Jacobo Arbenz was overthrown as president of Guatemala in a CIA-backed coup in 1954, a seminal event that historians say set the Central American country on a path of dictatorships and civil war that would last for decades.
Even though he was democratically elected and popular at the time, after Arbenz was deposed, his reputation was ruined and he was written out of Guatemala’s history books. He died in exile in 1971.
This week, 57 years later, current President Alvaro Colom made a public apology to the Arbenz family, a large gesture in Guatemala. There is also a larger rehabilitation of the image of Arbenz under way. Textbooks are being rewritten and a new biography will soon be published.
But this clearing of Arbenz’s reputation does not console everyone. Some ask: When will the United States, which was behind the coup, apologize for its meddling..?
The apology “doesn’t have a lot of resonance in the United States — though it should,” said Stephen Schlesinger, an Adjunct Fellow at the Century Foundation and co-author of a book on the 1954 coup.
I figure the US government will apologize for the Guatemalan coup about 3 years before never – which is just before they apologize for for overthrowing Iran’s first democratically-elected government and reinstating the Shah on behalf of Big Oil.
Our track record of admitting to criminal acts — for whatever political reasons used to justify them at the time — sucks big time. Reactionary politicians and so-called think tanks spend a portion of their annual budgets rewriting history and offering the latest rationales to cover our buns before American voters and international politicians. Liberal politicians just blush and say someone else was responsible. Ignoring the fact that Democrats collaborated with Republicans for most of these crimes – including when the roles were reversed. As in the Gulf of Tonkin.
The rest of the world has a clear recollection of what we have done.