Operation PBFORTUNE, also known as Operation FORTUNE, was the name of a covert United States operation to overthrow the democratically elected Guatemalan President Jacobo Árbenz in 1952. The operation was authorized by US President Harry Truman and planned by the Central Intelligence Agency. It involved providing weapons to the exiled Guatemalan military officer Carlos Castillo Armas, who was to lead an invasion from Nicaragua. The coup was planned with the knowledge and support of Anastasio Somoza García, the US backed dictator of Nicaragua, as well as the United Fruit Company. The US State Department was initially not informed of the plan. US Secretary of State Dean Acheson found out about the coup attempt as it got underway, and persuaded Truman to end the operation. The United Fruit Company had lobbied intensively for the overthrow, because the landmark land reform enacted by Árbenz threatened its economic interests. Operation PBFORTUNE was a precursor to Operation PBSUCCESS, the covert operation that toppled Árbenz and ended the Guatemalan Revolution in 1954.
From the late 19th century until 1944 Guatemala was governed by a series of authoritarian rulers. Between 1898 and 1920 Manuel Estrada Cabrera granted significant concessions to the United Fruit Company, as well as dispossessing many indigenous peoples of their communal land. Under Jorge Ubico, who ruled as a dictator between 1931 and 1944, this process was intensified, with the institution of brutal labor regulations and the establishment of a police state.
In June 1944, a popular pro-democracy movement led by university students and labor organizations forced Ubico to resign. Ubico handed over power to a military junta that was toppled in a military coup led by Jacobo Árbenz in October 1944, an event also known as the "October Revolution." The coup leaders called for open elections, which were won by Juan José Arévalo, a progressive professor of philosophy who had become the face of the popular movement. He implemented a moderate program of social reform, including a widely successful literacy campaign and largely free elections, although illiterate women were not given the vote, and communist parties were banned.
Following the end of Arévalo's presidency in 1951, Jacobo Árbenz was elected to the presidency. He continued the reforms of Arévalo, and also began an ambitious land reform program, known as Decree 900. Under it, the uncultivated portions of large land-holdings were expropriated in return for compensation, and redistributed to poverty-stricken agricultural laborers. Due to the political climate of the cold war, the US was already predisposed to see the socialist policies of the democratically elected Arévalo and Árbenz as communists. This conception was strengthened by Arévalo' support for the Caribbean Legion, and by the 1950s the US government was considering overthrowing the Guatemalan president.
In May 1952, Jacobo Árbenz enacted Decree 900, the official title of the Guatemalan agrarian reform law. The law convinced the US government that the Guatemalan government was being influenced by communists. Approximately 500,000 people benefited from the decree. However, the United Fruit Company lost several hundred thousand acres of its uncultivated land to this law, and the compensation it received was based on the grossly undervalued price that it had presented to the Guatemalan government for tax purposes. The company therefore intensified its lobbying against the Guatemalan government in Washington. At this point the US government was approached by Anastasio Somoza García, the US-backed dictator of Nicaragua. Somoza had been on a private visit to the United States, during which he made public speeches praising the United States, and was awarded a medal by New York City. During a meeting with Truman and his senior staff, Somoza stated that if he were given the weapons, he would "clean up Guatemala." Although the proposal was not taken seriously at the time, US Colonel Cornelius Mara flew back to Nicaragua with Somoza to further explore the idea. Somoza persuaded Mara that the plan was feasible, and Mara returned to the US and gave Truman a favorable report. Truman thereupon authorized Operation PBFORTUNE, but did not inform the US State Department, or secretary of state Dean Acheson of the plan.
The details of the plot were finalized over the next few weeks by the CIA, the United Fruit Company, and Somoza. The coup plotters contacted Rafael Trujillo and Marcos Pérez Jiménez, the US-supported right-wing dictators of the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, respectively. The two dictators were supportive of the plan, and agreed to contribute some funding. Although PBFORTUNE was officially approved on September 9, 1952, various planning steps had been taken earlier in the year. In January 1952, officers in the CIA's Directorate of Plans compiled a list of "top flight Communists whom the new government would desire to eliminate immediately in the event of a successful anti-Communist coup." The CIA plan called for the assassination of over 58 Guatemalans, as well as the arrest of many others. The plan was to involve no direct intervention from the US. It was instead to have been carried out by the exiled Guatemalan army officer Carlos Castillo Armas, who had been expelled from the country in 1949 following a failed coup attempt against Juan José Arévalo.
Execution and termination
The plan was put into motion in autumn 1952 by the CIA. The United Fruit Company lent one of its freighters to the CIA. The freighter was specially refitted and loaded with weapons in New Orleans under the guise of agricultural machinery, and set sail for Nicaragua. While the freighter was on its way to Nicaragua, a CIA employee went to Edward G. Miller, the assistant secretary of state for Inter-American affairs, and asked him to sign a document on behalf of the munitions department. Miller refused, and instead showed the document to his superiors, who in turn informed Dean Acheson. Acheson immediately spoke to Truman, and the freighter was redirected to Panama, where the arms were unloaded.
In November 1952, Dwight Eisenhower was elected president of the US. Eisenhower's campaign had promised a more hawkish stance against communism. Many senior figures in his cabinet, including John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen Dulles had close connections to the United Fruit Company, which made Eisenhower predisposed to supporting Árbenz' overthrow more strongly than Truman. In June 1954, the US trained and funded an invasion force led by Castillo Armas, backed by an intense campaign of psychological warfare by the CIA. Jacobo Árbenz resigned on 27 June 1954, ending the Guatemalan Revolution. From 1954 onwards Guatemala was ruled by a series of US-backed military dictators, leading to the Guatemalan Civil War.  200,000 civilians were killed in the war, and numerous human rights violations committed, including massacres of civilian populations, rape, aerial bombardment, and forced disappearances. 93% of these violations were committed by the United States-backed military, which included a genocidal scorched-earth campaign against the indigenous Maya population in the 1980s.
Notes and references
- Gleijeses 1991, pp. 228-231.
- Immerman 1982, pp. 118-122.
- Forster 2001, pp. 12–15.
- Gleijeses 1991, pp. 10–11.
- Forster 2001, pp. 29–32.
- Forster 2001, p. 86.
- Gleijeses 1991, p. 27.
- Immerman 1982, p. 42.
- Gleijeses 1991, pp. 73–84.
- Gleijeses 1991, pp. 149-164.
- Immerman 1982, pp. 64–67.
- Schlesinger & Kinzer 1999, p. 72-77.
- Immerman 1982, pp. 82-100.
- Gleijeses 1991, p. 228.
- Gleijeses 1991, pp. 149–164.
- Gleijeses 1991, pp. 228-229.
- Gleijeses 1991, pp. 229-230.
- Haines 1995.
- Gleijeses 1991, pp. 59-69.
- Gleijeses 1991, p. 230.
- Immerman 1982, pp. 122-127.
- Immerman 1982, pp. 161-170.
- Schlesinger & Kinzer 1999, pp. 190-204.
- Grandin 2000, p. 28.
- McAllister 2010.
- Cullather, Nicholas (1999). Secret History: The CIA's classified account of its operations in Guatemala, 1952-1954. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-3311-2.
- Forster, Cindy (2001). The time of freedom: campesino workers in Guatemala's October Revolution. University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 978-0-8229-4162-0.
- Gleijeses, Piero (1991). Shattered hope: the Guatemalan revolution and the United States, 1944–1954. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-02556-8.
- Grandin, Greg (2000). The blood of Guatemala: a history of race and nation. Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-2495-9.
- Haines, Gerald (June 1995). "CIA and Guatemala Assassination Proposals, 1952-1954" (PDF). CIA Historical Review Program.
- Immerman, Richard H. (1982). The CIA in Guatemala: The Foreign Policy of Intervention. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-71083-2.
- McAllister, Carlota (2010). "A Headlong Rush into the Future". In Grandin, Greg; Joseph, Gilbert. A Century of Revolution. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. pp. 276–309. ISBN 9780822392859. Retrieved 14 January 2014.
- Schlesinger, Stephen; Kinzer, Stephen (1999). Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala. David Rockefeller Center series on Latin American studies, Harvard University. p. 102. ISBN 9780674019300.
- U.S. State Department report on Guatemalan situation and early CIA planning
- From Arbenz to Zelaya: Chiquita in Latin America - video report by Democracy Now!
- Declassified CIA documents relevant to the Guatemalan Revolution
- Wikisource:CIA and Guatemala Assassination Proposals: CIA History Staff Analysis