Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in History



First Advisor

Frank Costigliola


The purpose of this thesis is to explore the military and political implications of the United States' foreign policy towards Guatemala in the years 1961 to 1969. Guatemala was a key battleground of the Cold War in Latin America in the crucial decade of the 1960s. While greater scholarly attention has focused on the 1954 U.S. backed CIA planned coup in Guatemala, the events of the 1960s proved an equally significant watershed in U.S.-Latin American relations.

The outbreak of a nationalist insurgency in Guatemala early in the decade provided the Kennedy Administration with a vital testing ground for its new counter-insurgency and civic action politico-military doctrine. The fear of another Cuba, combined with the growing political and social instability within Guatemala, increasingly drove U.S. policy makers first in the Kennedy and later in the Johnson Administration to adopt a largely military solution in Guatemala just as in South Vietnam with similar tragic results.

Relying primarily on Presidential archival materials, government documents, and Spanish publications as the basis of its analysis, this study demonstrates how 1) the U.S. transmutation of military doctrine and cultures warped civil-military relations within Guatemala, 2) assured the emergence of the Guatemalan military as the dominant force within society, and 3) inadvertently increased the very instability and conflict the U.S. hoped to stem within the region.

This project demonstrates that by the late 1960s, due in significant part to U.S. political and military intervention, the manageable crisis of a small nascent guerrilla movement erupted into an all-out Guatemalan civil war whose tragic consequences reverberate to the present.



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