Saturday, March 28, 2009

David Halberstam's The Fifties, Part II

David Halberstam's writing -- and the breadth of the issues and people he explores -- continues to impress me.

I have just read about the US's coordination of a coup in Guatemala in June of 1954. I think Vincent Malmstrom taught us about this coup in my course on "The Geography of Latin America" during my sophomore or junior year at Dartmouth.

According to Halberstam, the US worked with a group of Guatemalans to overthrow elected leader Jacobo Arbenz, who we suspected was flirting with Communism and with whom United Fruit (the dominant corporate force in Latin America at the time) was not happy because of his land reform program.

The coup was planned and carried out by the CIA (led by Allen Dulles) and the US embassy in Guatemala. The US ambassador was a guy named Jack Peurifoy, who is portrayed by Halberstam as something of a cocky ugly American.

There's a fascinating subplot about New York Times reporter Sydney Gruson, who was based in Mexico City and who Halberstam says was -- until the coup -- a fun-loving guy who did not take his reportorial duties overly-seriously.

Gruson periodically did stories about Guatemala, and he became suspicious about the US drumming up false accusations against Arbenz and coordinating his overthrow. Peurifoy and Allen Dulles worked with the Times's leadership to get him temporarily exiled so as not to cover the story and throw a kink in US plans. Gruson was pissed, and ultimately the Times figured out they'd been manipulated by the government ("Arthur Hays Sulzberger was not happy about the way his paper had been used and the fact that he had kept one of his best people away from a legitimate story").

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