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
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
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.