political history, and declassified
information on the CIA
's role in the coup, see: