Our disastrous meddling in Guatemala
By Casey Weinman
I recently returned from a trip to Guatemala with a group of students from the University of Montana. The goal was to get a general understanding of sustainable development and environmental justice in Guatemala. To truly grasp these topics it was necessary to become familiar with Guatemala’s culture and history. I found, through readings and by speaking with informed Guatemalans, that the U.S. has played a major role in Guatemala’s recent history. I was disturbed and upset by what I learned.
I learned that in 1954 the CIA, acting under orders from President Dwight Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Dulles, orchestrated a coup to overthrow elected Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz. The U.S. government essentially brought down Guatemala’s elected government and replaced it with a military dictatorship that led to a long and bloody civil war. Guatemala, just having signed their Peace Accords as recent as 1996, is still a country in recovery.
Other findings were just as appalling. Over the years American companies, such as the United Fruit Company, have exploited Guatemala’s resources while providing no help to Guatemala’s depressed economy.
I was hurt to learn this part of my country’s history, but I was more astonished by the fact that I had never been exposed to this information as part of my general education. This seemed too important and too close to home to be ignored.
One thing I saw in Guatemala was people who are trying very hard to heal their own wounds. Environmental agencies are sprouting everywhere, the country seems to be focusing in on improving the education of children, the families of the genocide victims are seeking justice and accountability, and Guatemalans are trying to build their economy from within. The last thing that Guatemala needs is for the U.S. to “help” as it has done in the past. Guatemala’s growth needs to come from Guatemala.
There is something that I think the U.S. can do to help Guatemala’s recovery and growth as a nation. We in the U.S. can better teach our students about Guatemala’s history and culture, and about the role that our country has played. Through education we can acknowledge some responsibility for how our country has negatively influenced the development of Guatemala.
I was embarrassed for not knowing about the U.S.’s history in Guatemala. I was upset to learn how our policy has depressed and hurt this nation. I think it’s especially important to teach the history of a country that is so close to us regionally and so involved with us economically. It’s time for Guatemalans to help themselves, but we can help ourselves by not ignoring important parts of our history and the history of our region.
Casey Weinman of Eugene is a junior at the University of Montana studying resource conservation and economics. He’s a member of the cross country and track and field teams at UM. He graduated from South Eugene High School in 2008.