“We quarantined Mr. Arbenz”

On Cuba, Richard Nixon Recalls Guatemala (1960)

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | November 20, 2023                      

In Oct. 1960, John F. Kennedy and Vice Pres. Richard M. Nixon had their fourth and final Presidential debate, with the central focus on U.S. foreign policy, Cuba and Fidel Castro. For his part, Nixon cited the Eisenhower administration’s policy toward Guatemala under President Jacobo Arbenz anecdotally, although he was not telling all.

Arbenz was overthrown in 1954 with the help of a CIA plot, Operation Success. The U.S. role in the Guatemalan coup had already been divulged, though it was not widely known.

In referencing Arbenz, Nixon was implicitly threatening Castro with CIA action. The failed Bay of Pigs invasion occurred just six months later.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, The Deseret News and Telegram commented in their Nov. 1st lead editorial The Danger Of Too Much Talk:

“Last week, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Raul Roa was able to stir up his countrymen with the charge that both presidential candidates agree the U.S. should overthrow Cuba’s government by using “the same methods as it used in Guatemala in 1954.”

His reference was to a statement made by Vice President Nixon in the fourth debate. “We can do,” said Nixon in response to a question about Cuba, “what we did with Guatemala. There was a Communist dictator that we inherited from the previous administration. We quarantined Mr. Arbenz. The result was that the Guatemalan people themselves rose up and they threw him out.”

The trouble is, what the U.S. government did do in respect to Guatemala is still a much-argued question. Secretary of State Dulles argued at the time that Arbenz was overthrown by the invasion of Castillo Armas solely because of “the just wrath of the Guatemalan people.” But at least one historian, J. Fred Rippy, has asserted flatly that the coup was accomplished with encouragement and assistance from the United States, through, presumably, the Central Intelligence Agency.

Whatever the facts, the latter is the version believed in Cuba. Obviously, any reference in the campaign to that operation can only furnish ammunition to Castro’s anti-American tirades.”

And James Reston reacted in the Oct. 24th New York Times:

“This is the joke of the weekend in the Latin American Embassies. For every official who knows anything about the fall of the Arbenz Government in Guatemala knows that the United States Government, through the Central Intelligence Agency, worked actively with, and financed, and made available the arms, with which the anti-Arbenz forces ‘finally threw him out.’

In fact, the Eisenhower Administration, and Mr. Nixon personally, have taken credit in public for getting rid of Arbenz. They did in Guatemala what Senator Kennedy is proposing to do in Cuba: they helped the opposition to a pro-Communist dictator, and the only difference is that the Eisenhower administration was prudent enough to keep quiet about it in advance (but not after the event), whereas Senator Kennedy has been imprudent enough to suggest financing an anti-Castro revolt in advance and in public.”

Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate
October 21, 1960

FRANK SINGISER (MUTUAL NEWS): Mr. Vice President, I’d like to pin down the difference between the way you would handle Castro’s regime and prevent the establishment of Communist governments in the Western hemisphere and the way that Senator Kennedy would proceed. Vice President Nixon, in what important respects do you feel there are differences between you, and why do you believe your policy is better for the peace and security of the United States in the Western hemisphere?

RICHARD NIXON: Our policies are very different. I think that Senator Kennedy’s policies and recommendations for the handling of the Castro regime are probably the most dangerously irresponsible recommendations that he’s made during the course of this campaign. In effect, what Senator Kennedy recommends is that the United States government should give help to the exiles and to those within Cuba who oppose the Castro regime — provided they are anti-Batista.

Now let’s just see what this means. We have five treaties with Latin America, including the one setting up the Organization of American States in Bogota in 1948, in which we have agreed not to intervene in the internal affairs of any other American country — and they as well have agreed to do likewise. The charter of the United Nations — its Preamble, Article I and Article II — also provide that there shall be no intervention by one nation in the internal affairs of another. Now I don’t know what Senator Kennedy suggests when he says that we should help those who oppose the Castro regime, both in Cuba and without. But I do know this: that if we were to follow that recommendation, that we would lose all of our friends in Latin America, we would probably be condemned in the United Nations, and we would not accomplish our objective. I know something else. It would be an open invitation for Mr. Khrushchev to come in, to come into Latin America and to engage us in what would be a civil war, and possibly even worse than that. This is the major recommendation that he’s made.

Now, what can we do? Well, we can do what we did with Guatemala. There was a Communist dictator that we inherited from the previous administration. We quarantined Mr. Arbenz. The result was that the Guatemalan people themselves eventually rose up and they threw him out. We are quarantining Mr. Castro today. We are quarantining him diplomatically by bringing back our Ambassador; economically by cutting off trade, and Senator Kennedy’s suggestion that the trade that we cut off is not significant is just one hundred percent wrong. We are cutting off the significant items that the Cuban regime needs in order to survive. By cutting off trade, by cutting off our diplomatic relations as we have, we will quarantine this regime so that the people of Cuba themselves will take care of Mr. Castro. But for us to do what Senator Kennedy has suggested would bring results which I know he would not want, and certainly which the American people would not want.

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Related links:

Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro on Iran, Israel, U.S. Imperialism

Pres. Eisenhower on Iran: “We Are Not Imperialistic” (March 1953 News Conference)

Stability of Shah’s Regime Questioned | NSC, April 1960

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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