guatemalan history

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September 14th 1913: Jacobo Arbenz born

On this day in 1913, the future President of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz, was born in the city of Quetzaltenango. Arbenz first became involved in left-wing politics while in the army, where he witnessed first-hand the brutality of the US-backed Guatemalan dictator Jorge Ubico. In 1944 Ubico was forced out of office, and his equally undemocratic successor was soon also removed from power; Arbenz was one of the military figures who supported this revolt. Arbenz was appointed Minister of Defense in the newly elected regime of Juan José Arévalo and was elected President himself by a solid margin in 1950. Upon assuming office in 1951, Arbenz continued his predecessor’s popular democratic and social reform policies, with labour and land reform becoming the focus of his administration. This caused a division between the Arbenz government and the US-based United Fruit Company, which was the largest landowner in Guatemala at the time. His policies, which threatened US investments, and also the Cold War-era fears that Arbenz’s government was too close to communist forces, led to a CIA-backed coup that ousted Arbenz in 1954. He was succeeded by the military junta of Carlos Castillo Armas who immediately undid the reforms of the Arbenz government. Jacobo Arbenz lived in various different countries after his exile, eventually settling in Mexico where he died in 1971 aged 57.

So I did talk about this a few days ago, but not in great detail. I loved part of Pitch Perfect 2, but something that hit close to home with me was the fact that the only Latina women in the movie was just a running joke. I am a first generation American, on my father’s side. My father, who turns 60 this year, still has nightmares about his time and part during the Revolutionary war in Nicaragua. Seeing jokes being made about war torn countries, and death and these horrible things that much of Latin America has gone through was just so shocking and frankly, it was harmful.

According to the IMNB page, the character Flo was Guatemalan. One comment that stood out to me was the announce calling her Mexican, which it was the guy who has made horrible comments before. This is no excuse. We are not one in the same.

Guatemala is a country in Latin America- Central America specifically -in between Mexico and Honduras/El Salvador, also next to Belize. Their civil war lasted from 1960-1996. I do not know much about Guatemalan history, nor its war but I would assume that many stories are similar to the ones my father tells.

One joke was that they should have an extra person just in case someone else got kidnapped; I remember my father telling me, not being able to meet my eyes how the National Guard would take young children away from their families, training them to be killing machines. I remember the night he told me how they would raid local high schools and colleges, looking for those who had evidence of training. If you have scraped knees or elbows, really anything that led them to believe you were part of the resistance you were shot on the spot.

Another was how Flo had diarrhea for seven years of her life. My father had eight siblings, four of them died as children. The state of their health care and total lack of medicine is not funny. My dad blamed himself for years for his brother Benancio’s death, thinking that he could have done something. This is not funny. I can still remember him, drunker than ever sobbing into the beer can because he thought he killed his baby brother. This is not funny.

Human trafficking, and prostitution were also subtle jokes in the movie. My father once told me the story about this little boy, only nine years old who was orphaned because of the war. The rebels took him in and trained him. He would drop down from trees, or climb up the tanks and unscrew the top, throwing grenades into them. One day the little boy, Luis, was jumping off the tank when he tripped. He was crushed. There was another boy, Segundo, only about 15. He was shot, died quickly. There is nothing funny about my dad cradling this little boy’s mangled body in his arms, until they tell him that they have no time to bury him. There is nothing funny about the way my dad face paled when i asked him about the bombing in Leon, where my tio Ramon was a sniper.

Our people are not a joke. Our wars are not a joke. Our suffering is not a joke. We are not here for you to laugh at, we are not here to ridiculed. And I am sick and tired of being another white privileged person’s joke.

Jacobo Árbenz on the cover of TIME Magazine
Colonel Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán (Spanish pronunciation: [xaˈkoβo ˈarβenz ɣuzˈman]; 14 September 1913 – 27 January 1971) was a Guatemalan military officer and politician who served as Defense Minister of Guatemala from 1944 to 1951, and as President of Guatemala from 1951 to 1954.

He was ousted in a coup d'état engineered by the United States government and CIA and was replaced by a military junta headed by Colonel Carlos Castillo. He went into exile after the coup and died in Mexico in 1971.