Carlos Castillo Armas
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|Carlos Castillo Armas|
|President of the Republic of Guatemala|
September 1, 1954 – July 26, 1957
|Preceded by||Elfegio Monzón|
|Succeeded by||Luis González|
|Born||4 November 1914
Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa, Guatemala
|Died||26 July 1957 (age 42)
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Carlos Castillo Armas (November 4, 1914 – July 26, 1957) was a Guatemalan military officer who seized power in a United States-orchestrated coup in 1954. Castillo Armas had served in the Guatemalan army until 1944, when he supported the pro-democracy uprising against Jorge Ubico that began the Guatemalan Revolution. Arrested by the government in 1949, he was contacted by the Unites States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) upon his release, and played a part in several coup attempts. He led the CIA invasion force that toppled Jacobo Árbenz in 1954, and was named president soon after. He held the title of President of Guatemala from July 8, 1954 until his assassination in 1957. He was followed by a series of authoritarian rulers in Guatemala.
The 1944 Revolution
Prior to the 1944 Revolution, Carlos Castillo Armas served as an artillery instructor at Fort San Jose. During the 1944 Revolution, he strongly supported Francisco Javier Arana and friend Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, two members of the ruling triumvirate. For his support, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and joined the new General Staff. For seven months, between October 1945 and April 1946, Castillo Armas received training at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, coming in contact with American intelligence officers. After serving on the General Staff, he became director of the Escuela Politécnia in 1947 and later commander of Mazatenango in 1948.
After Arana's death in 1949, the Guatemalan government imprisoned Castillo Armas, only to release him months later. Upon his release, he came into contact with the CIA and launched a failed attack on the Aurora Base in 1950. Imprisoned once more, he escaped in 1951.
The United States was opposed to the nationalization efforts, the arrival of the Czech weaponry in Guatemala on May 15, 1954, and Arbenz's perceived communism. This led to CIA support for Castillo (CIA codename: "Calligeris") and his army.
Armas' army was a ragtag force of about 400 troops. They were trained in Honduras by CIA operatives. In the meantime, the CIA operated several clandestine radio stations and reported a massive liberation army at the borders. Arbenz, in a panic, turned to Russia for weapons. Once the weapons were delivered, Washington had their excuse to overthrow Arbenz, as a communist sympathizer, and ordered Castillo and his ragtag army to invade Guatemala on June 18, 1954. The liberation army crossed the border and drove 6 miles into Guatemala. To help the operation, the CIA had procured 4 WWII B17 bomber planes for operation Sucess. The bombers flew out of Managua and made several trips destroying army barracks, ammunition dumps and other highly visible targets. The CIA operated radio stations broadcast fictitious victories of an army of 5,000 troops. Arbenz's and the Guatemalan army's morale was routed. The operation had taken 3 weeks to plan and carry out with a cost of 20 Million USD.
Árbenz took refuge in the Mexican embassy and resigned in favor of Carlos Enrique Díaz. Two days later, the army, under Colonel Elfego Monzón, deposed Díaz and established a military junta. On July 2, 1954, Carlos Castillo was invited to join the ruling junta. Six days later, on July 8, he succeeded Monzón.
Castillo Armas was given a ticker parade in NYC in the fall of 1954 for his coup. Columbia University gave him an honorary degree.
Military Government Board (1954)
- Colonel H. Elfego Monzón
- Colonel Enrique Trinidad Oliva
- Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas
- Colonel Mauricio Dubois
- Colonel José Luis Cruz Salazar
Presidency and assassination
On September 1, the remaining members of the military junta resigned, and Carlos Castillo was formally declared president, ushering in a decades-long period of dictatorial rule. Upon taking office, he disenfranchised more than half of Guatemala's voting population by removing the voting ability of illiterates. By the end of July 1954, Castillo had not only cancelled the law that facilitated the nation's land reform, Decree 900, forcing peasants to vacate their newly acquired lands, but, at the CIA's request, formed the National Committee of Defense Against Communism, which is generally acknowledged to be Latin America's first modern death squad. He purged the government and trade unions of people suspected of left-wing sympathies, banned political parties and peasant organizations, and restored the secret police force of the Jorge Ubico era. Towards the end of the summer of 1954, Castillo issued the Preventive Penal Law Against Communism, which increased the penalties for many "Communist" activities, including labor union activities.
In 1954, Allen Dulles, the director of the CIA and a member of the Board of Trustees for the United Fruit Company, applauded the victory of 'democracy' over communism and that the situation in Guatemala was 'being cured by the Guatemalans themselves'. A British official remarked that 'in places, it might almost be Molotov speaking about...Czechoslovakia or Hitler speaking about Austria.' 
In 1955, Castillo postponed the next year's presidential election. He did allow for congressional elections. However, only his own party, the National Liberation Movement (MLN) was allowed to field candidates. In Richard Nixon's Vice Presidential visit in 1955, he commented that "President Castillo Armas' objective, 'to do more for the people in two years than the Communists were able to do in ten years,' is important. This is the first instance in history where a Communist government has been replaced by a free one."Following this, in a 2 year period, Castillo received US$90 Million in financial support from the US Government.
In 1956 he implemented a new constitution and had himself declared president for four years. He was shot dead in the presidential palace by a palace guard, Romeo Vásquez, on July 26, 1957. It is still uncertain whether the killer was paid to assassinate Castillo, or had other motives. Vásquez was found dead a short while later in what is believed to be a suicide. Castillo was succeeded by Luis González. After the assassination, the United Fruit Company was returned land lost during nationalization undertaken under the previous Guatemalan President, Árbenz.
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References and further reading
- Cullather, Nick. Secret History: The CIA’s Classified Account of Its Operations in Guatemala, 1952-1954. 2nd ed. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006. pp 12-14.
- Gleijeses, Piero. Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States: 1944-1954. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991. pp 81-83.
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- ["Great Britain's Latin American Dilemma: The Foreign Office and the Overthrow of 'Communist Guatemala, June 1954" by John W Young, page 584]
- Stephen Kinzer, Stephen Schlesinger. Bitter Fruit. 2005 Edition. David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies
- Piero Gleijeses. Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States: 1944-1954. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.
- Nick Cullather. Secret History: The CIA’s Classified Account of Its Operations in Guatemala, 1952-1954. 2nd ed. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006.
- Richard H. Immerman. The CIA in Guatemala: The Foreign Policy of Intervention. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982.
|President of Guatemala