Carlos Castillo Armas

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For other people named Carlos Castillo, see Carlos Castillo (disambiguation).
His Excellency
Lieutenant colonel

Carlos Castillo Armas
President of the Republic of Guatemala
In office
September 1, 1954 – July 26, 1957
Preceded by Elfegio Monzón
Succeeded by Luis González
Personal details
Born 4 November 1914
Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa, Guatemala
Died 26 July 1957 (aged 42)
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Political party National Liberation Movement
Spouse(s) Odilia de Castillo Armas
Occupation Military

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 United 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[edit]

Main article: Guatemalan 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.[1] After serving on the General Staff, he became director of the Escuela Politécnia in 1947 and later commander of Mazatenango in 1948.

Operation PBFORTUNE and CIA ties[edit]

Main article: Operation PBFORTUNE

Castillo Armas had been expelled from the country in 1949 following a failed coup attempt against Arévalo.[2] Castillo Armas had been a protégé of Francisco Javier Arana, and had risen in the military to become the head of the military academy of Guatemala by 1949.[3] Following the failed coup of 1949, Árbenz had him imprisoned under doubtful charges until December 1949, when he came to the attention of the CIA. A month later, a CIA officer found him attempting to get weapons from Somoza and Trujillo.[3] He met with the CIA a few more times before November 1950, when he launch a brazen attack against Matamoros, and was jailed for it, before bribing his way out of prison.[4] Castillo Armas told the CIA that he had the support of the Civil Guard (Guardia Civil), the garrison at Quezaltenango, and the commander of Matamoros, the largest fortress in the capital.[3] The engineer dispatched by the CIA also informed them that Castillo Armas had the financial backing of Somoza and Trujillo.[5] Truman thereupon authorized Operation PBFORTUNE.[6]

When contacted by the CIA agent dispatched by Walter Bedell Smith, Castillo Armas had proposed a battle-plan to gain CIA support. This plan involved three forces invading Guatemala from Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador.[5] These invasions were supposed to be led by internal rebellions.[5][a] King formulated a plan to provide Castillo Armas with $225,000 as well as weaponry and transportation.[7] However, the coup attempt was terminated by Dean Acheson before it could be completed. Accounts of the final termination of the coup attempt vary: some argue that it was due to the State department discovering the coup,[6] while others state that it was due to Somoza spreading information about the CIA's role in it, leading to the coup's cover being blown.[8] Castillo Armas' services were retained by the CIA by paying him $3000 a week, which allowed him to maintain a small force. The CIA remained in contact with him, and continued to provide support to the rebels.[9]

Coup d'état[edit]

1954 Guatemalan coup d'état: the CIA memorandum (May 1975) which describes the role of the Agency in deposing the Guatemalan government of President Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán in June 1954. (1-5)

The United States was opposed to the nationalization efforts and Arbenz's perceived communism. This led to CIA support for Castillo (CIA codename: "Calligeris"[10]) and his army. The CIA, using the threat of communism and the Cold War, prepared a case in which accusations against Jacobo Arbenz's regime were made, indicating that he had alliances with emerging communist parties, and even with Russian communists. According to these claims, the security of the Western Hemisphere was threatened.[11] The Eisenhower Administration ordered the CIA to effect Operation PBSUCCESS, the coup d'état to depose the Árbenz Government of Guatemala. Afterwards, President Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán resigned on 27 June 1954, and the installed military government (1954–57) of Castillo Armas allowed him, and others, to seek political asylum in the Mexican embassy, en route to leaving Guatemala.

After the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état, CIA case officer Frank Wisner organised Operation PBHistory, meant to find and secure Árbenz government documents that might prove that the Soviet Union controlled Guatemala; and, in so doing, PBHistory meant to provide usable intelligence regarding other Soviet connections and Communist personnel in Latin America. Wisner sent two teams of document analysts who gathered 150,000 documents with the help of the Guatemalan Army and the junta of Castillo Armas, whom the U.S. installed as President of Guatemala. Ronald M. Schneider, an outside researcher who examined the PBHistory documents, reported that the documents did not indicate that the Republic of Guatemala was controlled by the USSR, and found substantial evidence that Guatemalan Communists acted independently, without orders or support from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in Moscow.[12] The contacts between the Soviet Union and the Árbenz government consisted of a Soviet diplomat negotiating an exchange of bananas for agricultural machinery; the business deal failed because neither party had refrigerated freight ships with which to transport the perishable fruit. The other evidence of Soviet–Guatemalan contact, found by the CIA after the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'etat were two invoices, for a total of $22.95, to the Guatemalan Party of Labour, from a book shop in Moscow.[13] However, Arbenz read and admired the works of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin; officials in his government euologized Stalin as a "great statesmen and leader....whose passing is mourned by all progressive men".[14] The Guatemalan Congress even paid a "minute of silence" tribute to Stalin.[15]

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[edit]

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.[citation needed]

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.'[16]

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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cullather & 2006, pp. 12-14.
  2. ^ Gleijeses 1992, pp. 59–69.
  3. ^ a b c Cullather 1999, p. 12.
  4. ^ Cullather 1999, pp. 12-13.
  5. ^ a b c Cullather 1999, p. 28.
  6. ^ a b Gleijeses 1992, pp. 229–230.
  7. ^ Cullather 1999, p. 29.
  8. ^ Cullather 1999, p. 31.
  9. ^ Cullather 1999, p. 32.
  10. ^ Office of the Historian, US State Department 2003.
  11. ^ Ward 2004.
  12. ^ Cullather 1997.
  13. ^ Gaddis 1997, p. 178.
  14. ^ Gleijeses 1992, p. 141-181.
  15. ^ Gleijeses 1992, p. 181-379.
  16. ^ Young, John W. (1986). "Great Britain's Latin American Dilemma: The Foreign Office and the Overthrow of 'Communist' Guatemala, June 1954". The International History Review. 8 (4): 573–592 [p. 584]. doi:10.1080/07075332.1986.9640425. 
  1. ^ The name of the individual who was supposed to lead the internal uprisings has been redacted in the CIA documents.


External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Elfego Monzón
(Military Junta)
President of Guatemala
(Military Junta)
Succeeded by
Luis González