OPINION: Will VP Harris Continue to Overlook Guatemalan History?

Jun 2, 2021
7:17 PM

Vice President Kamala Harris meets virtually with Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei, seen on screen at left, Monday, April 26, 2021, from her ceremonial office at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

In late April, Vice President Kamala Harris met with the President of Guatemala Alejandro Giammattei to discuss ways of how the United States can help the country and others in the region. In her opening statement, Vice President made some comments about the different causes for a recent increase in migration from Central America.

It was the continuation of a message coming from the Biden Administration that ever since January has been placing blame on the Central American countries people are migrating from. As recently as this week, the message might have been tweaked a bit, but it really hasn’t changed.

This is why Harris’ comments from April felt so tone deaf when she said that the root causes of this current situation are “the issue of poverty and the lack… corruption and the lack of food governance; and violence against, Indigenous people, LGBTQ people, and Afro-descendants.”

As someone of Guatemalan descent, I can attest these are issues the country faces, and as an American citizen, I can also point out numerous instances of these things happening in the United States.

Harris should know her history because the mistreatment of Guatemala goes back decades.

A Quick History Lesson

The United States and CIA have a rich history of intervening and upending Guatemala. In the first half of the 20th century, peasants and workers —who were mostly of Indigenous descent— revolted against the oppressive government and corporations plaguing the country. The Guatemalan Revolution led to President Jacobo Árbenz being democratically elected.

Árbenz enacted several policies, including a change to agricultural law that saw large amounts of land returned to the poor. These changes drew the ire off foreign corporations, namely the United Fruit Company, who petitioned the U.S. government to overthrow Árbenz. The U.Sa was also concerned over the increasing presence of communism and socialism in Latin America.

Árbenz was overthrown in 1954 and replaced by the authoritarian Carlos Castillo Armas.

The decades after were dark as the installation of Armas would eventually lead to a long civil war that lasted almost 40 years. Along with that came the many dictators, the death squads, the genocide of indigenous people and outright massacres.

The decades of dictatorship and CIA intervention strangled Guatemala’s economic growth, leading to long-standing poverty as well as the death of the country’s political independence.

The effects of this corruption linger to this day.

Zero Game Plan

When Árbenz gave land back to the 500,000 peasants, it was an attempt to raise people out of poverty. A chance to make something of themselves, which would in turn raise the country as a whole. Árbenz wanted to end “neo-feudalism”. This would have been an effective policy, but those dreams were squashed.

So far, the Biden Administration hasn’t done anything substantial that would alleviate the poverty and crime in the country, unless you are a U.S. business.

Instead, President Biden struck an agreement with Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras for these countries to send troops down to their borders and beef up security. Guatemala has already deployed 1,500 security personnel, and security forces have been accused of violence against incoming migrants as well as extortion.

Biden is also currently attempting to speed up the review process for families stuck at the border who are seeking asylum.

Next week, Harris will travel to Mexico and Guatemala. The question to ask is simple: Will the message finally change or will we continue to see a tone-deaf administration ignore history?


Cesar Cadenas is a young up-and-coming writer who is always on the lookout for new opportunities to learn and grow. Recently, he’s branched out to write about events that affect people on a wide scale. He hopes his writings make a positive impact on the world. Twitter: @san_pascualito