Follow the Soapbox
SPN--Mickey Z.--11/10/2014
“I believe in the greater good.” (Dr. Jorge Chiu)

On November 5, I had the honor of taking part in a fundraiser for Dr. Jorge Chiu. If that name isn’t familiar to you, take 11 minutes and watch this video:


“A scientific method of managing behavior”

The situation depicted in this short video is not the result of some pre-ordained theology, unstoppable force of nature, or any deficiency of those living in that region (as the white supremacist narrative might have us believe).

Guatemala’s descent into Hell came courtesy of some very conscious decisions by a tiny percentage of humans wielding disproportionate power. For example: Edward Bernays.

“Edward Bernays was surely one of the most amazing and influential characters of the twentieth century,” explains John Stauber, co-author of Toxic Sludge is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies, and Public Relations. “He was a nephew of Sigmund Freud and helped to popularize Freudianism in the U.S. Later, he used his relation to Freud to promote himself. And from his uncle’s psychoanalysis techniques, Bernays developed a scientific method of managing behavior, to which he gave the name ‘public relations’.”

Starting with WWI, it was in the service of the war machine that the Vienna-born Bernays helped shape what we call “PR” today and in the process, helped shape the course of nation called Guatemala.

“A gold piece for every banana”

The United Fruit Historical Society website offers an instructive chronology of the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita). The entries include:

1901: The government of Guatemala hires United Fruit Company to manage the country’s national post service.

1904: Guatemalan dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera grants United Fruit a ninety-nine year concession to construct and maintain the country’s main rail line from Guatemala City to Puerto Barrios

1924: The Guatemalan government gives a concession to the United Fruit for all the uncultivated lands in a 100 kilometers territory.

United Fruit’s domination of this Central American nation was challenged when, in a landslide victory, Jacobo Arbenz was freely and fairly elected president of Guatemala in 1951. Wishing to transform his country “from a backward country with a predominantly feudal economy to a modern capitalist state,” Arbenz’ modest reforms and his legalizing of the Communist Party were frowned upon in U.S. business circles.

The Arbenz government became the target of a U.S. public relations campaign headed by none other than Edward Bernays.  “As I anticipated,” the PR pioneer boasted, “public interest in the Caribbean skyrocketed in this country.”

“Bernays believed, and argued to Eisenhower, that fear of communists should be induced and encouraged, because by unleashing irrational fears, it would make Americans loyal to the state and to capitalism,” writes Tim Adams, in the London Observer.

Two years after Arbenz became president, Life magazine featured a piece on his “Red” land reforms, claiming that a nation just “two hours bombing time from the Panama Canal” was “openly and diligently toiling to create a Communist state.”

It matters little that the USSR didn’t even maintain diplomatic relations with Guatemala; the Cold War was in effect. Ever on the lookout for that invaluable pretext, the U.S. business class scored a public relations coup when Arbenz expropriated some unused land controlled by United Fruit Company. His payment offer was predictably deemed inappropriate.

“If they gave a gold piece for every banana,” Secretary of State John Foster Dulles clarified, “the problem would still be Communist infiltration.”

“Articles began appearing in the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, the Atlantic Monthly, Time, Newsweek, the New Leader, and other publications all discussing the growing influence of Guatemala’s Communists,” writes Larry Tye, Bernays’ biographer. “The fact that liberal journals like The Nation were also coming around was especially satisfying to Bernays, who believed that winning the liberals over was essential.”

Bernays’ clandestine efforts led directly to a brutal military coup when the CIA put Operation Success into action. “A legally elected government was overthrown by an invasion force of mercenaries trained by the CIA at military bases in Honduras and Nicaragua and supported by four American fighter planes flown by American pilots,” explains Howard Zinn.

Once in power, Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas—a man who was trained at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas—gave back the land to United Fruit, abolished the tax on interest and dividends to foreign investors, eliminated the secret ballot, and jailed thousands of political critics.

The CIA coup ushered in decades of repression, poverty, and violence—resulting in more than 200,000 deaths.

For the sake of context, I ask you to consider some words from former Guatemalan president Juan Jose Arévalo whose term gave that country a ten-year respite from military rule, during which time he provoked U.S. ire by modeling his government “in many ways after the Roosevelt New Deal.” 

Arévalo stepped down in 1951 to be replaced by his ill-fated successor and kindred spirit, the doomed Arbenz. Here is what Arévalo had to say about the aftermath of a certain world war commonly described as “good”:

“The arms of the Third Reich were broken and conquered … but in the ideological dialogue … the real winner was Hitler.” 

You got a brief glimpse at some of the losers “in the ideological dialogue” in the video above.

Your turn to help…

Wanna help Dr. Jorge Chiu and his team continue and expand their life-saving efforts in Guatemala? Then please watch this video, make a donation here, and share both links far and wide!

Wanna help not only the people of Guatemala but all life on earth? Then please embrace the subversive pleasure of independent thought, share what you learn, and make activism a part of your daily life.


Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on the Web here. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here.



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