Carleton Beals: Arévalo, Guatemala and Kommunism, 1963

Giuseppe Garibaldi set out to free Italy with seven armed men and a mule. At the end of March, 1963, after seven years of exile, formed President of Guatemala Juan José Arévalo returned to his country to free it from dictatorship — without any armed men and without a mule.

Garibaldi had a long bitter struggle to sweep out foreign invaders and petty tyrants. But within twenty-four hours of Arévalo’s arrival to announce his candidacy for the November, 1963, elections, Dictator Miguel Ydígoras was flying into exile in Nicaragua.

Unfortunately the Guatemalan coup in no way represented liberation. Rather it was a further tightening of existing military brutality over a land already long mangled and trampled upon. The gorilla chewing up the little banana kingdom with his tanks and guns is General Enrique Peralta (Ydígoras’ own Minister of War). He is a creature well trained in the United States for such monkey-shines (i.e., how to administer the local police state), and has been provided by our authorities with an over-kill supply of weapons and planes.

The reason for the armed coup is a reductio ad absurdum of the McCarthy mind. Dictator Ydígoras was “too soft on Communism.” Yet Ydígoras had been perhaps the most conspicuous, ranting anti-Communist in the hemisphere. He had been the ideal yes-man for the United States office of colonial affairs which is misnamed the Organization of AMerican States and is largely made up of representatives of the local police states dutifully rubber-stamping Washington orders. Ydígoras had hung by his tail, making grimaces and threats.

Actually there were few Communists in Guatemala; they had been killed, jailed, or exiled. So were the leaders of all other independent parties–all except leaders of a small Catholic Party and Ydígoras’ own little party (which was unable to win an election even though 73 per cent of the voters had been disenfranchised and the polls were presided over by bayonets). All labor, peasant, teacher, and other civic organizations had been destroyed. But he was “soft on Communism.” And so a bigger gorilla now hangs by his tail, making wider grimaces, shouting worse epithets at Communism, and crunching the banana republic in his big teeth.

The real fear, of course, was of Arévalo who, having been the first president to do something for the people since Rufino Barrios a hundred years ago, was bound to be elected right in the teeth of the bayonets. The elections had to be prevented at all costs.

It is precisely with this fraudulent anti-Communism in the Latin American police states that Arévalo’s book deals so competently. Nothing points up the truth of this book better than the seizure of power by Peralta in Guatemala. Those who have read Arévalo’s previous magnificent and fearless book, The Shark and the Sardines (Lyle Stuart, 1961), already know his brilliant style, his uncompromising thought, his hard-hitting turths, always wrapped in the silk of irony and satire. It was one of the few books ever published in this country giving the viewpoints of the Latin American people rather than that of the State Department and its dutiful yes-men rules of South America. Now in Anti-Kommunism in Latin America, Arévalo once more displays his brilliance and insights.

The present volume was first brought to my attention in 1961 in Buenos Aires by one of its Spanish-language publishers, Gregorio Selser. Selser is a fine editor and the author of three excellent books on Nicaragua and Guatemala. The last of this trio is a full-fledged exposé of the 1954 C.I.A.-sponsored invasion to overthrow the government of popularly elected Jacobo Arbenz. Selser pushed Arévalo’s book into my hands almost as soon as I stepped off the plane.

“Read it! Read it!” he told me. “Here is the key to the policies of Washington that are driving us back down the bitter road of militarism.” Not long after this, the tanks rolled into Buenos Aires, in Peru, in Ecuador, in Salvador, in Brazil, as they have now rolled again in Guatemala.

Into the crazy patchwork quilt of words that concern “the noxious flower of Communism”–anti-Communism, anti-anti-Communism, anti-anti-anti-Communism, crypto-Communism, para-Communism, philo-Communism, the Communist conspiracy, fellow-traveler Communists, Trotskyites, Stalinists, Marxists, deviationists, the Red menace, Communist-front organizations, State Department Communists, and so forth– Arévalo introduces two new expressions: “Kommunism” and “anti-Kommunism.” Humorously they correspond to the trend of North American advertisers to substitute “k” for “c,” and are exceedingly useful. One realizes at once that they are utilized to distinguish between real Communism and fake McCarthy Communism. They serve to prick the bubbles of the ridiculous kind of propaganda being put out in Latin America by local dictators and the enormous propaganda machine built up there by U.S> gold and bayonets. They let out some of the poison of the distortions being peddled by the American Information Service.

Arévalo begins with a simple anecdote about the murder of two innocent boys by a Guatemalan military officer, who justifies his crime by calling them “Communists.” He proceeds to a devastating analysis of the operations of the police states of Latin America (that includes nearly all the countries), which are subordinate to Washington’s mandates; and shows how anti-Communism (in reality anti-Kommunism) is used to maintain their nightmare rule and to try to destroy all freedom, all intellectual independence. Much of this mechanism and propaganda is directed from abroad.

He explains why the Catholic church–and he reaffirms his own Catholicism–has taken up the anti-Communist fight. He goes into the age-old philosophy of the Church, the conflicts between its creed and its institutionalized aspects. Its anti-Kommunism has far different aims than that of official U.S. policies and, in spite of its present alliance with official Washington and apparently with Protestantism, its purposes in the matter of control of the state and in education are far different. Dr. Arévalo is caustic indeed toward those high prelates in Latin America who have betrayed their trust and their doctrine to serve the interests of police-state rules, foreign corporations, and foreign embassies rather than their own true followers.

He goes on to the “Geese of the Capitol,” the big Madison Avenue boys who will stage any kind of propaganda for hire, to the big news moguls of our mass magazines and our big periodicals: the Hearsts and Luces. The second-file geese, kept in the pens or away from the main portals, are the lesser journalists who hire out their talents to echo the official party line. He presents an almost terrifying picture of monopoly of the news, of the press, of propaganda corruption, of the betrayal of freedom of the press in both North and South America.

This is a powerful, fearless book that blows away cobwebs and hypocrisies. Behind his exposition there is a deep philosophy, a far-reaching knowledge of history, economics, and sociology– an erudition that ranges over the centuries. It is a book beloved in Latin America and has circulated widely over the continent in many editions in at least three countries– even in countries where it is Verboten. Thanks to Lyle Stuart’s editions in English, we now have a chance to share in this enlightenment and to know our neighbors better.


Juan José Arévalo
Juan José Arévalo

I first met Dr. Arévalo in the National Palace about a year after he took office; a tall, smiling, dignified personage with a curious air almost of boyish eagerness and professorial otherworldliness. He had extraordinary powers of precise logical thought and vivid verbal expression. Already he had brought to his country a new dynamic spirit of enterprise and hope. No longer did soldiers parade every block of the capital with their rifles at the ready. The only ones I saw were in the enormous barracks (the largest edifice in the city) which had been constructed along with similar ones in every hamlet in the country by Dictator Jorge Ubico, with U.S. money.

“Where are the soldiers?” I asked him.

“They are working the haciendas confiscated from the Germans during the war. They already produce their own food. Guatemala is too poor to afford an idle army of soldiers who gamble and get drunk in the barracks and think up depredations against the people.”

Arévalo had stopped the army roundups of Indians, formerly dragged from their homes with ropes around their necks to toil on the haciendas for a few centavos a day, wages mostly pocketed by the army officers. He had established a minimum wage — at first it was thirty-five cents (which was more than twice the prevailing wage even for day laborers in the capital). Later it was raised to over a dollar a day. In this book he tells how he found farm workers in Peten working for four cents a day and how he put an end to it.

Already he had set up schools with instruction for them in their native Maya Quiché and Cachiquel languages. Magazines and newspapers were being issued and radio broadcasts given in their native tongues. And all Indians, for the first time in Guatemala’s history–and they make up two-thirds of the population–were given the right to vote. That right has since been stripped away by the U.S. imposed dictatorships, along with Arévalo’s land reform, his labor reform, his new schools, and his rural clinics. He had started a crash program of housing on every hacienda in the country. That, too, was paralyzed by the C.I.A.-promoted invasion.

Already he was building highways to the coast to free the land from the United Fruit railroad monopoly, which charged more on goods from the ports to the capital than the same goods paid from any place in the world. He was building a new port alongside Puerto Barrios which would be free from United Fruit control, a control of all ports obtained from previous dictatorships. For a half century that monopoly had prevented any other steamship companies of the United States or any other country from setting up regular passenger and freight service for Guatemala.

His reforms were fought tooth and nail by the U.S. Embassy; presently all aid money, so lavishly granted to Dictator Ubico, was cut off. The United Fruit Company established a maritime boycott which cut off nearly all imports, except by way of Salvador and Mexico.

The full, documented story of the aggression against Guatemala has been told in three notable books: by Guillermo Toriello, La Batalla de Guatemala: by Gregorio Selser, El Guatemalazo; and by Luís Cardoza y Aragón, La Revolución Guatemalteca— none of which has appeared in English. The present volume by Arévalo, continent-wide in its scope, explains why the American people have never been told the truth about Guatemala. It will explain which his mere presence in his native country to participate in an election that will not be held brought out the tanks and the gorillas. It explains why the Guatemalan people must not be free, nor those in the other banana kingdoms recently visited by President Kennedy.

— Carleton Beals, “Introduction”, in Juan José Arévalo’s Anti-Kommunism in Latin America: An X-Ray of a Process Leading to a New Colonialism, p. 9-15. Originally published as Anti-Kommunism en América Latina, 1959. 

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