Mayan civilization (2,000 BC – 250 AD) was among those that
flourished in the region, with little contact with cultures outside
Mesoamerica . The modern history of
Guatemala began with the Spanish
Guatemala in 1511.
Most of the great Classic-era (250 – 900 AD) Maya cities of the
Petén Basin region, in the northern lowlands of Guatemala, had been
abandoned by the year 1000 AD. The states in the
highlands flourished until the arrival in 1525 of
Pedro de Alvarado
Pedro de Alvarado ,
Conquistador . Called "the invader" by the Mayan peoples,
he began subjugating the Indian states with his forces.
Guatemala was part of the Captaincy General of
Guatemala , for nearly
300 years; this Captaincy, or Capitanía, included the territories of
Tabasco in modern
Mexico , and the modern
El Salvador ,
Nicaragua and Costa
Rica . The Capitania became independent in 1821, and became a part of
First Mexican Empire until 1823. From 1824 it was a part of the
Federal Republic of Central America
Federal Republic of Central America , until the Republic dissolved in
Guatemala became fully independent. In the late 20 century,
Guatemala experienced a series of authoritarian governments.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, Guatemala's potential for
agricultural exploitation attracted several foreign companies to it,
the most prominent being the
United Fruit Company (UFC). These
companies, supported by the country's authoritarian rulers, and the
United States government through their support for brutal labor
regulations and massive concessions to wealthy landowners. In 1944,
the policies of
Jorge Ubico led to a popular uprising which began the
Guatemalan Revolution . The presidencies of Juan José
Jacobo Árbenz saw sweeping social and economic reforms,
including a significant increase in literacy and a successful agrarian
reform program .
The progressive policies of Arévalo and Árbenz led to the United
Fruit Company lobbying the
United States government for their
overthrow, and a US-engineered coup in 1954 ended the revolution and
installed a military regime in its place. This was soon followed by
other military governments, and jolted off a civil war between the
government and leftist guerrillas that lasted from 1960 to 1996. The
war saw human rights violations , including a genocide of the
indigenous Mayan population by the United States-backed military.
Following the end of the war in 1997,
Guatemala re-established a
representative democracy . It has since struggled to enforce the rule
of law and suffers a high crime rate, as well as continued
extrajudicial killings, often executed by security forces.
* 2 Spanish conquest
* 3 19th century
* 3.1 Independence and
Central America civil war
* 3.2 Invasion of General Morazán in 1829
* 3.3 Liberal rule
* 3.4 Rise of
* 3.5 Invasion and Absorption of Los Altos
Caste War of Yucatán
Caste War of Yucatán
Battle of La Arada
Concordat of 1854
* 3.7.2 Wyke-Aycinena treaty: Limits convention about
Justo Rufino Barrios
Justo Rufino Barrios government
* 3.9 Government of Manuel Lisandro Barillas
* 4 20th century
Manuel Estrada Cabrera
Manuel Estrada Cabrera regime (1898–1920)
Jorge Ubico regime (1931–1944)
* 4.3 October Revolution (1944)
* 4.4 Presidency of
Juan José Arévalo
Juan José Arévalo (1945–1951)
* 4.5 Presidency of
Jacobo Árbenz Guzman (1951–1954)
* 4.5.1 Land Reform
* 4.5.2 Construction of transport infrastructure
* 4.5.3 National power plant Jurun Marinalá
* 4.5.4 Catholic Campaign national pilgrimage against communism
* 4.6 National Liberation (1954)
Agrarian Reform and UFCo conflict
* 4.6.2 Arrival of
John Peurifoy to
* 5 Earthquake of 1976
* 6 Civil war (1960–1996)
Franja Transversal del Norte
* 6.1.1 The Guerrilla Army of the Poor
* 6.2 Transition between Laugerud and Lucas Garcia regimes
* 6.2.1 Escalation of violence
* 6.3 Lucas Garcia presidency
* 6.3.1 Spanish Embassy fire
* 6.3.2 Increased insurgency and state repression: 1980–1982
* 6.3.3 Insurgent mobilization
* 6.3.4 La Llorona massacre, El Estor
* 6.3.5 List of other massacres perpetrated by the Army in Franja
Transversal del Norte
* 6.3.6 List of massacres perpetrated by the EGP in FTN
* 6.3.7 Civil war in the city
* 6.3.8 \'Operation Ceniza\'
* 6.4 1986 to 1996: from constitution to peace accords
* 7 1996 Peace Accords to present
* 7.1 President
Otto Pérez Molina
Otto Pérez Molina government and "La Línea" case
* 8 See also
* 9 Notes and references
* 9.1 Notes
* 9.2 References
* 9.3 Bibliography
* 10 Further reading
* 10.1 Conquest and Colonial era
* 10.2 Post-independence
* 11 External links
Maya civilization The remains of the Nakbé
palace from the mid pre-Classic period, Mirador Basin, Petén,
The earliest human settlements in
Guatemala date back to the
Paleo-Indian period and were made up of hunters and gatherers. Sites
dating back to 6500 BC have been found in Quiché in the Highlands and
Escuintla on the central Pacific coast.
Though it is unclear when these groups of hunters and gatherers
turned to cultivation, pollen samples from Petén and the Pacific
coast indicate maize cultivation as early as 3500 BC. By 2500 BC,
small settlements were developing in Guatemala’s Pacific lowlands in
such places as Tilapa,
La Blanca , Ocós, El Mesak, and Ujuxte, where
the oldest pieces of ceramic pottery from
Guatemala have been found.
Excavations in the Antigua
Guatemala Urías and Rucal, have yielded
stratified materials from the Early and Middle Preclassic periods
(2000 BC to 400 BC). Paste analyses of these early pieces of pottery
in the Antigua Valley indicate they were made of clays from different
environmental zones, suggesting people from the Pacific coast expanded
into the Antigua Valley.
Pre-Columbian era can be divided into the Preclassic
period (from 2000 BC to 250 AD), the Classic period (250 to 900 AD)
and the Postclassic period (900 to 1500 AD). Until recently, the
Preclassic was regarded as a formative period, consisting of small
villages of farmers who lived in huts and few permanent buildings, but
this notion has been challenged by recent discoveries of monumental
architecture from that period, such as an altar in
La Blanca , San
Marcos , from 1000 BC; ceremonial sites at Miraflores and El Naranjo
from 801 BC; the earliest monumental masks; and the Mirador Basin
Nakbé , Xulnal,
El Tintal , Wakná and
El Mirador .
In Monte Alto near La Democracia,
Escuintla , giant stone heads and
potbellies (or barrigones) have been found, dating back to around 1800
BC. The stone heads have been ascribed to the Pre-
Olmec Monte Alto
Culture and some scholars suggest the
Culture originated in the
Monte Alto area. It has also been argued the only connection between
the statues and the later
Olmec heads is their size. The Monte Alto
Culture may have been the first complex culture of Mesoamerica, and
predecessor of all other cultures of the region. In Guatemala, some
sites have unmistakable
Olmec style, such as
La Corona in Peten , and Tak\'alik A´baj , in
Retalhuleu , the last of which is the only ancient city in the
Olmec and Mayan features.
El Mirador was by far the most populated city in pre-Columbian
America. Both the El Tigre and Monos pyramids encompass a volume
greater than 250,000 cubic meters. Richard Hansen , the director of
the archaeological project of the
Mirador Basin , believes the Maya at
Mirador Basin developed the first politically organized state in
America around 1500 BC, named the Kan Kingdom in ancient texts. There
were 26 cities, all connected by sacbeob (highways), which were
several kilometers long, up to 40 meters wide, and two to four meters
above the ground, paved with stucco . These are clearly
distinguishable from the air in the most extensive virgin tropical
rain forest in Mesoamerica.
Hansen believes the
Olmec were not the mother culture in Mesoamerica
. Due to findings at
Mirador Basin in Northern Petén , Hansen
Olmec and Maya cultures developed separately, and merged
in some places, such as Tak'alik Abaj in the Pacific lowlands.
Guatemala has particularly high densities of Late
Pre-classic sites, including
Naachtun , Xulnal,
El Mirador , Porvenir,
Pacaya, La Muralla,
El Tintal , Wakná (formerly Güiro),
Uaxactún , and
Tikal . Of these, El Mirador, Tikal, Nakbé, Tintal,
Xulnal and Wakná are the largest in the Maya world, Such size was
manifested not only in the extent of the site, but also in the volume
or monumentality, especially in the construction of immense platforms
to support large temples. Many sites of this era display monumental
masks for the first time (
Uaxactún , El Mirador,
Nakbé). Hansen's dating has been called into question by many other
Maya archaeologists, and developments leading to probably
extra-regional power by the Late Preclassic of Kaminaljuyu, in the
Southern Maya Area, suggest that
Maya civilization developed in
different ways in the Lowlands and the SMA to produce what we know as
the Classic Maya.
The Classic period of Mesoamerican civilization corresponds to the
height of the Maya civilization, and is represented by countless sites
throughout Guatemala. The largest concentration is found in Petén.
This period is characterized by expanded city-building, the
development of independent city-states, and contact with other
This lasted until around 900 AD, when the Classic Maya civilization
collapsed . The Maya abandoned many of the cities of the central
lowlands or died in a drought-induced famine. Scientists debate the
cause of the Classic Maya Collapse, but gaining currency is the
Drought Theory discovered by physical scientists studying lakebeds,
ancient pollen, and other tangible evidence.
Central America in the 16th century before Spanish conquest.
Main article: Spanish conquest of
Guatemala See also: Spanish
conquest of Petén
Hernán Cortés ,
Pedro de Alvarado
Pedro de Alvarado was sent to
Guatemala highlands with 300 Spanish foot soldiers, 120 Spanish
horsemen and several hundred Cholula and Tlascala auxiliaries.
Soconusco on the Pacific lowlands,
headed for Xetulul Humbatz,
Zapotitlan . He initially allied himself
with the Cakchiquel nation to fight against their traditional rivals
the K\'iche\' . The conquistador started his conquest in Xepau
Olintepeque , defeating the K'iché's 72,000 men, led by Tecún Umán
(now Guatemala's national hero). Alvarado went to Q\'umarkaj ,
(Utatlan), the K'iche' capital, and burned it on 7 March 1524. He
Iximche , and made a base near there in Tecpan on 25 July
1524. From there he made several campaigns to other cities, including
Chuitinamit, the capital of the Tzutuhils , (1524);
Mixco Viejo ,
capital of the Poqomam ; and
Zaculeu , capital of the Mam (1525). He
was named captain general in 1527.
Having secured his position, Alvarado turned against his allies the
Cakchiquels, confronting them in several battles until they were
subdued in 1530. Battles with other tribes continued up to 1548, when
the Q\'eqchi\' in Nueva Sevilla, Izabal were defeated, leaving the
Spanish in complete control of the region.
Not all native tribes were subdued by bloodshed. Bartolomé de las
Casas pacified the Kekchí in
Alta Verapaz without violence.
After more than a century of colonization, during which mutually
independent Spanish authorities in Yucatán and
Guatemala made various
attempts to subjugate Petén and neighbouring parts of what is now
Mexico. In 1697 the Spanish finally conquered
Nojpetén , capital of
the Itzá Maya, and Zacpetén , capital of the
INDEPENDENCE AND CENTRAL AMERICA CIVIL WAR
Manuel José Arce
Manuel José Arce and
Criollos rejoice upon learning about the declaration of independence
on 15 September 1821. Painting by Rafael Beltranena.
In 1821, Fernando VII\'s power in
Spain was weakened by French
invasions and other conflicts, and
Mexico declared the Plan de Iguala
; this led Mariano Aycinena y Piñol and other criollos to demand the
Gabino Gaínza to declare
Guatemala and the rest
Central America as an independent entity. Aycinena y Piñol was one
of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence of Central
America from the
Spanish Empire , and then lobbied strongly for the
Central America annexation to the Mexican Empire of Agustín de
Iturbide , due to its conservative and ecclesiastical nature.
Aycinena remained in the legislature and was advisor of the Governors
Guatemala in the next few years.
In October 1826,
Central American Federation president Manuel José
de Arce y Fagoaga dissolved the Legislature and tried to establish a
Unitarian System for the region, switching from the Liberal to the
Conservative party, that Aycinena led. The rest of Central America
did not want this system; they wanted the Aycinena family out of power
altogher, and therefore, the Central American Civil War (1826–1829)
started. From this war emerged the dominant figure of the Honduran
Francisco Morazán . Mariano Aycinena y Piñol -leader of the
Ayicena family and the conservative power- was appointed as Governor
Guatemala on 1 March 1827 by president
Manuel José Arce
Manuel José Arce ;
Aycinena regime was a dictatorship: he censored free press and any
book with liberal ideology was forbidden. He also establisher Martial
Law and the retroactive death penalty. He reinstated mandatory tithing
for the secular clergy of the
INVASION OF GENERAL MORAZáN IN 1829
Morazan and his liberal forces were fighting around San Miguel, in El
Salvador beating any conservative federal forces sent by Guatemalan
general Manuel Arzú from
San Salvador . Then, Arzú decided to take
matters in his own hands and left colonel Montúfar in charge of San
Salvador and went after Morazan. After realizing that Arzu was after
him, Morazan left for
Honduras to look for more volunteers for his
army. On 20 September, Manuel Arzá was close to the
Lempa River with
500 men, when he was notified that the rest of his army had
San Salvador . Morazan then went back to El Salvador
with a considerable army and general Arzú, feigning a sickness, fled
Guatemala , leaving lieutenant colonel Antonio de Aycinena in
command. Aycinena and his 500 troops were going to
Honduras when they
were intercepted by Morazan troops in San Antonio, forcing Aycinena to
concede defeat on 9 October. With Aycinena defeat, there were no
more conservative federal troops in
El Salvador . On 23 October,
general Morazán marched triumphally in
San Salvador . A few days
later, he went to
Ahuachapán , to organize an army to take down the
conservative aristocrats led by Mariano Aycinena y Piñol in Guatemala
and establish a regime favorable to the central American Federation
that was the dream of the liberal criollos .
Upon learning this, Aycinena y Piñol tried to negotiate with
Morazán to no avail: Morazan was willing to take down the
aristrocrats at all costs. Map of
Guatemala in 1829. Note that
borders with Mexico, Yucatán and
Chiapas are not defined.
Plaza Central of Antigua
Guatemala in 1829. The old "Palacio de la
Capitanía General" was still destroyed after the 1773 earthquake.
After his victory in San Miguelito, Morazán's army increased in size
given that a lot of voluntaries from
Guatemala joined him. On 15
March, when Morazan and his army were on their way to occupy their
previous positions, they were intercepted by federal troops in Las
Charcas. However, Morazan had a better position and smashed the
federal army. The battle field was left full of corpses, while the
allies took a lot of prisoners and weaponry. the allies continued to
recapture their old positions in
San José Pinula
San José Pinula and Aceituno, and
Guatemala City under siege once again. General Verveer,
Ambassador from the King of Netherlands and Belgium before the Central
American government and who was in
Guatemala to negotiate the
construction of a transoceanic Canal in Nicaragua, tried to mediate
between the State of
Guatemala and Morazán, but did not succeed.
Military operations continued, with great success for the allies.
To prepare for the siege from Morazán troops, on 18 March 1829,
Aycinena decreed Martial Law, but he was completely defeated. On 12
April 1829, Aycinena conceded defeat and he and Morazán signed an
armistice pact; then, he was sent to prison, along with his Cabinet
members and the Aycinena family was secluded in their Mansion.
Morazán, however, annulled the pact on 20 April, since his real
objective was to take power away from the conservatives and the
regular clergy of the
Catholic Church in Guatemala, whom the Central
American leaders despised since they had had the commerce and power
monopoly during the Spanish Colony.
Member of the liberal party, Mariano Gálvez was appointed chief of
state in 1831, during a period of turmoil that made governing
difficult; after the expulsion of the conservative leader of the
Aycinena family and the regular clergy in 1829, was appointed by
Francisco Morazán as Governor of
Guatemala in 1831. Liberal
historians such as
Ramón Rosa and
Lorenzo Montúfar y Rivera ,
refer that he promoted major innovations in all aspects of the
administration, to make it less dependent on the Catholic Church
influence. It is also reported that he made public instruction
independent of the Church, fostered science and the arts, eliminated
religious festivals as holidays, founded the National Library and the
National Museum, promoted respect for the laws and the rights of
citizens, guaranteed freedom of the press and freedom of thought,
established civil marriage and divorce, respected freedom of
association and promulgating the Livingston Code (penal code of
Louisiana ), against much opposition from the population who was not
used to the fast pace the changes were taking place; he also initiated
judicial reform, reorganized municipal government and established a
general head tax which severely impacted the native population.
However, this were all changes that the liberals wanted to implement
to completely eliminate the political and economic power of the
aristrocrats and of the
Catholic Church -whose regular orders were
expelled in 1829 and the secular clergy was weakened by means of
abolishing mandatory tithing.
Among his major errors was a contract made with Michael Bennett
-commercial partner of
Francisco Morazán in the fine wood business-
on 6 August 1834; the contract provided that the territories of Izabal
, las Verapaces, Petén and
Belize would be colonized within twenty
years, but this proved impossible, plus made people irritated by
having to deal with "heretics". In February 1835 Galvez was reelected
far a second term, during which the Asiatic cholera afflicted the
country. The secular clergy that was still in the country, persuaded
the uneducated people of the interior that the disease was caused by
the poisoning of the springs by order of the government and turned the
complaints against Galvez into a religious war. Peasant revolts began
in 1837, and under chants of "Hurray for the true religion!" and "Down
with the heretics!" started growing and spreading. Gálvez asked the
National Assembly to transfer the capital of the Federation from
Guatemala City to
San Salvador .
His major opponents were Colonel and Juan de Dios Mayorga; also,
José Francisco Barrundia and
Pedro Molina , who had been his friends
and party colleagues, came to oppose him in the later years of his
government after he violently tried to repress the peasant revolt
using a scorched earth approach against rural communities.
In 1838, Antigua
recognition of his government, and in February of that year Rafael
Carrera 's revolutionary forces entered
Guatemala City asking for the
Cathedral to be opened to restore order in the catholic communities,
obliging Gálvez to relinquish power. Galvez remained in the city
after he lost power.
RISE OF RAFAEL CARRERA
In 1838 the liberal forces of the Honduran leader Francisco Morazán
José Francisco Barrundia invaded
Guatemala and reached
San Sur, where they executed Pascual Alvarez, Carrera's father-in-law.
They impaled his head on a pike as a warning to all followers of the
Guatemalan caudillo. On learning this, Carrera and his wife Petrona
– who had come to confront Morazán as soon as they learned of the
invasion and were in Mataquescuintla – swore they would never
forgive Morazán even in his grave; they felt it impossible to respect
anyone who would not avenge family members.
After sending several envoys, whom Carrera would not receive –
especially Barrundia whom Carrera did not want to murder in cold blood
– Morazán began a scorched earth offensive, destroying villages in
his path and stripping them of their few assets. The Carrera forces
had to hide in the mountains. Believing that Carrera was totally
defeated, Morazán and Barrundia marched on to
Guatemala City , where
they were welcomed as saviors by the state governor Pedro Valenzuela
and members of the conservative Aycinena Clan, who proposed to sponsor
one of the liberal battalions, while Valenzuela and Barrundia gave
Morazán all the Guatemalan resources needed to solve any financial
problem he had. The criollos of both parties celebrated until dawn
that they finally had a criollo caudillo like Morazán, who was able
to crush the peasant rebellion.
Morazán used the proceeds to support Los Altos and then replaced
Mariano Rivera Paz
Mariano Rivera Paz , member of the Aycinena clan,
although he did not return to that clan any property confiscated in
1829; in revenge,
Juan José de Aycinena y Piñol voted for the
dissolution of the
Central American Federation in
San Salvador a
little later, forcing Morazán to return to
El Salvador to fight to
save his federal mandate. Along the way, Morazán increased repression
in eastern Guatemala, as punishment for helping Carrera. Knowing that
Morazán had gone to El Salvador, Carrera tried to take
the small force that remained, but was defeated, losing his brother
Laureano in the combat. With just a few men left, he managed to
escape, badly wounded, to Sanarate. After recovering to some extent,
he attacked a detachment in
Jutiapa and managed to get a small amount
of booty which he handed to the volunteers who accompanied him and
prepared to attack Petapa – near
Guatemala City – where he was
victorious, though with heavy casualties.
In September of that year, he attempted an assault on the capital of
Guatemala, but the liberal general
Carlos Salazar Castro defeated him
in the fields of Villa Nueva and Carrera had to retreat. After an
unsuccessful attempt to take the Quetzaltenango, Carrera was
surrounded and wounded, and he had to capitulate to the Mexican
General Agustin Guzman, who had been in
Quetzaltenango since the time
Vicente Filísola 's arrival in 1823. Morazán had the opportunity
to shoot Carrera, but did not because he needed the support of the
Guatemalan peasants to counter the attacks of
Francisco Ferrera in El
Salvador ; instead, Morazán left Carrera in charge of a small fort in
Mita, and without any weapons. Knowing that Morazán was going to
attack El Salvador,
Francisco Ferrera gave arms and ammunition to
Carrera and convinced him to attack
Meanwhile, despite insistent advice to definitely crush Carrera and
his forces, Salazar tried to negotiate with him diplomatically; he
even went as far as to show that he neither feared nor distrusted
Carrera by removing the fortifications of the Guatemalan capital, in
place in since the battle of Villa Nueva. Taking advantage of
Salazar's good faith and Ferrera's weapons, Carrera took Guatemala
City by surprise on 13 April 1839; Castro Salazar, Mariano Gálvez and
Barrundia fled before the arrival of Carrera's militia men. Salazar,
in his nightshirt, vaulted roofs of neighboring houses and sought
refuge; reaching the border disguised as a peasant. With Salazar
gone, Carrera reinstated Rivera Paz as Head of State of Guatemala.
INVASION AND ABSORPTION OF LOS ALTOS
Los Altos, Central America
Los Altos, Central America
Captain General Rafael
Carrera after being appointed President for Life of the Republic of
Guatemala in 1854. State Coat of Los Altos, carved in stone on
the grave of heroes in the Cemetery of
On 2 April 1838, in the city of
Quetzaltenango , a secessionist group
founded the independent State of Los Altos which sought independence
from Guatemala. The most important members of the Liberal Party of
Guatemala and liberal enemies of the conservative regime moved to Los
Altos, leaving their exile in El Salvador. The liberals in Los Altos
began severely criticizing the Conservative government of Rivera Paz;
they had their own newspaper – El Popular, which contributed to the
Los Altos was the region with the main production and economic
activity of the former state of Guatemala. without Los Altos,
conservatives lost much of the resources that had given Guatemala
hegemony in Central America. Then, the government of
to reach to a peaceful solution, but altenses, protected by the
recognition of the
Central American Federation Congress, did not
accept; Guatemala's government then resorted to force, sending Carrera
as commanding general of the Army to subdue Los Altos.
Carrera defeated General Agustin Guzman when the former Mexican
officer tried to ambush him and then went on to
Quetzaltenango , where
he imposed a harsh and hostile conservative regime instead of the
liberals. Calling all council members, he told them flatly that he was
behaving leniently towards them as it was the first time they had
challenged him, but sternly warned them that there would be no mercy
if there was a second time. Finally, Guzmán, and the head of state
of Los Altos, Marcelo Molina, were sent to the capital of Guatemala,
where they were displayed as trophies of war during a triumphant
parade on 17 February 1840; in the case of Guzman, shackled, still
with bleeding wounds, and riding a mule. General Francisco
tried to invade
Guatemala for the second time in 1840 after having
invaded in 1829 and expelled members of the Aycinena clan and regular
orders . In 1840 he was defeated overwhelmingly by Carrera, marking
the end of his career in
On 18 March 1840, liberal caudillo Morazán invaded
1500 soldiers to avenge the insult done in Los Altos. Fearing that
such action would end with liberal efforts to hold together the
Central American Federation,
Guatemala had a cordon of guards from the
border with El Salvador; without a telegraph service, men ran carrying
last-minute messages. With the information from these messengers,
Carrera hatched a plan of defense leaving his brother Sotero in charge
of troops who presented only slight resistance in the city. Carrera
pretended to flee and led his ragtag army to the heights of Aceituno,
with few men, few rifles and two old cannons. The city was at the
mercy of the army of Morazán, with bells of the twenty churches
ringing for divine assistance.
Once Morazán reached the capital, he took it easily and freed
Guzman, who immediately left for
Quetzaltenango to give the news that
Carrera was defeated; Carrera then, taking advantage of what his
enemies believed, applied a strategy of concentrating fire on the
Central Park of the city and also employed surprise attack tactics
which caused heavy casualties to the army of Morazán, finally forcing
the survivors to fight for their lives. Morazán's soldiers lost the
initiative and their previous numerical superiority. Furthermore, in
unfamiliar surroundings in the city, they had to fight, carry their
dead and care for their wounded while resentful and tired from the
long march from
El Salvador to Guatemala.
Carrera, by then an experienced military man, was able to defeat
Morazán thoroughly. The disaster for the liberal general was
complete: aided by Angel Molina -son of Guatemalan Liberal leader
Pedro Molina Mazariegos - who knew the streets of the city, had to
flee with his favorite men, disguised, shouting "Long live Carrera!"
through the ravine of "El Incienso" to El Salvador. In his absence,
Morazán had been supplanted as Head of State of his country, and had
to embark for exile in
Perú . In Guatemala, survivors from his
troops were shot without mercy, while Carrera was out in unsuccessful
pursuit of Morazan. This engagement sealed the status of Carrera and
marked the decline of Morazán, and forced the conservative Aycinena
clan criollos to negotiate with Carrera and his peasant revolutionary
Guzmán, who was freed by Morazán when the latter had seemingly
defeated Carrera in
Guatemala City , had gone back to Quetzaltenango
to bring the good news. The city liberal criollo leaders rapidly
reinstated the Los Altos State and celebrated Morazán's victory.
However, as soon as Carrera and the newly reinstated Mariano Rivera
Paz heard the news, Carrera went back to
Quetzaltenango with his
volunteer army to regain control of the rebel liberal state once and
for all. On 2 April 1840, after entering the city, Carrera told the
citizens that he had already warned them after he defeated them
earlier that year. Then, he ordered the majority of the liberal city
hall officials from Los Altos to be shot. Carrera then forcibly
Quetzaltenango and much of Los Altos back into conservative
After the violent and bloody reinstatement of the State of Los Altos
by Carrera in April 1840,
Luis Batres Juarros – conservative member
of the Aycinena Clan, then secretary general of the Guatemalan
government of recently reinstated
Mariano Rivera Paz
Mariano Rivera Paz – obtained from
the vicar Larrazabal authorization to dismantle the regionalist
Church. Serving priests of
Quetzaltenango – capital of the
would-be-state of Los Altos, Urban Ugarte and his coadjutor, José
Maria Aguilar, were removed from their parish and likewise the priests
of the parishes of
San Martin Jilotepeque and
San Lucas Tolimán .
Larrazabal ordered the priests Fernando Antonio Dávila, Mariano
Navarrete and Jose Ignacio Iturrioz to cover the parishes of
San Martin Jilotepeque and San Lucas Toliman,
The liberal criollos' defeat and execution in
Carrera's status with the native population of the area, whom he
respected and protected.
In 1840, Belgium began to act as an external source of support for
Carrera's independence movement, in an effort to exert influence in
Central America. The Compagnie belge de colonisation (Belgian
Colonization Company), commissioned by Belgian King Leopold I , became
the administrator of
Santo Tomas de Castilla replacing the failed
British Eastern Coast of
Central America Commercial and Agricultural
Company . Even though the colony eventually crumbled, Belgium
continued to support Carrera in the mid-19th century, although Britain
continued to be the main business and political partner to Carrera's
Rafael Carrera was elected Guatemalan Governor in 1844. On 21 March
Guatemala declared itself an independent republic and Carrera
became its first president. General Carrera portrait celebrating
the foundation of the Republic of
Guatemala in 1847.
Proclamation Coin 1847 of the independent Republic of
During the first term as president, Carrera had brought the country
back from extreme conservatism to a traditional moderation; in 1848,
the liberals were able to drive him from office, after the country had
been in turmoil for several months. Carrera resigned of his own free
will and left for México. The new liberal regime allied itself with
the Aycinena family and swiftly passed a law ordering Carrera's
execution if he dared to return to Guatemalan soil. The liberal
Quetzaltenango were led by general
Agustín Guzmán who
occupied the city after Corregidor general Mariano Paredes was called
Guatemala City to take over the Presidential office. They declared
on 26 August 1848 that Los Altos was an independent state once again.
The new state had the support of Vasconcelos' regime in El Salvador
and the rebel guerrilla army of Vicente and Serapio Cruz who were
sworn enemies of Carrera. The interim government was led by Guzmán
himself and had Florencio Molina and the priest Fernando Davila as his
Cabinet members. On 5 September 1848, the criollos altenses chose a
formal government led by Fernando Antonio Martínez.
In the meantime, Carrera decided to return to
Guatemala and did so
Huehuetenango , where he met with the native leaders and
told them that they must remain united to prevail; the leaders agreed
and slowly the segregated native communities started developing a new
Indian identity under Carrera's leadership. In the meantime, in the
eastern part of Guatemala, the Jalapa region became increasingly
dangerous; former president
Mariano Rivera Paz
Mariano Rivera Paz and rebel leader
Vicente Cruz were both murdered there after trying to take over the
Corregidor office in 1849.
When Carrera arrived to
Huehuetenango , he received two
altenses emissaries who told him that their soldiers were not going to
fight his forces because that would lead to a native revolt, much like
that of 1840; their only request from Carrera was to keep the natives
under control. The altenses did not comply, and led by Guzmán and
his forces, they started chasing Carrera; the caudillo hid helped by
his native allies and remained under their protection when the forces
Miguel Garcia Granados
Miguel Garcia Granados – who arrived from
Guatemala City were
looking for him.
On learning that officer
José Víctor Zavala had been appointed as
Suchitepéquez , Carrera and his hundred jacalteco
bodyguards crossed a dangerous jungle infested with jaguars to meet
his former friend. When they met, Zavala not only did not capture him,
but agreed to serve under his orders, thus sending a strong message to
both liberal and conservatives in
Guatemala City that they would have
to negotiate with Carrera or battle on two fronts – Quetzaltenango
and Jalapa. Carrera went back to the
Quetzaltenango area, while
Zavala remained in
Suchitepéquez as a tactical maneuver. Carrera
received a visit from a Cabinet member of Paredes and told him that he
had control of the native population and that he assured Paredes that
he would keep them appeased. When the emissary returned to Guatemala
City, he told the president everything Carrera said, and added that
the native forces were formidable.
Guzmán went to Antigua
Guatemala to meet with another group of
Paredes emissaries; they agreed that Los Altos would rejoin Guatemala,
and that the latter would help Guzmán defeat his hated enemy and also
build a port on the Pacific Ocean. Guzmán was sure of victory this
time, but his plan evaporated when, in his absence, Carrera and his
native allies had occupied Quetzaltenango; Carrera appointed Ignacio
Yrigoyen as Corregidor and convinced him that he should work with the
k'iche', mam, q'anjobal and mam leaders to keep the region under
control. On his way out, Yrigoyen murmured to a friend: Now he is the
King of the Indians, indeed!
Guzmán then left for Jalapa, where he struck a deal with the rebels,
Luis Batres Juarros convinced president Paredes to deal with
Carrera. Back in
Guatemala City within a few months, Carrera was
commander-in-chief, backed by military and political support of the
Indian communities from the densely populated western highlands.
During the first presidency from 1844 to 1848, he brought the country
back from excessive conservatism to a moderate regime, and – with
the advice of
Juan José de Aycinena y Piñol and Pedro de Aycinena
– restored relations with the Church in Rome with a Concordat
ratified in 1854 . He also kept peace between natives and criollos,
with the latter fearing a rising like the one that was taking place in
Yucatán at the time.
CASTE WAR OF YUCATáN
Caste War of Yucatán
Caste War of Yucatán
In Yucatán, then an independent republic north of Guatemala, a war
started between the natives and criollo people; this war seemed rooted
in the defense of communal lands against the expansion of private
ownership, which was accentuated by the boom in the production of
henequen , which was an important industrial fiber used to make rope.
After discovering the value of the plant, the wealthier Yucateco
criollos started plantations, beginning in 1833, to cultivate it on a
large scale; not long after the henequen boom, a boom in sugar
production led to more wealth. The sugar and henequen plantations
encroached on native communal land, and native workers recruited to
work on the plantations were mistreated and underpaid.
However, rebel leaders in their correspondence with British Honduras
-Belize- were more often inclined to cite taxation as the immediate
cause of the war; Jacinto Pat, for example, wrote in 1848 that "what
we want is liberty and not oppression, because before we were
subjugated with the many contributions and taxes that they imposed on
us." Pac's companion, Cecilio Chi added in 1849, that promises made
by the rebel Santiago Imán, that he was "liberating the Indians from
the payment of contributions" as a reason for resisting the central
government, but in fact he continued levying them.
In June 1847, Méndez learned that a large force of armed natives and
supplies had gathered at the Culumpich, a property owned by Jacinto
Pat, the Maya batab (leader), near Valladolid. Fearing revolt, Mendez
arrested Manuel Antonio Ay , the principal Maya leader of Chichimilá,
accused of planning a revolt, and executed him at the town square of
Valladolid. Furthermore, Méndez searching for other insurgents burned
the town of Tepich and repressed its residents. In the following
months, several Maya towns were sacked and many people arbitrarily
killed. In his letter of 1849, Cecilio Chi noted that Santiago Mendez
had come to "put every Indian, big and little, to death" but that the
Maya had responded to some degree, in kind, writing "it has pleased
God and good fortune that a much greater portion of them than of the
Cecilio Chi, the native leader of Tepich, along with Jacinto Pat
attacked Tepich on 30 July 1847, in reaction to the indiscriminate
massacre of Mayas, ordered that all the non-Maya population be killed.
By spring of 1848, the Maya forces had taken over most of the
Yucatán, with the exception of the walled cities of
Mérida and the south-west coast, with Yucatecan troops holding the
road from Mérida to the port of Sisal . The Yucatecan governor Miguel
Barbachano had prepared a decree for the evacuation of Mérida, but
was apparently delayed in publishing it by the lack of suitable paper
in the besieged capital. The decree became unnecessary when the
republican troops suddenly broke the siege and took the offensive with
Governor Barbachano sought allies anywhere he could find them, in
Cuba (for Spain), Jamaica (for the United Kingdom) and the United
States, but none of these foreign powers would intervene, although the
matter was taken seriously enough in the
United States to be debated
in Congress. Subsequently, therefore, he turned to Mexico, and
accepted a return to Mexican authority. Yucatán was officially
Mexico on 17 August 1848. Yucateco forces rallied, aided
by fresh guns, money, and troops from Mexico, and pushed back the
natives from more than half of the state.
By 1850 the nativesoccupied two distinct regions in the southeast and
they were inspired to continue the struggle by the apparition of the
"Talking Cross". This apparition, believed to be a way in which God
communicated with the Maya, dictated that the War continue. Chan Santa
Cruz, or Small Holy Cross became the religious and political center of
the Maya resistance and the rebellion came to be infused with
religious significance. Chan Santa Cruz also became the name of the
largest of the independent Maya states, as well as the name of the
capital city which is now the city of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Quintana
Roo . The followers of the Cross were known as the "Cruzob".
The government of Yucatán first declared the war over in 1855, but
hopes for peace were premature. There were regular skirmishes, and
occasional deadly major assaults into each other's territory, by both
United Kingdom recognized the Chan Santa Cruz Maya as a "de
facto" independent nation, in part because of the major trade between
Chan Santa Cruz and British
BATTLE OF LA ARADA
Battle of La Arada See also:
Doroteo Vasconcelos and
Vicente Cerna y Cerna
After Carrera returned from exile in 1849, Vasconcelos granted asylum
to the Guatemalan liberals, who harassed the Guatemalan government in
several different forms:
José Francisco Barrundia did it through a
liberal newspaper established with that specific goal; Vasconcelos
gave support during a whole year to a rebel faction "La Montaña", in
eastern Guatemala, providing and distributing money and weapons. By
late 1850, Vasconcelos was getting impatient at the slow progress of
the war with
Guatemala and decided to plan an open attack. Under that
circumstance, the Salvadorean head of state started a campaign against
the conservative Guatemalan regime, inviting
participate in the alliance; only the Honduran government led by Juan
Meanwhile, in Guatemala, where the invasion plans were perfectly well
known, President Mariano Paredes started taking precautions to face
the situation, while the Guatemalan Archbishop, Francisco de Paula
García Peláez , ordered peace prayers in the archdiocese.
On 4 January 1851,
Doroteo Vasconcelos and
Juan Lindo met in
Ocotepeque , Honduras, where they signed an alliance against
Guatemala. The Salvadorean army had 4,000 men, properly trained and
armed and supported by artillery; the Honduran army numbered 2,000
men. The coalition army was stationed in
Metapán , El Salvador, due
to its proximity with both the Guatemalan and Honduran borders.
On 28 January 1851, Vasconcelos sent a letter to the Guatemalan
Ministry of Foreign Relations, in which he demanded that the
Guatemalan president relinquish power, so that the alliance could
designate a new head of state loyal to the liberals and that Carrera
be exiled, escorted to any of the Guatemalan southern ports by a
Salvadorean regiment. The Guatemalan government did not accept the
terms and the Allied army entered Guatemalan territory at three
different places. On 29 January, a 500-man contingent entered through
Piñuelas, Agua Blanca and
Jutiapa , led by General Vicente Baquero,
but the majority of the invading force marched from Metapán. The
Allied army was composed of 4,500 men led by Vasconcelos, as Commander
in Chief. Other commanders were the generals
José Santos Guardiola
José Santos Guardiola ,
Ramón Belloso ,
José Trinidad Cabañas and
Gerardo Barrios .
Guatemala was able to recruit 2,000 men, led by Lieutenant General
Carrera as Commander in Chief, with several colonels.
Carrera's strategy was to feign a retreat, forcing the enemy forces
to follow the "retreating" troops to a place he had previously chosen;
on 1 February 1851, both armies were facing each other with only the
San José river between them. Carrera had fortified the foothills of
La Arada, its summit about 50 metres (160 ft) above the level of the
river. A meadow 300 metres (980 ft) deep lay between the hill and the
river, and boarding the meadow was a sugar cane plantation. Carrera
divided his army in three sections: the left wing was led by Cerna and
Solares; the right wing led by Bolaños. He personally led the central
battalion, where he placed his artillery. Five hundred men stayed in
Chiquimula to defend the city and to aid in a possible retreat,
leaving only 1,500 Guatemalans against an enemy of 4,500.
The battle began at 8:30 AM, when Allied troops initiated an attack
at three different points, with an intense fire opened by both armies.
The first Allied attack was repelled by the defenders of the foothill;
during the second attack, the Allied troops were able to take the
first line of trenches. They were subsequently expelled. During the
third attack, the Allied force advanced to a point where it was
impossible to distinguish between Guatemalan and Allied troops. Then,
the fight became a melée, while the Guatemalan artillery severely
punished the invaders. At the height of the battle when the
Guatemalans faced an uncertain fate, Carrera ordered that sugar cane
plantation around the meadow to be set on fire. The invading army was
now surrounded: to the front, they faced the furious Guatemalan
firepower, to the flanks, a huge blaze and to the rear, the river, all
of which made retreat very difficult. The central division of the
Allied force panicked and started a disorderly retreat. Soon, all of
the Allied troops started retreating.
The 500 men of the rearguard pursued what was left of the Allied
army, which desperately fled for the borders of their respective
countries. The final count of the Allied losses were 528 dead, 200
prisoners, 1,000 rifles, 13,000 rounds of ammunition, many pack
animals and baggage, 11 drums and seven artillery pieces. Vasconcelos
sought refuge in
El Salvador , while two Generals mounted on the same
horse were seen crossing the Honduran border. Carrera regrouped his
army and crossed the Salvadorean border, occupying Santa Ana , before
he received orders from the Guatemalan President, Mariano Paredes, to
return to Guatemala, since the Allies were requesting a cease-fire and
a peace treaty.
Concordat Of 1854
Concordat of 1854
CONCORDAT BETWEEN THE HOLY SEE AND THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF
Vatican and Congress of
Fernando Lorenzana and
Juan José de Aycinena y Piñol
Through this treaty,
Guatemala gave the education of the Guatemalan
people to the regular orders of the
Catholic Church , committed to
respect the ecclesiastical properties and monasteries, authorized
mandatory tithing and allowed the bishops to censor what was published
in the country.
Concordat of 1854 was an international treaty between Carrera and
Holy See , signed in 1852 and ratified by both parties in 1854.
Guatemala gave the education of Guatemalan people to
regular orders of the Catholic Church, committed to respect
ecclesiastical property and monasteries, imposed mandatory tithing and
allowed the bishops to censor what was published in the country; in
Guatemala received dispensations for the members of the army,
allowed those who had acquired the properties that the liberals had
expropriated from the Church in 1829 to keep those properties,
received the taxes generated by the properties of the Church, and had
the right to judge certain crimes committed by clergy under Guatemalan
law. The concordat was designed by Juan José de Aycinena y Piñol
and not only reestablished but reinforced the relationship between
Church and State in Guatemala. It was in force until the fall of the
conservative government of Field Marshal
Vicente Cerna y Cerna .
In 1854, by initiative of
Manuel Francisco Pavón Aycinena
Manuel Francisco Pavón Aycinena , Carrera
was declared "supreme and perpetual leader of the nation" for life,
with the power to choose his successor. He was in that position until
he died on 14 April 1865. While he pursued some measures to set up a
foundation for economic prosperity to please the conservative
landowners, military challenges at home and in a three-year war with
Honduras , El Salvador, and
Nicaragua dominated his presidency. His
Gerardo Barrios , President of El Salvador, resulted in
open war in 1863.
At Coatepeque the Guatemalans suffered a severe defeat, which was
followed by a truce.
Honduras joined with El Salvador, and Nicaragua
Costa Rica with Guatemala. The contest was finally settled in
favor of Carrera, who besieged and occupied San Salvador, and
Honduras and Nicaragua. He continued to act in concert with
the Clerical Party, and tried to maintain friendly relations with the
European governments. Before his death, Carrera nominated his friend
and loyal soldier, Army Marshall
Vicente Cerna y Cerna, as his
Wyke-Aycinena Treaty: Limits Convention About Belize
Coat of Arms of the Republic of
Guatemala between 1858 and 1871.
A replica was carved on the front side of the Carrera theater before
it was remodeled in 1892.
30 April 1859 (1859-04-30)
26 September 1859 (1859-09-26)
United Kingdom and
Guatemala City .
Pedro de Aycinena y Piñol and Charles Lennox Wyke
Define the borders between the British
Honduras (now Belize) and
Guatemala. Full text
1861 map of the boundary between British
Honduras (now Belize)
Belize region in the
Yucatan peninsula was never occupied by
Spain or Guatemala, even though
Spain made some exploratory
expeditions in the 16th century that serve as her basis to claim the
area as hers;
Guatemala simply inherited that argument to claim the
territory, even though it never sent any expedition to the area after
Spain in 1821, due to the Central American civil war
that ensued and lasted until 1860.
The British had set a small settlement there since middle of the 17th
century, mainly as buccaneers quarters y then for fine wood
production; the settlements were never recognized as British colonies
even though they were somewhat under the jurisdiction of the Jamaican
British government. In the 18th century,
Belize became the main
smuggling center for Central America, even though the British accepter
Spain sovereignty over the region by means of the 1783 and 1786
treaties, in exchange for a cease fire and the authorization for the
Englishmen to work with the precious woods from Belize.
Central America independence from
Spain in 1821, Belize
became the leading edge of the commercial entrance of Britain in the
isthmus; British commercial brokers established themselves there and
began prosper commercial routes with the Caribbean harbors of
Honduras and Nicaragua.
When Carrera came to power in 1840, stopped the complaints over
Belize, and established a Guatemalan consulate in the region to
oversee the Guatemalan interests in that important commercial
Belize commerce was booming in the region until 1855, when
the Colombians built a transoceanic railway, which allowed commerce to
flow more efficiently to the port at the Pacific; from then on, Belize
commercial importance began a steep decline. When the Caste War of
Yucatán began in the
Yucatan peninsula -native people raising that
results in thousands of murdered European settlers- the
Guatemala representatives were in high alert; Yucatan refugees fled
Belize and even
Belize superintendent came to
fear that Carrera -given his strong alliance with Guatemalan natives-
could be support the native risings in Central America.
In the 1850s, the British showed their good will to settle the
territorial differences with the Central American countries: they
withdraw from the Mosquito Coast in
Nicaragua and began talks that
would end up in the restoration of the territory to
Nicaragua in 1894:
returned the Bay Islands to
Honduras and even negotiated with the
American filibuster William Walker in an effort to avoid the invasion
of Honduras. They also signed a treaty with
Guatemala about Belize's
borders, which has been called by Guatemalans as the worst mistake
made by the conservative regime of Rafael Carrera-.
Pedro de Aycinena y Piñol , as Foreign Secretary, had made an extra
effort to keep good relations with the British crown. In 1859, William
Walker's threat loomed again over Central America; in order to get the
weapons needed to face the filibuster, Carrera's regime had to come to
Belize with the British Empire. On 30 April 1859, the
Wyke-Aycinena treaty was signed, between the English and Guatemalan
representatives. The controversial Wyke-Aycinena from 1859 had two
* The first six articles clearly defined the Guatemala-Belize
England sovereignty over the Belize
* The seventh article was about the construction of a road between
Belize City and
Guatemala City, which would be of mutual benefic, as
Belize needed a way to communicate with the Pacific coast of
Guatemala, having lost its commercial relevance after the construction
of the transoceanic railroad in Panama in 1855; on the other hand,
Guatemala needed a road to improve communication with its Atlantic
coast. However, the road was never built; first because Guatemalan and
Belizeans could not reach an agreement of the exact location for the
road, and later because the conservatives lost power in
1871, and the liberal government declared the treaty void.
Among those who signed the treaty was
José Milla y Vidaurre
José Milla y Vidaurre , who
worked with Aycinena in the Foreign Ministry at the time. Rafael
Carrera ratified the treaty on 1 May 1859, while Charles Lennox Wyke,
British consul in Guatemala, travelled to Great Britain and got the
royal approval on 26 September 1859. there were some protests coming
from the American consul, Beverly Clarke, and some liberal
representatives, but the issue was settled. As of 1850, it was
Guatemala had a population of 600,000.
Guatemala's "Liberal Revolution" came in 1871 under the leadership of
Justo Rufino Barrios
Justo Rufino Barrios , who worked to modernize the country, improve
trade, and introduce new crops and manufacturing. During this era
coffee became an important crop for Guatemala. Barrios had ambitions
Central America and took the country to war in an
unsuccessful attempt to attain it, losing his life on the battlefield
in 1885 against forces in El Salvador.
JUSTO RUFINO BARRIOS GOVERNMENT
Justo Rufino Barrios
Justo Rufino Barrios Guatemalan National
Penitentiary, built by Barrios to incarcerate and torture his
The Conservative government in
Honduras gave military backing to a
group of Guatemalan Conservatives wishing to take back the government,
so Barrios declared war on the Honduran government. At the same time,
Barrios, together with President
Luis Bogran of
Honduras , declared an
intention to reunify the old
United Provinces of Central America
United Provinces of Central America .
During his time in office, Barrios continued with the liberal reforms
initiated by García Granados, but he was more aggressive implementing
them. A summary of his reforms is:
* Definitive separation between Church and State: he expelled the
regular clergy such as Morazán had done in 1829 and confiscated their
COAT OF ARMS
Order of Preachers
Order of Preachers
* Large extensions of farmland
* Sugar mills
* Indian doctrines
* Large extensions of farmland
* Sugar mills
* Indian doctrines
Society of Jesus
The Jesuits had been expelled from the Spanish colonies back in
1765 and did not return to
Guatemala until 1852. By 1871, they did not
have major possessions.
* Large extensions of farmland
School and Trentin Seminar of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción
Congregation of the Oratory
Congregation of the Oratory
* Church building and housing in
Guatemala City were completely
obliterated by presidential order.
* Forbid mandatory tithing to weaken secular clergy members and the
* Established civil marriage as the only official one in the country
* Secular cemeteries
* Civil records superseded religious ones
* Established secular education across the country
* Established free and mandatory elementary schools
* Closed the Pontifical
University of San Carlos
University of San Carlos and in its place
created the secular National University.
Barrios had a National Congress totally pledge to his will, and
therefore he was able to create a new constitution in 1879, which
allowed him to be reelected as president for another six-year term.
He also was intolerant with his political opponents, forcing a lot of
them to flee the country and building the infamous Guatemalan Central
penitentiary where he had numerous people incarcerated and tortured.
Appleton's guide for México and
Guatemala from 1884, shows the
twenty departments in which
Guatemala was divided during Barrios time
AREA (SQUARE MILES)
Santa Cruz del Quiché
Day Laborers regulations
(NOTE: Only main sections are presented)
* Employer obligations: employers are mandated to keep record of all
accounts, where they will keep the debits and credits of each day
laborer, making it known to the laborer every week by an accounting
* A day laborer can be contracted upon employer's needs, but it
cannot go beyond four years. However, a day laborer cannot leave the
employer's farmland until he has paid in full any debts he or she
might have incurred at the time.
* When a particular wishes for his or her farm a batch of day
laborers, he or she must request it to the Political Chief of the
Department he or she lives in, whose authority will designate which
native town must provide such batch. In any case can be larger than 60
From: Martínez Peláez, S. La Patria del Criollo, intepretation
essay of Gautemala Colonial reality México. 1990 Day laborers
pay day in Santa Rosa ca. 1890 according to the Day Laborer
Regulations established by Barrios.
Guatemala territory during
Rafael Carrera and
Vicente Cerna conservative regimes. Soconusco
territories were given to México in exchange for their support to the
Liberal revolution in 1871 by Herrera-Mariscal treaty of 1882.
Town alcaldes of Highland
Guatemala in traditional dress, 1891
During Barrios tenue, the "indian land" that the conservative regime
Rafael Carrera had so strongly defended was confiscated and
distributed among those officers that helped him during the Liberal
Revolution in 1871. Decree # 170 (a.k.a. Census redemption decree)
made it easy to confiscate those lands in favor of the army officers
and the German settlers in Verapaz as it allowed to publicly sell
those common Indian lots. Therefore, the fundamental characteristic
of the productive system during Barrios regime was the accumulation of
large extension of land among few owners and a sort of "farmland
servitude", based on the exploitation of the native day laborers.
In order to make sure that there was a steady supply of day laborers
for the coffee plantations, which required a lot of them, Barrios
government decreed the Day Laborer regulations, labor legislation that
placed the entire native population at the disposition of the new and
traditional Guatemalan landlords, except the regular clergy , who were
eventually expelled form the country and saw their properties
confiscated. This decree set the following for the native
* Were forced by law to work on farms when the owners of those
required them, without any regard for where the native towns were
* Were under control of local authorities, who were in charge to
make sure that day laborer batches were sent to all the farms that
* Were subject to habilitation: a type of forced advanced pay, which
buried the day laborer in debt and then made it legal for the
landlords to keep them in their land for as long as they wanted.
* Created the day laborer booklet: a document that proved that a day
laborer had no debts to his employer. Without this document, any day
laborer was at the mercy of the local authorities and the landlords.
In 1879, a constitution was ratified for
Guatemala (the Republic's
first as an independent nation, as the old Conservador regime had
ruled by decree). In 1880, Barrios was reelected President for a
six-year term. Barrios unsuccessfully attempted to get the United
States of America to mediate the disputed boundary between Guatemala
GOVERNMENT OF MANUEL LISANDRO BARILLAS
General Manuel Lisandro Barillas Bercián was able to become interim
Guatemala after the death of President Justo Rufino
Barrios in the Batalla of Chalchuapa in
El Salvador in April 1885 and
after the resignation of first designate Alejandro Manuel Sinibaldi
Castro , by means of a clever scam: he went to the General Cemetery
when Barrios was being laid to rest and told the Congress president:
"please prepare room and board for the 5,000 troops that I have
waiting for my orders in Mixco". The congress president was scared of
this, and declared Barillas interim president on the spot. By the time
he realized that it was all a lie, it was too late to change anything.
Instead of calling for elections, as he should have, Barillas
Bercián was able to be declared President on 16 March 1886 and
remained in office until 1892.
During the government of general Barillas Bercián, the Carrera
theater was remodeled to celebrate the Discovery of America fourth
centennial; the Italian community in
Guatemala donated a statue of
Christopher Columbus -Cristóbal Colón, in Spanish- which was placed
next to the theater. Since then, the place was called "Colón
In 1892, Barillas called for elections as he wanted to take care of
his personal business; it was the first election in
allowed the candidates to make propaganda in the local newspapers.
The candidates who ran for office were:
He was the only one of all candidates who made an
engraving of his portrait to publish it in the newspapers and was
accused of wasting resources for doing this.
Published his government proposal in the Diario de Centro América
, taking advantage of the freedom of the Press that existed during
JOSé MARíA REYNA BARRIOS
Enríquez had been a liberal, but became a conservative after the
persecution that he suffered from the Barillas administration. As a
matter of fact, after the elections he had to run away from his farm
in Salama after being accused of sedition; he was captured and
executed near Zacapa.
JOSé CARRANZA LLERENA
Medical Staff of President Barillas.
Barillas Bercian was unique among liberal presidents of Guatemala
between 1871 and 1944: he handed over power to his successor
peacefully. When election time approached, he sent for the three
Liberal candidates to ask them what their government plan would be.
Happy with what he heard from general Reyna Barrios , Barillas made
sure that a huge column of
Quetzaltenango and Totonicapán Indigenous
people came down from the mountains to vote for general Reyna Barrios.
Reyna was elected president. As to not to offend the losing
candidates, Barillas gave them checks to cover the costs of their
presidential campaigns. Reyna Barrios went on to become President on
15 March 1892.
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
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.
MANUEL ESTRADA CABRERA REGIME (1898–1920)
Manuel Estrada Cabrera
Manuel Estrada Cabrera Manuel Estrada Cabrera
Guatemala between 1898 and 1920.
After the assassination of general
José María Reina Barrios on 8
February 1898, the Guatemalan cabinet called an emergency meeting to
appoint a new successor, but declined to invite Estrada Cabrera to the
meeting, even though he was the First Designated to the Presidency.
There are two versions on how he was able to get the Presidency: (a)
Estrada Cabrera entered "with pistol drawn" to assert his entitlement
to the presidency and (b) Estrada Cabrera showed up unarmed to the
meeting and demanded to be given the presidency as he was the First
The first Guatemalan head of state taken from civilian life in over
50 years, Estrada Cabrera overcame resistance to his regime by August
1898 and called for September elections, which he won handily. At
that time, Estrada Cabrera was 44 years old; he was stocky, of medium
height, dark, and broad-shouldered. The mustache gave him plebeian
appearance. Black and dark eyes, metallic sounding voice and was
rather sullen and brooding. At the same time, he already showed his
courage and character. This was demonstrated on the night of the death
of Reina Barrios when he stood in front of the ministers, meeting in
the Government Palace to choose a successor, Gentlemen, let me please
sign this decree. As First Designated, you must hand me the
Presidency. "His first decree was a general amnesty and the second was
to reopen all the elementary schools closed by Reyna Barrios, both
administrative and political measures aimed to gain the public
opinion. Estrada Cabrera was almost unknown in the political circles
of the capital and one could not foresee the features of his
government or his intentions.
In 1898 the Legislature convened for the election of President
Estrada Cabrera, who triumphed thanks to the large number of soldiers
and policemen who went to vote in civilian clothes and to the large
number of illiterate family that they brought with them to the polls.
Also, the effective propaganda that was written in the official
newspaper "the Liberal Idea '. The latter was run by the poet Joaquin
Mendez, and among the drafters were
Enrique Gómez Carrillo
Enrique Gómez Carrillo , -a
famous writer who had just returned to
Paris , and who
had confidence that Estrada Cabrera was the president that Guatemala
Rafael Spinola ,
Máximo Soto Hall and Juan Manuel Mendoza
-who later would be Gómez Carrillo biographer- and others. Gómez
Carrillo received as a reward for his work as political propagandist
the appointment as General Consul in Paris, with 250 gold pesos
monthly salary and immediately went back to Europe
One of Estrada Cabrera's most famous and most bitter legacies was
allowing the entry of the
United Fruit Company into the Guatemalan
economical and political arena. As a member of the Liberal Party , he
sought to encourage development of the nation's infrastructure of
highways, railroads, and sea ports for the sake of expanding the
export economy. By the time Estrada Cabrera assumed the presidency,
there had been repeated efforts to construct a railroad from the major
Puerto Barrios to the capital,
Guatemala City. Yet due to lack
of funding exacerbated by the collapse of the internal coffee trade,
the railway fell sixty miles short of its goal. Estrada Cabrera
decided, without consulting the legislature or judiciary, that
striking a deal with the
United Fruit Company was the only way to get
finish the railway. Cabrera signed a contract with UFCO's Minor
Cooper Keith in 1904 that gave the company tax-exemptions, land
grants, and control of all railroads on the Atlantic side.
Estrada Cabrera often employed brutal methods to assert his
authority, as that was the school of government in
Guatemala at the
time. Like him, presidents
Rafael Carrera y Turcios and Justo Rufino
Barrios had led tyrannical governments in the country. Right at the
beginning of his first presidential period, he started prosecuting his
political rivals and soon established a well-organized web of spies.
One American Ambassador returned to the
United States after he learned
the dictator had given orders to poison him. Former President Manuel
Barillas was stabbed to death in
Mexico City, on a street outside of
the Mexican Presidential Residence on Cabrera's orders; the street now
bears the name of Calle Guatemala. Also, Estrada Cabrera responded
violently to workers' strikes against UFCO. In one incident, when UFCO
went directly to Estrada Cabrera to resolve a strike (after the armed
forces refused to respond), the president ordered an armed unit to
enter the workers' compound. The forces "arrived in the night, firing
indiscriminately into the workers' sleeping quarters, wounding and
killing an unspecified number."
In 1906 Estrada faced serious revolts against his rule; the rebels
were supported by the governments of some of the other Central
American nations, but Estrada succeeded in putting them down.
Elections were held by the people against the will of Estrada Cabrera
and thus he had the president-elect murdered in retaliation. In 1907
the brothers Avila Echeverría and group of friends decided to kill
the president using a bomb along his way. They came from prominent
Guatemala and studied in foreign universities, but when
they returned to their homeland, they found a situation where
everybody live in constant fear and the president ruled without any
Everything was carefully planned. When Estrada Cabrera went for a
ride in his carriage, the bomb exploded, killing the horse and the
driver, but only slightly injuring the President. Since their attack
failed and they were forced to take their own lives; their families
also suffered, as they were jailed in the infamous Penitenciaría
Central. Conditions in the Penitentiary were cruel and foul. Political
offenses were tortured daily and their screams could be heard all over
the Penitentiary. Prisoners regularly died under these conditions
since political crimes had no pardon. It has been suggested that the
extreme despotic characteristics of Estrada did not emerge until after
an attempt on his life in 1907.
Estrada Cabrera continued in power until forced to resign by new
revolts in 1920. By that time, his power had declined drastically and
he was reliant on the loyalty of a few generals. While the United
States threatened intervention if he was removed through revolution, a
bipartisan coalition came together to remove him from the presidency.
He was removed from office after the national assembly charged that he
was mentally incompetent, and appointed Carlos Herrera in his place on
8 April 1920.
In 1920, prince
Wilhelm of Sweden visited
Guatemala and made a very
objective description of both Guatemalan society and Estrada Cabrera
government in his book Between two continents, notes from a journey in
Central America, 1920. The prince explained the dynamics of the
Guatemalan society at the time pointing out that even though it called
itself a "Republic",
Guatemala had three sharply defined classes:
* Criollos : a minority conformed originally by ancient families
descendants of the Spaniards that conquered
Central America and that
by 1920 conformed both political parties in the country. By 1920, they
were mixed to a large extended with foreigners and the great majority
had Indian blood in their veins. They led the country both
politically and intellectually partly because their education,
although poor for European standards of the time, was enormously
superior to the rest of the people of the country, partly because only
criollos were allowed in the main political parties and also because
their families controlled and for the most part owner the cultivated
parts of the country.
* Ladinos: middle class. Formed of people born of the cross between
natives, blacks and criollos. The held almost no political power in
1920 and made the bulk of artisans, storekeepers, tradesmen and minor
officials. In the eastern part of the country were found agricultural
* Indians: the majority conformed by a mass of natives. Slow of wit,
uneducated and disinclined to all forms of change, they had furnished
excellent soldiers for the Army and often raised, as soldiers, to
positions of considerable trust given their disinclination for
independent political activity and their inherent respect for
government and officialdom. They made the main element in the working
agricultural population. There were three categories within them:
* "Mozos colonos": settled on the plantations. Were given a small
piece of land to cultivate on their own account, in return for work in
the plantations so many months of the year.
* "Mozos jornaleros": day-laborers who were contracted to work for
certain periods of time. They were paid a daily wage.
In theory, each "mozo" was free to dispose of his labor as he or
she pleased, but they were bound to the property by economical ties.
They could not leave until they had paid off their debt to the owner,
and they were victim of those owners, who encouraged the "mozos" to
get into debt beyond their power to free themselves by granting credit
or lending cash. If the mozos ran away, the owner could have them
pursued and imprisoned by the authorities, with all the cost incurred
in the process charged to the ever increasing debt of the mozo. If one
of them refused to work, he or she was put in prison on the spot.
Finally, the wages were extremely low. The work was done by contract,
but since every "mozo" starts with a large debt, the usual advance on
engagement, they become servants to the owner.
* Independent tillers: living in the most remote provinces, survived
by growing crops of maize, wheat or beans, sufficient to meet their
own needs and leave a small margin for disposal in the market places
of the towns and often carried their goods on their back for up to
twenty five miles a day.
JORGE UBICO REGIME (1931–1944)
In 1931, the dictator general
Jorge Ubico came to power, backed by
the United States, and initiated one of the most brutally repressive
governments 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 jumpstart coffee production
in the country 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.
Allegedly, he passed laws allowing landowners to execute workers as a
"disciplinary" measure. 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." 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
U.S. military to establish bases in Guatemala.
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.
On the other hand, Ubico was an efficient administrator:
* 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
* He cut the bureaucrats' salaries by almost half, forcing inflation
* One of his last administrative decision 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. Since the fair failed,
the Guatemalan government was left with a large debt with the British
bankers and the new president,
Manuel Estrada Cabrera
Manuel Estrada Cabrera feared that
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.
OCTOBER REVOLUTION (1944)
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 25
June, a peaceful demonstration of female schoolteachers culminated in
its suppression by government troops and the assassination of María
Chinchilla who became a national heroine. 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 advisors 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
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.
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
Francisco Javier Arana . Ubico had fired
Árbenz from his teaching post at the Escuela Politécnica, and since
then Árbenz had been living in El Salvador, organizing a band of
revolutionary exiles. On 19 October 1944 a small group of soldiers and
students led by Árbenz and Arana attacked the National Palace in what
later became known as the "October Revolution". Ponce was defeated
and driven into exile; and Árbenz, Arana, and a lawyer name Jorge
Toriello established a junta . They declared that democratic elections
would be held before the end of the year.
The winner of the 1944 elections was a teaching major named Juan
José Arévalo , PhD, who had earned a scholarship in Argentina during
the government of general
Lázaro Chacón due to his superb professor
skills. Arévalo remained in South America during a few years, working
as a University professor in several countries. Back in Guatemala
during the early years of the
Jorge Ubico regime, his colleagues asked
him to present a project to the president to create the Faculty of
Humanism at the National University , to which Ubico was strongly
opposed. Realizing the dictatorial nature of Ubico, Arévalo left
Guatemala and went back to Argentina. He went back to
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.
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
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
PRESIDENCY OF JUAN JOSé ARéVALO (1945–1951)
Juan José Arévalo
Juan José Arévalo
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. 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.
Francisco Javier 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.
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 turn to the next election. Arana died in a
gun battle against military civilian who wanted to capture him on 18
July 1949, at the Bridge of Glory, in
Amatitlán , where he and his
assistant commander had gone to check on weapons and that had been
seized at the Aurora Air Base a few days before There are different
versions about who ambushed him, and those who ordered the attack;
Arbenz and Arévalo have been accused of instigating an attempt to get
Arana out of the presidential picture.
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.
Before his death, Arana had planned to run in the upcoming 1950
presidential elections. His death left Árbenz without any serious
contenders 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. 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.
For the campaign of 1950, Arbenz asked
José Manuel Fortuny
José Manuel Fortuny – a
high-ranking member of the Guatemalan Communist party – to write
some speeches. The central theme of these was the 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 closeness to
the president seeking personal benefits, the leaders of the Guatemalan
Labor Party, and especially Fortuny, were the closest advisors and
Arbenz were his private practice.
The election of Árbenz alarmed
U.S. State Department officials, who
stated that Arana "has always represented only positive conservative
element in Arévalo administration", that his death would "strengthen
Leftist materially", and that "developments forecast sharp leftist
trend within government."
PRESIDENCY OF JACOBO ÁRBENZ GUZMAN (1951–1954)
Jacobo Árbenz Guzman Inauguration of colonel
Jacobo Árbenz Guzman as president of
Guatemala in 1951.
In his inaugural address, Árbenz promised to convert
"a backward country with a predominantly feudal economy into a modern
capitalist state." He declared that he intended to reduce dependency
on foreign markets and dampen the influence of foreign corporations
over Guatemalan politics. He also stated that he would modernize
Guatemala's infrastructure and do so without the aid of foreign
Based on his plan of government, he did the following:
* Promulgated the Decree 900, to expropriate idle land from UFCO.
* Began construction of the Atlantic Highway
* Began construction of the
Santo Tomas de Castilla port where port
Matías de Gálvez used to be, to compete with Puerto Barrios, UFCO's
* Began studies for Jurun Marinalá generation plant to compete with
the electric company in the hands of Americans.
Árbenz was a Christian socialist and governed as a European-style
democratic socialist , and took great inspiration from Franklin Delano
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 .
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.
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 the banana industry, which was Guatemala's chief
agricultural export industry. By the mid-1940s, Guatemalan banana
plantations accounted for more than one quarter of all of United Fruit
Company 's production in Latin America. Land reform was the
centerpiece of Árbenz's election campaign. 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. Árbenz continued Arévalo's reform agenda and in June 1952,
his government enacted an agrarian reform program. Árbenz set land
reform as his central goal, as only 2% of the population owned 70% of
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 which would be in charge of expropriating
uncultivated land on estates that were larger than 672 acres (2.7
km2). 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 25-year bonds
with a 3 percent interest rate. 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
In 1953, the reform was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court,
however the democratically elected Congress later impeached four
judges associated with the ruling.
Decree 900, for the
Agrarian Reform in
Guatemala created the
possibility of gaining crops for those field workers who had no land
of their own. 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 released many of the terrestrial land,
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
after the reform and that there was a "fundamental transformation of
agricultural technology as a result of the decrease labor supply."
Rising living standards also happened in Europe in the fifteenth
century, while large-scale technological advances occurred. Missing
workforce after the plague was "the mother of invention." The benefits
from the reform were not limited solely to the working class of
fields: There were increases in consumption, production and domestic
Construction Of Transport Infrastructure
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.
In order to establish the necessary physical infrastructure to make
possible the "independent" and national capitalist development that
could get rid of extreme dependence on the
United States and break the
American monopolies operating in the country, basically the economy of
the banana enclave, Arbenz and his government began the planning and
construction of the Atlantic Highway, which was intended to compete in
the market with the monopoly on land transport exerted by the United
Fruit Company , through one of its subsidiaries: the International
Central America (IRCA), which had the concession since
1904, when it was granted by then president
Manuel Estrada Cabrera
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:
Puerto Barrios was owned and operated
solely by The Great White Fleet, another UFCO's subsidiary.
National Power Plant Jurun Marinalá
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. The power was
not completed until 1968, fourteen years after Arbenz was taken out of
power. Marinalá power plant advertisement during Arbenz
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,
Catholic Campaign National Pilgrimage Against Communism
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 to 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 21 March 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.
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.
On 4 April 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
the homeland. This pastoral was distributed throughout the country.
NATIONAL LIBERATION (1954)
Agrarian Reform And UFCo Conflict
In 1953, when the government implemented
Agrarian Reform , it
intended to redistribute large holdings of unused land to peasants,
both Ladino and Amerindian, for them to develop for subsistence
farming. It expropriated 250,000 of 350,000 manzanas held by the
United Fruit Company (UFC). According to the government's Decree 900,
it would redistribute the land for agricultural purposes. UFCO
continued to hold thousands of acres in pasture as well as substantial
forest reserves. The Guatemalan government had offered the company a Q
609,572 in compensation for the appropriated land. The company fought
the land expropriation, making several legal arguments. It said the
government had misinterpreted its own law. The
Agrarian Reform Law was
directed at redistributing unused land able to be developed for
agricultural purposes. Thus land in pasture, specified forest cover
and under cultivation was to be left with the owners and untouched by
the expropriators. The company argued that most of the land taken from
them was cultivated and in use, so it was illegal for the government
to take it.
Secondly, they argued that the offered compensation was insufficient
for the amount and value of the land taken. However, the valuations of
United Fruit Company's rural property were based on the values
declared by the company in its own tax filings. In 1945 Arevalo's
administration ordered new assessments, to be complete by 1948. UFCo
had submitted the assessment by the due date; but, when the Agrarian
Reform was implemented, the company declared that they wanted the
value of its property changed from the values the company had
previously used to dodge taxes. The government had investigated in
1951, but a new assessment was never completed. UFCo said that the
1948 assessment was outdated, and claimed its land value was much
greater. They had estimated just compensation would be as high as Q
15,854,849, nearly twenty times more than what the Guatemalan
government had offered.
U.S. State Department and the embassy actively began to support
the position of UFCo, which was a major US company. The Guatemalan
government had to fight the pressure. The US officially acknowledged
Guatemala had the right to conduct their own politics and
business, but U.S. representatives said they were trying to protect
UFCo, a US company that generated much revenue and contributed to the
US economy. Arbenz's administration said that
Agrarian Reform to improve its own economy. Arbenz said he would adopt
policies for a nationalist economic development if necessary. He
argued that all foreign investment would be subject to Guatemalan
laws. Arbenz was firm in promoting the
Agrarian Reform and within a
couple of years had acted quickly; he claimed that Guatemalan
government was not prepared to make an exception for the U.S.
Decree 900 and that it was not Guatemalan's fault that the
American corporation had lied in its tax forms and declared an
artificially low value on their land.
Because Arbenz could not be pressured to take into consideration the
arguments made to prevent expropriation from UFCo, his government was
undermined with propaganda. For U.S. the national security was also
highly important. They had combined both political and economic
interests. The fear of allowing communist practices in
shared by the urban elite and middle classes, who would not
relinquish their privileges that easily. The local media-such as
El Imparcial and La Hora- took advantage of the freedom of
press of the regime, and with the sponsorship of UFCo were critical of
communism and of the government's legal recognition of the party. The
opposing political parties organized anticommunism campaigns;
thousands of people appeared at the periodic rallies, and the
membership in anticommunist organizations had grown steadily.
John Peurifoy To Guatemala
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.
One of the main characters of
John Peurifoy , who was
sent as the ambassador of the
United States to Guatemala, as this was
the first country in the American sphere of influence after World War
II that included elements openly communists in his government. He came
from Greece, where he had already done considerable anticommunist
activity, and was installed as ambassador in November 1953, when
Carlos Castillo Armas
Carlos Castillo Armas was already organizing his tiny revoucionary
army. After a long meeting, Peurifoy made it clear to President Arbenz
that the US was worried about the communist elements in his
government, and then reported to the
Department of State
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
Guatemala from falling into the orbit of international
The Communist Party was never the center of the Communist movement in
Jacobo Arbenz came to power in 1951. Prior to 1951,
Communism lived within the urban labor forces in small study groups
during 1944 to 1953 which it had a tremendous influence on these urban
labor forces. Despite its small size within Guatemala, many leaders
were extremely vocal about their beliefs (for instance, in their
protests and, more importantly, their literature). In 1949 in
Congress, the Communist party only had less than forty members,
however, by 1953 it went up to nearly four thousand. Before Arbenz
come to power in 1951, the Communist movement preferred to carry out
many of their activities through the so-called mass organization. In
addition to Arbenz success, Guatemalan Communist Party moved forward
its activities into public.
Jacobo Arbenz came to power in 1951, he extended political
Guatemala to participate in politics.
This move by Arbenz let many opponents in Ubico’s regime to
recognize themselves as Communists. By 1952, Arbenz supported a land
reform, and took unused agricultural land, about 225,000 acres (910
km2), from owners who had large properties, and made it available to
rural workers and farmers. These lands were to be taken from the
United Fruit Company with compensation; however, the UFC believed the
compensation was not enough. Meantime, Arbenz allowed the Communist
Party to organize and include leaders notably his adviser who were
leftist. The propaganda effort that was led by United Fruit Company
against the revolution in
Guatemala persuaded the U.S. government to
fight against communism in Guatemala. The
United States clutched on
small details to prove the existence of widespread Communism in
Guatemala. The Eisenhower administration at the time in the U.S. were
not happy about the Arbenz government, they considered Arbenz to be
too close to Communism; there have been reports that Arbenz’s wife
was a Communist and part of the Communist Party in Guatemala. Even
though it was impossible for the U.S. to gather evidence and
information about Guatemala’s relations to the Soviet Union,
Americans wanted to believe that Communism existed in Guatemala. Many
groups of Guatemalan exiles were armed and trained by the CIA, and
commanded by Colonel
Carlos Castillo Armas
Carlos Castillo Armas they invaded
18 June 1954. The Americans called it an Anti-Communist Coup against
Arbenz. The coup was supported by CIA radio broadcasts and so the
Guatemalan army refused to resist the coup, Arbenz was forced to
resign. In 1954 a military government replaced Arbenz' government and
disbanded the legislature and they arrested communist leaders,
Castillo Armas became president.
Arbenz proceeded to nationalize and redistribute un-utilized land
owned by the
United Fruit Company , which had a practical monopoly on
Guatemalan fruit production and some industry. In response, United
Fruit lobbied the Eisenhower administration to remove Arbenz. Of still
greater importance, though, was the widespread American concern about
the possibility of a so-called "Soviet beachhead" opening up in the
Western Hemisphere. Arbenz's sudden legalization of the Communist
party and importing of arms from then Soviet-satellite state of
Czechoslovakia , among other events, convinced major policy makers in
White House and CIA to try for Arbenz's forced removal, although
his term was to end naturally in two years. This led to a
CIA-orchestrated coup in 1954, known as
Operation PBSUCCESS , which
saw Arbenz toppled and forced into exile by Colonel Carlos Castillo
Armas . Despite most Guatemalans' attachment to the original ideals of
the 1944 uprising, some private sector leaders and the military began
to believe that Arbenz represented a Communist threat and supported
his overthrow, hoping that a successor government would continue the
more moderate reforms started by Arevalo. After the CIA coup, hundreds
of Guatemalans were rounded up and killed.
EARTHQUAKE OF 1976
Guatemala City, 1976 Main article: 1976
THIS SECTION NEEDS EXPANSION. You can help by adding to it .
CIVIL WAR (1960–1996)
Guatemalan Civil War
Guatemalan Civil War
The government, right-wing paramilitary organizations, and left-wing
insurgents were all engaged in the
Guatemalan Civil War
Guatemalan Civil War (1960–96). A
variety of factors contributed: social and economic injustice and
racial discrimination suffered by the indigenous population, the 1954
coup which reversed reforms, weak civilian control of the military,
United States support of the government, and Cuban support of the
Historical Clarification Commission (commonly known as
the "Truth Commission") after the war estimated that more than 200,000
people were killed — the vast majority of whom were indigenous
civilians. 93% of the human rights abuses reported to the Commission
were attributed to the military or other government-supported forces.
It also determined that in several instances, the government was
responsible for acts of genocide .
In response to the increasingly autocratic rule of Gen. Ydígoras
Fuentes , who took power in 1958 following the murder of Col. Castillo
Armas , a group of junior military officers revolted in 1960. When
they failed, several went into hiding and established close ties with
Cuba . This group became the nucleus of the forces who mounted armed
insurrection against the government for the next 36 years.
Shortly after President
Julio César Méndez Montenegro took office
in 1966, the army launched a major counterinsurgency campaign that
largely broke up the guerrilla movement in the countryside.
The guerrillas concentrated their attacks in
Guatemala City, where
they assassinated many leading figures, including U.S. Ambassador John
Gordon Mein in 1968. During the next nearly two decades, Méndez
Montenegro was the only civilian to head
Guatemala until the
Vinicio Cerezo in 1986.
FRANJA TRANSVERSAL DEL NORTE
Franja Transversal del Norte Location of Franja
Transversal del Norte -Northern Transversal Strip- in Guatemala.
The first settler project in the FTN was in Sebol-Chinajá in Alta
Verapaz . Sebol, then regarded as a strategic point and route through
Cancuén river, which communicated with Petén through the Usumacinta
River on the border with
Mexico and the only road that existed was a
dirt one built by President
Lázaro Chacón in 1928. In 1958, during
the government of General
Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes the Inter-American
Development Bank (IDB) financed infrastructure projects in Sebol,
which finally adopted the name "Fray Bartolomé de las Casas',
municipality created in 1983 in Alta Verapaz. In 1960, then Army
Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia
Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia inherited Saquixquib and Punta de
Boloncó farms in northeastern Sebol. In 1963 he bought the farm "San
Fernando" El Palmar de Sejux and finally bought the "Sepur" farm near
San Fernando. During those years, Lucas was in the Guatemalan
legislature and lobbied in Congress to boost investment in that area
of the country.
In those years, the importance of the region was in livestock,
exploitation of precious export wood and archaeological wealth. Timber
contracts we granted to multinational companies such as Murphy Pacific
Corporation from California, which invested US$30 million for the
colonization of southern Petén and Alta Verapaz, and formed the North
Impulsadora Company. Colonization of the area was made through a
process by which inhospitable areas of the FTN were granted to native
In 1962, the DGAA became the National Institute of Agrarian Reform
(INTA), by Decree 1551 which created the law of Agrarian
Transformation. In 1964, INTA defined the geography of the FTN as the
northern part of the departments of Huehuetenango, Quiché, Alta
Verapaz and Izabal and that same year priests of the
and the Order of the Sacred Heart began the first process of
colonization, along with INTA, carrying settlers from
the Ixcán sector in Quiché. "It is of public interest and
national emergency, the establishment of Agrarian Development Zones in
the area included within the municipalities: San Ana Huista, San
Antonio Huista, Nentón, Jacaltenango, San Mateo Ixcatán , and Santa
Cruz Barillas in
Chajul and San Miguel
Quiché; Cobán, Chisec, San Pedro Carchá, Lanquín, Senahú,
Cahabón and Chahal, in
Alta Verapaz and the entire department of
Izabal." Decreto 60–70, artítulo 1o.
The Northern Transversal Strip was officially created during the
government of General Carlos Arana Osorio in 1970, by Decree 60–70
in the Congress, for agricultural development.
The Guerrilla Army Of The Poor
Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres
On 19 January 1972 members of a new Guatemalan guerrilla movement
entered Ixcán, from Mexico, and were accepted by many farmers; in
1973, after an exploratory foray into the municipal seat of Cotzal,
the insurgent group decided to set up camp underground in the
mountains of Xolchiché, municipality of Chajul.
In 1974 the insurgent guerrilla group held its first conference,
where it defined its strategy of action for the coming months and
called itself Guerrilla Army of the Poor (-Ejército Guerrillero de
los Pobres -EGP-). In 1975 the organization had spread around the area
of the mountains of northern municipalities of
Nebaj and Chajul. As
part of its strategy EGP agreed to perform acts that notoriety was
obtained and through which also symbolize the establishment of a
"social justice" against the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the
judicial and administrative organs of the State. They saw also that
with these actions the indigenous rural population of the region is
identified with the insurgency, thus motivating joining their ranks.
As part of this plan was agreed to so-called "executions". To
determine who would be these people subject to "execution", the EGP
attended complaints received from the public. For example, they
selected two victims: Guillermo Monzón, who was a military
Commissioner in Ixcán and José Luis Arenas, the largest landowner in
the area of Ixcán, and who had been reported to the EGP for allegedly
having land conflicts with neighboring settlements and abusing their
On Saturday, 7 June 1975, José Luis Arenas was killed by unknowns
when he was in the premises of his farm "La Perla" to pay wage
workers. In front of his office there were approximately two to three
hundred people to receive their payment and four members of EGP mixed
among farmers. Subsequently, the guerrilla members destroyed the
communication radio of the farm and executed Arenas. After having
murdered José Luis Arenas, guerrilla members spoke in Ixil language
to the farmers, informing them that they were members of the Guerrilla
Army of the Poor and had killed the "Tiger Ixcán." They requested to
prepare beasts to help the injured and were transported to
receive medical care. Then the attackers fled towards Chajul.
José Luis Arenas' son, who was in San Luis Ixcán at the time, seek
refuge in a nearby mountain, waiting for a plane to arrive to take him
to the capital, in order to immediately report the matter to the
Minister of Defense. The defense minister replied, "You are mistaken,
there are no guerrillas in the area".
Panzós massacre In
Alta Verapaz in the late
nineteenth century German farmers came to concentrate in their hands
three quarters of the total area of 8686 square kilometers that had
the departmental territory. In this department came insomuch land
grabbing and women by German agricultural entrepreneurs, a political
leader noted that farmers disappeared from their villages overnight,
fleeing the farmers. Julio Castellanos Cambranes
Also located in the Northern Transversal Strip, the valley of the
Polochic River was inhabited since ancient times by k'ekchí and
P'okomchi people. In the second half of the nineteenth century,
Justo Rufino Barrios
Justo Rufino Barrios (1835–1885) began the allocation of
land in the area to German farmers. Decree 170 (or decree of Census
Redemption Decree) facilitated the expropriation of Indian land in
favor of the Germans, because it promoted the auction of communal
lands. Since that time, the main economic activity was
export-oriented, especially coffee, bananas and cardamom. The
communal property, dedicated to subsistence farming, became private
property led to the cultivation and mass marketing of agricultural
products. Therefore, the fundamental characteristic of the Guatemalan
production system has since that time been the accumulation of
property in few hands, and a sort of "farm servitude" based on the
exploitation of "farmer settlers".
In 1951, the agrarian reform law that expropriated idle land from
private hands was enacted, but in 1954, with the National Liberation
Movement coup supported by the
United States , most of the land that
had been expropriated, was awarded back to its former landowners.
Flavio Monzón was appointed mayor and in the next twenty years he
became one of the largest landowners in the area. In 1964, several
communities settled for decades on the shore of
Polochic River claimed
property titles to INTA which was created in October 1962, but the
land was awarded to Flavio Monzón. A Mayan peasant from
said that Flavio Monzón "got the signatures of the elders before he
went before INTA to talk about the land. When he returned, gathered
the people and said that, by an INTA mistake, the land had gone to his
name." Throughout the 1970s,
Panzós farmers continued to claim INTA
regularization of land ownership receiving legal advice from the
FASGUA (Autonomous Trade Union Federation of Guatemala), an
organization that supported the peasants' demands through legal
procedures. However, no peasant received a property title, ever. Some
obtained promises while other had provisional property titles, and
there were also some that only had received permission to plant. The
peasants began to suffer evictions from their land by farmers, the
military and local authorities in favor of the economic interests of
Izabal Mining Operations Company (EXMIBAL) and Transmetales. Another
threat at that time for peasant proprietors were mining projects and
exploration of oil: Exxon, Shenandoah, Hispanoil and Getty Oil all had
exploration contracts; besides there was the need for territorial
expansion of two megaprojects of that era: Northern Transversal Strip
and Chixoy Hydroelectric Plant.
In 1978 a military patrol was stationed a few kilometers from the
county seat of Panzós, in a place known as "Quinich". At this time
organizational capacity of peasant had increased through committees
who claimed titles to their land, a phenomenon that worried the
landlord sector. Some of these owners -among them Flavio Monzón-
stated: "Several peasants living in the villages and settlements want
to burn urban populations to gain access to private property", and
requested protection from
Alta Verapaz governor.
On 29 May 1978, peasant from Cahaboncito, Semococh, Rubetzul,
Canguachá, Sepacay villages, finca Moyagua and neighborhood La
Soledad, decided to hold a public demonstration in the Plaza de
Panzós to insist on the claim of land and to express their discontent
caused by the arbitrary actions of the landowners and the civil and
military authorities. Hundreds of men, women, indigenous children went
to the square of the municipal seat of Panzós, carrying their tools,
machetes and sticks. One of the people who participated in the
demonstration states: "The idea was not to fight with anyone, what was
required was the clarification of the status of the land. People came
from various places and they had guns."
There are different versions on how the shooting began: some say it
began when "Mama Maquín" -an important peasant leader- pushed a
soldier who was in her way; others argue that it started because
people kept pushing trying to get into the municipality, which was
interpreted by the soldiers as an aggression. The mayor at the time,
Walter Overdick, said that "people of the middle of the group pushed
those who in front." A witness says one protester grabbed the gun
from a soldier but did not use it and several people argue that a
military voice yelled: One, two, three! Fire!" In fact, the
lieutenant who led the troops gave orders to open fire on the crowd.
The shots that rang for about five minutes, were made by regulation
firearms carried by the military as well as the three machine guns
located on the banks of the square. 36 Several peasants with machetes
wounded several soldiers. No soldier was wounded by gunfire. The
square was covered with blood.
Immediately, the army closed the main access roads, despite that
"indigenous felt terrified." An army helicopter flew over the town
before picking up wounded soldiers.
TRANSITION BETWEEN LAUGERUD AND LUCAS GARCIA REGIMES
Due to his seniority in both the military and economic elites in
Guatemala, as well as the fact that he spoke perfectly the q'ekchi,
one of the Guatemalan indigenous languages, Lucas García the ideal
official candidate for the 1978 elections; and to further enhance his
image, he was paired with the leftist doctor Francisco Villagrán
Kramer as running mate. Villagrán Kramer was a man of recognized
democratic trajectory, having participated in the Revolution of 1944,
and was linked to the interests of transnational corporations and
elites, as he was one of the main advisers of agricultural, industrial
and financial chambers of Guatemala. Despite the democratic facade,
the electoral victory was not easy and the establishment had to impose
Lucas García, causing further discredit the electoral system -which
had already suffered a fraud when General Laugerud was imposed in the
In 1976 student group called "FRENTE" emerged in the University of
San Carlos , which completely swept all student body positions that
were up for election that year. FRENTE leaders were mostly members of
the Patriotic Workers' Youth, the youth wing of the Guatemalan Labor
Party (-Partido Guatemalteco del Trabajo- PGT), the Guatemalan
communist party who had worked in the shadows since it was illegalized
in 1954. Unlike other Marxist organizations in
Guatemala at the time,
PGT leaders trusted the mass movement to gain power through elections.
FRENTE used its power within the student associations to launch a
political campaign for the 1978 university general elections, allied
with leftist Faculty members grouped in "University Vanguard". The
alliance was effective and
Oliverio Castañeda de León was elected as
President of the Student Body and Saúl Osorio Paz as President of the
University; plus they had ties with the University workers union
(STUSC) thru their PGT connections. Osorio Paz gave space and support
to the student movement and instead of having a conflictive
relationship with students, different representations combined to
build a higher education institution of higher social projection. In
University of San Carlos
University of San Carlos became one of the sectors with more
political weight in Guatemala; that year the student movement, faculty
and University Governing Board -Consejo Superior Universitario-
united against the government and were in favor of opening spaces for
the neediest sectors. In order to expand its university extension, the
Student Body (AEU) rehabilitated the "Student House" in downtown
Guatemala City ; there, they welcomed and supported families of
villagers and peasant already sensitized politically. They also
organized groups of workers in the informal trade.
At the beginning of his tenure as President, Saúl Osorio founded the
weekly Siete Días en la USAC, which besides reporting on the
activities of the University, constantly denounced the violation of
human rights, especially the repression against the popular movement.
It also told what was happening with revolutionary movements in both
El Salvador . For a few months, the state university was
a united and progressive institution, preparing to confront the State
Now, FRENTE had to face the radical left, represented then by the
Student Revolutionary Front "Robin García" (FERG), which emerged
during the Labor Day march of 1 May 1978. FERG coordinated several
student associations on different colleges within University of San
Carlos and public secondary education institutions. This coordination
between legal groups came from the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP), a
guerrilla group that had appeared in 1972 and had its headquarters in
the oil rich region of northern
Quiché department -i.e., the Ixil
Triangle of Ixcán,
Franja Transversal del Norte .
Although not strictly an armed group, FERG sought confrontation with
government forces all the time, giving prominence to measures that
could actually degenerate into mass violence and paramilitary
activity. Its members were not interested in working within an
institutional framework and never asked permission for their public
demonstrations or actions.
On 7 March 1978 Lucas Garcia was elected President; shortly after, on
29 May 1978 -in the late days of General Laugerud García government-
in the central square of
Alta Verapaz , members of the
Zacapa Military Zone attacked a peaceful peasant demonstration,
killing a lot of people. The deceased, indigenous peasants who had
been summoned in place, were fighting for the legalization of public
lands they had occupied for years. Their struggle faced them directly
with investors who wanted to exploit the mineral wealth of the area,
particularly oil reserves -by Basic Resources International and
Shenandoah Oil- and nickel -EXMIBAL. The
Panzós Massacre caused a
stir at the University by the high number of victims and conflicts
arose from the exploitation of natural resources by foreign companies.
In 1978 for example, Osorio Paz and other university received death
threats for their outspoken opposition to the construction of an
inter-oceanic pipeline that would cross the country to facilitate oil
exploration. On 8 June the AEU organized a massive protest in
Guatemala City where speakers denounced the slaughter of
Panzós and expressed their repudiation of Laugerud García regime in
stronger terms than ever before.
Escalation Of Violence
After the "execution" of José Luis Arenas population of Hom,
Ixtupil, Sajsivan and Sotzil villages, neighbors of La Perla and
annexes, increased support for the new guerrilla movement, mainly due
to the land dispute that peasants kept with the owners of the farm for
several years and that the execution was seen as an act of "social
The murder owner of the farm "La Perla", located in the municipality
of Chajul, resulted in the escalation of violence in the area: part of
the population moved closer to the guerrillas, while another part of
the inhabitants of Hom kept out of the insurgency. In 1979 the owners
of the farm "La Perla" established links with the army and for the
first time a military detachment was installed within the property; in
this same building the first civil patrol of the area was established.
The Army high command, meanwhile, was very pleased with the initial
results of the operation and was convinced it had succeeded in
destroying most of the social basis of EGP, which had to be expelled
from the "Ixil Triangle". At this time the presence of EGP in the area
decreased significantly due to the repressive actions of the Army, who
developed its concept of "enemy" without necessarily including the
notion of armed combatants; the officers who executed the plan were
instructed to destroy all towns suspect of cooperate with EGP and
eliminate all sources of resistance. Army units operating in the "Ixil
Triangle" belonged to the Mariscal Zavala Brigade, stationed in
Guatemala City . Moreover, although the guerrillas did not intervene
directly when the army attacked the civilian population allegedly
because they lacked supplies and ammunition, it did support some
survival strategies. It streamlined, for example, "survival plans"
designed to give evacuation instructions in assumption that military
incursions took place. Most of the population began to participate in
the schemes finding that them represented their only alternative to
LUCAS GARCIA PRESIDENCY
Fernando Romeo Lucas García
Fernando Romeo Lucas García
The election of Lucas García on 7 March 1978 marked the beginning of
a full return to the counterinsurgency practices of the Arana period.
This was compounded by the strong reaction of the Guatemalan military
to the situation unfolding in
Nicaragua at the time, where the
Sandinista insurgency was on the verge of toppling
Somoza regime. With the aim of preventing an analogous situation
from unfolding in Guatemala, the government intensified its repressive
campaign against the predominantly indigenous mass movement. The
repression not only intensified, but became more overt.
On 4 August 1978, high school and university students, along with
other popular movement sectors, organized the mass movement's first
urban protest of the Lucas García period. The protests, intended as a
march against violence, were attended by an estimated 10,000 people.
The new minister of the interior under President Lucas García,
Donaldo Alvarez Ruiz, promised to break up any protests done without
government permission. Having refused to ask for permission, the
protesters were met by the Pelotón Modelo (Model Platoon) of the
National Police. Employing new anti-riot gear donated by the United
States Government , Platoon agents surrounded marchers and tear-gassed
them. Students were forced to retreat and dozens of people, mostly
school-aged adolescents, were hospitalized. This was followed by more
protests and death squad killings throughout the later part of the
year. In September 1978 a general strike broke out to protest sharp
increases in public transportation fares; the government responded
harshly, arresting dozens of protesters and injuring many more.
However, as a result of the campaign, the government agreed to the
protesters' demands, including the establishment of a public
transportation subsidy . Fearful that this concession would encourage
more protests, the military government, along with state-sponsored
paramilitary death squads , generated an unsafe situation for public
The administrator of a large cemetery in
Guatemala City informed the
press that in the first half of 1978, more than 760 unidentified
bodies had arrived at the cemetery, all apparent victims of death
Amnesty International stated that disappearances were an
Guatemala and reported more than 2,000 killings between
mid-1978 and 1980. Between January and November 1979 alone the
Guatemalan press reported 3,252 disappearances .
Spanish Embassy Fire
On 31 January 1980, a group of displaced K\'iche\' and Ixil peasant
farmers occupied the Spanish Embassy in
Guatemala City to protest the
kidnapping and murder of peasants in
Uspantán by elements of the
Guatemalan Army. In the subsequent police raid, over the protests of
the Spanish ambassador, the police attacked the building with
incendiary explosives. A fire ensued as police prevented those inside
of the embassy from exiting the building. In all, 36 people were
killed in the fire. The funeral of the victims (including the hitherto
obscure father of
Rigoberta Menchú , Vicente Menchú) attracted
hundreds of thousands of mourners, and a new guerrilla group was
formed commemorating the date, the Frente patriotico 31 de enero
(Patriotic Front of 31 January). The incident has been called "the
defining event" of the Guatemalan Civil War. The Guatemalan
government issued a statement claiming that its forces had entered the
embassy at the request of the Spanish Ambassador, and that the
occupiers of the embassy, whom they referred to as "terrorists ," had
"sacrificed the hostages and immolated themselves afterward."
Ambassador Cajal denied the claims of the Guatemalan government and
Spain immediately terminated diplomatic relations with Guatemala,
calling the action a violation of "the most elementary norms of
international law." Relations between
Guatemala were not
normalized until 22 September 1984.
Increased Insurgency And State Repression: 1980–1982
In the months following the Spanish Embassy Fire, the human rights
situation continued to deteriorate. The daily number of killings by
official and unofficial security forces increased from an average of
20 to 30 in 1979 to a conservative estimate of 30 to 40 daily in 1980.
Human rights sources estimated 5,000 Guatemalans were killed by the
government for "political reasons" in 1980 alone, making it the worst
human rights violator in the hemisphere after
El Salvador . In a
report titled Guatemala: A Government Program of Political Murder,
Amnesty International stated, "Between January and November of 1980,
some 3,000 people described by government representatives as
"subversives" and "criminals" were either shot on the spot in
political assassinations or seized and murdered later; at least 364
others seized in this period have not yet been accounted for."
The repression and excessive force used by the government against the
opposition was such that it became source of contention within Lucas
Garcia's administration itself. This contention within the government
caused Lucas Garcia's Vice President
Francisco Villagrán Kramer to
resign from his position on 1 September 1980. In his resignation,
Kramer cited his disapproval of the government's human rights record
as one of the primary reasons for his resignation. He then went into
voluntary exile in the United States, taking a position in the Legal
Department of the
Inter-American Development Bank .
The effects of state repression on the population further radicalized
individuals within the mass movement and led to increased popular
support for the insurgency. In late 1979, the EGP expanded its
influence, controlling a large amount of territory in the Ixil
Triangle in El Quiche and holding many demonstrations in Nebaj, Chajul
and Cotzal. At the same time the EGP was expanding its presence in
the Altiplano, a new insurgent movement called the ORPA (Revolutionary
Organization of Armed People) made itself known. Composed of local
youths and university intellectuals, the ORPA developed out of a
movement called the Regional de Occidente, which split from the
FAR-PGT in 1971. The ORPA's leader, Rodrigo Asturias (a former
activist with the PGT and first-born son of Nobel Prize -winning
Miguel Ángel Asturias ), formed the organization after
returning from exile in
Mexico . The ORPA established an operational
base in the mountains and rain-forests above the coffee plantations of
Guatemala and in the Atitlan where it enjoyed
considerable popular support. On 18 September 1979, the ORPA made its
existence publicly known when it occupied the Mujulia coffee farm in
the coffee-growing region of the Quezaltenango province to hold a
political education meeting with the workers.
Insurgent movements active in the initial phase of the conflict such
as the FAR also began to reemerge and prepare for combat. In 1980,
guerrilla operations on both the urban and rural fronts greatly
intensified, with the insurgency carrying out a number of overt acts
of armed propaganda and assassinations of prominent right-wing
Guatemalans and landowners. In 1980, armed insurgents assassinated
prominent Ixil landowner Enrique Brol, and president of the CACIF
(Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and
Financial Associations) Alberto Habie. Encouraged by guerrilla
advances elsewhere in Central America, the Guatemalan insurgents,
especially the EGP, began to quickly expand their influence through a
wide geographic area and across different ethnic groups, thus
broadening the appeal of the insurgent movement and providing it with
a larger popular base. In October 1980, a tripartite alliance was
formalized between the EGP, the FAR and the ORPA as a precondition for
In early 1981, the insurgency mounted the largest offensive in the
country's history. This was followed by an additional offensive
towards the end of the year, in which many civilians were forced to
participate by the insurgents. Villagers worked with the insurgency to
sabotage roads and army establishments, and destroy anything of
strategic value to the armed forces. By 1981, an estimated 250,000 to
500,000 members of Guatemala's indigenous community actively supported
the insurgency. Guatemalan Army Intelligence (G-2) estimated a minimum
360,000 indigenous supporters of the EGP alone. Since late 1981 the
Army applied a strategy of "scorched earth" in Quiché, to eliminate
the guerilla social support EGP. In some communities of the region's
military forced all residents to leave their homes and concentrate in
the county seat under military control. Some families obeyed; others
took refuge in the mountains. K'iche's who took refuge in the
mountains, were identified by the Army with the guerrillas and
underwent a military siege, and continuous attacks that prevented them
from getting food, shelter and medical care.
La Llorona Massacre, El Estor
La Llorona, located about 18 kilometers from El Estor, department of
Izabal (part of the Northern Transversal Strip), was a small village
with no more than twenty houses. Most of the first settlers arrived
from the areas of Senahú and Panzós, both in Alta Verapaz. In 1981
the total population was about 130 people, all belonging to q'eqchi'
ethnic group. Few people spoke Spanish and most work in their own
cornfields, sporadically working for the local landowners. In the
vicinity are the villages El Bongo, Socela, Benque, Rio Pita, Santa
Maria, Big Plan and New Hope. Conflicts in the area were related to
land tenure, highlighting the uncertainty about the boundaries between
farms and communities, and the lack of titles. As in the National
Institute of Agrarian Transformation (INTA) was not registered a
legitimate owner of land occupied La Llorona, the community remained
in the belief that the land belonged to the state, which had taken
steps to obtain title property. However, a farmer with great influence
in the area occupied part of the land, generating a conflict between
him and the community; men of the village, on its own initiative,
devised a new boundary between community land and the farmer, but the
problem remained dormant.
In the second half of the seventies were the first news about the
presence of guerrillas in the villages, the commander aparacimiento
Ramon, talking to people and saying they were the Guerrilla Army of
the Poor. They passed many villages asking what problems people had
and offering to solve them. The told peasants that the land belonged
to the poor and that they should trust them. In 1977, Ramon a
-guerilla commander- regularly visited the village of La Llorona and
after finding that the issue of land was causing many problems in the
community, taught people to practice new measurements, which spread
fear among landowners. That same year, the group under Ramon
arbitrarily executed the Spanish landowner José Hernández, near El
Recreo, which he owner. Following this, a clandestine group of
mercenaries, dubbed "fighters of the rich" was formed to protect the
interests of landlords; public authority of El Estor organized the
group and paid its members, stemming from the funding of major
landowners. The group, irregular, was related to the military
commissioners of the region and with commanders of the Army, although
mutual rivalries also took place. The secret organization murdered
several people, including victims who had no connection whatsoever
with insurgent groups.
In December 1978, the EGP group leader, Ramon, was captured by
soldiers of the military detachment in El Estor and transferred to the
military zone of Puerto Barrios; after two years returned to El Estor;
but this time as an officer in the Army G2 and joined a group of
soldiers that came to the village. On the evening of 28 September
1981, an army officer accompanied by four soldiers and a military
commissioner met with about thirty civilians. At seven o'clock, over
thirty civilians, mostly from "Nueva Esperanza', including several
'informants' known to military intelligence, gathered around La
Llorona along with some military commissioners and a small group of
soldiers and army officers. Then they entered the village. Civilians
and commissioners entered twelve houses, and each of them were pulling
men and shot them dead outside their own homes; those who tried to
escape were also killed. Women who tried to protect their husbands
were beatn. While the military commissioners and civilians executed
men, soldiers subtracted belongings of the victims; within half an
hour, the authors of the assault left the village. The victim bodies,
fourteen in all, were in front of houses. Women, despite having been
threatened with death if tell what happened, ran to the nearest
village, El Bongo, for help. After a few hours, women came back with
people who helped to bury the bodies. Days later, widows, with almost
60 fatherless children were welcomed by the parish of El Estor for
several days, until the soldiers forced them to return to their
village. Two widows of those executed on 29 September established
close relations with the military commissioners from Bongo. This
situation led to divisions that still exist in the community.
The economic and social activity was disrupted in the village: widows
had to take the jobs of their husbands; because of their lack of
knowledge in the cultivation of land, harvested very little corn and
beans. There were diseases, especially among children and the elderly,
there was no food or clothing. The teacher of the village came only
part-time, mostly out of fear, but left after he realized it was not
worth to stay because young people had to work. Nor could they spend
money on travel. The village had no teacher for the next four years.
The events generated finally the breakup of the community. Some
village women though that their husbands were killed because of three
others who were linked with the guerrillas and were involved in a land
According to the Historical Clarification Commission, the landlord
with whom the villagers had the land dispute took advantage of the
situation to appropriate another twelve acres of land.
List Of Other Massacres Perpetrated By The Army In Franja Transversal
Franja Transversal del Norte
The report of the Recovery of Historical Memory lists 422 massacres
committed by both sides in the conflict; however, it also states that
they did the best they could in terms of obtaining information and
therefore the list is incomplete; therefore here are the cases that
have also been documented in other reports as well.
CHAJUL, NEBAJ AND IXCáN MASSACRES IN FRANJA TRANSVERSAL DEL NORTE
23 March 1982
After 1981 repression against Ilom was rampant, ending with the
massacre of 96 alleged guerilla members in front of their families on
23 March 1982, as part of Army "Victoria 82" plan. Soldiers were from
the military base in "La Perla" while survivors fled and seek shelter
in Comunidades de Población en Resistencia -Resistance population
Chel (village), Chajul
3 April 1982
A part of operation "Victoria 82", Army soldiers from the military
fort in "La Perla" rushed into
Chel settlement, because it had been
targeted as "subversive". The attack left 95 dead civilians.
San Juan Cotzal
San Juan Cotzal
13 February 1982
Chisís was a military target for the Army, who considered the
village symbolic for the EGP and believed it was the guerrilla
headquarters where the attacks in Chajul, Cotzal, and
Nebaj had been
planned. In January 1982, EGP attacked Cotzal military base; the
attack lasted 2 hours and 20 minutes, resulting 100 military
casualties and 20 for the guerilla. PAC and Army battalions, in
revenge, completely destroy Chisis, leaving approximately 200 dead
Combat against EGP. There were 17 deaths.
List Of Massacres Perpetrated By The EGP In FTN
According to a report by the rightist magazine "Crónica", there were
1258 guerrilla actions against civilians and infrastructure in
Guatemala, including more than two hundred murders, sixty eight
kidnappings, eleven bombs against embassies and three hundred
twenty-nine attacks against civilians. Almost all guerrilla massacres
occurred in 1982 when further militarization reigned and there was
widespread presence of PAC in communities; many of them were victims
of non-cooperation with the guerrillas and in some cases they came
after a previous attack by the PAC. In the massacres perpetrated by
the guerrillas there is no use of informants, or concentration of
population, or separation of groups; also, there are no recounts of
rape or repetitive slaughter. There are cases of razed villages and
less tendency to mass flight, even thought it occurred in some cases.
the use of lists was also more frequent.
In a publication of the Army of Guatemala, sixty massacres
perpetrated by the EGP were reported, arguing that they were mostly
ignored by REHMI and the
Historical Clarification Commission reports.
It is also reported that in mid-1982, 32 members of "Star Guerilla
Front " were shot for not raising the EGP flag.
CHAJUL, NEBAJ AND IXCáN MASSACRES IN FRANJA TRANSVERSAL DEL NORTE
17 February 1982
There were 42 fatal victims, who were murdered with machetes.
EGP entered the community and murdered 20 peasants.
El Conguito (settlement), Las Pacayas (village), San Cristóbal
San Cristóbal Verapaz
San Miguel Sechochoch (farm),
Attack against a "reactionary gang" from the PAC in Chacalté,
that had just formed in March and was loyal to the Army after becoming
disillusioned with guerilla promises. Resulted in 55 dead civilians.
San Miguel Acatán (town),
San Miguel Acatán
Santa Cruz del Quiche
Santa Cruz del Quiche (city),
Santa Cruz del Quiché
Chuacaman (settlement), El Carmen Chitatul (village), Santa Cruz
La Estancia (village), Santa Cruz del Quiché
Santa Cruz del Quiché
La Taña (village),
Salinas Magdalena (village),
Rosario Monte María (village),
Civil War In The City
Guatemala City "Beheaded corpses hanging from their
legs in between what is left from blown up cars, shapeless bodies
among glass shards and tree branches all over the place is what a
terrorist attack caused yesterday at 9:35 am. El Gráfico reporters
were able to get to exact place where the bomb went off, only seconds
after the horrific explosion, and found a truly infernal scene in the
corner of the 6th avenue and 6th street -where the Presidential Office
is located- which had turned into a huge oven -but the solid building
where the president worked was safe-. The reporters witnessed the
dramatic rescue of the wounded, some of them critical, like the man
that completely lost a leg and had only stripes of skin instead." El
Gráfico, 6 September 1980
On 31 January 1980,
Guatemala got worldwide attention when the
Spanish Embassy in
Guatemala City was burnt down, resulting in 37
deaths, including embassy personnel and high ranked Guatemalan former
government officials. A group of native people from El Quiché
occupied the embassy in a desperate attempt to bring attention to the
issues they were having with the Army in that region of the country,
which was rich in oil and had been recently populated as part of the
"Franja Transversal del Norte" agricultural program. In the end,
thirty seven people died after a fire started within the embassy after
the police force tried to occupy the building; after that,
its diplomatic relationships with Guatemala. Finance Center in
2011. In 1981, a powerful bomb exploded in the basement of the
building, leaving it without windows for several years. The owners
-Industrial Bank- decided to keep it open to the public to defy the
On 5 September 1980 took place a terrorist attack by Ejército
Guerrillero de los Pobres (EGP) right in front of the Guatemalan
National Palace, then the heardquarters of the Guatemalan government.
The intention was to prevent the Guatemalan people to support a huge
demonstration that the government of general Lucas Garcia had prepared
for Sunday 7 September 1980. In the attack, six adults and a little
boy died after two bombs inside a vehicle went off.
There was an undetermined number of wounded and heavy material
losses, not only from art pieces from the National Palace, but from
all the surrounding buildings, particularly in the Lucky Building,
which is right across the Presidential Office. Among the deceased was
Domingo Sánchez, Secretary of Agriculture drive; Joaquín Díaz y
Díaz, car washer; and Amilcar de Paz, a security guard.
The attacks against private financial, commercial and agricultural
targets increased in the Lucas Garcia years, as the leftist marxist
groups saw those institutions as "reactionaries " and "millionaire
exploiters" that were collaborating with the genocidal government.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of the terrorist attacks that
Guatemala city and are presented in the UN Commission
15 SEPTEMBER 1981
Rebel Army Forces
Corporación Financiera Nacional (CORFINA)
Car bomb damaged the building and neighbor Guatemalan and
international financial institutions; there were more than Q300k in
19 OCTOBER 1981
EGP Urban guerilla
Industrial Bank Financial Center
21 DECEMBER 1981
Otto René Castillo " commando
Bombs against newly built structures: Chamber of Industry, Torre
Panamericana (Bank of Coffee headquarters) and Industrial Bank
Car bombs completely destroyed the buildings windows.
28 DECEMBER DE 1981
EGP "Otto René Castillo" commando
Industrial Bank Financial Center
Car bomb against the building which virtually destroyed one of the
bank towers. In a sign of defiance, the bank did not repair the
windows immediately and continued operating as normally as it could.
Despite advances by the insurgency, the insurgency made a series of
fatal strategic errors. The successes made by the revolutionary forces
Nicaragua against the
Somoza regime combined with the insurgency's
own successes against the Lucas government led rebel leaders to
falsely conclude that a military equilibrium was being reached in
Guatemala, thus the insurgency underestimated the military strength of
the government. The insurgency subsequently found itself overwhelmed,
and was unable to secure its advances and protect the indigenous
civilian population from reprisals by the security forces.
In response to the guerilla offensive in early 1981, the Guatemalan
Army began mobilizing for a large-scale rural counter-offensive. The
Lucas government instituted a policy of forced recruitment and began
organizing a "task-force" model for fighting the insurgency, by which
strategic mobile forces were drawn from larger military brigades. To
curtail civilian participation in the insurgency and provide greater
distinction between "hostile" and compliant communities in the
countryside, the army resorted to a series of "civic action" measures.
The army under Chief of Staff Benedicto Lucas García (the
President’s brother) began to search out communities in which to
organize and recruit civilians into pro-government paramilitary
patrols, who would combat the insurgents and kill their collaborators.
In 1980 and 1981, the
United States under Reagan administration
delivered $10.5 million worth of
Bell 212 and
Bell 412 helicopters and
$3.2 million worth of military trucks and jeeps to the Guatemalan
Army. In 1981, the
Reagan administration also approved a $2 million
covert CIA program for Guatemala.
On 15 April 1981, EGP rebels attacked a Guatemalan Army patrol from
the village of Cocob near Nebaj, killing five personnel. On 17 April
1981, a reinforced company of Airborne troops was deployed to the
village. They discovered fox holes, guerrillas and a hostile
population. The local people appeared to fully support the guerrillas.
"The soldiers were forced to fire at anything that moved." The army
killed 65 civilians, including 34 children, five adolescents, 23
adults and two elderly people.
In July 1981, the armed forces initiated a new phase of
counterinsurgency operations under the code-name "Operación Ceniza,"
or "Operation Ashes," which lasted through March 1982. The purpose of
the operation was to "separate and isolate the insurgents from the
civilian population." During "Operación Ceniza" some 15,000 troops
were deployed on a gradual sweep through the predominantly indigenous
Altiplano region, comprising the departments of
El Quiché and
Large numbers of civilians were killed or displaced in the Guatemalan
military's counterinsurgency operations. To alienate the insurgents
from their civilian base, the army carried out large-scale mass
killing of unarmed civilians, burned villages and crops, and butchered
animals, destroying survivors' means of livelihood. Sources with the
human rights office of the
Catholic Church estimated the death toll
from the counterinsurgency in 1981 at 11,000, with most of the victims
indigenous peasants of the Guatemalan highlands. Other sources and
observers put the death toll due to government repression in 1981 at
between 9,000 and 13,500.
As army repression intensified in the countryside, relations between
the Guatemalan military establishment and the Lucas Garcia regime
worsened. Professionals within the Guatemalan military considered the
Lucas approach counterproductive, on grounds that the Lucas
government's strategy of military action and systematic terror
overlooked the social and ideological causes of the insurgency while
radicalizing the civilian population. Additionally, Lucas went against
the military's interests by endorsing his defense minister, Angel
Anibal Guevara , as a candidate in the March 1982 presidential
The guerrilla organizations in 1982 combined to form the Guatemalan
National Revolutionary Unity (URNG). At the same time, extreme
right-wing groups of self-appointed vigilantes, including the Secret
Anti-Communist Army (ESA) and the White Hand (La Mano Blanca),
tortured and murdered students, professionals, and peasants suspected
of involvement in leftist activities.
On 23 March 1982, army troops commanded by junior officers staged a
coup d'état to prevent the assumption of power by General Ángel
Aníbal Guevara , the hand-picked candidate of outgoing President and
Romeo Lucas García
Romeo Lucas García . They denounced Guevara's electoral
victory as fraudulent. The coup leaders asked retired Gen. Efraín
Ríos Montt to negotiate the departure of Lucas Guevara. Ríos Montt
had been the candidate of the Christian Democracy Party in the 1974
presidential election and was widely regarded as having been denied
his own victory through fraud.
Ríos Montt was by this time a lay pastor in the evangelical
Church of the Word . In his inaugural address, he stated
that his presidency resulted from the will of
God . He was widely
perceived as having strong backing from the
Reagan administration in
the United States. He formed a three-member military junta that
annulled the 1965 constitution, dissolved Congress , suspended
political parties and canceled the electoral law. After a few months,
Ríos Montt dismissed his junta colleagues and assumed the de facto
title of "President of the Republic".
Guerrilla forces and their leftist allies denounced Ríos Montt, who
sought to defeat them by a combination of military actions and
economic reforms; in his words, "rifles and beans". In May 1982, the
Conference of Catholic Bishops accused
Ríos Montt of responsibility
for growing militarization of the country and for continuing military
massacres of civilians. An army officer was quoted in the New York
Times of 18 July 1982 as telling an audience of indigenous Guatemalans
Cunén that: "If you are with us, we'll feed you; if not, we'll
kill you." The
Plan de Sánchez massacre occurred on the same day.
The government began to form local civilian defense patrols (PACs).
Participation was in theory voluntary, but in practice, many rural
Guatemalan men (including young boys and the elderly), especially in
the northwest, had no choice but to join either the PACs or be
considered guerrillas. At their peak, the PACs are estimated to have
included 1 million conscripts. Ríos Montt's conscript army and PACs
recaptured essentially all guerrilla territory. The insurgents'
activity lessened and was largely limited to hit-and-run operations.
Ríos Montt won this partial victory at an enormous cost in civilian
Ríos Montt's brief presidency was probably the most violent period
of the 36-year internal conflict, which resulted in thousands of
deaths of mostly unarmed indigenous civilians. Although leftist
guerrillas and right-wing death squads also engaged in summary
executions, forced disappearances, and torture of noncombatants, the
vast majority of human rights violations were carried out by the
Guatemalan military and the PACs they controlled. The internal
conflict is described in great detail in the reports of the Historical
Clarification Commission (CEH) and the Archbishop's Office for Human
Rights (ODHAG). The CEH estimates that government forces were
responsible for 93% of the violations; ODHAG earlier estimated that
government forces were responsible for 80%.
On 8 August 1983,
Ríos Montt was deposed by his Minister of Defense,
Óscar Humberto Mejía Víctores , who succeeded him as de
facto president of Guatemala. Mejía justified his coup, based on
problems with "religious fanatics" in government and "official
corruption". Seven people were killed in the coup. Ríos Montt
survived to found a political party (the
Guatemalan Republic Front )
and to be elected President of Congress in 1995 and again in 2000.
Awareness in the
United States of the conflict in Guatemala, and its
ethnic dimension, increased with the 1983 publication of the
"testimonial" account I, Rigoberta Menchú, a memoir by a leading
Rigoberta Menchú was awarded the 1992
Nobel Peace Prize for
her work in favor of broader social justice. In 1998 a book by U.S.
David Stoll challenged some of the details in Menchú's
book, creating an international controversy. After the publication of
Stoll's book, the Nobel Committee reiterated that it had awarded the
Peace Prize based on Menchú's uncontested work promoting human rights
and the peace process.
General Mejía allowed a managed return to democracy in Guatemala,
starting with a 1 July 1984 election for a
Constituent Assembly to
draft a democratic constitution. On 30 May 1985, after nine months of
Constituent Assembly finished drafting a new constitution
, which took effect immediately.
Vinicio Cerezo , a civilian
politician and the presidential candidate of the Christian Democracy
Party , won the first election held under the new constitution with
almost 70% of the vote, and took office on 14 January 1986.
1986 TO 1996: FROM CONSTITUTION TO PEACE ACCORDS
Upon its inauguration in January 1986, President Cerezo's civilian
government announced that its top priorities would be to end the
political violence and establish the rule of law. Reforms included new
laws of habeas corpus and amparo (court-ordered protection), the
creation of a legislative human rights committee, and the
establishment in 1987 of the Office of Human Rights Ombudsman. The
Supreme Court embarked on a series of reforms to fight corruption and
improve legal system efficiency.
With Cerezo's election, the military returned to the more traditional
role of providing internal security, specifically by fighting armed
insurgents. The first two years of Cerezo's administration were
characterized by a stable economy and a marked decrease in political
violence. Dissatisfied military personnel made two coup attempts in
May 1988 and May 1989, but the military leadership supported the
constitutional order. The government was strongly criticized for its
reluctance to investigate or prosecute cases of human rights
The final two years of Cerezo's government were marked by a failing
economy, strikes, protest marches, and allegations of widespread
corruption. The government's inability to deal with many of the
nation's social and health problems — such as infant mortality,
illiteracy, deficient health and social services, and rising levels of
violence — contributed to popular discontent.
Presidential and congressional elections were held on 11 November
1990. After a runoff ballot,
Jorge Antonio Serrano Elías was
inaugurated on 14 January 1991, completing the first successful
transition from one democratically elected civilian government to
another. Because his Movement of Solidarity Action (MAS) Party gained
only 18 of 116 seats in Congress , Serrano entered into a tenuous
coalition with the Christian Democrats and the National Union of the
Center (UCN) to form a government.
The Serrano administration's record was mixed. It had some success in
consolidating civilian control over the army, replacing a number of
senior officers and persuading the military to participate in peace
talks with the URNG. He took the politically unpopular step of
recognizing the sovereignty of
Belize , which had long been
officially, though fruitlessly, claimed as a province by Guatemala.
The Serrano government reversed the economic slide it inherited,
reducing inflation and boosting real growth.
In 1992 Efraín Bámaca , a notable guerrilla leader also known as
Comandante Everardo , "disappeared." It was later found that Bámaca
was tortured and killed that year by Guatemalan Army officers. His
widow, the American Jennifer Harbury, and members of the Guatemala
Human Rights Commission , based in Washington, DC, raised protests
that ultimately led the
United States to declassify documents going
back to 1954 related to its actions in Guatemala. It was learned that
the CIA had been funding the military, although Congress had
prohibited such funding since 1990 because of the Army's human rights
abuses. Congress forced the CIA to end its aid to the Guatemalan Army.
On 25 May 1993, Serrano illegally dissolved Congress and the Supreme
Court and tried to restrict civil freedoms, allegedly to fight
corruption. The autogolpe (palace coup) failed due to unified, strong
protests by most elements of Guatemalan society, international
pressure, and the army's enforcement of the decisions of the Court of
Constitutionality, which ruled against the attempted takeover. In the
face of this pressure, Serrano fled the country.
On 5 June 1993, Congress, pursuant to the 1985 constitution, elected
the Human Rights Ombudsman,
Ramiro de León Carpio , to complete
Serrano's presidential term. De León was not a member of any
political party. Lacking a political base but with strong popular
support, he launched an ambitious anti-corruption campaign to "purify"
Congress and the Supreme Court, demanding the resignations of all
members of the two bodies.
Despite considerable congressional resistance, presidential and
popular pressure led to a November 1993 agreement brokered by the
Catholic Church between the administration and Congress. This package
of constitutional reforms was approved by popular referendum on 30
January 1994. In August 1994, a new Congress was elected to complete
the unexpired term. Controlled by the anti-corruption parties: the
Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) headed by Ríos Montt, and
National Advancement Party
National Advancement Party (PAN), the new Congress
began to abandon the corruption that characterized its predecessors.
Under de León, the peace process, now brokered by the United
Nations, took on new life. The government and the URNG signed
agreements on human rights (March 1994), resettlement of displaced
persons (June 1994), historical clarification (June 1994), and
indigenous rights (March 1995). They also made significant progress on
a socioeconomic and agrarian agreement.
National elections for president, Congress, and municipal offices
were held in November 1995. With almost 20 parties competing in the
first round, the presidential election came down to a 7 January 1996
runoff in which PAN candidate
Álvaro Arzú Irigoyen defeated Alfonso
Portillo Cabrera of the FRG by just over 2% of the vote. Arzú won
because of his strength in
Guatemala City, where he had previously
served as mayor, and in the surrounding urban area. Portillo won all
of the rural departments except Petén. Under the Arzú
administration, peace negotiations were concluded, and the government
signed peace accords ending the 36-year internal conflict in December
1996. (See section on peace process)
1996 PEACE ACCORDS TO PRESENT
The human rights situation remained difficult during Arzú's tenure,
although some initial steps were taken to reduce the influence of the
military in national affairs. The most notable human rights case of
this period was the brutal slaying of Bishop
Juan José Gerardi
Juan José Gerardi on 24
April 1998, two days after he had publicly presented a major Catholic
Church-sponsored human rights report known as Guatemala: Nunca Mas ,
summarizing testimony about human rights abuses during the Civil War.
It was prepared by the Recovery of Historical Memory project, known by
the acronym of REMHI . In 2001 three Army officers were convicted in
civil court and sentenced to lengthy prison terms for his murder.
Guatemala held presidential, legislative, and municipal elections on
7 November 1999, and a runoff presidential election on 26 December.
Alfonso Portillo was criticized during the campaign for his
relationship with the FRG's chairman, former president
Ríos Montt .
Many charge that some of the worst human rights violations of the
internal conflict were committed under Ríos Montt's rule.
In the first round the
Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) won 63 of
113 legislative seats, while the
National Advancement Party
National Advancement Party (PAN) won
37. The New Nation Alliance (ANN) won nine legislative seats, and
three minority parties won the remaining four. In the runoff on 26
Alfonso Portillo (FRG) won 68% of the vote to 32% for Óscar
Berger (PAN). Portillo carried all 22 departments and
which was considered the PAN's stronghold.
Portillo's impressive electoral triumph, with two-thirds of the vote
in the second round, gave him a mandate from the people to carry out
his reform program. He pledged to maintain strong ties to the United
States , enhance Guatemala's growing cooperation with
Mexico , and
join in the integration process in
Central America and the Western
Hemisphere. Domestically, he vowed to support continued liberalization
of the economy, increase investment in human capital and
infrastructure, establish an independent central bank, and increase
revenue by stricter enforcement of tax collections rather than
Portillo also promised to continue the peace process, appoint a
civilian defense minister, reform the armed forces, replace the
military presidential security service with a civilian one, and
strengthen protection of human rights . He appointed a pluralist
cabinet, including indigenous members and individuals who were
independent of the FRG ruling party.
Progress in carrying out Portillo's reform agenda during his first
year in office was slow. As a result, public support for the
government sank to nearly record lows by early 2001. The
administration made progress on such issues as taking state
responsibility for past human rights cases and supporting human rights
in international fora. It struggled to prosecute past human rights
cases, and to achieve military reforms or a fiscal pact to help
finance programs to implement peace. It is seeking legislation to
increase political participation by residents. The prosecution by
Portillo's government of suspects in Bishop Gerardi's murder set a
precedent in 2001; it was the first time military officers in
Guatemala had been tried in civil courts.
Faced with a high crime rate, a public corruption problem, often
violent harassment and intimidation by unknown assailants of human
rights activists, judicial workers, journalists, and witnesses in
human rights trials, the government began serious attempts in 2001 to
open a national dialogue to discuss the considerable challenges facing
In July 2003, the
Jueves Negro demonstrations rocked the capital,
forcing the closing of the US embassy and the UN mission. Supporters
Ríos Montt called for his return to power, demanding that the
courts lift a ban against former coup leaders participating in
government. They wanted
Ríos Montt to run as a presidential candidate
in the 2003 elections. The FRG fed the demonstrators.
On 9 November 2003,
Óscar Berger , a former mayor of
won the presidential election with 38.8% of the vote. As he failed to
achieve a fifty percent majority, he had to go through a runoff
election on 28 December, which he also won. He defeated the
Álvaro Colom . Allowed to run, Ríos Montt
trailed a distant third with 11% of the vote.
In early October 2005,
Guatemala was devastated by
Hurricane Stan .
Although a relatively weak storm, it triggered a flooding disaster,
resulting in at least 1,500 people dead and thousands homeless.
Determined to make progress against crime and internal police
Óscar Berger in December 2006 came to agreement with the
United Nations to gain support for judicial enforcement of its laws.
They created the International Commission against Impunity in
Guatemala (CICIG), an independent institution, which is to assist the
Office of the Prosecutor of Guatemala, the National Police Force, and
other investigative institutions. Their goal was to prosecute cells
linked to organised crime and to drug trafficking. CICIG has the
authority to conduct its own inquiries, and to refer the most
significant cases to the national judiciary. The stated objective of
CICIG is to "reinforce the national criminal justice system and to
help it with its reforms."
As of 2010, CICIG has led inquiries into some 20 cases. It is acting
as Deputy Prosecutor in eight other cases. CICIG conducted the
investigations leading to an arrest warrant against Erwin Sperisen ,
former Head of the National Civilian Police (Policia Nacional Civil
– PNC) from 2004 to 2007. With dual Swiss-Guatemalan citizenship, he
fled to Switzerland to escape prosecution in
Guatemala for numerous
extrajudicial killings and police corruption. In addition, 17 other
persons are covered by arrest warrants related to these crimes,
including several former highly placed political figures of Guatemala.
PRESIDENT OTTO PéREZ MOLINA GOVERNMENT AND "LA LíNEA" CASE
Otto Pérez Molina
Otto Pérez Molina
Otto Pérez Molina
Otto Pérez Molina was elected president along with
Roxana Baldetti, the first ever woman vice president in Guatemala; the
began their tem in office on 14 January 2012. But on 16 April 2015, UN
anti-corruption agency CICIG issued a report that implicated several
high-profile politicians including the vice president Roxana Baldetti
private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón and the directoy of the
Guatemalan Internal Revenue Service. The revelations generated public
outrage that had not been seen since the times of general Kjell
Eugenio Laugerud Garcia presidency. The CICIG, working with the
Guatemalan attorney general, revealed the scam known as "La Línea",
following a year-long investigation that included wire taps; officials
received bribes from importers in exchange for reducing tariffs the
importers were required to pay, a procedure that as rooted in a long
tradition of customs corruption in the country, as successive military
governments tried to raise funds for counterinsurgency operations
during Guatemala’s 36-year-long civil war .
Citizens created an event on Facebook inviting all their friends to
Guatemala City historic downtown to ask for vice president
Baldetti's resignation with the hashtag #RenunciaYa (Resign Now).
Within days, over 10,000 people said they would attend. Quickly the
organisers realised that for the action to succeed, they had to
guarantee that no one would be harmed and The group set a series of
rules making clear that no political party or group was behind that
event, instructing protesters to follow the law, and urging people to
bring water, food and sunblock but not cover their faces or wear party
political colors. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of
Guatemala City, and due to the pressure, Baldetti resigned a few days
later and was forced to remain in the country after the United States
removed her visa to visit that country and the Guatemalan government
arraigned her as there was enough suspicion to assume that she might
be involved in "La Linea" scandal. This, and the prominent presence of
US Ambassador Todd Robinson in the Guatemalan political scene since
the scandal broke loose brought up the suspicion in Guatemalans that
the US government was behind the investigation because it needed an
honest government in
Guatemala to counter the presence of China and
Russia in the region.
Since then, the UN anti-corruption committee has reported on other
cases and more than 20 government officials have stepped down, some
have been arrested. Of those, the largest are the ones that involve
two former president private secretaries: Juan de Dios Rodríguez in
the Guatemalan Social Service and Gustavo Martínez, who was involved
in a bribe scandal in the coil mega power plant Jaguar Energy.
Martinez was also president Perez Molina's son-in-law.
But also political opposition leaders have been involved in CICIG
investigations: several legislators and members of Libertad
Democrática Renovada party (LIDER) were formally accused of
bribery-related issues, prompting a large decline in the electorate
trend for its presidential candidate, Manuel Baldizón, who before
April was almost certain to become the next Guatemalan president in
the 6 September 2015 presidential elections. Baldizón popularity
suffered a steep decline and he even went on to accuse CICIG leader,
Iván Velásquez, of international obstruction with Guatemalan
internal affairs before the Organization of American States.
CICIG presented so many cases on Thursdays that Guatemalans started
calling them "CICIG's Thursdays". But it was a Friday press conference
that brought up the crisis to its peak: on Friday 21 August 2015,
CICIG and the Attorney General, Thelma Aldana, presented an
investigation showing enough evidence to believe that both president
Pérez Molina and former vice president Baldetti were the actual
leaders of "La Línea". Baldetti was arrested that same day and an
impeachment was requested for the president. As a result, several
cabinet members resigned, and the clamor for the president's
resignation grew to unprecedented levels after president Perez Molina
defiantly assured the nation that he was not going to resign on a
televised message transmitted on 23 August 2015.
After a thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand the
increasingly isolated president’s resignation, Guatemala’s
Congress named a commission of five legislators to consider whether to
remove the president’s immunity from prosecution. The request was
approved by the supreme court. A major day of action kicked off early
on Thursday 27 August, with marches and roadblocks across the country.
Urban groups, which have spearheaded regular protests since the
scandal broke in April, on Thursday 27th sought to unite with rural
and indigenous organizations who have orchestrated the road blocks.
This strike in
Guatemala City was filled to bursting with a diverse
and peaceful crowd ranging from the indigenous poor to the
well-healed, and included many students from public and private
universities. Hundreds of schools and businesses closed in support of
the protests. The organization grouping Guatemala’s most powerful
business leaders issued a statement demanding that Pérez Molina step
down, and urged Congress to withdraw his immunity from prosecution.
The attorney general’s office released its own statement calling on
the president to resign, "to prevent ungovernability that could
destabilize the nation." As pressure mounted, the president’s former
ministers of defence and the interior, who were named in the
corruption investigation and resigned from cabinet recently, left the
country. Pérez Molina, meanwhile, has been losing support by the
day. The powerful private sector -until then a loyal supporter of
Pérez Molina, their former defender in the Army during the Guatemalan
Civil War - called for his resignation; however, he also has managed
to get support from entrepreneurs that are not affiliated to the
private sector chambers: Mario López Estrada -grand child of former
Manuel Estrada Cabrera
Manuel Estrada Cabrera and the billionaire owner of cellular
phone companies- had some of his executives assume the cabinet
positions that had been vacated days before.
The Guatemalan radio station Emisoras Unidas reported having a text
message exchange with Perez Molina, who when asked about whether he
planned to resign, wrote: "I will face whatever is necessary to face,
and what the law requires." Some protesters have demanded the general
election be postponed, both because of the crisis and because it is
plagued with accusations of irregularities. Others warn that
suspending the vote could lead to an institutional vacuum. However,
on 2 September 2015 Pérez Molina quit from office after Congress
impeached him a day before, and on 3 September 2015 he was summoned
to the Justice Department to face his first legal audience for La
* History portal
* List of Presidents of
* Politics of
Spanish colonization of the Americas
* Timeline of
NOTES AND REFERENCES
Ramón Rosa and
Lorenzo Montúfar y Rivera were the ideologists
of the liberal trend in both
Guatemala , respectively,
once the Liberal Reform took over power in
Guatemala in 1871 and in
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* ^ The Cathedral had remained closed since the archbishop and
regular clergy had been expelled from
Guatemala in 1829.
* ^ "Altenses" (in English: highlinders) is how people from
Quetzaltenango are known in Guatemala.
* ^ Among those fighting in these battles was the famous Guatemalan
José Batres Montúfar
José Batres Montúfar
* ^ Woodward (1993).
Rafael Carrera and the Emergence of the
Republic of Guatemala. In the Conservative regime of Guatemala, the
Catholic Church was entangled with the Government and the leaders of
both were relatives, mostly of the Aycinena family.
* ^ This were communities of native Guatemalans that worked for the
farms and sugar mills of the friars.
* ^ José Luis Arenas, who at that time a journalist called "Ixcán
Tiger" had been active in Guatemalan politics. He joined as Congress
of Republic in the period of
Jacobo Arbenz in the opposition; in 1952,
he founded the Anti-communist Unification Party (AUP), which later
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first armed clashes between the "Liberation Army" and the Guatemalan
Army occurred, but returned with the victory of the National
Liberation Movement and during the government of colonel Carlos
Castillo Armas he held various public offices. In the presidential
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Promotion and Development of Petén (FYDEP). Later, he left politics
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* ^ According to Guatemalan leftists, this would be only an
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* ^ In municipal act 34–64 (published 9 January 1965) one can see
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