For most of his life, Allen retreated whenever he could to his house on the north shore of Long Island. On the outside it looked much like others nearby. Inside it was dazzlingly distinct. Bright-colored fabrics from Guatemala hung on several walls. A Guatemalan rug lay in front of the fireplace. Delicate Guatemalan figurines decorated the mantelpiece.
Allen had visited Central America during his years at Sullivan & Cromwell, mainly to do legal business for the United Fruit Company. He took Clover, and she fell under the spell of Guatemala’s rich culture. The souvenirs they brought back to Long Island made Guatemala a more vivid physical presence in Allen’s life than any other foreign country.
In the early 1950s, Allen and his brother began to focus on Guatemala as something more than a banana land and a producer of bright-colored handicrafts. In their Cold War cosmology, it became the place where Moscow’s global conspiracy reached closest to American shores, led by a Kremlin puppet masquerading as a nationalist. Drawn to Guatemala by their work for United Fruit, they became arbiters of its fate.
“Some paradox of our nature,” the essayist Lionel Trilling has observed, “leads us, when once we have made our fellow men the objects of our enlightened interest, to go on to make them the objects of our pity, then of our wisdom, ultimately of our coercion.”
The concept “Guatemala” was an invention of Spanish conquerors, diffuse and aspirational. Quite different was the concept “United Fruit.” This company was everything Guatemala wished to be: powerful, independent, skilled at marshaling resources, wise to the ways of the world, and rich enough to provide steady income for all its people. In some countries, governments control and regulate corporations. The opposite was true in Guatemala. United Fruit was the power, Guatemala a subsidiary.
“If the finance minister were to overdraw his account or the archbishop wanted six nuns transported from Germany,” Fortune reported, “if the president’s wife wished her gallstones removed, or the minister’s wife liked fresh celery from New Orleans, or the president wanted three blooded cows served by a blooded bull; if anyone wants almost anything, then United Fruit’s ‘contact man’ is the one who can quickly get it.”
Sporadic use of violence, sometimes backed by the threat of American military intervention, helped keep this Boston-based company profitable for nearly half a century. For most of its existence it was a prized Sullivan & Cromwell client. Both Foster and Allen did legal work for United Fruit, and both reportedly held substantial blocks of United Fruit stock. Sullivan & Cromwell also represented the two affiliated companies through which United Fruit secured its power over Guatemala: American & Foreign Power Company, which owned Empresa Eléctrica de Guatemala, producer of most of Guatemala’s electricity, and International Railways of Central America, which owned its rail network. The J. Henry Schroder Banking Corporation, another longtime Sullivan & Cromwell client, served as financial agent for all three companies.
The one-sided agreements that Sullivan & Cromwell conceived to promote United Fruit’s interests in Latin America were legendary. One of them, signed in 1936 with General Jorge Ubico, the dictator of Guatemala, gave the company rule for ninety-nine years over tracts that comprised one-seventh of the country’s arable land, as well as control of its only port. These contracts were engineered by the lawyer who had more experience than any other American in the exquisite art of squeezing concessions out of weak countries.
“John Foster Dulles, back in the early days when his law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell represented United Fruit, was reputed to be the author of the actual concessions which the firm negotiated on our behalf,” a former United Fruit vice president, Thomas McCann, wrote in his history of the company. “I was told this by Sam G. Baggett, longtime United Fruit general counsel and the man who should have known.”
United Fruit’s long rule in Guatemala began to crumble in 1944, when reformist officers deposed General Ubico. They called an election, and a democratic regime came to power. It adopted a labor code that set minimum wages and limited the workweek to forty-eight hours.
For decades United Fruit had run its plantations as private fiefs. Now a government was asserting its right to penetrate that domain. A United Fruit executive told the New York Times that if this was tolerated, it would certainly lead to “legal and pseudo-legal assaults on foreign enterprises in many places.”
President Truman sympathized with United Fruit’s plight and authorized initial planning for a CIA coup. Secretary of State Acheson, however, was strongly opposed—by one account he believed “no development in Latin America merited risking the international standing of the United States”—and managed to kill the operation. The banana company could only bide its time until events moved in its direction. They finally did, as Thomas McCann recalled.
“Guatemala’s government was the region’s weakest, most corrupt, and most pliable,” he wrote. “Then something went wrong: a man named Jacobo Arbenz became President.”
Arbenz was the son of a Swiss immigrant whose suicide left him without money to pay for college. He entered the military academy, became a brilliant cadet and officer, and in 1944 helped organize the revolution that brought democracy to his country. He served for six years as defense minister, then won the second free election in Guatemalan history.
On March 15, 1951, full of patriotic fervor and just thirty-seven years old, Arbenz stood before a cheering crowd as the presidential sash was draped across his chest. In his inaugural address he committed himself to “three fundamental objectives: to convert our country from a dependent nation with a semi-colonial economy to an economically independent country; to convert Guatemala from a backward country with a predominantly feudal economy into a modern capitalist state; and to make this transformation in a way that will raise the standard of living of the great mass of our people.… Foreign capital will always be welcome as long as it adjusts to local conditions, remains always subordinate to Guatemalan laws, cooperates with the economic development of the country, and strictly abstains from intervening in the nation’s social and political life.”
Short of proclaiming himself a Bolshevik, Arbenz could have said little that would so effectively provoke the wrath of Americans committed to defending transnational capitalism.
After barely a year in office, Arbenz did something that confirmed Washington’s worst fears: he won passage of the first serious land reform law in Central American history. It required large landowners to sell the uncultivated part of their holdings to the government, for distribution to peasant families. United Fruit owned more than half a million acres of the country’s richest land and left 85 percent uncultivated. It took this law as a declaration of war. So did the Dulles brothers, who enjoyed steady income from United Fruit legal fees and stock dividends. They could not strike back against Arbenz, but looked forward to a time when that might change.
The land reform law need not have sealed Arbenz’s fate. It was not even sealed when, five months after it was adopted, American voters elected Dwight Eisenhower to the presidency. But once Eisenhower chose Foster and Allen Dulles to design and carry out his foreign policy, the die was cast. Arbenz became the second monster they went abroad to destroy.
During their first eight months in office, the Dulles brothers were preoccupied with overthrowing Mossadegh. Once they accomplished this, with barely a pause, they set out against the other world leader who had struck heavy blows against Sullivan & Cromwell clients: Arbenz. These were the two heads of government they arrived in office determined to depose. There is no record of them responding to news of Mossadegh’s overthrow with the expression, “One down, one to go,” but that was the essence of their reaction.
“On Friday, September 4, 1953, I reported at the White House,” Kermit Roosevelt wrote at the end of his account of Operation Ajax. “[My report] was, I thought, very well received. One of my audience seemed almost alarmingly enthusiastic. John Foster Dulles was leaning back in his chair. Despite his posture, he was anything but sleepy. His eyes were gleaming; he seemed to be purring like a giant cat. Clearly, he was not only enjoying what he was hearing, but my instinct told me that he was planning as well.… Within weeks I was offered command of a Guatemala operation already in the making.”
Roosevelt declined the offer. That did nothing to slow the Guatemala plot, but something else happened around the same time that might have. The chief justice of the United States, Fred M. Vinson, died of a heart attack, and Eisenhower offered Foster his job “because of my belief that he was one of the few men who could fill the post with distinction.” Rarely has an American been given such an extraordinary choice: continue as secretary of state or become chief justice.
“He eliminated himself instantly and unequivocally,” Eisenhower wrote in his memoir. “He said, in effect, ‘I have been interested since boyhood in the diplomatic and foreign affairs of our nation. I’m highly complimented by the implication that I might be suited to the position of chief justice, but I assure you that my interests lie with the duties of my present post. As long as you are happy with my performance here, I have no interest in any other.’”
Foster’s decision to remain as secretary of state opened the way for the appointment of Earl Warren as chief justice. If he had decided otherwise and left the State Department, Allen would undoubtedly have continued to press the anti-Arbenz project. Whether another secretary of state would have shared his passion for it is an intriguing question for which there can be no answer.
* * *
As Allen plotted, Foster relentlessly warned Americans about the threats they faced from a hostile world. He denounced the Soviet Union, “Red China,” and creeping neutralism. In Europe he rejected every proposal for demilitarization or neutral zones, and worked instead to rearm Germany and strengthen NATO.
Forged in the bazaar of the Paris peace negotiations nearly half a century earlier, where statesmen bartered the fate of nations, and shaped by decades of business diplomacy, Foster accepted the traditional definition of the world that mattered: Europe, the United States, and a couple of East Asian powers. The nationalist passion sweeping through Asia, Africa, and Latin America was foreign to his experience. He considered it threatening but never sought to understand it on its own terms, apart from the Cold War context.
At the end of 1953, Foster accompanied Eisenhower to Bermuda for a summit with Prime Minister Joseph Laniel of France and a strikingly feeble Winston Churchill. The atmosphere was tense. Stalin had been dead for eight months, and the interim Soviet leader, Georgi Malenkov, was sending out peace feelers. Churchill and Laniel proposed another summit to which Malenkov would be invited. Foster was adamantly opposed and blocked the idea.
“This fellow preaches like a Methodist minister,” Churchill complained privately. “His bloody text is always the same: that nothing but evil can come out of a meeting with Malenkov. Dulles is a terrible handicap. Ten years ago I could have dealt with him. Even as it is I have not been defeated by this bastard. I have been humiliated by my own decay.”
From Bermuda, Foster traveled to Europe to press his no-negotiations case, but his visit only deepened the transatlantic divide. He set off a storm of protest in France by warning that if its National Assembly did not ratify a treaty creating a new military alliance with a supranational army, called the European Defense Community, the United States would begin “an agonizing reappraisal” of its commitment to Western Europe. This threat rang immediately false—there was no real prospect of Washington abandoning Europe—but many in France were outraged. In a last-ditch effort to save the treaty, Allen gave one of his salaried informants, a member of the French cabinet, half a million dollars to bribe members of the assembly. It proved insufficient. Fearing that Foster’s militancy might drag Europe back toward war, the assembly rejected the treaty, and the European Defense Community was stillborn.
“Employed to inspire the allies to draw together in the face of the Soviet threat, rhetorical diplomacy actually endangered the unity of the Western alliance,” the State Department historian Chris Tudda concluded years later. “In their zeal to cast European interests as part of their larger scheme to confront the Soviet threat and increase the security of the Free World, Eisenhower and [Foster] Dulles instead weakened European confidence in their ability to provide that security. The European public and press resisted Washington’s efforts to ‘educate’ them, and reacted angrily whenever the United States tried to coax Europe to follow its lead.”
Less than a month after Foster came up with the concept of “agonizing reappraisal,” he unveiled a second trademark phrase: “massive retaliation.” This, he warned in a speech to his old friends at the Council on Foreign Relations, was what the United States was ready to rain down on Moscow in response to a provocation anywhere in the world. It too sounded like an empty threat, since no one believed the United States would launch nuclear war over a border skirmish somewhere. It was also an imprecise transcription of Foster’s words, since his actual threat was “massive retaliatory power.” The same thing happened to the third phrase with which he is permanently associated: the “rollback” of Communism. He preferred to call his encouragement of anti-Communist revolt a “liberation policy.” In any case it too was rhetorical, as his failure to support rebelling workers in East Berlin had shown. All three of the concepts that Americans associated most directly with Foster—rollback, the agonizing reappraisal, and massive retaliation—were devoid of serious meaning. During his years in power, the United States never actively sought the “liberation” of nations under Communist rule, never considered a “reappraisal” of support for Western Europe, and was never prepared to use nuclear weapons in response to a local proxy war.
Foster recognized the gap between his rhetoric and the reality of American foreign policy. It did not trouble him, because he believed that portraying the Soviets as unrelentingly evil was a way of sharpening people’s fear and thereby promoting readiness and national unity. Eisenhower agreed. In public, both men insisted that they were open to the possibility of accords with the Soviet Union, but in fact they believed any substantial agreement was impossible. Foster told the National Security Council that disarmament negotiations were an “operation in public relations.” Eisenhower encouraged the secretary of state to come up with proposals that would have “some real appeal, both to our own people and the people of the world,” but they agreed that these should not be truly new departures—only old proposals in “different packages” tied together with “different colored ribbons.”
“The perception that the USSR was using negotiations to rally public opinion against American intransigence, and to pressure the United States to engage in unsafeguarded nuclear disarmament, led American policy makers to discount Soviet proposals as mere propaganda,” one historian has written. “US officials believed that if they accepted a Soviet proposal, they would add respectability to the Soviet leadership and enhance Moscow’s prestige. In their view, consenting to a Soviet initiative was tantamount to receiving a propaganda defeat before world opinion.… The objective became out-maneuvering the opponent in the battle for public opinion; positions were put forward more to win public acclaim than to pave the way for compromise at the bargaining table.”
During their early years in office, Foster and Allen perceived imminent Communist threats to four far-flung “outposts of freedom”: Iran, Guatemala, Korea, and Indochina. Both, however, had been conditioned by education and experience to consider Europe the center of the world. That led them to vivid fears, not only because Europe seemed vulnerable to a possible Soviet attack, but because many Europeans wished for conciliation rather than confrontation. Staggered by the carnage of World War II, they resisted Washington’s rhetoric of fear and enmity, and often elected leaders who sought to calm tensions on their continent rather than sharpen its division.
For years Foster had promoted the idea of European unity. After Churchill declared in 1946 that an “Iron Curtain” had descended across the continent, Foster adjusted his vision to mean Western European unity—if not political, then at least military. By the time he took office in 1953, this imperative seemed to him more urgent than ever, both because of the Soviet threat and because President Eisenhower’s dogged devotion to balanced budgets made it impossible for the United States to blanket the continent with troops. His sense of urgency fueled his campaign for the European Defense Community, which failed after France and Britain refused to participate. Neither country’s leaders shared Foster’s view—especially after Stalin’s death—that the Soviet Union was implacably hostile and therefore negotiations were pointless.
With both of America’s main European allies dubious about Foster’s approach to Communism, he was thrilled to find a soul mate in Chancellor Konrad Adenauer of West Germany. No statesman was ever as close to Foster as Adenauer. This closeness extended to Allen, who with Adenauer’s blessing built strong ties between the CIA and the West German secret services, and to their sister Eleanor, who was one of the most prominent Americans in Germany during the 1950s. She was the first member of the family Adenauer met, over lunch at the beginning of 1953.
“Adenauer wanted to know all he could about John Foster Dulles,” Eleanor wrote in her memoir. “I told him that Foster had a new, but close, relationship with our President. I said that he had also been in Germany a number of times.… That lunch was my first encounter with this truly great man, who was to be a friend to me and my brothers.”
Soon afterward, Foster arrived in Bonn and met Adenauer for the first time. Their compatibility began with personality. Both were cool and formal, rarely entertained, confided in no one, and followed moral codes shaped by traditional Christianity. Ideology drew them closer. Adenauer believed that West Germany should tie itself irrevocably to the United States and do whatever necessary to maintain their alliance—a policy that became known as Westbindung. He was the only European leader, and one of the few in the world, who shared Foster’s anti-Communist militancy and denounced the Soviet Union in terms Foster could approve, as when he described it as wielding the “cataclysmic powers of ungodly totalitarianism.” So close was their relationship that in advance of the West German election in late 1953, Foster warned publicly that the defeat of Adenauer’s Christian Democratic Union would be “disastrous” for the West. Opposition leaders protested, but Adenauer was handily re-elected. Foster visited him more often than any other world leader, a total of thirteen times during his six years in office.
Adenauer’s friendliness allowed Allen to proceed with one of his most ambitious early projects, the digging of a tunnel from West Berlin to a point in the East from which the CIA could tap Soviet-bloc communication systems. Allen had admitted to the National Security Council that his agency’s understanding of the Soviet Union was crippled by “shortcomings of a serious nature.” The first spy he sent to Moscow was seduced by his housekeeper, who turned out to be an agent of the Soviet KGB, photographed in bed with her, blackmailed, and summarily fired when the truth emerged. The second was quickly discovered and expelled. Then, at the end of 1953, one of Allen’s men in Berlin, assigned to photograph letters purloined from the East Berlin post office, came across plans for a new underground switching station near the East-West border. Allen shared this discovery with his British counterpart, Sir John Sinclair, and they agreed to dig together.
While this operation was under way, Allen launched another promising covert project. At a dinner party he heard a University of Chicago professor rave about new developments in high-altitude photography. He called the professor to his office, gave him a series of tests, and became a believer. A team that he assembled, led by James Killian, the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and including Edwin Land, the inventor of Polaroid photography, shaped what became a large-scale operation to spy on Communist countries by taking photographs from aircraft flying far above their territories. It would produce valuable intelligence, but would also lead to one of the great foreign policy debacles of the Eisenhower era.
* * *
During the year that stretched from mid-1953 to mid-1954, Allen was occupied most intently with the plot against Arbenz. Tensions in Guatemala rose steadily. The Arbenz government expropriated nearly four hundred thousand acres of fallow land owned by United Fruit and offered to pay in compensation what United Fruit had declared the land to be worth for tax purposes: $1,185,115.70. In reply, the State Department—not the company—scornfully demanded more than ten times that.
“This law has affected United Fruit Company land … that has been fallow and unproductive for many years and has provided no benefit to the company or its stockholders,” the Guatemalan government insisted. “This permanent lack of production has harmed our people and our national economy.… The Government of Guatemala maintains friendly relations with all countries, naturally including the United States, and notes with concern that the monopoly interests of a company that has caused so much harm to Guatemala are harming the cordial relations between the Government of Guatemala and the Government of the United States, and threaten to harm them further.… The Government of Guatemala declares that it rejects the claim of the Government of the United States.”
Foster and Allen were not accustomed to being addressed this way by leaders of small countries. Nor were others in the Eisenhower administration, several of whom also had ties to United Fruit.
John Moors Cabot, the assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, came from a family that held United Fruit stock, and his brother, Thomas, had been the company’s president. Another member of their family, Henry Cabot Lodge, the American ambassador to the United Nations, had defended the company so vigorously during his years as a U.S. senator from Massachusetts that he became known as “the senator from United Fruit.” Robert Cutler, the president’s national security adviser, was a former member of United Fruit’s board of directors. Undersecretary of State Walter Bedell Smith spoke of his wish to join the United Fruit board of directors, and did so after leaving the State Department at the end of 1954. Ann Whitman, Eisenhower’s private secretary, was married to United Fruit’s publicity director, Ed Whitman, who had produced a film called Why the Kremlin Hates Bananas. No American company has ever been so well connected to the White House.
In the middle of the twentieth century the United States was the world’s behemoth, richer and more powerful than any other country. Its army was 140 times the size of Guatemala’s, its territory ninety times larger, its population fifty times greater. American companies were the decisive factor in Guatemalan life, while Guatemala had no influence in Washington. The United States was tied through a web of alliances to many of the world’s mightiest powers. Guatemala was surrounded by a constellation of hostile tyrants: Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua, Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier in Haiti, and Marcos Pérez Jiménez in Venezuela. Despite this imbalance, the Dulles brothers considered Arbenz a grave threat to the United States.
Many in Washington were guided by a conviction that spread through the corridors of American power after the 1948 “constitutional coup” in Czechoslovakia: any government that allowed Communists even the slightest influence would sooner or later fall to Moscow’s power. Four Communists held seats in Guatemala’s fifty-six-member Congress. Two others were close advisers to Arbenz.
“In Czechoslovakia, the government appointed a Communist interior minister, and then one day there was a reshuffle and suddenly the Communists were in power,” one CIA veteran recalled years later. “The lesson we drew was that you can’t let any Communist into power in any position, because somehow that would be used to take over the government. And if a country didn’t follow that rule, it became our enemy.”
At the end of 1953 the CIA produced its first proposal for the operation it called PB/Success, “a general, over-all plan of combined overt and covert operations of major proportions” in Guatemala. It began with a list of Arbenz’s transgressions. He had turned Guatemala into “the leading base of operations for Moscow-influenced Communism in Central America,” installed a “Communist dominated bureaucracy,” and pursued “an aggressively hardening anti-US policy targeted directly against American interests.”
“CIA has placed top operational priority on an effort to reduce and possibly eliminate Communist power in Guatemala,” the paper concluded. “Appropriate authorization has been received to permit close and prompt cooperation with the Departments of Defense, State, and other Government agencies in order to support the CIA task.”
This authorization could only have come from Eisenhower. Soon after receiving it, Allen told his men that this operation was “the most vitally important one in the agency.”
“Allen Dulles became the executive agent for Project PB/Success [and] kept in close touch with the planning through personal assistants,” the intelligence historian John Prados has written. “The key conversations took place in Allen Dulles’s own office.… [He] rounded off the CIA budget to a cool $3 million when he went to the White House to ask for the money.”
Arbenz, unaware of these proceedings, continued to speak defiantly. Early in 1954 he declared that “it is entirely up to Guatemala to decide what kind of democracy she should have,” and demanded that outside powers treat Latin American countries as more than “objects of monopolistic investments and sources of raw materials.” Time called this “the most forthright pro-Communist declaration the President has ever uttered.”
As planning for PB/Success continued, Allen launched another operation in Central America that was smaller in scale though arguably more damning. He and Foster had developed a strong dislike for the region’s other outspoken democrat, President José Figueres of Costa Rica. Figueres was elected to the presidency in 1953 after defeating a Communist-supported uprising, which should have made him a hero in Washington, especially since he had been educated in the United States, married an American woman, and deeply absorbed New Deal principles. Once in office, however, he promoted land reform and abolished the Costa Rican army. Worst of all, he ceaselessly denounced Central American and Caribbean dictators who were allies of the United States, encouraged plots against them, and sheltered many plotters, including Communists. Costa Rican landowners who dreamed of overthrowing Figueres approached Allen. He was sympathetic. In mid-1954 Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana publicly accused the CIA of tapping Figueres’s telephone, an offense that he said could have “tremendous impact” on the region. This did not stop Allen from encouraging the anti-Figueres plotters, but they failed for two reasons. First, Allen was preoccupied with deposing Arbenz in nearby Guatemala; second, since there was no army in Costa Rica, he had no instrument through which to carry out a coup. Nonetheless, this episode reflected something disheartening about the policies Foster and Allen pursued in America’s “backyard.” They embraced the region’s dictators while working to undermine its few democracies.
“Our main enemy,” Figueres recalled after peacefully leaving office in 1958, “was Mr. John Foster Dulles in his defending corrupt dictatorships.”
One of the oddest aspects of the Dulles brothers’ approach to Latin America was that as they assaulted the leaders of Guatemala and Costa Rica, they happily accepted a president of Bolivia who was in some ways more radical than either one. The Bolivian leader, Victor Paz Estenssoro, came to power in 1952 after a violent rebellion supported by armed workers and powerful Marxist factions—rather than through an election, as Arbenz and Figueres had. In his first May Day speech, Paz accused the United States of trying to sabotage Bolivia’s economy by manipulating the world market for tin, the country’s main export, and pledged to respond by building closer ties to Communist countries. Soon afterward he nationalized his country’s strategic tin and tungsten resources. Yet the official position of the United States, as pronounced by Assistant Secretary of State John Moors Cabot, was that the Paz government “is sincere in desiring social progress,” while Arbenz was “openly playing the Communist game.” A State Department spokesman justified American aid to Bolivia with the odd explanation that the Paz government was “Marxist rather than Communist.” As he spoke, the Eisenhower administration was tightening its noose around Guatemala.
Scholars who have pondered this paradox offer various explanations. “Bolivia was far from the United States and from the Panama Canal, and there was no chance to train an army of emigres to invade the country or establish another government,” one has written. “Guatemala was nearby; it had a seacoast; there was an available alternative regime; and local satraps in Nicaragua or Honduras could be suborned or persuaded to provide help for an invasion.… The Bolivian leaders … eliminated all Communists from government offices.… The Guatemalan leaders showed no such flexibility, no comparable understanding of the obligations of neighborliness, no recognition of the fact that, to avoid destruction, they must evict Communists from their administration.”
The United States had not deposed a Central American leader in decades, and Arbenz may have believed it was out of practice or no longer in that business. If so, he miscalculated. Like Mossadegh, he failed to grasp the intensity of the Cold War fears that had come to envelop Washington. He saw his reform program as no more radical than the New Deal—without realizing that many in the new Republican elite, including Foster, considered the New Deal to have been an abomination.
Foster and Allen were driven to attack Arbenz for much the same reasons they had attacked Mossadegh. The world that had shaped them was based on the premise that powerful countries, especially the United States, had the right to set the terms of their commerce with countries whose resources and markets they coveted. Mossadegh and Arbenz rejected this premise. Their crackdowns on corporate power led Foster and Allen to presume that they were serving Soviet ends. Two reasons for striking at them—defending corporate power and resisting Communism—blended into one.
Declassified transcripts refer to only one moment when a State Department diplomat, left unnamed, questioned this consensus. This foreign service officer suggested that Arbenz might be only a homegrown nationalist unconnected to the Kremlin. Before he could say more, Undersecretary Walter Bedell Smith, who was always loyal to Eisenhower, cut him off.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Smith told the offender. “Forget those stupid ideas and let’s get on with our work.”
* * *
Thousands of new officers joined the CIA during the 1950s, but because the agency was still highly clandestine, Allen never considered conventional hiring techniques. Instead he stuck with the agency’s traditional recruiters: college professors, deans, and presidents. This ensured that some of America’s “best men” would be discreetly brought into covert service. It also fostered an inbreeding that helped seal the agency into a cocoon of groupthink and overconfidence.
Agents who joined while Allen was director felt the thrill of setting off on a grand crusade. One recalled it half a century later:
The CIA recruiter asked my college president if there were any students who might be interested in the CIA as a career. The president selected several political science majors and me, an English major. I’m sure he chose me because he knew I was a devious son of a bitch. Before becoming president of the student body in my junior year, I had been involved in all kinds of hell-raising, which continued to some extent even after I became student body president. There was no other reason. I hadn’t read a newspaper in years, being immersed totally in such writers as Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare, and Yeats. I had no idea what the CIA was. I was, though, an Air Force ROTC cadet, which meant I had a three-year obligation to serve in the Air Force after graduation. The recruiter was impressive, and I was inclined to pursue it further, but the three-year commitment stood in the way. When the recruiter told me he’d get me out of my three-year ROTC commitment half-way through, I saluted and told him I was ready. Everything worked out the way he promised.
It was a patriotic feel-good function for people in academia to steer people to the CIA. The Ivy League schools were notorious in that respect. Nearly every college had a contact that helped “spot” likely recruits for the CIA. Right from the outset after recruitment you felt a little special, perhaps because you were constantly being told you were special and doing special things for your country.…
Everyone revered [Allen]. He was seen as the father of the entire organization. He was God. One of the first things we were told was that the CIA was not a military organization and that you were not expected to say “sir” or salute. The only person for whom you had to rise to your feet when he entered the room was Allen Dulles. He was called “Mr. Director” and “Sir.”
He was known for spending a lot of time with the station chiefs, one by one, when they returned to headquarters for some reason, discussing what was happening in their countries. His experience in Switzerland was about that kind of thing: slow, quiet, personal contact. He was great at that. He always insisted on a personal relationship with his station chiefs. Whether he was up to running a big international organization, which the agency became during his term—I don’t think so. At least it would not seem so, given how badly botched the Bay of Pigs operation was.
He had another endearing trait: whenever he had to be briefed on an operational case, he insisted that the case officer directly in charge of the operation be present, no matter how low his rank. Dulles wanted access to the operational detail, and he feared higher level officers doing the briefing would sift it out either deliberately or out of ignorance. Lower level officers naturally very much appreciated this attitude. He was a very quiet, soft-spoken guy, not a voluble person or a table-thumper. He was very much an Eastern Establishment gentleman. Even though he was not a terribly riveting person, everyone hung on his every word. He was totally at ease, as if he didn’t feel any need to explain himself or impress you.
Like other recruits, this young man was sent for training to a sprawling camp that may have been the world’s largest and most elaborate school for spies. Located on a nine-thousand-acre military reservation officially called Camp Peary, near Williamsburg, Virginia, it was known in the agency simply, and even affectionately, as “the farm.” During World War II it had been used as a training base for Navy Seabees, then as a secret jail for prisoners of war. For a few years afterward it was a forestry preserve. The CIA took it over in 1951, and within a couple of years Allen had transformed it into a center for advanced study of the black arts. Here agents-to-be learned how to wear disguises, pick locks, enter secured buildings, plant listening devices, use invisible ink, and surreptitiously open and reseal letters and packages. Then they graduated to techniques of illegal border crossings, which they practiced at full-scale mock-ups of crossings between countries in Western and Eastern Europe, complete with armed “guards” and snarling watchdogs. They learned how to recruit informants and supervise their work. Most were taught paramilitary skills ranging from parachute jumping to the use of explosives and small arms. On trips to nearby Richmond, they practiced urban techniques like passing messages and eluding surveillance. Some were subjected to extreme pressures like sleep deprivation and mock executions.
Many graduates of “the farm” went on to join the Office of Policy Coordination, which according to one of its longtime officers, Joseph Burkholder Smith, “was a cover title that disguised the fact that the real missions of the office were covert psychological warfare, covert political action, and covert military action.” In his memoir, Portrait of a Cold Warrior, Smith recalls what a briefing officer told him and other new recruits when they were hired.
“You’ve just joined the Cold War arm of the US government,” the officer said. “We’re not in the intelligence business in this department. We’re an executive action arm of the White House.… Some people call us the ‘dirty tricks’ department, but that’s too superficial a thing to say. What we are doing is carrying out the covert foreign policy of the United States government. Obviously we can’t let the Soviets or Chinese or anyone else know this is the case, but everything we do is authorized by the President’s own National Security Council, and organizationally speaking, our chain of command is through the NSC directly to the President.”
As Allen’s power reached a peak, he faced his first criticism from Congress. In a speech to what one reporter called a “hushed and attentive” Senate, Mike Mansfield delivered the sharpest public critique of the CIA that had ever been heard in Washington. Since the agency was “freed from practically every ordinary form of Congressional check,” Mansfield said, no one could be sure whether it was “staying within the limits established by law” or exceeding them to become “an instrument of policy.” The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Representative John Taber, who according to one historian had an “aggressive and suspicious nature,” forced the CIA to answer a long series of questions and summoned Allen for extended testimony. Taber concluded that the CIA was inefficient and wasteful, and he imposed a temporary hiring freeze. Mansfield went further, proposing a bill to create a “watchdog commission” that would oversee the CIA, for which he found twenty-seven cosponsors. Allen resisted fiercely. With the help of friends in the Senate—including Leverett Saltonstall of Massachusetts, home to United Fruit—he managed to derail the bill.
In quick succession during that spring of 1954, the United States tested a massively powerful hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific; Vietnamese Communists led by Ho Chi Minh won decisive battles in their war against France; a “loyalty board” in Washington questioned the country’s most famous nuclear scientist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, about charges that he was a Soviet agent; and televised hearings exposed millions of Americans to Senator McCarthy’s charges that Communists had infiltrated the United States Army. Allen was able to persuade Congress that this was no moment to rein in the CIA.
“Never before or since has the CIA had more support from the State Department, or, because Secretary Dulles was so powerful, more freedom to infiltrate U.S. embassies, consulates, and the U.S. Information Service offices in foreign countries,” the biographer Leonard Mosley has written. “It had complete freedom to undertake projects of enormous tactical or strategic significance with little or no oversight of its expenditure or the nature of its activities. In 1954 the CIA had four hundred of its agents operating out of London alone, controlled not only by the local station chief but by a resident director, or senior representative, reporting directly to Allen Dulles.… The [National Security] Act of 1947 had set up the National Security Council to oversee operations in which the Agency’s many arms were now engaged, but in the two years since Allen had been operating as director of the CIA, the Council had no real control over the activities that he ordered and approved—manifold activities, which were protected from interference by Foster’s brotherly wing.”
Despite his political successes, Allen faced private difficulties. His marriage remained unhappy. Clover began spending extended periods traveling. Allen’s legendary libido slowed; he had an affair with a woman who worked for him, and perhaps others, but he was not prowling with anything near the enthusiasm he had once shown. Attacks of gout sometimes forced him to take to bed. Drugs he took for his condition had painful side effects. Nonetheless his enthusiasm for work never flagged. Once a reporter asked him what the CIA was.
“The State Department for unfriendly countries,” he replied.
* * *
Most of the officers Allen chose to run his Guatemala operation reflected the insularity of the early CIA. They came from elite backgrounds and were connected to each other through webs that ran through elite boarding schools, colleges, and law schools, the OSS, Wall Street law firms and investment banks, the Council on Foreign Relations, and cocktail parties on the north shore of Long Island at which, by one account, they drank “phenomenal” quantities of alcohol. Allen liberated these men from what might otherwise have been humdrum lives and brought them into an incomparably exciting world. They joined the CIA not to observe, reflect, analyze, and ponder, but to plot, act, fight, confront, strike, and subvert. Most spoke no Spanish and had never set foot in Guatemala.
The field commander of PB/Success would be Albert Haney, a former Chicago businessman who headed the CIA station in Seoul and had directed paramilitary forays into North Korea. The handsome and well-spoken Tracy Barnes, whose pedigree ran through the Ivy League, the Office of Strategic Services, and the Wall Street law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn, would direct the crucial psychological-warfare aspect of the plot. His chief propagandists would be David Atlee Phillips, assigned to create a fake “Voice of Liberation” radio station that would broadcast disinformation into Guatemala, and the future Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt, who produced anti-Arbenz cartoons, posters, pamphlets, and newspaper articles for use in Guatemala and the rest of Latin America. Above them the chain of command ran through J. C. King, chief of the Western Hemisphere division; deputy director for plans Frank Wisner; Richard Bissell, Allen’s special assistant; and at the top of the pyramid Allen himself.
With his covert team in place, Allen had to confront one last personnel problem. The CIA station chief in Guatemala, Birch O’Neill, had proven reluctant to plant tendentious propaganda in the local press, did not believe that Arbenz’s land reform law was communistic, and seemed, as John Prados has written, “too cautious for a swashbuckling covert action.” Allen liked to believe that each of his station chiefs knew more about the country where he served than any other American. This one, however, did not see Guatemala as he did. Following the pattern he set when his man in Tehran opposed the coup against Mossadegh, he removed O’Neill and replaced him with an officer who was less experienced but more obedient.
As Allen was ensuring that his man on the scene would obey orders, Foster did the same. The American ambassador to Guatemala, Rudolf Schoenfeld, was intensely anti-Arbenz but also a professional diplomat with thirty years in the foreign service. Foster concluded he would be hesitant to help overthrow a government to which he was accredited, and replaced him with John Peurifoy, who in his brief tenure at the State Department had earned a reputation as one of the most outspokenly undiplomatic of American diplomats.
Foster then removed two other Latin American specialists who he feared might doubt the conspiracy. First to go was John Moors Cabot, the assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, who was a United Fruit stockholder and staunch anti-Communist but considered the Guatemalan situation “very ticklish” because “there was a good deal of sentiment in Latin America that the government of Guatemala was leftist, yes, but not Communist.” Then Foster replaced the American ambassador in Honduras, John Draper Erwin, who knew the country intimately, with Whiting Willauer, a veteran of clandestine air operations over China.
Having assembled his diplomatic team, Foster set out to obtain some kind of international sanction for what he and Allen planned to do—without explicitly revealing what that was. The Organization of American States, which was headquartered in Washington and largely submissive to the U.S. government, had planned a summit in Caracas, Venezuela, and he decided to attend. At the climactic session, he gave a dramatic speech warning that Latin America was under attack “by the apparatus of international Communism, acting under orders from Moscow.”
“There is ample room for national differences and for tolerance between the political institutions of the different American States,” he said. “But there is no place here for political interests which serve alien masters.”
The chief Guatemalan delegate, Guillermo Toriello, replied that “conspirators and the foreign monopolies that support them” were attacking his government because it was seeking “to put an end to feudalism, colonialism, and the unjust exploitation of its poorest citizens.” The New York Timesreported that applause following his speech lasted twice as long as that given to Foster. One delegate told Time that Toriello “said many of the things some of the rest of us would like to say if we dared.”
In the end, the power of the United States, which Foster applied in a series of private meetings, proved overwhelming, and on March 28 the OAS approved his resolution. It declared that “the domination or control of the political institutions of any American state by the international Communist movement … would call for appropriate action in accordance with existing treaties.”
The Caracas resolution was a masterpiece of diplomatic legerdemain. Toriello later marveled at its ingenuity.
“Asking other American republics to take joint action against Guatemala in any way would appear to be what it really was: interference in the internal affairs of a member nation in clear violation of the basic principles of the inter-American system,” he wrote. “Happily for the State Department, Mr. Dulles’s talent, so successfully proven in various diplomatic triumphs in Europe and Asia, managed to square the circle with a clever solution: in order not to be accused of intervening, let us say that there has been a foreign intervention in an American nation and that we are coming to its aid. Let us call the hateful nationalist-democratic movement in Guatemala ‘communist intervention’ and, claiming that we are moved by the great democratic tradition of the United States and the need to save ‘Christian civilization,’ liberate that country from this foreign aggression.”
PB/Success would have proceeded regardless of what the OAS decided, but the Caracas resolution gave the plot a fig leaf of legality. The Washington Post hailed the resolution as “a striking victory for freedom,” and the New York Times called it “a triumph for Secretary Dulles, for the United States, and for common sense in the Western hemisphere.” President Eisenhower said at a press conference that it was “designed to protect, and not to impair, the inalienable right of each American state freely to choose its own form of government and economic system.”
As the date for launching PB/Success drew near, Allen visited its base of operations, set up in a complex of unused hangars at an air force base in Opa Locka, Florida. It was bustling with activity. CIA-contracted pilots were preparing to fly bombing raids over Guatemala. David Atlee Phillips was writing scripts for radio messages aimed at convincing Guatemalans that a full-scale rebellion was under way. Other agents were building a legend around Carlos Castillo Armas, the cashiered Guatemalan colonel the CIA had chosen to command its phantom “liberation army.” This was one of the largest bases the CIA had ever built. Allen was thrilled.
“Continue the good work and give ’em hell!” he told his men.
Allen understood that Arbenz remained popular in Guatemala, and feared that people might rise up to defend him when the attack began. To prevent that, he sought to capture their minds. A decade earlier, during his collaboration with Carl Gustav Jung in Switzerland, he had speculated on the possibilities of a “marriage between espionage and psychology.” In Guatemala he consummated it.
The essence of PB/Success was not military or political but psychological. Allen knew that his ragtag “liberation army” would hardly be able to win a battle, much less a war. His plan was to destabilize Guatemala so fully that military commanders would conclude they had no choice other than to overthrow Arbenz. This required him to dig deep into his tactical arsenal.
American hearts and minds had already been won. Thanks largely to a brilliantly executed propaganda campaign paid for by United Fruit and directed by the legendary opinion-maker Edward Bernays, press coverage of Arbenz in the United States was overwhelmingly negative. When a New York Times reporter in Guatemala, Sydney Gruson, began filing stories about the benefits of land reform, Allen quietly protested, and the Times’s publisher, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, obligingly had Gruson recalled. Even when Guatemala erupted in violence, no newspaper suggested that the United States might be involved. The phrase “Central Intelligence Agency” had rarely appeared in print and would have been unfamiliar to most Americans.
Although Allen and his friends at United Fruit had managed to turn Arbenz into a demon for most Americans, they had a harder time persuading Guatemalans. Techniques the CIA had used before seemed unpromising. False or misleading articles in the press would be of limited value since most Guatemalans were illiterate. Fake radio broadcasts would reach only those who owned radios—about one of every fifty. Bombs dropped on military targets would frighten only those who lived nearby. Allen looked for another way to mobilize the emotions of Guatemala’s poor masses. He found it in their spiritual soul.
Religious belief is deeply woven into the human psyche, and powerful figures have long sought to turn it to their benefit. Rarely in American history have they done so as successfully as during the 1950s.
The rise of John Foster Dulles, an elder of the Presbyterian Church who often denounced Communism as an “alien faith,” was hardly the only reflection of this surge in public religiosity. Church attendance rates rose steadily. President Eisenhower, who came from a family of Mennonites and Jehovah’s Witnesses, accepted baptism as a Presbyterian soon after taking office and, in a nationally televised speech endorsing the American Legion’s “Back to God” campaign, asserted that “without God, there could be no American form of government nor an American way of life.” His cabinet voted to open each meeting with a prayer. A new Revised Standard Version of the Bible appeared in 1953 and sold an astonishing twenty-six million copies within a year. It was closely followed on the best-seller list by The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale, who proudly proclaimed that “no one has more contempt for communism than I have” and advised “companionship with Jesus Christ” as the best defense against it. Another evangelist, Billy Graham, who preached on national radio every Sunday and wrote a column that was syndicated in 125 newspapers, declared that Communism was “inspired, directed, and motivated by the devil himself, who has declared war on Almighty God.” The actor and singer Pat Boone announced that he would refuse to kiss his leading ladies on-screen for religious reasons. Congress passed a bill adding the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, and then another making “In God We Trust” the nation’s official motto.
Since early childhood, the Dulles brothers had been steeped in the power of religious faith. As adults they saw how deeply it permeated life and politics. Since no institution in Guatemala had as direct a tie to as many ordinary people as the Roman Catholic Church, Allen decided to try tapping its power.
The CIA had no direct channel to Archbishop Mariano Rossell y Arellano of Guatemala, but its indirect channel was ideal. The most prominent Catholic prelate in the United States, Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York, was not only outspokenly anti-Communist, but also a crafty global power broker with deep contacts throughout Latin America. Among his friends were three dictators—Batista, Trujillo, and Somoza—who detested Arbenz. Spellman had a special interest in Guatemala, not only because Archbishop Rossell y Arellano shared his political views—he admired Francisco Franco and considered land reform “completely communistic”—but also because of Guatemalan history. In the 1870s Guatemala had been the first Latin American country to embrace the principles of anticlericalism: lay education, civil marriage, limits on the number of foreign-born priests, and a ban on political activity by the clergy. The Church had an old score to settle there.
“An official of the Central Intelligence Agency approached Spellman in 1954 with a relatively simple request,” one of his biographers has written. “The agent wanted him to arrange a ‘clandestine contact’ between one of the CIA men in Guatemala and Archbishop Mariano Rossell y Arellano.… Thus, as during the Italian elections, the Church and the U.S. government joined forces. Spellman decided to help the Dulles brothers overthrow the Arbenz government.… He acted swiftly. After Spellman’s meeting with the CIA agent, a pastoral letter was read on April 9, 1954, in all Guatemalan churches.”
The pastoral letter was a masterpiece of propaganda, steeped in the vocabulary of faith, fear, and patriotism.
At this moment, we once again raise our voice to alert Catholics that the worst atheistic doctrine of all time—anti-Christian Communism—is continuing its brazen advance in our country, masquerading as a movement of social reform for the needy classes.…
The honorable Guatemalan nation must oppose those who are suffocating our freedom, people without a nation, the scum of the earth, who have repaid Guatemala’s generous hospitality by preaching class hatred with the goal of completing the pillage and destruction of our country. These words from your Pastor are to bring Catholics into a just and dignified national campaign against Communism. The people of Guatemala must rise up like a single man against this enemy of God and the nation.…
Who can uproot it from our land? The grace of God can do anything—if you Catholics, wherever you are, by every means given to us as free beings, in a hemisphere not yet subjected to the Soviet dictatorship, and with the sacred freedom given to us by the Son of God, fight this gospel that threatens our religion and Guatemala. Remember that Communism is atheism and atheism is anti-patriotic.… Every Catholic should fight Communism for the simple reason that he is Catholic. Christian life is at the heart of our campaign and our crusade.
This broadside, which was reprinted the following morning in Guatemalan newspapers, had a profound impact. Ordinary people who had until then admired Arbenz heard for the first time that he was in fact their enemy. Most important, the warning came from their pastors, who many considered veritable messengers of God. It had a deep, transformational effect on Guatemala’s collective psyche. Overjoyed by this success, CIA operatives in Opa Locka directed their Guatemala team to use religious-based propaganda “on a continuous and rapidly increasing scale.”
“Underscore fear that commies will interfere with religious instruction in schools,” they advised. “Awaken popular revulsion against communism … by describing graphically how the local church would be turned into a meeting hall for the ‘Fighting Godless,’ how their children would have to spend their time with the ‘Red Pioneers,’ how the pictures of Lenin, Stalin, and Malenkov would replace the pictures of the Saints in every home, and the like.”
Arbenz had drifted leftward during his presidential term—his wife speculated years later that by the time of the coup he “considered himself a communist”—but no one in Guatemala doubted that he would step down after the 1956 election. All of the leading candidates to succeed him were more conservative than he was, low-level campaigning had already begun, and there was every indication that the election would be held as scheduled. Foster, Allen, and their boss in the White House, however, were in no mood to wait patiently for a couple of years while events took their course in Guatemala.
Any doubts about Arbenz that may have remained in Washington were resolved with the news in mid-May that his government had received a shipment of arms from Czechoslovakia. The United States had stopped supplying weapons to the Guatemalan army and intervened to prevent half a dozen other countries from doing so, giving Arbenz a plausible excuse for looking elsewhere. In Washington, though, the shipment was taken as proof of a Guatemala-Moscow connection. Foster pronounced it “a development of gravity,” and at his advice, President Eisenhower sent fifty tons of weapons to the pro-American dictators in Nicaragua and Honduras, which according to the New York Times now faced threats of “Guatemalan aggression.”
On the morning of June 16, 1954, Foster, Allen, and Eisenhower’s other top national security aides met with the president for breakfast in the family quarters of the White House. Allen reported that all was ready in Guatemala.
“Are you sure this is going to succeed?” Eisenhower asked. Allen said it would.
“I want all of you to be damn good and sure you succeed,” the president told them. “I’m prepared to take any steps that are necessary to see that it succeeds. When you commit the flag, you commit it to win.”
Two days later, Castillo Armas led a band of 150 “rebels” from Honduras into Guatemala. They advanced six miles, then stopped. Over the next two weeks, they fought only a few skirmishes with government troops. Their main assignment was to sit and wait while the Dulles brothers worked their magic.
Mendacious radio broadcasts crackled across Guatemala’s airwaves, pretending to be from insurgent commanders reporting battlefield victories and defections from the army. CIA pilots, flying from clandestine bases in Honduras and Nicaragua, bombed high-profile targets including the principal military base in Guatemala City. Arbenz asked the United Nations to send fact finders, but Ambassador Lodge maneuvered to prevent that from happening.
Few American journalists suspected the truth. One who did was James Reston of the New York Times. In a later era he might have produced a sweeping story exposing the true nature of the “liberation army.” Genteel journalistic standards of the age, coupled with a widely shared sense that all Americans faced a mortal threat from Communism and were obliged to support their government’s struggle against it, made that all but unthinkable. Instead Reston crafted a column that some may have read as nothing more than idle speculation, but that Washington insiders could decode. It was headlined “With the Dulles Brothers in Darkest Guatemala.”
“John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of State, seldom intervenes in the internal affairs of other countries, but his brother Allen is more enterprising,” Reston wrote. “If somebody wants to start a revolution in, say, Guatemala, it is no good talking to Foster Dulles. But Allen Dulles, head of the Central Intelligence Agency, is a more active man. He has been watching the Guatemalan situation for a long time.”
Reston’s hunch about CIA plotting in Guatemala was correct. He had no way of knowing, however, that soon after his column appeared, the plot came so close to collapsing that Allen had to make an emergency rescue run to the White House.
Bombing raids by CIA planes were having their desired effect in Guatemala. They symbolized Washington’s determination to depose Arbenz, and because of their supposed effect on him and his supporters, they became popularly known as sulfatos—laxatives. Then, within a matter of hours on June 21–22, the sulfato force was decimated. One plane was disabled by ground fire, another crash-landed, and two more were forced down in Mexico after bombing a border town. Only a couple remained—not enough to maintain the operation’s momentum.
“Air power could be decisive,” Allen’s men on the scene told him in an urgent cable on June 23.
Within hours, Allen was in the Oval Office. He explained the situation and asked Eisenhower to authorize immediate deployment of several air force planes to Nicaragua, where the dictator, Anastasio Somoza, would release them for use in PB/Success. When he was finished, Henry Holland, the State Department’s legal adviser, presented the contrary case, arguing that further bombing would violate international law and promote anti-Americanism. Eisenhower decided in Allen’s favor, and the planes were deployed. Later he told one of his close military comrades, General Andrew Goodpaster, that it was an easy choice.
“If you at any time take the route of violence or support of violence,” he said, “then you commit yourself to carry it through, and it’s too late to have second thoughts.”
Reinforced by the new planes, Allen’s campaign against Arbenz intensified. Guatemala’s senior military commanders, taking broad hints from Ambassador Peurifoy, realized that the United States was behind the assault and would not relent until Arbenz was gone. On June 27 the commanders gave Arbenz what one called a “final ultimatum.” A few hours later he appeared on Guatemalan radio to announce that he had made a “sad and cruel judgment,” and would surrender to “the obscured forces which today oppress the backward and colonial world.”
Arbenz then walked from the Presidential Palace to the nearby Mexican embassy, where he was granted asylum. After a brief interregnum, Colonel Castillo Armas, the CIA’s chosen “liberator,” was installed as his successor. His first acts included dissolving Congress, suspending the constitution, disenfranchising three-quarters of the population by banning illiterates from voting, and decreeing repeal of the land reform law that had enraged United Fruit. Ten years of democratic government, the first that Guatemalans had ever known, were over.
“Heartiest congratulations upon outcome,” Wisner wired in a cable to his men. “A great victory has been won.”
Soon afterward, as he had done following the triumph in Iran ten months earlier, Eisenhower invited the victorious warriors to visit him and explain how they had carried out their coup. The group was ushered into a small theater in the East Wing. There they found not just Eisenhower waiting, but also Foster, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and about two dozen other high-ranking officials including Vice President Nixon and Attorney General Herbert Brownell. All were riveted by their presentations. When they finished, Eisenhower shook everyone’s hand, saving his last handshake for Allen.
“Thanks, Allen, and thanks to all of you,” he said. “You’ve averted a Communist beachhead in our hemisphere.”
Some were dubious. “Commie argument that ‘invaders’ and ‘Yankee imperialists’ [are] anxious to wipe out agrarian reform appears to be most dangerous not only for Guat consumption, but for effect wherever in world agrarian reform questions vitally important, including Latin America, Asia, Africa, even certain European countries,” the Opa Locka command post reported to Allen. “Recommend therefore you suggest State Dept. immediate countermeasures.”
Allen brought this message to Foster, and they agreed that the best “countermeasure” would be a disingenuous speech by Foster. He delivered it over national radio and television on June 30, the day after the last pro-Arbenz forces in Guatemala capitulated.
Tonight I should like to talk with you about Guatemala. It is the scene of dramatic events. They expose the evil purpose of the Kremlin.…
Guatemala is a small country. But its power, standing alone, is not a measure of the threat. The master plan of international communism is to gain a solid political base in this hemisphere, a base that can be used to extend Communist penetration to the other peoples of the other American Governments.…
We regret that there have been disputes between the Guatemalan Government and the United Fruit Company.… But this issue is relatively unimportant.… Led by Colonel Castillo Armas, patriots arose in Guatemala to challenge the Communist leadership—and to change it. Thus the situation is being cured by the Guatemalans themselves.…
The events of recent months and days add a new and glorious chapter to the already great tradition of the American States.… Communism is still a menace everywhere. But the people of the United States and of the other American Republics can feel tonight that at least one grave danger has been averted.
A few months later, from exile in Mexico, the Guatemalan diplomat Guillermo Toriello published his own account. “The break of day on June 29th, 1954, brought with it the triumph of foreign aggression against Guatemalan democracy,” he wrote. “A combination of the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Banana Empire had finally managed to crush this small nation, indefensible and inoffensive, one hundred times smaller than its adversary, and drown in blood a flowering democracy dedicated to the dignity and economic liberation of its people. The next day, John Foster Dulles announced the ‘glorious victory’ and proclaimed his delight at the crime’s consummation.”
Allen brought the CIA into its golden age by showing that he could topple governments with minimum cost and almost complete discretion. Foster understood the power this implied. The world had become their battlefield. The brothers came to power determined to depose the leaders of two countries on opposite sides of the world. Both were now gone. Flushed with success, they moved on to their third target.