BITTER FRUIT: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala by Stephen & Stephen Kinzer Schlesinger

BITTER FRUIT: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The 1954 CIA overthrow of the allegedly-""Red"" Arbenz government in Guatemala--chiefly, to protect United Fruit Company holdings--was suspect even while it was underway. The unhappy consequences are history: political and economic reform throttled in Guatemala; the US encouraged to try similar operations elsewhere; dictators strengthened and reformers radicalized throughout Latin America. In that sense, Schlesinger and Kinzer have nothing new to say at this date--and their book is neither a sophisticated analysis of Guatemalan developments (they recap events after the mild 1944 revolution and Arevalo's ascension to the presidency under the titles ""A Teacher Takes Power"" and ""An Age of Freedom""), nor is it a trenchant account of covert operations. What they mean as an exposÉ and an indictment reads, in fact, very weakly. But in pulling together information from diverse published sources, in pursuing leads from those sources via the Freedom of Information Act and interviews, they have assembled a picture of massive US involvement and high-handed intervention that would be comic-opera material if its implications weren't so serious. The basic story--of how the CIA found a ""liberator"" in Castillo Armas and, mostly through propaganda, intimidated Arbenz into resigning--stands unaltered. But here we have publicist Edward Bernays' preparatory efforts to spiff up United Fruit's image (especially in the liberal press). We have lobbyist Tommy Corcoran's efforts to prod the Eisenhower administration into action. We have United Fruit's retention, also, of a conservative PR/lobbying outfit (whose head later claimed to have ""discovered"" Castillo Armas). We have adoption of the intricate Haney plan (almost without CIA oversight) and selection of John Peurifoy as US ambassador to ""be a sort of referee declaring Castillo Armas the winner at the coup's end."" We have some telling particulars on the press coverage (Castillo Armas was advised to keep reporters away from his ersatz ""liberators"") and what happened after Arbenz' exit (a new mini-campaign to establish his communist links). And we have Foster Dulles' (unsuccessful) attempt to pressure Castillo Armas into denying diplomatic asylum--a Latin American tradition--to Arbenz supporters. Though the book's superstructure is feeble and its narrative uncompelling, those details do devastatingly add up.

Pub Date: Feb. 26th, 1982
Publisher: Doubleday