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Jacobo Árbenz

His Excellency
Jacobo Árbenz
Árbenz and his wife María Cristina Vilanova
25th President of Guatemala
In office
March 15, 1951 – June 27, 1954
Preceded by Juan José Arévalo
Succeeded by Carlos Enrique Díaz de León
Personal details
Born Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán
(1913-09-14)14 September 1913
Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
Died 27 January 1971(1971-01-27) (aged 57)
Mexico City, Mexico
Political party Revolutionary Action Party
Spouse(s) Maria Cristina Villanova (m. 1915–71)
Children Arabella
Jacobo Arbenz, Jr.
Alma mater Politecnic School
Profession Soldier
Religion Roman Catholic
Website Official website (tribute)
Military service
Allegiance  Guatemala
Service/branch Guatemalan Army
Years of service 1932–1954
Rank Colonel
Unit Guardia de Honor
Battles/wars Guatemalan Revolution

Colonel Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán (Spanish pronunciation: ; 14 September 1913 – 27 January 1971), nicknamed also The Big Blonde (Spanish: El Chelón) or The Swiss (Spanish: El Suizo) for his Swiss origins, was a Guatemalan military officer and progressive politician who served as President of Guatemala from 1951 to 1954. He was previously the Minister of Defense from 1944 to 1951. He was a major figure in the Guatemalan Revolution.

Árbenz was born in 1913 to a middle-class family, son of a José Manuel Fortuny, a well-known Guatemalan communist, who was one of his main advisers during his government.

In 1944, Ubico's highly repressive policies resulted in a popular revolt against him, led by students which led to his resignation on July 1, 1944. He left general Federico Ponce Vaides in charge of the military junta heading an interim government. However, Ponce Vaides remained in power by force, and this led to a general revolt by several civilian groups and progressive military factions led by Árbenz on October 20, 1944. In the elections that followed, widely seen as free and fair, Juan José Arévalo was elected president with 85% of the vote. Árbenz was appointed Minister of Defense, and played a crucial role in putting down a military coup in 1949, a situation that resulted in the death of colonel Francisco Javier Arana, the other major military figure in the government. The Arévalo government began a highly popular program of social reform, aimed at ending Guatemala's feudalistic labor system, which had been in place since the government of Justo Rufino Barrios.[1][2][3][4]

After the death of Arana, Árbenz contested the presidential elections that were held in 1950 without any major opponent, and defeated Operation PBSUCCESS, the coup d'état to depose the Árbenz Government of Guatemala. Afterwards, President Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán resigned on 27 June 1954, and the installed military government (1954–57) of Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas allowed him, and others, to seek political asylum in the Mexican embassy, en route to leaving Guatemala.

After the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état, CIA case officer PBHistory, meant to find and secure Árbenz government documents that might prove that the Soviet Union controlled Guatemala; and, in so doing, PBHistory meant to provide usable intelligence regarding other Soviet connections and Communist personnel in Latin America. Wisner sent two teams of document analysts who gathered 150,000 documents with the help of the Guatemalan Army and the junta of Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas, whom the U.S. installed as President of Guatemala. Ronald M. Schneider, an outside researcher who examined the PBHistory documents, reported that the documents did not indicate that the Republic of Guatemala was controlled by the USSR, and found substantial evidence that Guatemalan Communists acted independently, without orders or support from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in Moscow.[55] The contacts between the Soviet Union and the Árbenz government consisted of a Soviet diplomat negotiating an exchange of bananas for agricultural machinery; the business deal failed because neither party had refrigerated freight ships with which to transport the perishable fruit. The other evidence of Soviet–Guatemalan contact, found by the CIA after the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'etat were two invoices, for a total of $22.95, to the Guatemalan Party of Labour, from a book shop in Moscow.[54] However, Arbenz read and admired the works of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin; officials in his government euologized Stalin as a "great statesmen and leader....whose passing is mourned by all progressive men".[56] The Guatemalan Congress even paid a "minute of silence" tribute to Stalin.[57]

Árbenz took refuge in the Mexican embassy and resigned in favor of Carlos Enrique Díaz. Two days later, the army, under Colonel Elfego Monzón, deposed Díaz and established a military junta. On July 2, 1954, Carlos Castillo was invited to join the ruling junta. Six days later, on July 8, he succeeded Monzón.

Castillo Armas was given a ticker parade in NYC in the fall of 1954 for his coup. Columbia University gave him an honorary degree.

Military Government Board (1954)

  • Colonel H. Elfego Monzón
  • Colonel Enrique Trinidad Oliva
  • Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas
  • Colonel Mauricio Dubois
  • Colonel José Luis Cruz Salazar

Later life

Humiliation and exile

After resigning, the Árbenz Vilanova family remained for 73 days at the Mexican embassy in Guatemala, which was crowded with almost 300 exiles.[58] When they were finally allowed to leave the country, Jacobo Arbenz was publicly humiliated at the airport because the liberationist authorities made the former president strip before the cameras claiming that he was carrying jewelry he had bought for his wife María Cristina Vilanova at Tiffany's in New York City, using funds from the presidency; no jewelry was found but the interrogation lasted for an hour[59] The Arbenz family then initiated a long pilgrimage in exile that would take them first to México, then to Canada, where they went to pick up Arabella, and then to Switzerland, via the Netherlands.[60] Jacobo Arbenz completed the forms required by the Swiss government, but the Swiss authorities asked him for the renunciation of his Guatemalan nationality, to prevent the ousted president drove from Switzerland his resistance. The ousted president did not accept this requirement, as he felt that such gesture would have marked the end of his political career. Furthermore, he could not benefit from political asylum, because Switzerland had not yet ratified the 1951 Agreement of the newly created High Commissioner United Nations for Refugees, which was designed to protect people fleeing from communist regimes in Eastern Europe. Perhaps the fate of the ousted president would have been different if his country of origin would have allowed him in exile: it would also have been the first major political asylum in Latin America character in Switzerland.[61] However, Árbenz and his family were instead the victims of a CIA-orchestrated and intense defamation campaign that lasted from 1954 to 1960, and only receded when the Cuban revolution triumphed in 1959,[62] and that included a close friend of Árbenz, who turned out to be a spy working for the CIA: Carlos Manuel Pellecer.[63]

Seeking shelter

After having been rejected in Switzerland, the Árbenz family moved to Paris, and then to Prague. Czechoslovak officials were uncomfortable with his stay, unsure if he would demand the government to repay him for the poor quality of former arms from the Second World War that they had sold him in 1954. After only three months, he moved again, this time to Moscow, which was a relief from the harsh treatment he got in Czechoslovakia.[64] He tried several times to return to Latin America, and was finally allowed to move to Uruguay in 1957[65] (Arbenz joined the Communist Party in that year),[66] living in Montevideo from 1957 to 1960. Uruguay had lived with intensity and optimism throughout the Guatemalan revolutionary process, and attended helplessly at the end of the Arbenz government. For this and for being a hospitable country, it received and hold for a while the two former presidents of the so-called Guatemalan Democratic Spring. Arévalo arrived at Montevideo on several occasions before, establishing himself there between 1958 and early the following year, when he accepted a university position in Venezuela; he enjoyed some freedom and could express himself through newspaper articles.[67] On the other hand, Arbenz and his family, who arrived in mid-1957, had a very different experience: his friendship with the communists, especially with José Manuel Fortuny, and forced passage through Czechoslovakia, the USSR and China, aroused suspicions.[68] When the National Party took power in Uruguay in late 1958, the situation worsened for Arbenz, who eventually went to Cuba.

In 1960, after the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro asked Árbenz to come to Cuba, a suggestion that Árbenz Guzmán readily agreed to.

Death of Arabella Arbenz Vilanova

Televisa, Emilio Azcarraga Milmo, who helped her begin her acting career.[69]

During this time, she began having serious drug abuse issues that began affecting her behavior and personal life, and Azcarraga petitioned the Mexican government to expel her in October 1965. At that time, Arabella met the Mexican bullfighter Jaime Bravo Arciga, who at that time was at the height of his career and was to start a tour of South America. Arabella took advantage of this and left with him to Colombia. While in Bogotá on October 5, 1965, Arabella tried to convince Bravo Arciga not to continue working as bullfighter as she feared for his life. In a luxurious gentlemen's club in the Colombian capital, she pulled out a gun from her purse and committed suicide on a dark corner, while Bravo Arciga was ignoring her after a terrible day bullfighting. Arabella's death was a huge blow to the both the bullfighter and Jacobo Arbenz, and both would die within five years of her death.[69]

After her suicide, Bravo Arciga contacted

Political offices
Preceded by
Juan José Arévalo

President of Guatemala

Succeeded by
Carlos Enrique Díaz de León
  • Media related to at Wikimedia Commons
  • Quotations related to Jacobo Árbenz at Wikiquote
  • International Jose Guillermo Carrillo Foundation
  • Jacobo Árbenz Biography brought to you by the United Fruit Company's "United Fruit Historical Society"

External links

  • From Árbenz to Zelaya: Chiquita in Latin America, Democracy Now!, July 21, 2009
  • Guatemala to Restore Legacy of a President the U.S. Helped Depose, by Elisabeth Malkin, Published: May 23, 2011


  • Works related to CIA and Guatemala Assassination Proposals: CIA History Staff Analysis at Wikisource
  • CIA file about Operations against Jacob Árbenz

Government/NGO reports


Further reading


  1. ^ a b c d Martínez Peláez 1990, p. 842.
  2. ^ a b LaFeber 1993, p. 77-79.
  3. ^ a b Forster 2001, p. 81-82.
  4. ^ a b Friedman 2003, p. 82-83.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Arévalo Martinez 1945, pp. 55-123.
  7. ^ a b De los Ríos 1948.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Gleijeses 1992, p. 134-137.
  9. ^ Gleijeses 1992, p. 141.
  10. ^ González Davison 2008, p. 426.
  11. ^ a b Streeter 2000, pp. 8-10.
  12. ^ Marfínez Peláez 1990, p. 842.
  13. ^ a b c d Streeter 2000, pp. 11-12.
  14. ^ a b Immerman 1983, p. 34-37.
  15. ^ a b Cullather 2006, p. 9-10.
  16. ^ a b Rabe 1988, p. 43.
  17. ^ a b McCreery 1994, pp. 316-317.
  18. ^ Shillington 2002, p. 38-39.
  19. ^ Krehm 1999, p. 44-45.
  20. ^ Immerman 1983, p. 32.
  21. ^ Grandin 2000, p. 195.
  22. ^ Benz 1996, p. 16-17.
  23. ^ Loveman & Davies 1997, p. 118-120.
  24. ^ a b c d Sabino 2007, p. 9-24.
  25. ^ Immerman 1983, p. 39-40.
  26. ^ Jonas, 1991: p. 22
  27. ^ Immerman, 1983: pp. 41-43
  28. ^ Streeter 2000, p. 13.
  29. ^ Streeter 2000, p. 14.
  30. ^ Streeter 2000, pp. 15-16.
  31. ^ Immerman 1983, p. 48.
  32. ^ a b c d Sabino 2007, p. 42-52.
  33. ^ Streeter 2000, p. 16.
  34. ^ Gleijeses 1992, p. 84.
  35. ^ Gleijeses 1992, p. 124.
  36. ^ a b Streeter 2000, p. 18.
  37. ^ Fried 1983, p. 52.
  38. ^ Gleijeses 1992, p. 149.
  39. ^ Stephen Schlesinger (June 3, 2011). Ghosts of Guatemala’s Past. The New York Times. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
  40. ^ Elizabeth Malkin (October 20, 2011). An Apology for a Guatemalan Coup, 57 Years Later. The New York Times. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
  41. ^
  42. ^ Striffler and Moberg, 2003: p. 192
  43. ^ Gleijeses 1992, p. 49.
  44. ^ Handy, 1994: p. 84
  45. ^ Handy, 1994: p. 85
  46. ^ Paterson et al. 2009, p. 304.
  47. ^ Rabe 1988.
  48. ^
  49. ^ Gleijeses 1992, p. 155, 163.
  50. ^
  51. ^ a b Ward 2004.
  52. ^ Office of the Historian, US State Department 2003.
  53. ^ Cullather 2006, p. 57.
  54. ^ a b Gaddis 1997, p. 178.
  55. ^ Cullather 1997.
  56. ^ Gleijeses 1992, p. 141-181.
  57. ^ Gleijeses 1992, p. 181-379.
  58. ^ Garcia Ferreira 2008, p. 56.
  59. ^
  60. ^ Garcia Ferreira 2008, p. 60.
  61. ^
  62. ^ Garcia Ferreira 2008, p. 54.
  63. ^ Garcia Ferreira 2008, p. 55.
  64. ^ Garcia Ferreira 2008, p. 68.
  65. ^ Koeppel 2008, p. 153.
  66. ^ Gleijeses 1992, p. 379.
  67. ^ Garcia Ferreira 2008, p. 70.
  68. ^ Garcia Ferreira 2008, p. 69.
  69. ^ a b c Jorge Palmieri blog: Arabella Arbenz Villanova. Retrieved on September 9, 2014.
  70. ^
  71. ^
  72. ^ Borrayo Pérez 2011, pp. 37-48.


Notes and References

See also

  • The Guatemalan movie The Silence of Neto (1994), filmed on location in Antigua Guatemala takes place during the last months of the government of colonel Árbenz and while it follows the life of a fictional 12-year old boy that is sheltered by his family lets the audience sense the struggle the country was immersed in at the time.[72] It was the first Guatemalan movie ever to be submitted for consideration to the Academy Awards as Best Foreing Picture.

In film

  • held a public ceremony recognizing its responsibility
  • sent a letter of apology to the next of kin
  • named a hall of the National Museum of History and the highway to the Atlantic after the former president
  • revised the basic national school curriculum (Currículo Nacional Base)
  • established a degree program in Human Rights, Pluriculturalism, and Reconciliation of Indigenous Peoples
  • held a photographic exhibition on Arbenz Guzmán and his legacy at the National Museum of History
  • recovered the wealth of photographs of the Arbenz Guzmán family
  • published a book of photos
  • reissueed the book Mi Esposo el President Arbenz ("My Husband President Arbenz")
  • prepared and published a biography of the former President, and
  • issued a series of postage stamps in his honor.[71]

The agreement established several forms of reparation for the next of kin of Arbenz Guzmán. Among other measures, the State:

In May 2011 the Guatemalan government signed an agreement with his surviving family to restore his legacy and publicly apologize for the government's role in ousting him. This included a financial settlement to the family. The formal apology was made at the National Palace by Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom on 20 October 2011 to Jacobo Árbenz Villanova, his son, a Guatemalan politician.[70]

Guatemalan government official apology

On 27 January 1971, Árbenz died in his bathroom in Mexico City, either from drowning or scalding.


[69] weapons, from Czechoslovakia, secretly arrived to Guatemala, delivered by the Swedish ship Wehrmacht Operation WASHTUB proved unnecessary; in May 1954, surplus

In 1952, the labor unions, but not over the governing political party. In an election, the Guatemalan Labour Party (PGT) won only 4 seats in the 58-member senate of Guatemala, the governing body of the country. The CIA drafted Operation PBFORTUNE, ready to act in the event that Guatemala seemed poised to become a Communist puppet-state ties of the Soviet Union under President Árbenz Guzmán. The United Fruit Company had been lobbying the CIA to oust reformist governments in the Republic of Guatemala since the time of the Government (1945–51) of President Juan José Arévalo Bermejo; but it was not until the Eisenhower Administration (1953–61) that the CIA received attention from the White House. In 1954, the Eisenhower Administration was flushed with victory, from the 1953 Iranian coup d'état that deposed the Government of PM Mossadegh. On 19 February 1954, the CIA began Operation WASHTUB, the planting of a false Soviet arms-cache in Nicaragua, to publicly demonstrate Guatemalan Government ties to the Soviet Union.[53]

The United States was opposed to the nationalization efforts, the arrival of the Czech weaponry in Guatemala on May 15, 1954,[51] and Arbenz's perceived communism. This led to CIA support for Castillo (CIA codename: "Calligeris"[52]) and his army. The CIA, using the threat of communism and the Cold War, prepared a case in which accusations against Jacobo Arbenz's regime were made, indicating that he had alliances with communist emerging parties, and even with Russian communists. According to these claims, the security of the Western Hemisphere was threatened.[51]

1954 Guatemalan coup d'état: the CIA memorandum (May 1975) which describes the role of the Agency in deposing the Guatemalan government of President Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán in June 1954. (1-5)

Coup d'état

One of the main characters of Department of State that the Guatemalan leader was not a communist, but that surely a Communist leader would come after him; furthermore, in January 1954 he told Time magazine: American public opinion could force us to take some measures to prevent Guatemala from falling into the orbit of international communism.

Between 1950 and 1955, during the government of General Eisenhower in the United States, a witch hunt for communists was conducted: McCarthyism. This was characterized by persecuting innocent people by mere suspicion, with unfounded accusations, interrogation, loss of labor, passport denial, and even imprisonment. These mechanisms of social control and repression in the United States skirted dangerously with the totalitarian and fascist methods.

Arrival of John Peurifoy to Guatemala

On April 4, 1954, Rossell Arellano issued a pastoral letter in which he criticized the progress of communism in the country, and made a call to Guatemalans to rise up and fight the common enemy of God and the homeland. This pastoral was distributed throughout the country.

By 1951, Archbishop Mariano Rossell Arellano found that it was urgent to recover the elite position of the Catholic Church in Guatemala, and for that reason he allied himself to the interests of the United Fruit Company through the National Liberation Movement and aimed to overthrow the revolutionary governments, which he branded as atheists and communists. After the consecration of the Shrine of Esquipulas (1950), and as part of the smear campaign launched against the Arbenz government, he requested sculptor Julio Urruela Vásquez to carve a replica of the Christ of Esquipulas, which was transferred to bronze in 1952 and converted the following year in symbol and banner of the national pilgrimage against Communism. This Christ was then appointed as Commander in Chief of the forces of the National Liberation Movement during the invasion of June 1954.

The Catholic Church, who possessed a large share of power in Central America during the Colonial Era, was gradually losing it after the emancipation from Spain. First, it was the struggle of the liberals who overtook power from Guatemalan conservatives (among whom was included the Major Clergy of the Church); conservatives and the Church lost all of their power quota in the provinces of Central America, Guatemala remaining as their last bastion. In 1838, with the fall of the liberal president Mariano Galvez, the figure of Lieutenant General Rafael Carrera arose and became the country's conservative leader. He rallied his party and the Church back the power, at least in the province of Guatemala. With this state of affairs, the Central American Federation could not be carried out because it was liberal in nature and Guatemala's military power and that of its leader Carrera were invincible in his time; so much so, that Carrera eventually founded the Republic of Guatemala on March 21, 1847. After Carrera's death in 1865, Guatemalan Liberals saw their chance to seize power again, and conducted the Liberal Revolution in 1871. Since that time, the attacks on the senior clergy of the Catholic Church raged in Guatemala and secular education, freedom of religion, the expulsion of several religious orders and the expropriation of many church property were decreed. This situation continued throughout all the liberal governments that followed, until October Revolution in 1944, in which the religious situation worsened: now the attacks towards the Church were not only economic, but also religious, as many revolutionaries began to declare themselves opposed to any kind of religion.

Catholic Campaign national pilgrimage against communism

The Jurun Marinalá electric power generation plant was planned as the first national hydroelectric power plant in Guatemala. The goal was to disrupt the monopoly of the Electric Company, a subsidiary of American Electric Bond and Share (Ebasco), which did not make use of indigenous water resources, but ran fossil fuel-powered plants, thus creating a drain on foreign currency reserves. Owing to its massive economic importance, construction continued beyond the Árbenz presidency. The plant was finally completed under President Julio Cesar Mendez Montenegro in 1968. It is located in the village of Agua Blanca, inside El Salto, Escuintla.

The Jurun Marinalá power plant was conceived during the Arbenz government to compete with the generation of the Electricity Company of Guatemala, which at that time was an American company and was using foreign oil instead of natural resources in Guatemala.
Government propaganda on the Jurún Marinalá hydroelectric power plant construction.

National Hydroelectric Jurun Marinalá

In order to establish the necessary physical infrastructure to make possible the "independent" and national capitalist development that could reduce the extreme dependence on the United States and break the American monopolies operating in the country, Arbenz and his government began the planning and construction of the Atlantic Highway, which was intended to compete with the monopoly on land transport exerted by the United Fruit Company, through one of its subsidiaries: the International Railways of Central America (IRCA), which had the concession since 1904, when it was granted by then president Manuel Estrada Cabrera. Construction of the highway began by the Roads Department of the Ministry of Communications, with the help of the military engineering battalion. It was planned to be built parallel along the railway line, as much as possible. The construction of the new port was also aimed to break another UFCO monopoly, since Puerto Barrios was owned and operated solely by The Great White Fleet, another UFCO's subsidiary.[50]

Map of railway lines in Guatemala and El Salvador, which were owned by the IRCA, the subsidiary of the United Fruit Company that controlled the railroad in both countries, while the only Atlantic port was controlled by the Great White Fleet, also a UFCO's company.

Construction of Atlantic Highway and Santo Tomas de Castilla Harbor

The benefits from the reform were not limited solely to the agricultural workers. There were increases in consumption, production and domestic private investment.

Decree 900, for the Agrarian Reform in Guatemala created the possibility for previously landless workers to raise their own crops. The effect of this law was similar to what occurred in Europe after the bubonic plague in the Middle Ages: after the plague, which killed one third of Europe's population at the time, the number of landowners decreased, which freed land for others, increased supply and lowered land price. At the same time, many farmers also died from the plague, so that the labor force declined; this shift in supply of workers increased wages. The economic effects of the plague are very similar to those caused by the land reform in Guatemala: During the first harvest after the implementation of the law, the average income of farmers increased from Q225.00/year TO Q700.00/year. Some analysts say that conditions in Guatemala improved after the reform and that there was a "fundamental transformation of agricultural technology as a result of the decreased labor supply." Rising living standards also happened in Europe in the fifteenth century, while large-scale technological advances occurred. The reduced workforce after the plague was "the mother of invention."


In 1953, the reform was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, however the democratically elected Congress later impeached four judges associated with the ruling.[49]

The program was in effect for 18 months, during which it distributed 1,500,000 acres (6,100 km2) to about 100,000 families. Árbenz himself, a landowner through his wife, gave up 1,700 acres (7 km2) of his own land in the land reform program.[48]

Árbenz set land reform as his central goal, as only 2% of the population owned 70% of the land.[46] On 17 June 1952 Árbenz's administration enacted an agrarian reform law known as Decree 900. The law empowered the government to create a network of agrarian councils that would be in charge of expropriating uncultivated land on estates that were larger than 672 acres (2.7 km2).[36] The land was then allocated to individual families. Owners of expropriated land were compensated according to the worth of the land claimed in May 1952 tax assessments (which they had often dramatically understated to avoid paying taxes). Land was paid for in twenty-five year bonds with a 3 percent interest rate.[47]

Land reform was the centerpiece of Árbenz's election campaign.[43][44] The revolutionary organizations that had helped put Árbenz in power put constant pressure on him to live up to his campaign promises regarding land reform.[45] Árbenz continued Arévalo's reform agenda.

Prior to Árbenz's election in 1950, a handful of U.S. corporations controlled Guatemala's primary electrical utilities, the nation's only railroad, and banana cultivation, which was Guatemala's chief agricultural export industry.[11] By the mid-1940s, Guatemalan banana plantations accounted for more than one quarter of all of United Fruit Company's production in Latin America.[42]

Route Map of the Great White Fleet of the United Fruit Company, which had the monopoly of freight and passenger maritime transportante to and from Puerto Barrios in Guatemala since 1903.

Land Reform

Árbenz was a Christian socialist and governed as a European-style democratic socialist, and took great inspiration from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. According to historian Stephen Schlesinger, while Árbenz did have a few communists in lower-level positions in his administration, he “was not a dictator, he was not a crypto-communist.” Nevertheless, some of his policies, particularly those involving agrarian reform, would be branded as "communist" by the upper classes of Guatemala and the United Fruit Company.[39][40][41]

  1. Promulgated the Decree 900, to expropriate idle land from UFCO.
  2. Began construction of the Atlantic Highway
  3. Began construction of the Santo Tomas de Castilla port where port Matías de Gálvez used to be, to compete with Puerto Barrios, UFCO's port.
  4. Began studies for Jurun Marinalá generation plant to compete with the electric company in the hands of Americans.

Based on his plan of government, he did the following:

In his inaugural address, Árbenz promised to convert Guatemala from "a backward country with a predominantly feudal economy into a modern capitalist state."[36] He declared that he intended to reduce dependency on foreign markets and dampen the influence of foreign corporations over Guatemalan politics.[37] He also stated that he would modernize Guatemala's infrastructure and do so without the aid of foreign capital.[38]

Colonel Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán inauguration as President of Guatemala in 1951.

Inauguration and Policies

The election of Árbenz alarmed U.S. State Department officials, who stated that Arana "has always represented the only positive conservative element in the Arévalo administration", that his death would "strengthen Leftist[sic] materially", and that "developments forecast sharp leftist trend within the government."[35]

For the campaign of 1950, Arbenz asked Fortuny to write some speeches. The central theme of these was land reform, the "pet project" of Arbenz. They shared a comfortable victory in elections in late 1950 and, thereafter, the tasks of government. While many of the leaders of the ruling coalition fought hard for proximit to the president seeking personal benefits, the leaders of the Guatemalan Labor Party, and especially Fortuny, were the closest advisors.

Before his death, Arana had planned to run in the upcoming 1950 presidential elections. His death left Árbenz without any serious opponents in the elections (leading some, including the CIA and U.S. military intelligence, to speculate that Árbenz personally had him eliminated for this reason). Árbenz got more than 3 times as many votes as the runner-up, Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes. Fuentes claimed that electoral fraud benefited Árbenz; however scholars have pointed out that while fraud may possibly have given Árbenz some of his votes, it was not the reason that he won the election.[33] In 1950s Guatemala, only literate men were able to vote by secret ballot; illiterate men and literate women voted by open ballot. Illiterate women were not enfranchised at all.[34]

Elections 1950

The death of Lieutenant Colonel Arana is of critical importance in the history of Guatemala, because it was a pivotal event in the history of the Guatemalan revolution: his death not only paved the way for the election of Colonel Arbenz as president of the republic in 1950 but also caused an acute crisis in the government of Dr. Arévalo Bermejo, who all of a sudden had against him an army that was more faithful to Arana than to him, and elite civilian groups that used the occasion to protest strongly against his government.[32]

Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Javier Arana died in a gun battle against military civilian who wanted to capture him on July 18, 1949, at the Bridge of Glory, in Amatitlán, where he and his assistant commander had gone to check on weapons that had been seized at the Aurora Air Base a few days before. There are different versions about who ambushed him, and who ordered the attack; Arbenz and Arévalo have been accused of instigating an attempt to get Arana out of the presidential picture.[32]

Arana was a very influential person in Arévalo government, and had managed to be nominated as the next presidential candidate, ahead of Captain Arbenz, who was told that because of his young age he would have no problem in waiting until the next election for his turn.[32]

In 1947 Dr. Arévalo, in company with a friend and two Russian dancers who were visiting Guatemala, had a terrible car accident on the road to Panajachel: fell into a ravine and was seriously injured, while all his companions were killed. The official party leaders signed a pact with Lieutenant Colonel Arana, in which he pledged not to attempt any coup against the ailing president, in exchange for the revolutionary parties as the official candidate in the next election. However, the recovery of the sturdy president was almost miraculous and soon he was able to take over the government. Arana had accepted this pact because he wanted to be known as a Democratic hero of the uprising against Ponce and believed that the Barranco Pact ensured his position when the time of the presidential elections came.[32]

Death of Colonel Arana

In the fall of 1947, after Árbenz as defense minister objected to several workers' deportation after they had been accused of communists, the known communist José Manuel Fortuny was intrigued by this action, and decided to visit him. Fortuny discovered during that visit a man different from the stereotype of the Central American Military. That first meeting was followed by others until Árbenz invited Fortuny to his house, where discussions and conversations became common and usually extended for hours. Like Arbenz, Fortuny was inspired by a fierce nationalism and a burning desire to improve the conditions of the Guatemalan people; and like Árbenz, he sought answers in Marxist theory. It was a relationship along with that of his wife, María Vilanova that would strongly influence Árbenz.[24]

Initial meeting with José Manuel Fortuny

Árbenz served as defense minister under President Arévalo. He was the first minister of this portfolio, since it was previously called the Ministry of War.

Government of Juan José Arévalo

The winner of the 1944 elections was a teaching major named National University, to which Ubico was strongly opposed. Realizing the dictatorial nature of Ubico, Arévalo left Guatemala and went back to Argentina. He returned to Guatemala after the 1944 Revolution and ran under a coalition of leftist parties known as the Partido Acción Revolucionaria ("Revolutionary Action Party", PAR), and won 85% of the vote in elections that are widely considered to have been fair and open.[29] Arévalo implemented social reforms, including minimum wage laws, increased educational funding, near-universal suffrage (excluding illiterate women), and labor reforms. But many of these changes only benefited the upper-middle classes and did little for the peasant agricultural laborers who made up the majority of the population. Although his reforms were relatively moderate, he was widely disliked by the United States government, the Catholic Church, large landowners, employers such as the United Fruit Company, and Guatemalan military officers, who viewed his government as inefficient, corrupt, and heavily influenced by Communists. At least 25 coup attempts took place during his presidency, mostly led by wealthy liberal military officers.[30][31]

Opposition groups began organizing again, this time joined by many prominent political and military leaders, who deemed the Ponce regime unconstitutional. Among the military officers in the opposition were Jacobo Árbenz and Major junta. They declared that democratic elections would be held before the end of the year.[28]

After 14 years, Ubico's repressive policies and arrogant demeanor finally led to pacific disobedience by urban middle-class intellectuals, professionals, and junior army officers in 1944. On 1 July 1944 Ubico resigned from office amidst a general strike and nationwide protests. Initially, he had planned to hand over power to the former director of police, General Roderico Anzueto, whom he felt he could control. But his advisers noted that Anzueto's pro-Nazi sympathies had made him very unpopular, and that he would not be able to control the military. So Ubico instead chose to select a triumvirate of Major General Bueneventura Piñeda, Major General Eduardo Villagrán Ariza, and General Federico Ponce Vaides. The three generals promised to convene the national assembly to hold an election for a provisional president, but when the congress met on 3 July, soldiers held everyone at gunpoint and forced them to vote for General Ponce rather than the popular civilian candidate, Dr. Ramón Calderón. Ponce, who had previously retired from military service due to alcoholism, took orders from Ubico and kept many of the officials who had worked in the Ubico administration. The repressive policies of the Ubico administration were continued.[13][25][26]

  • His new decrees, although unfair to the majority of the indigenous population, proved good for the Guatemalan economy during the Great Depression era, as they increased coffee production across the country.[24]
  • He cut the bureaucrats' salaries by almost half, forcing inflation to recede.[24]
  • One of his last administrative decisions was to pay the English Debt, which he inherited and was originally generated when president José María Reyna Barrios tried to promote his interoceanic railway in 1897 through a major Centralamerican Fair, which failed miserably when the railway was not finished on time: at that time, the Panama Canal had not been built yet, and the interoceanic railways would have been a major investor attraction for Guatemala. After the fair failed, the Guatemalan government was left with a large debt with the British bankers and the new president, Manuel Estrada Cabrera feared those bankers would use the British Navy to invade Guatemala to force it to pay the debt.
  • Kept the peace and order in Guatemala City, by effectively fighting its crime.[7]

On the other hand, Ubico was an efficient administrator:[24]

In 1931, the dictator General repressive military juntas in Central American history. Just as Estrada Cabrera had done during his government, Ubico created a widespread network of spies and informants and had large numbers of political opponents tortured and put to death. A wealthy aristocrat (with an estimated income of $215,000 per year in 1930s dollars) and a staunch anti-communist, he consistently sided with the United Fruit Company, Guatemalan landowners and urban elites in disputes with peasants. After the crash of the New York Stock Exchange in 1929, the peasant system established by Barrios in 1875 to jump start coffee production in the country[12] was not good enough anymore, and Ubico was forced to implement a system of debt slavery and forced labor to make sure that there was enough labor available for the coffee plantations and that the UFCO workers were readily available.[1] Allegedly, he passed laws allowing landowners to execute workers as a "disciplinary" measure.[13][14][15][16][17] He also openly identified as a fascist; he admired Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler, saying at one point: "I am like Hitler. I execute first and ask questions later."[2][3][4][18][19] Ubico was disdainful of the indigenous population, calling them "animal-like", and stated that to become "civilized" they needed mandatory military training, comparing it to "domesticating donkeys". He gave away hundreds of thousands of hectares to the United Fruit Company (UFCO), exempted them from taxes in Tiquisate, and allowed the U.S. military to establish bases in Guatemala.[13][14][15][16][17] Ubico considered himself to be "another Napoleon". He dressed ostentatiously and surrounded himself with statues and paintings of the emperor, regularly commenting on the similarities between their appearances. He militarized numerous political and social institutions—including the post office, schools, and symphony orchestras—and placed military officers in charge of many government posts. He frequently travelled around the country performing "inspections" in dress uniform, followed by a military escort, a mobile radio station, an official biographer, and cabinet members.[13][20][21][22][23]

President Manuel Estrada Cabrera official portrait for his last presidential term. During his government, the United Fruit Company became a major economic and political force in Guatemala.
Museo Nacional de Historia de Guatemala

In the 1890s, the United States began to implement the Monroe Doctrine, pushing out European colonial powers and establishing U.S. hegemony over resources and labor in Latin American nations. The dictators that ruled Guatemala during the late 19th and early 20th century were generally very accommodating to U.S. business and political interests; thus, unlike other Latin American nations such as Haiti, Nicaragua and Cuba the U.S. did not have to use overt military force to maintain dominance in Guatemala. The Guatemalan military/police worked closely with the U.S. military and State Department to secure U.S. interests. The Guatemalan government exempted several U.S. corporations from paying taxes, especially the United Fruit Company, privatized and sold off publicly owned utilities, and gave away huge swaths of public land.[11]

After the 1871 revolution, the liberal government of Justo Rufino Barrios escalated coffee production in Guatemala, which required vast land extensions and a lot of workers; to find the people need for the work, Barrios established a Settler Rule Book, which forced then native population to practically work for free for the landowners -liberal criollos- and later German settlers.[1] Barrios also confiscated the common native land, which had been protected during the Spanish Colony and during the conservative government of Rafael Carrera,[10] and distributed to his liberal friends, who became important landowners.[1]

Historical background


In 1938 he met his future wife María Vilanova, the daughter of a wealthy Salvadoran landowner. They were married a few months later. Árbenz stated that his wife had a great influence on him.[8] It was through María that Árbenz was exposed to Marxism. María had received a copy of The Communist Manifesto at a women's congress and left a copy of it on Jacobo's bedside table when she left for a vacation. Jacobo was "moved" by the Manifesto, and he and María discussed it with each other. Both felt that it explained many things they had been feeling. Afterwards, Jacobo began reading more works by Marx, Lenin, and Stalin; and by the late 1940s was regularly interacting with a group of Guatemalan communists.[9]

In 1937, Árbenz was asked to fill a vacant teaching position at the academy. Árbenz taught a wide range of subjects, including military matters, history, and physics. In 1943, he was promoted to captain and placed in charge of the entire corps of cadets. His position was the third highest in the academy and was considered one of the most prestigious positions a young officer could hold.[8]

After graduating, he served a stint as a junior officer at Fort San José in the capital Guatemala City and later under "an illiterate Colonel" in a small garrison in the village of San Juan Sacatepéquez. While in San José, Árbenz had to lead squads of soldiers which were escorting chain gangs of prisoners (including political prisoners) to perform forced labor. The experience traumatized Árbenz, who said he felt like a capataz (i.e. a "foreman").[8]

Árbenz excelled in the academy and was deemed "an exceptional student". He became "first sergeant", the highest honor bestowed upon cadets, that only 6 people received from 1924 to 1944. His abilities earned him an unusual level of respect amongst the officers at the school, including Major John Considine, the U.S. director of the school, and of other U.S. officers who served at the school. Árbenz graduated in 1935.[8]

Military career

His father became addicted to morphine and began to neglect the family business. He eventually went bankrupt, forcing the family to move to a rural estate that a wealthy friend had set aside for them "out of charity". Jacobo had originally desired to be an economist or an engineer, but since the family now had no money, he could not afford to go to a university. He did not want to join the military, but there was a scholarship available through the Escuela Politécnica for military cadets. He applied, passed all of the entrance exams, and entered as a cadet in 1932. Two years later, his father committed suicide.[8]

Árbenz was born in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, the second largest city in the country, in 1913. He was the son of a Swiss German pharmacist who immigrated to Guatemala in 1901. His family was relatively wealthy and upper-class; his childhood has been described as "comfortable".[8]

Early life


  • Early life 1
  • Military career 2
  • Presidency 3
    • Historical background 3.1
    • Government of Juan José Arévalo 3.2
      • Initial meeting with José Manuel Fortuny 3.2.1
      • Death of Colonel Arana 3.2.2
    • Elections 1950 3.3
    • Inauguration and Policies 3.4
    • Land Reform 3.5
      • Effects 3.5.1
    • Construction of Atlantic Highway and Santo Tomas de Castilla Harbor 3.6
    • National Hydroelectric Jurun Marinalá 3.7
    • Catholic Campaign national pilgrimage against communism 3.8
    • Arrival of John Peurifoy to Guatemala 3.9
  • Coup d'état 4
  • Later life 5
    • Humiliation and exile 5.1
    • Seeking shelter 5.2
    • Death of Arabella Arbenz Vilanova 5.3
  • Death 6
  • Guatemalan government official apology 7
  • In film 8
  • See also 9
  • Notes and References 10
    • References 10.1
    • Bibliography 10.2
  • Further reading 11
    • Books 11.1
    • Government/NGO reports 11.2
    • News 11.3
  • External links 12

in 1971. Mexico. Árbenz went into a painful exile through several countries, where his family was gradually destroyed, his daughter committed suicide, and he descended more and more into alcoholism. He eventually died in Carlos Castillo Armas which eventually handed power to Colonel military junta, both of whom had major interests in UFCO. Árbenz was replaced by a Allen Dulles and John Foster Dulles. It was led by the brothers Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of State engineered by the United States coup d'état The UFCO lobbied to have him overthrown, and Árbenz was ousted in a [7] His popular policies ran afoul of the

. debt peonage The centerpiece of his policy was an agrarian reform law that granted cultivable land to poverty stricken peasants in an attempt to end the system of [5]

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