''Guatemala has now become a test of John Kennedy's axiom, 'Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable.' ''
So write veteran journalists Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer. Their book is intended to document how the CIA prevented peaceful change in 1954 by sponsoring the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz - the second democratically elected president in Guatemala's history.
To trace the origins of the coup, Schlesinger and Kinzer draw on US documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. They detail how the then-powerful United Fruit Company became angered by land reforms instituted under the leftist Arbenz regime; how a massive and skillful propaganda campaign was launched to brand Arbenz a Communist; how the CIA, after considering several other candidates, chose Col. Carlos Castillo Armas as the insurgents' figurehead; how a new US ambassador was brought to Guatemala to serve as covert ''theater commander''; how Castillo Armas, with the aid of US-trained and bankrolled troops, finally forced the hapless Arbenz into exile.
Although the authors' liberal political views sometimes obtrude in the narrative, most of their assertions appear amply supported by the evidence. And Guatemala's sad history of repression since the coup - government-linked ''death squads'' in the cities, massacres of Indian peasants in the countryside - lends weight to their conclusion this successful CIA operation bore bitter fruit indeed.