Guatemala’s modern history is inextricably linked with United States involvement in the country. Guatemala’s political and social course veered into darkness after the United States intervened in 1954 by having the CIA organize a military coup that overthrew the popularly-elected president, Jacobo Arbenz. American meddling came in response to lobbying by the United Fruit Company (known as Chiquita today), whose massive landholdings were threatened by Arbenz’s proposed land reforms. The forceful removal of Arbenz established an ugly precedent for other would-be rulers to follow. For the next 30 years, coup followed coup, as the country was ruled by brutal, right-wing dictators who made use of an American-trained military that ruthlessly targeted dissent from those on the left. An estimated 50,000 Guatemalans died in the 1970s alone at the hands of government-backed death squads. A Guatemalan truth commission blamed the army for 93% of the atrocities committed over a 30-year period, and President Bill Clinton apologized for the United States’ role in supporting the government. Although relative peace finally came about in the 1990s, Guatemala continues to suffer from serious human rights violations committed by police and criminal gangs.
Lay of the Land: Guatemala is the northernmost country in Central America. The country has three distinct geographical regions – the highlands (4,500 to 9,000 ft. elevation), where most of the population lives; the Pacific coastal lowland; and the large northern tropical forest area called Petén. The weather is predictably humid but not unbearably hot, with occasional hurricanes.
The Mayans of Guatemala and the surrounding regions had one of the most advanced civilizations of the ancient world. Their cities flourished across Central America, complete with pyramids, temples, observatories and libraries, and their scholars produced works of literature, philosophy, art and architecture.
United States involvement began in Guatemala through the business sector. Like so many Latin American countries, Guatemala became a “banana republic,” as US business interests created monopolies of their resources. United States business dealings in Latin America often blurred into both the local politics of the Latin country, and also American foreign policy.
The Guatemalan military has not received certain types of US military assistance for almost two decades, on account of Guatemalan soldiers who murdered an American citizen in 1990. Security assistance, mainly in the form of counter-drug aid, has gone primarily to the police, which have also faced serious problems of corruption and abuse. However, the US military is interested in increasing assistance to the Guatemalan military in order to enhance its capacity to combat drug trafficking. Guatemala is a significant transit country for cocaine from South America to Mexico and onward to the United States.
Today, the United States is Guatemala’s leading partner in trade, accounting for about 45% of its $6 billion in exports. Guatemala is a prime source of cheap labor for American clothing manufacturers and retailers. The single largest import by the US is apparel and household goods, averaging $1.3 billion a year from 2003 to 2007. No other import comes close to the billion dollar mark. The next largest import, fruits and frozen juices, is valued at $452 million (2007), followed by green coffee at $309 million and crude oil at $199 million.
Guatemala Seeks End to Adoptions by US Parents
The State Department reports that the human rights situation in Guatemala continues to be quite serious. Members of the police force committed a number of unlawful killings. Corruption, intimidation, and ineffectiveness within the police and other institutions prevented adequate investigation of many such killings, as well as the arrest and successful prosecution of perpetrators.
Appointment: Mar 7, 1825
Note: Commissioned to the Central Republic of America. Died while en route to post.
Dr. Julio Armando Martini Herrera, a career diplomat in the Guatemala Foreign Service, took over as Ambassador of Guatemala to the United States on August 5, 2011. He presented his credentials to President Obama on September 9, 2011.
After 30 years in the Foreign Service, Arnold A. Chacon received his first appointment as ambassador, to Guatemala, in June 2011. He was confirmed by the Senate on August 2.
Stephen G. McFarland was sworn in as US ambassador to the Republic of Guatemala on June 30, 2008. The son of a diplomat, McFarland grew up in Latin America and the Middle East, as well as in central Texas and suburban Washington, DC. He is a graduate of the Colegio Roosevelt in Lima, Peru, Yale University and the US Air War College. He also attended the Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Course.