week 9

Week 9: Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire

What I found the most interesting this week was how Arbenz went about changing the way the United Fruit Company had control over Guatemala, mostly through the Agrarian Reform Law, “Plan 900.”

The UFCO, which in 1952 cultivated only 139,000 acres of its 3 million acres of property in the country, lost 234,000 acres as a result of the law. Worse still for the company, the government offered only $1 million in compensation for the confiscated lands, basing the offer on the company’s own tax filings, which were widely known to significantly undervalue their land.

I thought this was so clever of Arbenz; however, his wit alone wasn’t enough. The U.S. military backing of UFCO, despite its contribution to poverty and inequality, is a clear example of the U.S.’s imperialism in the region. It also highlights how powerful the rhetoric of the red scare was and how it could be used so easily as propaganda, as it fueled the narrative that anyone that was against UFCO was a threat to national security. Dawson calls this partly “the U.S. government’s inability to distinguish nationalism from communism.” This made me think about the Crucible, the play about the Salem witch trials. Arthur Miller wrote this during the time of the Cold War, and the fear of witches was meant to be an allegory to the red scare. This was such a big part of American culture at the time, so it makes sense to me that politicians would use this as a fear tactic to gain power. In ways, the red scare never really ended. The anti-communist sentiment definitely still exists in the U.S., especially surrounding Cuba.

I also thought it was interesting how document 6.4 described Disney as an invader, how they have the ability to make a revolutionary struggle look banal. As I grew up watching Disney movies as a kid, it feels weird to accept this dark side of Disney. Its hard to imagine that the films were made with the intentions of being propaganda but like Dawson said about U.S. intervention in Latin America, “American officials often believed that they were doing good deeds.” Their motives must be analyzed within the framework of North American culture. The effects of their intervention is complicated, because there were benefits, such as cures found for Malaria and other blood-born illnesses, but there were also many costs.