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Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala [Paperback]

Stephen C. Schlesinger , Stephen Kinzer
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb 1990
Recounts the CIA operation to overthrow the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954. The authors make use of US government publications and documents, as well as interviews with former CIA and other officials.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Anchor Books; Reprint edition (Feb 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385183542
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385183543
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.2 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 724,388 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A brilliant account of just one of the crimes committed by the US government in the world, this book was so compelling that I couldn't put it down. The book reveals how the US paranoia against the alleged communist threat led to their push to rid the Western Hemisphere of anything that vaguely resembled a left wing movement, and installing the usual Latin American style, U.S. sponsored despotic dictatorship (see also Nicaragua, Chile, El Salvador, Honduras, etc etc). When Arbenz reasoned about the Communists in his government ("it is better to have them visible then to have them underground"), no one took notice. According to one set of research figures published in the book, the years which followed Arbenz's downfall have seen the death or disappearance of up to 200,000 people. The authors have done a fantastic job of revealing this part of American history in a very clear and concise manner, and all I can say is that it's a shame that Allen Dulles, the CIA director at the time, never got to be tried in court for the atrocities him and his stoolies were responsible for committing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As gripping as it is infuriating 21 Jan 2009
By El Rev
This book is an excellent education into the back-room machinations, corruption and mania that formed such a strong element of US foreign policy post-WWII. Also a good example of US corporations dictating and driving the US government's actions.

In a depressingly familiar pattern, we see economic motives tied to blinkered ideology and opportunism resulting in death, the destruction of a country and a generation's dreams, and decades of suffering.

The cast of characters includes E. Howard Hunt, of Watergate infamy.

Observers of modern-day populist leaders in Latin America (e.g. Morales in Bolivia and Chavez in Venezuela) would do well to understand the historical context provided by this book; every leader who opposes the USA is sharply aware of what happened to Arbenz in Guatemala.

United Fruit, the company who were most threatened by Arbenz's land reforms, are now called Chiquita. For more on that side of the story, there's Bananas!: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World
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5.0 out of 5 stars Made me sad and angry 3 April 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Required reading to understand the modern world and US foreign policy.

Reading the book made me feel anger bordering on hatred towards Dulles and Eisenhower. The strutting self important Peurifoy dictating to another nation. Eisenhower elsewhere did some good things. I despair in thinking about how they rationalised actions like this coup and the one in Iran and their self righteous public declarations.

Some influential americans disagreed with these policies but they were sidelined. Bernays and United Fruit are fit for contempt only. The US press with exceptions comes across as a passive tool of government policy without curiosity.

I felt sad for the decades long mess in Guatemala and the appalling violence which the US condoned especially in the sities - wack the mole and it will disappear permanently
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
69 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Triggered an Erosion of Faith 20 Mar 2001
By Elderbear - Published on Amazon.com
Well, OK, Watergate actually triggered the erosion of my faith in the US government. But I was barely a teenager as that story broke. I was in my early 20's when I read Bitter Fruit, prior to meeting Stephen Schlesinger at a university function.
This is the story of how the United States Government plotted against and overthrew the first democratically elected government in Guatemala. It clearly demonstrates how our government became an instrument, not of Democracy, but of oppression for the benefit of the wealthy. The right-wing coup, planned and supported by the CIA, led to other covert operations, many of which succeeded in enriching American corporations at the expense of Democracy.
Jacobo Arbenz, elected to the presidency of Guatemala was faced with a crisis of poverty. Most of the nation's land belonged to a very few rich, and to United Fruit Company. Much of that land lay fallow. Arbenz instituted a land reform package which called for turning over fallow land to the country's impoverished campesinos. Land would be purchased by the government from the owners at the value THE OWNERS had declared for property tax purposes. Sounds fair enough, right? Honest landowners would receive fair recompense for unused land. Dishonest landowners would get their just desserts.
Nevertheless, United Fruit Company, using its pull with John Foster & Allen Dulles, Secretary of State & CIA Director, respectively, managed to have their own revolution created and funded by the US Government, wrapped in a shroud of anti-communism. The dictator they instated continued the tradition of repression that Guatemala had known for decades before.
The only real winners of in this story were the stockholders of United Fruit. Today, in the "New World Order," we're more subtle, using international development loans and free trade agreements to undermine Democracy in third world nations. The tools may have changed, but the goal remains the same: Corporate wealth continues to supersede and destroy Democracy worldwide.
40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an area studies and foreign policy classic..and a good read! 21 May 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Reading Bitter Fruit several years after the last time was like picking up a great but long neglected novel and discovering its richness all over again. When I first read Bitter Fruit, not long after its initial publication, it was as riveting as any Dick Francis mystery--not my usual reaction to books I had to read for course preparation!
The Kinzer-Schlesinger book is one of those rarities--in two sub-disciplines: an area studies and a foreign policy classic. The rigor of the research that undergirds the book is clear from the early pages; the story is compelling;and the moral is timeless. Both as an examination of politics in Guatemala in the early 1950s AND as a study of U.S. foreign policy in that period, the book is almost without peer. As John Coatsworth notes in his introduction, "Now that the Cold War ... has ended, the lessons Bitter Fruit sought to convey are just as relevant [as] they were" when it was written.
John Coatsworth's fine Introduction is very useful in placing the book in historical perspective. Particularly for students for whom the Vietnam war is as ancient a history as World War II is for the authors and me, and for whom the Cold War is primarily memories of people breaking down the Berlin Wall with hammers, Coatsworth's introduction reminds the reader that history CAN repeat itself--if under different guises. As Walter Lefeber (whom Coatsworth cites) argues in Inevitable Revolutions, the U.S. goal in Central America from the nineteenth century forward was control of the region; only the rationale changed from era to era. This introduction reminds us of that reality; my only comment in this context is that the latest means of control is (as it was for much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) economic--this time neo- liberal economic policies.
Kinzer's Afterword is an appropriate and useful reflection on Guatemala in recent years. Reading Coatsworth and Kinzer together was a good exercise; the two essays are excellent "bookends" for the original manuscript.
Tommie Sue Montgomery, Ph.D.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast-paced and balanced account of American foreign policy 31 May 2004
By Brandon Wilkening - Published on Amazon.com
I had wanted to read this book ever since reading Mr. Kinzer's account of the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran, entitled "All the Shah's Men," which I would also heartily endorse. Like that book, "Bitter Fruit" is an intricately detailed yet fast-paced account of an American-sponsored overthrow of a popularly-elected foreign leader. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the book is the attention that the authors give to providing biographical sketches of all the participants. These portraits serve to contextualize the situation and render the actors' motives more understandable.
As a graduate student in political science, I have been trained to explain political phenomena as functions of identifiable and measurable independent factors. While the parsimony afforded by the academic approach has its advantages, Schlesinger and Kinzer's account reminds us that political reality is shaped by fallibe individuals often guided by imperfect information and their own ideological commitments. Indeed, the most vexing question that came to my mind was how men like the American Ambassador to Guatemaula in '54 and the dogmatic Dulles brothers ever attained positions of such prominence. Their belief that the social reforms being enacted in Guatemala represented the initial stage of a Communist revolution that would spread through all of Latin America seems ludicrous in hindsight, and Schlesinger and Kinzer's account makes clear that the evidence upon which this domino theory rested was shaky to begin with. The role that the "liberal" media played in reproducing the American accusations against Arbenz's government is one of the most interesting aspects of this book.
In conclusion, the authors are clearly antagonistic to the neoconservative ideology that justified American intervention around the world in the name of "anti-communism." Advocates of this view will naturally find weaknesses in their account. That said, Schlesinger and Kinzer are not apologists of the Guatemalan revolution of 1944. They devote ample space to detailing the weaknesses of the economic and social reforms enacted in the name of the revolution. All in all, their tone and their evidence permit the reader to form his or her own conclusions regarding the sagacity of America's interference in Guatemala's political and social evolution.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Power and influence 31 July 2005
By Stacey M Jones - Published on Amazon.com
BITTER FRUIT is about the means and methods the U.S. government, through the CIA and the American ambassador to Guatemala, used to overthrow the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954. The Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz was leading an administration that was working to enact land reform. It was hoped that these efforts, among others, would stem the tide of poverty in a country still bound to a labor system that forced poor people to work a certain number of days on large farms or face prison time. Shaking off the vestiges of a dictatorship that was defeated by popular elections in the 1940s, Guatemala sought such reforms to enfranchise more citizens.

The "fruit" of the title is that of the United Fruit Company, an American concern with large land, labor and capital holdings in Guatemala and the Caribbean. UFC also had a lot of influence in government, particularly with Eisenhower's Republican administration. When Arbenz's government took the rights to Fruit Company land (much of its land was left uncultivated, held as an "in case" the company said) and paid it the value the company had listed on its Guatemalan tax returns, influence was peddled in Washington, the word "communism" was thrown around, and Eisenhower gave the go-ahead to covert operations to overthrow the democratically elected Arbenz and replace him with an American supported military junta. Ironically, the Guatemalan move to democracy in the 1940s was inspired by FDR and the country's belief in rights for all humans, whatever the economic level. (Truman, apparently, would not approve such operations, so the Fruit Company had to wait for Eisenhower to effect the outcome it wanted.)

The book is a model historical work, heavily footnoted, clearly written, factually presented and overwhelmingly upsetting. It has a chapter on Edward Bernays, an early practioner of PR, who was Freud's nephew, and who was hired by the United Fruit Company to advance its goals in the United States. Bernays did powerful work and was probably instrumental in the coup taking place by building public sentiment in the United States against the Arbenz government.

The greatest and most painful irony of all was that not long after the coup, which was instigated, basically on behalf of United Fruit Company, the U.S. government, concerned that it would seem a little "too convenient" to have overthrown a popularly elected president on behalf of a banana company, decided to bring an anti-trust suit against United Fruit, hobbling the company. One has to ask at that point, "What the heck was it all for, then?"

The final chapter answers that: An April 1998 report found that 150,000 people had been killed and 50,000 had disappeared in the time since the coup in 1954, with 80 percent of the casualties caused by government forced.

What this book reports on made me sad and disgusted, but the book is well written and fascinating, a model historical account of a pivotal incident in the history of both Guatemala and the United States.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's still happening! 13 May 2006
By Rafael CS - Published on Amazon.com
After the successful coup by the CIA, general Castillo Armas was "made" president. Just two years later he was murdered, and Gen. Ydigoras Fuentes took power (1958). In response to the increasingly autocratic rule of Gen. Fuentes, a group of junior military officers revolted in 1960. When they failed, several went into hiding and established close ties with Cuba. This group (the guerrillas) became the nucleus of the forces that were in armed insurrection against the government for the next 36 years.

Nearly 300,000 people died.

The civil war ended in 1996. And we are still living with the repercussions of a 36 year war: violence, poverty, industrial underdevelopment, resentment, corruption etc.

So, if you think this book speaks of events long past and forgotten... think again. The same MO was used in Irak. There were no WMDs (Bush lied), there was no reason to start a war! Or was it? Did american big business benefit?

37,000 civilians from Iraq have died.

3,000 american soldiers have died.

And when you see the millions of latin immigrants protesting in all your major cities, don't be so quick to blame our countries. The CIA did similar things in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Chile, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Argentina, Honduras etc.

Do yourself a favor and read this book.
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