The story of the U.S.-led destabilization of Central America began in 1954, with the overthrow of the elected Guatemalan government of President Jacobo Arbenz. A populist leader inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” Arbenz had plans for an ambitious land redistribution program that aimed to help a nation composed largely of landless farmers. But those plans butted against the interests of the United Fruit Company, a U.S. corporation that owned much of Guatemala’s arable land, along with railroad infrastructure and a port. The CIA helped engineer the overthrow of the Arbenz government, laying the foundation for decades of government instability and, eventually, a civil war that would claim more than 200,000 lives by the 1980s. That war wasn't fully resolved until the 1990s. “Our involvement in Central America has not been a very positive one over the last 60 years,” Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat from El Paso, Texas, told The Huffington Post. “You can go back to the coup that overthrew Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, fully backed by the Eisenhower administration and the Dulles brothers, who had an interest in the United Fruit company, whose fight with the government really precipitated the crisis that led to the coup." It set a pattern. "You look at the decades following that, and the military strongmen, and the juntas, and the mass killings, and it's no wonder Guatemala is in such terrible shape today," O'Rourke said.
Along with the decades-long war against leftists in Guatemala, the U.S. organized and funded El Salvador's protracted war with the FMLN, a left-wing guerrilla movement. The U.S. also funded counterinsurgency efforts in Honduras, which became a staging ground for the Contras. Death squads flourished,...
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