June 27, 1954 - Guatemalan Coup d’etat

By: Caleb Morgan

The 1954 Guatemalan Coup D’état was a revolt against the Communist-like leader of Guatemala, Jacobo Árbenz, by the Guatemalan people, who were assisted by the CIA and American forces. Interestingly enough, this Guatemalan Coup was one of only a few cases in which the United States invoked the 1823 Monroe Doctrine as the reasoning behind their “shocking” influence of Guatemalan politics and freedom. The operation was to be nicknamed Operation PBSUCCESS. The CIA quickly began work on the project, giving Castillo Armas, a Guatemalan military leader, the ability to recruit and influence people to take part in a revolt against the government. Armas was only able to recruit 480 men willing to take on the daunting task of a coup, so the CIA moved into phase two of the plan: psychological warfare.


The CIA wanted to make sure that the operation would go as planned, and went along smoothly, without unnecessary bloodshed or violence. They elected to instill fear into the current leaders of Guatemala, who they believed would stand in their way should they catch wind of the plan. They would send mini coffins, fake bombs, and nooses to their houses time after time, which served to unnerve these leaders, and would make them less likely to resist in the case of a coup. However, the most effective form of psychological warfare was the long-reaching “Voice of Liberation”, a radio station which carried anti-Communist messages and encouraged listeners to support Castillo Armas as he attempted to take control of Guatemala. The voices claimed to be from central Guatemala, but were actually broadcasting from Miami, Florida. These voices were instrumental in the instilling of uncertainly, and played a massive part in the lack of resistance come the coup.


            Despite early setbacks, and some of his troops being captured before the attack even started, Castillo Armas managed to lead his troops into the heart of the Guatemala City, where CIA-approved air attacks began to rain down on the government buildings. Despite not causing material damage, the attacks heavily dropped the spirits of the defending Guatemalan military, which got planes in the air quickly, only to realize that the bombers were now good as gone. Again, psychological warfare playing a huge role in the coup. An unsuccessful counter attack by Jacobo Árbenz followed soon after, and he eventually resigned on June 27, 1954, marking the end of the Guatemalan Coup. The counter-attack planned by Árbenz was not a failure of the fighting force of Guatemala, but rather a fear of a full-scale United States invasion should Armas’s army be defeated. The Guatemalan Army simply gave up, and Árbenz was left with no choice but to resign.


This event had momentous impact on the ongoing Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Despite failing to immediately establish any connection to the Soviet Union, the CIA launched project PBHISTORY, which established a deep look at Guatemalan history and the history of the deposed Árbenz. However, the project failed to turn up any solid evidence that tied Guatemala to the Soviet Union, and was thus considered a failure. However, the project PBSUCCESS did still achieve its objective of deposing of another Communist government, and this aided the United States in the fight against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Any failed Communist governments, whether they fell on their own, or, in this case, were overthrown by the United States, were a big positive for the agenda that the United States was attempting to push, both against the spread of Communism and against the Soviet Union.