84-year-old Emma Thiessen Alvarez has never forgotten the day in 1981 when Guatemalan officials came to her house looking for her daughter, a student leader who had escaped from military custody. Unable to find her, the officials settled for Thiessen’s 14-year-old son. She never saw him again.
Thiesen’s story was highlighted in a recent New York Times article because the Guatemalan legislature is now contemplating granting a blanket amnesty to military officials who participated in the rein of terror that the Guatemalan national-security establishment inflicted on the Guatemalan people for period of some 36 years.
Thiessen and other Guatemalans who were victimized during that period of time are not happy about the proposed amnesty. As Edgar Perez, a human-rights lawyer, put it, “For the victims, the sentence is their certificate of truth. It is their history.”
Guatemalans are not the only ones who have an interest in what is now occurring in that country. So do the American people. That’s because it was the U.S. national-security establishment that set into motion the events that ultimately led to the death of Emma Thiessen Alvarez’s son, along with 200,000 other Guatemalans, as well as to massive human-rights violations at the hands of the Guatemalan national-security establishment.
As Americans reflect on the mass carnage, destruction, and suffering and the hundreds of thousands of deaths produced by U.S. regime-change efforts in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, and Afghanistan, it’s important to also keep in mind the deaths produced by U.S. regime change in Guatemala in 1954. That was when the CIA initiated a military coup that succeeded in destroying Guatemala’s democratic system and replacing it with a brutal, unelected military dictatorship.
Guatemalan voters had democratically elected a socialist named Jacobo Arbenz, a man whose economic philosophy mirrored those of many American politicians today, both Democrat and Republican. U.S. officials concluded that Arbenz was a threat to U.S. national security, not only because of his socialist policies but also owing to his desire to reach out to the communist Soviet Union, including Russia, in a spirt of peace and friendship. By this time, the U.S. national-security establishment was waging its Cold War against the Soviet Union, which ironically had been America’s WWII partner and ally. The Pentagon and the CIA were convinced that the Russians were coming to get us as part of a worldwide communist conspiracy based in Moscow. In the minds of the Pentagon and CIA, Arbenz was part of that communist conspiracy and, therefore, needed to be removed from office before the Reds were able to come and take over the United States.
The CIA targeted Guatemalan officials with assassination. Americans are still not permitted to see which officials were going to be murdered (“national security,” of course), but surely Arbenz was at the top of the list. He was able to escape the country before the CIA could assassinate him.
Not surprisingly, the CIA installed into power a brutal “law and order” military tyrant, one whose military dictatorship proceeded to wage a vicious war against leftist-oriented Guatemalans. As the leftists fought back, the country was thrown into a violent civil war that lasted 36 years. At least 200,000 people were killed, with the full support of the U.S. national-security establishment, which took the position that their military regime was protecting America and the world from the worldwide communist conspiracy that was supposedly based in Moscow and that was supposedly coming to get us.
At the time it succeeded in ousting Arbenz and installing a military regime in his stead, the CIA was ecstatic over its success. Internal celebrations were held and medals were awarded. The same thing happened after the CIA’s regime-change operation in Iran in 1953, the year before the Guatemalan regime-change operation. After succeeding in destroying Iran’s democratic system and installing, training, and supporting the viciously brutal tyranny of the Shah, the CIA internally celebrated its success and handed out the medals to those who had brought it about.
Today, more than half-a-century later, Americans, Iranians, and Guatemalans are still living with the horrific long-term consequences of those U.S. regime-change operations. It’s something for Americans to keep in mind as the U.S. national-security establishment continues to effect regime-change operations in various parts of the world today. Just ask 84-year-old Guatemalan Emma Thiessen Alvarez, who still feels the pain of losing her 14-year-old son to U.S.-supported Guatemalan military brutes.