Skip to main content

Guatemala, Relations with


GUATEMALA, RELATIONS WITH. Guatemala, the most populated Central American country, has historically been the most economically powerful nation in the region, though that power rested with a select elite and U.S. business interests. United States policy in Central America has consisted of defending and promoting American trade and security. In Guatemala, the United States enjoyed considerable influence through informal interests that until 1954 made military intervention un-necessary. The United States held sway over the economy through its dominance in trade and commerce, made possible by authoritarian and dictatorial regimes. The U.S. United Fruit Company (UFCO) was the single largest landowner. Through its banana monopoly, UFCO controlled the railroad, harbors, and steamships vital to national commerce. To the detriment of most Guatemalans, the company prospered by accommodating dictators who kept exploited laborers under control and satisfied the United States' desire for order and stability.

In 1944, a middle-class, student-supported revolution put an abrupt end to dictator Jorge Ubico. This brought about a period of reforms and democratization, including the 1944 elections, the freest the country had seen, and, in 1952, far-reaching land reforms. The banana company vigorously objected to the expropriation of its unused lands. Predictably, UFCO and the U.S. government claimed communists, not maldistribution of national resources, were causing Guatemalan social and political problems. In 1954, the United States organized, funded, and directed a coup to topple the constitutionally elected Jacobo Arbenz Guzman government. The United States wanted to discourage nationalists from challenging American interests, especially in its own "backyard." Although the United States justified its covert intervention on Cold War grounds, close ties between UFCO and the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower provided additional incentive.

The military's return to power lasted more than thirty years and was supported by U.S. funding, which exceeded that of any other Central American country between 1954 and 1970. John F. Kennedy's Alliance for Progress attempted to force Guatemalan reform, but U.S. plans favored big business, caused a growing disparity between rich and poor, and perpetuated Guatemalan dependence. Despite U.S. aid and failed attempts at reform, worsening social conditions and political repression fostered growing rebellion. Beginning in the late 1960s, the U.S. trained Guatemalan military brutally and often indiscriminately repressed the political opposition, the death toll reaching more than fifty thousand by 1976. Attempting to promote human rights, President Jimmy Carter's administration ceased military aid, but Guatemalan military leaders found other suppliers in western Europe and Israel. The Ronald Reagan administration revived the Cold War and was willing to forgive the abuses of authoritarianism, but Congress blocked arms shipments until a civilian headed the Guatemalan government. In 1985, the Guatemalan military selected its civilian figurehead. Congress resumed military aid and increased economic assistance, but after thirty years of warfare, the rebels still operated throughout most of the country.


Dosal, Paul J. Doing Business with the Dictators: A Political History of United Fruit in Guatemala, 1899–1944. Wilmington, Del.: SR Books, 1993.

Gleijeses, Piero. Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States, 1944–1954. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991.

Immerman, Richard H. The CIA in Guatemala: The Foreign Policy of Intervention. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982.

LaFeber, Walter. Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America. 2d ed. New York: Norton, 1993.

Leonard, Thomas M. Central America and the United States: The Search for Stability. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991.

Dominic A.Cerri

See alsoAlliance For Progress ; Cold War ; andvol. 9:Maya in Exile: Guatemalans in Florida .

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Guatemala, Relations with." Dictionary of American History. . 19 Aug. 2019 <>.

"Guatemala, Relations with." Dictionary of American History. . (August 19, 2019).

"Guatemala, Relations with." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved August 19, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.