International School History - European Schools

S7 History - The Cold War - Guatemala, Cuba and Che

Last update - 10 May 2023

Full episode here.


Central America, the Caribbean and South America become the battleground for a test of wills between the United States and the U.S.S.R. -- as the Cold War comes to America's "backyard."

After World War II, growing nationalism in Central and South America led to greater resentment against the United States, whose government and business interests dominated the region. At that time in Guatemala, the railroad, the main port, telecommunications and about 500,000 acres of land were owned by the United Fruit Company of Boston.

In 1950, Jacobo Arbenz was voted Guatemala's president. Arbenz wanted to modernize Guatemala's backward society and started a land reform program, nationalizing thousands of acres of land -- some of it owned by United Fruit. Officials in Washington were alarmed and suspected communist infiltration of the Arbenz government. Arbenz wasn't a communist, but some of his allies were.

The CIA organized an operation code-named "PB Success," which mobilized disaffected Guatemalan exiles and peasants into action. The PB Success campaign brought down Guatemala's government and drove Arbenz and his wife into exile. Some 9,000 of his supporters were arrested. Among those who fled Guatemala was a young Argentine doctor, Che Guevara -- who went to Mexico, where he met Cuban rebel leader Fidel Castro.


By the end of the 1950s, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara had triumphed in Cuba -- establishing a communist regime that soon allied itself with the Soviet Union. In 1961, the new U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, inherited a CIA scheme to send an army of exiles to Cuba to overthrow Castro -- a plan that had worked earlier against Arbenz in Guatemala. But the CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion against Castro was a disaster.

After defeating the U.S.-backed forces, Castro wanted to take armed revolution into Central and South America. By the early 1960s, left-wing groups were fighting the authorities in Guatemala, Venezuela, Colombia and Peru. The United States grew nervous; in 1965, U.S. Marines were sent to the Dominican Republic to end a democratic revolution that Washington erroneously believed was backed by the Cubans. Cuba's real efforts to export revolution, meanwhile, met with mixed results. In 1967, Che Guevara, who had called for "100 Vietnams," was captured alive in Bolivia and shot dead hours later.



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