Why We Were in Central America
Speaking in the capital of Guatemala on March 10, President Bill Clinton formally apologized for the role the United States had played in that country and, by extension, for our past policies throughout Central America. His exact words were these:
For the United States, it is important that I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong, and that the United States must not repeat that mistake.
The President’s dramatic apology, offered during a tour of four Central American republics, was not the only event this past March that, almost a decade after the guns fell silent in Central America’s civil/international wars, reopened the issue of American involvement in that part of the world. Another was the publication of the report of the Historical Clarification Commission in Guatemala, which investigated repression of native communities (and others) during the country’s long internal war. And still another was the release by the Washington-based National Security Archive of recently declassified documents that also related to U.S. involvement in Guatemala.
The report of the Clarification Commission alone, covering a period from roughly 1954, when a CIA-sponsored coup ousted the government of Jacobo Arbenz, to 1991, when the Guatamalan government signed a peace accord with the guerrilla forces seeking to overthrow it, was enough to curl one’s hair, and was duly hailed in the American and European press as proof positive of Washington’s long-term perfidy. The commission, according to the (London) Guardian, concluded that “the U.S. was responsible for most of the human-rights abuses committed during the 36-year war in which 200,000 people died.” And the Guardian report continued, in a graphic vein:
A 1966 document reveals that U. S. security forces set up a safe house inside the presidential palace in Guatemala City for use by Guatemalan security agents and their U.S. contacts. It became the headquarters for the so-called “dirty war.” Another document reveals security forces arrested 32 people suspected of aiding the guerrillas. A CIA cable a year later identified some of the missing as people on a list of “Guatemalan Communists and terrorists” who were “executed secretly by Guatemalan authorities.” In October 1967, a secret State Department cable said covert Guatemalan security operations included “kidnapping, torture, and summary executions.”. . . The same memo talks of a special commando unit, which carried out “abductions, bombings, street assassinations, and executions of real or alleged Communists.” More than 25 years later, a CIA cable confirmed that civilian villages were targeted because of the [American-backed] army’s belief that their Mayan Indian inhabitants were aiding the guerrillas. “Several villages have been burned to the ground,” the cable tells Washington. [The commission] confirmed that entire communities were massacred. It said children were killed, abducted, forcibly recruited as soldiers, illegally adopted, and sexually abused. Fetuses were cut from their mothers’ wombs and young children were smashed against walls or thrown alive into pits. As late as April 1998 Bishop Juan Gerardi, who coordinated the Catholic Church’s report on atrocities, was brutally murdered.
For its part, the New York Times was not satisfied to restrict the record of U.S.-sponsored atrocities to Guatemala alone. Commenting on President Clinton’s tour in an editorial, the paper recalled an earlier visit by President Ronald Reagan to the region in 1982—the “peak period,” as the Times instructed its readers, in Guatemala’s military genocide of its Indian communities. Just as bad, the paper continued, that period was marked by President Reagan’s incessant “praise of military leaders” in both Guatemala and El Salvador, and by misguided policies that led us to “spen[d] billions in lethal aid to their governments and the Nicaraguan contras.”
The tone of this and similar commentary throughout the world press may help to explain why President Clinton felt obliged to address the matter as he did in the course of his tour. His words of apology cannot be lightly dismissed—even if they issue from a man who, as every American has had occasion to learn, habitually experiences no great difficulty apologizing for acts for which he feels no contrition. In a single sentence, the President of the United States finally said what our homegrown “peace constituency” and its epigones in the media had been dying to hear for decades: that in Central America, if not indeed elsewhere in the world during the cold war, the United States was on the “wrong side” of history.
It will be a long time before this latest exercise in historical revisionism is ever effectively countered by a firm appreciation of the facts, if for no other reason than that most Americans—including, it would seem, President Clinton himself—know precious little about Central America and are not interested in learning more. Nor do they or he seem to have much of a grasp of the history, even the quite recent history, of U.S. policy in each of the six greatly different republics that occupy the isthmus. But let us, in what follows, do what we can.
First, Guatemala. Even without the benefit of the Historical Clarification Commission and the documents recently declassified by the National Security Archive, no serious observer can gloss over the essentially tragic nature of that country’s recent and not so recent past. Central America’s most populous republic, it was in colonial times the seat of the Spanish Captains-General; but for most of the time since its independence in 1821 it has been basically a feudal society, one whose large Indian majority (divided, however, into 60 language groups) has been exploited by cruel, ruthless “white” landowners eagerly assisted by ladino (mixed-race) politicians and military officers.
For most of this century, Guatemala was ruled by dictators, whether civilian or military. One of them, Manuel Estrada Cabrera (1898-1920), the inspiration for El Señor Presidente (1946), a novel by the Nobel laureate Miguel Angel Asturias, was among the first Latin American authoritarians to create his own secret police. He also plundered the treasury, greatly expanded the standing army, and systematically jailed or exiled his opponents. His successor, Jorge Ubico (1931-44), was by some accounts even worse, though he ended debt peonage for the Indians and clamped down on corruption.
My excuse for dipping into this ancient history is that much of the commentary about Guatemala in today’s press suggests, at least by indirection, that the country was a bucolic paradise before (to use the words of an Associated Press report) it was “split” apart by the “American-backed coup [that] put rightists in power in 1954.” The truth is quite to the contrary: Guatemalan society was “split” before, during, and after the regime of the ousted Jacobo Arbenz, who managed to add a few wrinkles of his own to his country’s characteristic pathologies.
More history, not quite so ancient: Arbenz was a young military officer who had participated in Guatemala’s revolution of 1944, an event that not only sent the dictator Ubico into exile but brought to power an entirely new generation of civilian and military leaders. The emblematic figure of that revolution was President Juan Jose Arévalo (1944-50), a somewhat otherworldly intellectual who considered himself a “spiritual socialist.” While not particularly radical, Arévalo was both weak and inept as an administrator, and was inclined to turn a blind eye both to corruption and to Communist infiltration of Guatemala’s labor unions and educational system. Constitutional guarantees were suspended for roughly half the time he was in power.
One of those most disturbed by Arévalo’s performance in office was Colonel Javier Arana, a hero of the revolution of 1944 who was assassinated under mysterious circumstances before the 1950 presidential elections. Though no conclusive evidence has ever linked him to this murder, Jacobo Arbenz was certainly its principal beneficiary, replacing Arana as defense minister and inheriting the latter’s mantle of political succession. Arbenz’s own victory in 1950 was assured by a combination of positive and negative sanctions: government funds were used to bus Indians to polling places, and two prominent opposition candidates were conveniently exiled.
The Arbenz regime was notable for the emergence of the Guatemalan Communist party as its principal prop. In return for the party’s electoral support, the country’s labor federation quickly came under Communist domination, and a confiscatory land-reform law was drafted that affected, among others, the United Fruit Company, the biggest landlord in Guatemala.1 (When the law was declared unconstitutional by the supreme court, Arbenz ordered the removal of its offending members.) As for the opposition, it was kept at bay by the Civil Guard, which—while by no means as brutal as its successors—freely engaged in torture, murder, and intimidation.
By March 1954 Arbenz had unambiguously reaffirmed his support for the Guatemalan Communists, referring to them as the “democratic and progressive forces of the revolution.” Meanwhile, he ordered 2,000 tons of weapons from Eastern Europe to arm a workers’ and peasants’ brigade. It was surely this action—a threat to any standing army—that precipitated his regime’s terminal crisis. While the CIA had organized a small insurrectionary force in neighboring Honduras, and engaged in some very sophisticated political warfare, Arbenz was overthrown not by this small column of men but by his own armed forces at home.
With the advantage of hindsight, one can say that the United States might well have held back from involvement in Guatemala’s domestic political turmoil. For one thing, Arbenz’s primitive and dogmatic economic notions, combined with his disposition to ignore or repress his opposition—plus the vast liability represented by his close alliance with the Communists—might well have led in any case to his overthrow. For another, while the United States did not invent Guatemala’s problems, by intervening in such a dramatic and obvious way, it acquired a kind of indirect responsibility for everything that happened thereafter. For still another, as the late CIA planner Richard Bissell wrote in his memoirs, Reflections of a Cold Warrior (1996), the celerity with which Arbenz was dislodged encouraged the entire national-security establishment in Washington to overestimate the potential of covert warfare. “For many policy-makers outside the CIA,” Bissell recalls, “it “became a quick fix, an easy way to deal with hostile foreign leaders and renegade nation-states.” A short and direct line runs from the overthrow of Arbenz to the Bay of Pigs disaster in 1961.
Still and all, it is not impossible that, left to its own devices, Guatemala might have become the first client-state of the Soviet Union in Latin America. To judge by Arbenz’s trajectory after 1954 as a serial guest of Soviet-style police states in Prague and Havana, he might even have preceded Fidel Castro in convincing the Kremlin to abandon its old habit of assigning Latin America to the U.S. sphere of influence. We will never know. But these were the concerns of the U.S. government and the Central Intelligence Agency at the time, and subsequent events in Cuba only five years later suggest that they were by no means frivolous or irresponsible.
Where Washington can be criticized most harshly is on the score of inattention; having seen the overthrow of Arbenz, it lost all interest in the quality of Guatemala’s government under his successors. Even so, in considering Guatemala after Arbenz it is necessary to parse a very long stretch of time—from 1954 to 1991. First there were the purges under the regime of Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas (1954-60). Next came the development of an armed guerrilla movement with Cuban and Soviet assistance (1960-77). This was followed, thirdly, by a period of U.S. sanctions and an embargo on arms and training (1977-86). Fourth and finally, Guatemala came to be governed by a sequence of elected governments (1986-91).
From the point of view of assessing U.S. complicity, the first and second periods were the worst. But of the two, the first, comprising the immediate post-Arbenz years from 1954 to 1960, seem almost benevolent compared with what came later, characterized more by garden-variety political persecution (leftist politicians and labor leaders forced to flee, leftist intellectuals dismissed from educational posts or other government jobs) than by mass murder. In those years, political conflict was largely centered in Guatemala’s cities, and did not involve the tactical military in a major way.
Things really changed after the Cuban revolution in 1959-60, when Fidel Castro began to export a new form of revolution based on guerrilla warfare in the countryside. As in a number of other countries threatened by Cuban-sponsored insurgencies, the United States now became deeply involved in training the Guatemalan army in counterinsurgency, a skill for which—to say the very least—the latter showed none of the requisite professional skill, patience, or political imagination.
Why did the U.S. not disengage itself at this point? The answer has partly to do with bureaucratic inertia, partly with the incurably optimistic American conviction that foreign armies can be reshaped into our own image and likeness. But the fundamental reason was that the cold war in Latin America was then at its height, with Cuban and Soviet-sponsored guerrilla movements operating by now in a dozen countries. Guatemala, as it happens, was one of the two key targets selected by Castro for subversion—the other was Venezuela—and could not easily be abandoned without important geopolitical consequences.
And the guerrilla challenge in Guatemala was by no means negligible. For much of the 60’s, large parts of the countryside were controlled by the Armed Revolutionary Forces (FAR), which on occasion showed themselves capable of reaching deep into the capital; in 1968, they managed to assassinate the U.S. ambassador.
By the mid-1970’s, this threat had receded to the point where Washington could afford the luxury of casting a skeptical eye on some of its more unsavory allies. Important figures in the Ford administration—most notably, Assistant Secretary of State William D. Rogers, as well as our diplomatic representatives in Guatemala City and at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights—deliberately distanced themselves from the regime. But the decisive change came with the Carter administration. In 1977, the United States for the first time conditioned its military aid to Guatemala on an improved human-rights performance—a policy that (under somewhat different circumstances) was extended well into the second Reagan administration in the mid-1980’s. In other words, from 1977 to 1986, in the third of the four periods under discussion, the United States provided Guatemala with no military assistance, no foreign military sales, and exactly $300,000 in training—and then only in 1985, after the armed forces had agreed to return to their barracks.
The chronology here is crucial. First, it gives the lie to the claim of the New York Times that the Reagan administration transferred “billions in lethal aid” to the Guatemalan government. Second, as the report of the Historical Clarification Commission also establishes, it was precisely when U.S. influence in Guatemala was at its nadir that the vast majority of human-rights violations—the “peak period,” to revert to the Times’s misleading language—occurred in that country. (The article in the Guardian similarly obscures this point by collapsing events that occurred during that period with earlier moments.)
What was really going on? Throughout the long U.S. embargo—an embargo extending well beyond military aid to a proscription on ordinary development assistance—the Guatemalan government, then as usual run by the army, pointedly thumbed its nose at Washington and went its own way. It was able to do so in part because other countries, notably Spain, France, and Italy—even under socialist governments!—eagerly stepped forward to offer the training being denied by the United States.
The ironies here are multiple. By teaching the Guatemalan military just how easy and painless it was to flout Washington, the American embargo strengthened the hand of the most vicious and intransigent officers and their allies in the business community, and removed whatever restraints might have been inhibiting them from fighting the civil war on their own terms and in their own way. To put matters baldly, these people preferred to be liberated from U.S. interference, and during the 1980’s often bragged that, unlike their counterparts in El Salvador, they had not “sold out” to the Yankees. (One of Washington’s major concerns during this period was, in fact, that the example of Guatemala’s “independence” would prove too attractive to the farthest Right in El Salvador and its potential allies in the armed forces.)
To be sure, even when the U.S. was not actively engaged in Guatemala, it continued to maintain an intelligence presence there, as it did in scores of other countries. This explains why so many U.S. government documents utilized by the Historical Clarification Commission could be so exact in their recounting of army atrocities. To the Washington Post’s correspondent, this fact bears a sinister significance: because we knew about these things, presumably we approved of them. But the sad truth is that there was no point in making representations to a military institution over which we had absolutely no leverage.
In retrospect, perhaps a loud and direct denunciation in some public forum—say, the United Nations Human Rights Commission—would have served our own national purposes better. I for one certainly think so. But let no one be deceived: it would not have moved the Guatemalan military one millimeter in the right direction.
Prior to his visit to Guatemala, President Clinton stopped off in El Salvador. In the foreign-policy debates of the 1980’s, this country loomed almost as large in the American consciousness as China. Its civil war, we were repeatedly told by the guardians of the liberal conscience, gave us only two alternatives: entering into peace negotiations with the Marxist guerrillas organized in the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), who had earned the right to rule their country, or abetting certain genocide by the government-sponsored military and death squads—in effect, another Guatemala.
In the event, neither happened. The Reagan administration persisted in supporting an elected civilian government as well as military operations to contain and defeat the insurgency. This policy exacted a considerable human cost, but El Salvador today is blessed by a degree of civic peace and institutional normality unprecedented in its history. It is also experiencing high rates of economic growth. The guerrillas are now in the unicameral National Assembly, where they vote and sit on committees. If this is not a policy success, one wonders what would be.
In light of what has happened in El Salvador since the end of the war, it is especially interesting to recall the debates of the 1980’s. The implicit and sometimes explicit assumption of critics of the Reagan administration—in Congress and the media, in the churches and the human-rights community—was that, in reluctantly taking up arms, the FMLN guerrillas embodied the desires of the repressed majority of the country. Now the dirty little secret can be told, and, to the discomfiture of the critics, it turns out to be just the opposite. The repressed majority of the country wanted a government not of the FMLN but of the nationalist Right, whose emblematic figure was the late Roberto d’Aubuisson, a founder of the ARENA party and shady eminence of the death squads.
So much was this the will of the people of El Salvador that, in 1984, the CIA was forced to rig elections there in order to permit José Napoleon Duarte, a candidate minimally acceptable to U.S. congressional Democrats, to win the presidency; anything else would have led to a vote in Washington cutting off military and economic aid. Similarly, the Reagan administration was forced into uncharacteristic adventures like land reform in order to prove—less to the Salvadoran peasants than to Catholic bishops in the United States—that in opposing Marxism in El Salvador we were not trying simply to shore up the socioeconomic status quo.
Today, although d’Abuisson has long since died, he remains a legendary if politically irrelevant presence in El Salvador, and his party continues to win consecutive presidential elections. Meanwhile, the FMLN, running unimpeded under its own banners, has consistently failed to garner as much as 30 percent of the vote (though it has managed to capture the city hall in San Salvador, the capital, and some provincial mayorships).
This sort of thing takes a lot of explaining away. In the most recent presidential election, which more or less coincided with President Clinton’s visit, the correspondent of the New York Times, forced to report on the eve of voting that the ARENA candidate was running ahead in the polls, tried to minimize the fact by emphasizing how low the turnout rate was expected to be, thus presumably demonstrating the growing political alienation of ordinary Salvadorans. To make the point more directly, the Times reporter conscripted Reverend Jose Maria Tojeira, rector of the Central American University, to say that while “ARENA is more moderate [now] than in d’Aubuisson’s day, . . . it’s in the hands of rich people who don’t favor social change.” The next day, 52 percent of the voters cast their ballots for ARENA’S candidate, a thirty-nine-year-old academic named Francisco Flores. Even with a reduced voter turnout (in fact the turnout ran between 40 and 50 percent of the electorate), there is no way this number can be construed to represent only or even principally “rich people who don’t favor social change.”
After the election, readers of the Times were told hopefully that the “democratic transformation” of El Salvador would have been “even more remarkable if the FMLN . . . had been able to build on previous electoral victories”—that is, in plain English, if it had managed to do better than 29 percent in the presidential race. But if the test of a country’s “democratic transformation” is the specific electoral outcome favored by the Times, then El Salvador, along with dozens of other countries, may never arrive at its destination. In fact, it is the participation of the Front in the electoral process and local government—as opposed to its former preference for terror, kidnapping, and political assassination—that speaks most eloquently to the quality of the country’s “democratic transformation.”
But one must not be too hard on the Times. Even in the most earnest precincts of “progressive” journalism, a few inconvenient facts do manage to creep in at the margins. Thus, in a profile of the president-elect, we were informed that Francisco Flores had decided to enter politics only when the Marxist guerrillas killed his father-in-law, who in the late 1980’s had served as chief of staff to the democratically-elected President Federico Cristiani. In the same article it also emerged that, for his part, the candidate of the FMLN, one Francisco Guardado, had been unable to allay widespread popular apprehensions in El Salvador with regard to the past activities of his movement; in effect, Guardado “could not overcome aversions to a Left remembered in El Salvador as violent and destructive.” Just why the Left should be so remembered in El Salvador was something that readers of the Times were tactfully left to puzzle out on their own.
On his March tour of the area, President Clinton also called at Honduras and Nicaragua. Press coverage of those stops focused mainly on the damage from Hurricane Mitch—the ostensible occasion for Clinton’s visit—as well as on the role of U.S. active and reserve forces in helping stricken inhabitants reconstruct their shattered lives. Still, considering the media’s lurid preoccupation with the seamy details of life under previous right-wing regimes in Guatemala and El Salvador, it might seem curious that no one was interested in revisiting the recent political history of Nicaragua and the role of U.S. policy there. But perhaps it is not so curious after all.
In the late 197G’s, thanks in no small part to the maladroit policies of the Carter administration, Nicaragua, with hardly a pause for breath, went straight from an old-fashioned dictatorship of the Right under the Somoza dynasty to a more “modern” dictatorship of the Marxist-Leninist Left—the Sandinista Front. By the time Ronald Reagan assumed the American presidency in January 1981, the country was flooded with Cuban, Bulgarian, and East German “economists,” political commissars, and specialists in police, intelligence, and military matters, and the regime boasted an army and police force bigger than that of its predecessor by several orders of magnitude. Moderate members of the original anti-Somoza junta had long since been pushed out of power by the Communists, and were living under the threat of mob violence and worse.
None of this, however, fazed liberal Democrats in the U.S. Congress or their allies in the media, who reserved their indignation for the local opponents of the newly-installed Sandinista government, tarring them with the somocista brush. This tactic enjoyed a broad measure of plausibility in 1981 and 1982, when most of the armed Nicaraguan opposition to the Sandinistas was indeed concentrated among former officers of the disbanded National Guard, who were operating from bases in Honduras with the counsel and assistance of officers dispatched from the Argentine military dictatorship (and, it was subsequently revealed, with active assistance from the CIA).
By 1983 and 1984, however, the anti-Sandinista movement had grown into a genuinely popular national cause—far more popular, in fact, than the cause of the Sandinistas themselves had ever been. Yet the anti-Communist partisans (“contras”) who appeared more or less by spontaneous generation in Nicaragua were immediately denounced in this country as “rightists,” and worse. As Robert S. Leiken shows in his forthcoming study of the period, A Picture Held Us Captive: Nicaragua in the American Imagination, no anti-Communist insurgency in history—including the rebel movement in Afghanistan—ever received such negative treatment in the American press, particularly in television news. And as for the U.S. Congress, during the second Reagan administration (1985-89), the near-totality of Democratic effort in Central America was aimed at ending U.S. support for the contras—which is to say, at rescuing the Sandinistas from the consequences of their own tyrannical misrule.
Just why so many Democratic members of Congress were so active in the anti-anti-Sandinista campaign is difficult to say. Few, surely, were sympathetic to Marxism in any form. Many may have felt that, having propped up the Somoza regime for so many years—in fact, American support had been spotty, and by the mid-to-late 70’s had veered from encouragement of Somoza to outright hostility—the United States “owed” it to the Nicaraguan people to give any successor regime the benefit of the doubt. As in the case of El Salvador, there was also an unconscious and quite false assumption that the vast majority of Nicaraguans were leftists of some sort or other. When it came to Nicaragua, many Americans appeared to believe that the test of any authentic and truly representative government was not whether it had been elected by popular vote, or even whether it was good or bad for Nicaraguans, much less whether it was allied with Cuba and the Soviet Union, but rather the degree to which it was anti-American. On that score, at least, the Sandinistas passed with flying colors.
All this would be put to the test in 1990. In that year, the Sandinistas, apparently believing the propaganda of their admirers in the United States and Western Europe, chose to fall into the trap of holding presidential elections. So sure were they of victory that their supporters around the world flooded American embassies with letters demanding that we “respect the results of the Nicaraguan elections.” The outcome—a smashing victory for the anti-Sandinista forces led by Violeta Chamorro over Sandinista President Daniel Ortega—was quite possibly the most devastating ideological defeat the Western intellectual Left has ever experienced.
Clearly, this was not the result we had been asked to “respect.” Nor did the Sandinistas themselves respect it. Once ejected by popular vote, they rushed with indecent haste to “privatize” the vast property holdings they had confiscated after 1979, with themselves as the beneficiaries. But not even this looting expedition—a huge piñata, as it was called—was enough to unmask them once and for all in the eyes of their well-wishers. Immediately after the elections of 1990, former President Jimmy Carter rushed to Violeta Chamorro’s house in the capital city of Managua to urge her, in the name of “national reconciliation,” to retain for the Sandinistas a measure of power in the new government. She graciously, but mistakenly, concurred: until very recently, the Nicaraguan army remained the Sandinista army, and its commander, General Humberto Ortega, was the same man who had commanded it in the 1980’s. The result has been truly lamentable: neither genuine national reconciliation nor, thanks largely to unresolved claims to expropriated property, a serious recovery of Nicaragua’s economy.
Since the United States is in a forgiveness-begging mood these days, one is almost tempted to suggest that former President Carter personally ask the pardon of the Nicaraguan people for his two-decade-long role in bringing about their present plight—first by quickening Somoza’s hopes in the late 1970’s that he could somehow remain in power, then by imposing an arms embargo that made it impossible to persuade the National Guard to eject Somoza when the dictator entered his political death agonies a short time later, finally by rushing back to the country to save the Sandinistas’ bacon (or what was left of it) after they had been roundly defeated at the ballot box. As long as contrition is the new national style, ought we not spread it around?
There are many people today in Washington and elsewhere who sincerely believe that the Soviet Union was never a threat during the cold war, and that, in opposing it, the United States was uselessly wasting time and resources. For such people, there was no danger of Sovietization, much less of Cubanization, in Central America, and U.S. efforts to combat this danger were unjustified if not wholly delusory.
Most Americans, however, did not believe this at the time and do not believe it now. For them, the problem was how best to face the Soviet-Cuban challenge. Without question, in some countries we faced it more deftly, more humanely, and more intelligently than in others. But our success or failure was determined as much by local conditions and the allies we were able to find as it was by our own perspicacity or lack of it. Central America was certainly one of the more morally difficult venues in which to fight the cold war, for the task there was not only to defeat Communists and their allies but to help construct a civic order qualitatively better than anything in the past.
In setting about that latter task, we did not achieve miracles. But no one looking with an unprejudiced eye can deny that the region today is far better off than it has ever been before, and that it is assuredly far better off than it would have been with Marxist guerrillas in power in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. On that score, at least, there is no cause for regret or apology, nor should any be offered.
1 The United Fruit connection has produced a lush undergrowth of mythology, the purpose of which is to establish that U.S. hostility to Arbenz was fueled exclusively by corporate interests. (The most recent installment in the myth-making process was the episode “Our Own Backyard” in the CNN series, Cold War) In fact, as the case of Cuba was to show several years later, Washington was far more frightened by the prospect of Contmunism than by punitive expropriations, which were after all nothing new.