The Cia and the United Fruits Company (Now Chiquita)

Sometimes history makes me very angry. This is one of these times. In 1954 the CIA launched a coup d’état in Guatemala and deposed the democratically elected president, Jacobo Árbenz. Árbenz had introduced, among others, a land reform to help rural farmers. The coup was most strongly lobbied for by the United Fruits Company (now Chiquita Brands International) who was one of the main targets of that land reform. At the time, the United Fruits Company made an annual profit of $65 million (twice as much as the the revenue of the Guatemalan government) and was the largest landowner in Guatemala. 85% of the land it possessed was not cultivated and idle. The land reform expropriated idle land from large landowners and compensated them for it. This land was then to be given to the poor. The compensation was based on the value that those landowners themselves had reported two years earlier for tax purposes. Of course, the United Fruit Company had grossly under-reported the value of their land to avoid taxes. Unsatisfied with this policy the United Fruit company lobbied the United States government and the CIA to launch a coup against the supposedly ‘communist’ Guatemalan government. Extra bonus: CIA director Allen Dulles was once on the board of directors of the company and his brother John Foster Dulles served as their lawyer. Eventually, Operation PBSUCCESS was carried out and the democratically elected president was replaced by a dictator, Carlos Castillo Armas. Before the coup, Guatemala had begun to become a flourishing country and one of the first democracies in Latin America. After the coup, forty years of bloody civil war ensued in which guerrillas fought against several US-backed authoritarian regimes in Guatemala. In an attempt to counter the bad press that had followed the coup, the US (unsuccessfully) launched Operation PBHISTORY to frame what had happened as a consequence of Soviet interference in the country. United Fruits Company is now Chiqitua Brands International. In recent years the company has been criticized for mistreating workers, abusing its dominant market position, paying terrorist groups (although, to be fair, in order to protect their workers) and questionable environmental practices. Guatemala still suffers from the aftermath of the coup and could have been a very different country indeed.

If you want to read about this in German, click here.

 

 

 

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