John Foster Dulles’ silver tea set in his reconstructed office; Harry Ransom Center, Univ. o Texas at Austin. photo by Jana Birchum United Fruit Co. If any bureaucrat deserved to spend the rest of his life in prison for conflict of interest, it was Dulles. And several of his bureaucratic buddies would have been right there beside him breaking rocks. “Few private companies have ever been as closely interwoven with the United States government as United Fruit was during the mid-1950s,” writes Kinzer. For decades, Dulles had been one of its principal legal counselors. \(At one time Dulles negotiated an agreement with Guatemala that gave United brotherAllen, the CIA Directorhad also done legal work for the company and owned a big block of its stock. So did other top officials at State; one had previously been president of United Fruit. The head of our National Security Council was United Fruit’s former chairman of the board, and the president of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development was a former board member. These fine chaps and their numerous colleagues in our government were, not surprisingly, very upset when between 1944 and 1954, Guatemala entered what would be known as its “democratic spring,” denoting the presidencies of Juan Jose Arevalo andafter the first peaceful transfer of power in Guatemalan historyJacobo Arbenz. What those two did was nothing less than breathtaking. Under Arevalo, the National Assembly was persuaded to establish the first social security system, guarantee the rights of trade unions, fix a 48-hour workweek, and even slap a 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JULY 14, 2006 modest tax on the big landholdersmeaning three American companies: a huge electric monopoly, a rail monopoly, and, of course, United Fruit, which controlled the other two. Arbenz was even bolder. He persuaded the National Assembly to pass the Agrarian Reform Law, which gave the government the power to seize and redistribute uncultivated land on estates larger than 672 acres. United Fruit owned more than 550,000 acres, about one-fifth of the country’s arable land, but cultivated less than 15 percentwhile many thousands of Guatemalans were starving for land. So in 1953, Arbenz’s government seized 234,000 uncultivated acres of United Fruit’s land, for which the government offered in compensation \(one can imagine the vengeful hilarity millionthe value United Fruit had declared each year for tax purposes. That did it. The Dulles gang back in Washington, all “products of the international business world and utterly ignorant of the realities of Guatemalan life, considered the idea of land redistribution to be inherently Marxist,” writes Kinzer. So they began using the same techniques as in Iran, although much more elaborately played outfirst portraying Guatemala as having fallen into the hands of Communists, a falsehood that was supported by the U.S. press, including a series in The New York Times. Dulles even got Francis Cardinal Spellman, the most powerful and most hysterically anti-communist priest in America, to recruit Guatemala’s Catholic clergy to “rise as
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