Friday, 21 October 2011

Guatemala: President Colom apologises

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom has apologised to the family of former President Jacobo Arbenz who was ousted in a 1954 coup backed by the United States. Arbenz died in exile in 1971.

Colom announced on Thursday that he will name a federal highway after Arbenz, notes the Associated Press. Not to make light of an absolutely serious issue, but that does seem a slightly odd tribute.

The New York Times, which calls the ceremony "muted", takes the opportunity to remind readers of a little of the history surrounding the Guatemalan coup.
The Eisenhower Administration painted the coup as an uprising that rid the hemisphere of a Communist government backed by Moscow. But Mr. Arbenz’s real offense was to confiscate unused land owned by the United Fruit Company to redistribute under a land reform plan and to pay compensation for the vastly understated value the company had claimed for its tax payments.

Arbenz's grandson also said that the family would like an apology from the US for its role in the coup.

Guatemala apologizes to ex-president's family (AP)
An Apology for a Guatemalan Coup, 57 Years Later (New York Times)

Mike from Central American Politics has also blogged on the issue and rightly points out that such state apologies are no replacement for real responsibility-taking by the perpetrators. Of course, I agree, and a "sorry" in itself is not justice. However, I always like to note these steps taken and I find the public engagement with memory issues interesting - even further afield, if you think of examples like the NY Times.


Anonymous said...

I noted this this morning too. Even symbolic measures resonate for their symbolic power. Well-said at the end there.

Mike Allison said...

Even talking about Arbenz is an important accomplishment. In Silence on the Mountain, Dan Wilkinson recounts how Guatemalans feared to even talk about the Arbenz years in the 1990s. They would talk about Arevalo but then skip over Arbenz.

Did you catch Brazil's truth commission solution (

Lillie Langtry said...

Thanks Colin. I just this minute saw your post - can't believe I didn't catch the BBC article!

And Mike, I promise I wrote the Brazil post before seeing your comment, but great minds! That's an important point about the talking. I am comparatively ill-informed on Central America so am pretty much restricted to noting what's in the media. Not enough time to find out about all the things worth finding out about. :-)