A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
D F_ LIBRAPJES
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1 INTRODUCTION........................................... 1
2 THE REVOLUTIONARIES OF 1944 ......................8
3 TRANSITION TO ELECTED GOVERNMENT, 1944-1945.....18
4 DR. JUAN JOSE AREVALO BERMEJO...................34
5 POLICIES AND ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE AREVALISTAS:
PART I ......................................... 46
6 POLICIES AND ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE AREVALISTAS:
PART II ........................................ 75
7 THE BREAKDOWN OF REVOLUTIONARY UNITY............91
8 AREVALISTAS VS. THE OPPOSITION, 1945-1949...... 112
9 AREVALISMO: UNITY AND DISUNITY, 1945-1949...... 141
10 THE MILITARY AND THE ARANA-ARBENZ FEUD,
1945-1949..................................... .. 162
11 THE USA AND GUATEMALA, 1945-1949 ...............178
12 ELIMINATION OF ARANA, 1949...................... 199
13 THE ARBENZ COALITION...........................211
14 THE USA AND GUATEMALA, 1949-1951 ................ 235
15 SUMMARY AND INTERPRETATIONS....................253
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH........ ........................... 286
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
IMPAIRED DEMOCRACY IN GUATEMALA:
Chairman: David Bushnell
Major Department: History
In 1944, civilians and military officers united to
overthrow a dictatorial regime and install popular
government. With the fall of the dictatorship, a
remarkable group of men gained political control and
developed programs of reform that affected many aspects of
Guatemalan life. Acting largely on democratic principles,
the new men in charge worked for economic modernization
and social justice. Housing for the poor, hospitals,
schools, meal programs for children, water for the
villages, roads, and much more were integral parts of the
reform movement. The need to transform the landholding
patterns of traditional Guatemala was well understood, and
efforts were made in this regard. A popularly elected
constituent assembly drew up a democratic charter, and the
people elected a strongly reformist president. The
reformers could not achieve all of their high goals in
only six years, but significant progress did occur.
Unfortunately, the road to reform and modernization
lay covered with profound difficulties. Specifically,
three major obstacles hindered the reform movement and
left an impaired democracy in Guatemala. One obstacle was
a violent and rebellious opposition, composed mainly of
the traditionally dominant economic groups. Disunity
within the reform movement created another obstacle, while
the actions of the United States government and United
States-owned companies, which worked in tandem to oppose
the Guatemalan government and the reformers, created the
third obstacle. By the end of 1949, conflict and a lack of
compromise characterized Guatemalan society and politics.
The various actors on the scene had failed to find peace,
compromise, or consenting co-existence. They had instead
become more profoundly splintered, and prepared for
continued warfare. The impaired democracy thus developed
under Arevalo would continue into the presidency of Jacobo
Arbenz and eventually lead to the destruction of the
reform movement in 1954.
In marked contrast to the years which
immediately preceded and followed, the decade in
Guatemala from 1944 to 1954 was an outstanding period of
reform. During these ten years, the Guatemalan government
struggled to establish social, political, and economic
reforms, and made some impressive achievements. In the
words of Luis Cardoza y Arag6n, the decade was "ten
years of spring in a nation of eternal tyranny." During
the "ten years of spring," three separate governments led
the Guatemalan nation: a three member "junta" from
October 20, 1944 to March 15, 1945; the government of
President Juan Jose Arevalo from March 15, 1945 to March
15, 1951; and the government of President Jacobo Arbenz
Guzman, March 15, 1951-June 27, 1954. The following pages
of this dissertation will treat the first two of the
three governments, with primary emphasis on the Arevalo
General Jorge Ubico, a dictator who came to power
in 1931, still ruled Guatemala in 1944. Guatemala made
steady advances toward modernization under Ubico, and a
boom in export agriculture occurred. But Ubico's
policies benefited primarily the nation's wealthy few,
while the dictator virtually ignored the nation's social
problems. Furthermore, Ubico "ruthlessly eliminated" his
opposition, "rigidly restricted" the lives of Guatemalan
citizens, and "cynically perpetuated" himself in office.2
The disparity between the rich and poor remained great.
Nearly ninety percent of the Guatemalan workers engaged
in agriculture. The national economy suffered from the
adverse effects of monoculture and overdependence on
foreign markets. Wealthy landowners possessed
approximately seventy percent of the good farm land, much
of which belonged to only a few dozen families. In spite
of a largely domestic control over the production of the
major export crop (coffee), U.S. companies dominated the
import-export trade, internal transportation, and
communications. Among Guatemala's many problems was an
underdeveloped transportation system. Urban centers were
far from the rural villages, often connected only by
small paths or very substandard roads. International
Railways of Central America (IRCA) owned the only
railroad that ran from Guatemala City to the Caribbean
coast. No roads capable of competition with the railroad
ran the same route.
A small professional class had developed, but few
middle class opportunities existed. For example, Ubico
kept the government bureaucracy small, and did not allow
aspiring politicians a place in government. Education
received a low priority under Ubico. Teachers received a
low salary; secondary school students (who previously had
attended gratis) had to pay tuition, forcing many to
abandon studies; the university lost its autonomy; and
the freedom to express scholarly opinions was
The majority of the rural population did not share
the same culture or language as the city dwellers. Out
of a population of less than three million, about sixty
percent retained the Indian culture and remained
unassimilated with the more modern urban elements.
Indian Guatemala consisted of numerous small communities,
speaking a variety of languages and dialects, and having
few direct economic or social contacts outside their
local area. Indian communities remained suspicious and
afraid of outsiders and tended to self-protective
isolation. Ubico made no effort to develop the Indian's
In the spring of 1944, the dictatorship began to
fall apart, as large numbers of Guatemala's most
important citizens, along with university students,
military officers, and workers, clamored for Ubico's
resignation. Even members of Ubico's own government
turned against him. The movement became "as solid a wave
of unified political feeling as Guatemala has seen before
or since."4 Jorge Ubico resigned on July 1, and General
Federico Ponce, who had supported Ubico, became the
provisional president. Although Ponce promised some
limited reforms, he carried on much the same as Ubico had
done. When the leaders of the reform movement began to
suspect that the promised presidential elections would
never come about, they opted for revolution. On October
20, 1944, civilian and military dissidents united to
overthrow Ponce by armed force.
With the fall of dictatorship, a remarkable group
of men gained political control and developed programs
of reform that affected many aspects of Guatemalan life.
Acting largely on democratic principles, the new men in
charge worked for economic modernization and social
justice. Housing for the poor, hospitals, schools, meal
programs for children, water for the villages, roads, and
much more were integral parts of the reform movement. The
need to transform the landholding patterns of traditional
Guatemala was well understood, and efforts were made in
this regard. A popularly elected constituent assembly
drew up a democratic charter, and the people elected a
charter, and the people elected a strongly reformist
president. The reformers could not achieve all of their
high goals in only six years, but significant progress
The revolution in Guatemala mirrored the rise of
relative freedom in many parts of the world, with the
defeat of nazism and fascism, and the further breakdown
of the international colonial order. Many Guatemalan
reformers realized their place in world events, and
looked forward to a free Guatemala contributing to world
peace and the growth of universal democracy. Contemporary
world events, in fact, had helped inspire the Guatemalan
revolution, although previous struggles for freedom, in
particular the Mexican Revolution, and Guatemala's own
inherent needs, provided even greater impetus.
Unfortunately, the road to reform and
modernization lay covered with profound difficulties.
Specifically, three major obstacles hindered the reform
movement, and left an impaired democracy in Guatemala.
One obstacle was a violent and rebellious opposition,
composed mainly of the traditionally dominant economic
groups. Disunity within the reform movement created
another obstacle, while the actions of the United States
government and United States-owned companies, which
worked in tandem to oppose the Guatemalan government and
the reformers, created the third obstacle. By the end of
1949, although the government was more democratic than
at any time before Arevalo, conflict and a lack of
compromise characterized Guatemalan society and politics.
The various actors on the scene had failed to find peace,
compromise, or consenting co-existence. They had instead
become more profoundly splintered, and prepared for
continued warfare. The impaired democracy thus developed
under Arevalo would continue into the presidency of
Jacobo Arbenz, and eventually lead to the destruction of
the reform movement in 1954.
Many authors have designated the entire 1944-1954
decade a "revolution," in order to emphasize the reforms
made, and the political continuity between the initial
anti-Ubico movement and the eventual programs of Arbenz.
Thus, "the revolution of 1944-1954," is a phrase of
wide popularity. The term "revolutionaries," in this
sense, indicates the men and women who supported the
reform governments of the October 1944 Junta, Juan Jose
Arevalo, and Jacobo Arbenz. However, "revolution" is
also frequently used in a more limited sense to denote
specifically the movement that defeated Jorge Ubico
and Federico Ponce. Thus it is not always clear whether
an author is referring to the "revolution" and
"revolutionaries" of October 20 or to the "revolution"
this confusion, "revolution" in the following pages will
indicate only the revolution of October 20, and
revolutionaries will indicate those Guatemalans who took
an active part in the overthrow of the dictators.Not all
of the revolutionaries in this sense would be supporters
of the subsequent governments of Arbenz and Arevalo, in
fact some of them would participate in the opposition.
1. Manuel Galich, "Diez aios de primavera
(1944-54) en el pals de la eterna tirania (1838-974),"
Alero, 8 (Sept.-Oct. 1974), 70.
2. Kenneth J. Grieb, Guatemalan Caudillo: The
Regime of Jorge Ubico (Athens, 1979), xi, 282-283.
3. Carlos Gonzalez Orellana, Historia de la
educaci6n en Guatemala (Guatemala, 1970), 359.
4. Kalman H. Silvert, A Study in Government:
Guatemala (New Orleans, 1954), 5.
THE REVOLUTIONARIES OF 1944
No single person, political party, age group,
economic sector or class, can claim full credit for the
fall of the dictatorship. A great many Guatemalans
contributed to the resignation of Ubico and the
subsequent October revolution, prompting El Imparcial
to claim that only a few hundred Guatemalans were not
happy with the revolution. To be sure, not all were
equally active, or effective. Many had joined the fight
against the dictators only during the last moments, and
many dragged their heels or worked against the more
profound reforms. Nor can one deny that some had been
motivated primarily by greed and ambition, and maybe
all of them hoped that their own interests would be
advanced during the revolution. They variously wished
for better jobs, more money, power, prestige, and the
self-fulfillment of living out their ideals. Some of the
revolutionaries would later be accused of political and
economic opportunism, and no doubt opportunism did exist.
According to Contreras Velez, himself a revolutionary,
there were those who took advantage of the new situation,
and "without having risked a finger for the cause,"
reaped financial gain. But many others were touched by
a desire to better not only themselves but all of
Guatemala; they envisioned a modern, industrialized
nation, under a government dedicated to justice and to
the needs of the inhabitants.
The words of the revolutionaries themselves best
capture the euphoria and the goals of the revolution.
Juan Jose Arevalo said, "The revolution of October was
not sectarian in its ideology. It was a national
movement of emancipation."3 Jorge Toriello stated that
"in the revolution of 20 October, all Guatemalans
participated without distinction of class or hierarchy.
Their only preoccupation was to forge a new Guatemala
within the concept that is today known as human
rights."4 For Manuel Galich, it was a "romantic"
movement, and for Marco Antonio Villamar, the revolution
"recuperated national dignity."5 According to Contreras
Velez, "we did not fight for jobs, nor to make from the
revolution a lucrative enterprise with easy profit."6
The revolutionary movement included men and women
from virtually all the major sectors of the Guatemalan
population: the military, rural landowners, businessmen,
students, journalists and other professional groups,
workers, and peasants. Each sector contained
individuals who variously accepted political views that
were conservative, moderate, or strongly reformist.
However, individuals who had benefitted from Ubico's
rule (primarily landowners and military generals) and
the hierarchy of the Church, which had close ties to the
upper class, opposed the revolution.
Military participation had been crucial in the
downfall of Ubico and Ponce. During Ubico's
dictatorship, some 80 generals commanded the armed
forces, which numbered about 15,000 men. In return for
the generals' support, Ubico handed out land, wealth, and
favors. In sharp contrast, he held back the younger
officers of lower rank, who did not share the fruits of
dictatorship, and earned a low salary. The generals, who
had received their positions from political or social
connections, were usually less well trained militarily
than the younger officers. Although military men who
joined the revolutionary movement were motivated also by
their desire for better pay and advancement
opportunities, many of them shared in the more idealistic
goals of the broader revolution. Only officers, however,
had leadership roles in the revolution, for the ordinary
soldiers had been largely conscripted from the peasantry,
and in the main they simply followed their officers.
Rural landowners made up another key sector of
the Guatemalan population. Wealthy landowners were
usually political conservatives, yet a significant number
had grown weary of Ubico's despotism. They wanted a
larger part in government, and they recognized a need for
certain economic reforms. A few embraced the
revolutionary ideals of democracy and justice. The role
of middle income landowners is less well documented, but
these groups had also suffered a lack of freedom and
opportunity under Ubico's rule, and had good reason to
support an end to dictatorship.
The professional middle class had strongly united
against Ubico, solidly supported the revolution, and
supplied much of its leadership. Special interest needs
of the professionals included freedom of speech for
journalists and newscasters, more responsibility and more
control over government policy for civilian politicians
and bureaucrats, and freedom of education for students
and teachers. Middle-class groups in general looked for
an expanded job market which would accommodate their
ability and ambitions.
Businessmen, or in many cases those who
aspired to be businessmen, also participated in the
revolution. Those who did so dreamed of an industrialized
and economically diversified state that could offer the
entrepreneur new opportunities. Ubico had largely
continued an old economic pattern that emphasized
a limited number of agrarian exports and
reliance on manufactured imports.0 Thus the businessmen
wanted modernization and reform leading to broader
and more rapid economic growth. The business-oriented
revolutionaries often demonstrated more concern with the
rights of management than labor, but they understood that
labor reform could promote a healthy and efficient labor
force, which in turn would boost production and create a
Urban workers, many of them low-skilled or
unskilled, generally supported the revolution. In the
words of one observer, "an important sector of workers"
took part in the October fighting.2 But, weak and
unorganized, they were in no position to give leadership.
Rural workers in some areas, in particular around major
rural towns or large plantations, were aware of the
efforts being made to overthrow the dictatorship, and
some had been armed and organized with the help of the
urban revolutionaries. Shots were fired in at least
a few areas, and a potential for violence in the
countryside existed, but virtually all the major fighting
took place in Guatemala City.3
Youth was a characteristic widely shared by the
revolutionaries, many of whom were in their teens,
twenties and early thirties. In 1944, Jose Manuel
Fortuny was twenty-eight, Alfredo Guerra Borges was
nineteen, Bernardo Alvarado Monz6n was eighteen, Victor
Manuel Gutierrez was twenty-two, Mario M6ndez Montenegro
was about thirty, Carlos Manuel Pellecer was twenty-four,
Mario Silva Jonama was twenty-one, Jacobo Arbenz Guzm5n
was thirty-one, Francisco Arana was about thirty-eight,
and Jorge Toriello was about thirty-five. Some of these
men had been fighting Ubico for years. At the age of
nineteen, Pellecer had been arrested and jailed by the
Ubico government, and barely escaped execution.
Pellecer's youth has been characterized as "rebellious:
tormented adolescence that lived under a dictatorship
that exhausted and asphyxiated," until the "boy-man
Quijote rose to fight."14
The young revolutionaries, sometimes called the
"generation of 1940" or the "generation of 1944," were
aided by an older group of men, especially the
"generation of 1920." The older generation had been
active in the fight against Manuel Estrada Cabrera (which
succeeded in 1920), and they remained proud of their
revolutionary past. Francisco Villagran (b.1897), a
member of the 1945 constituent assembly and one of
President Arevalo's ministers of government, had been an
important member of Club Unionista and first president of
the Asociacion de Estudiantes Universitarios, both
important anti-Estrada Cabrera student groups that also
worked for political and social reform in the 1920s.
Villagran could remember with pride a dangerous mission
he made to other Central American nations in search of
help in the fight against Estrada Cabrera. Clemente
Marroquin Rojas (b.1897) and Eugenio Silva Pefa (b.1896),
both outstanding revolutionaries in 1920 and again
in 1944, may have delayed Ubico's initial rise to power
by four years, at great risk to their own safety.
Jorge Garcia Granados (b.1900), the "father" of the 1945
constitution, contributed to Estrada Cabrera's demise,
then was nearly executed for his fight, in 1920-1921,
against President Carlos Herrera, a wealthy landowner who
opposed reform. Asked why he conspired against Herrera,
he had replied, "for the love of liberty.17 By the time
the overthrow of Ubico and Ponce occurred, a number of
the "generation of 1920" had experienced years in jail
The Indian population played a more ambiguous role
in the revolution. Geographically and culturally
isolated, the Indians remained largely outside of direct
participation in national political events. But the
Indian was feared and sought after by both
revolutionaries and anti-revolutionaries. Revolutionaries
proposed to liberate the Indian, yet feared that the
Ubico government might muster significant support from
the indigenous population, which at times had benefited
in small ways from Ubico's paternalistic treatment, and
was said to have looked upon him with a "mystic
reverence. Ponce, moreover, had some success in
getting several thousand Indians to make an armed march
in his favor through the streets of Guatemala City. But
the Indian population in general contributed extremely
little to the efforts of either the dictatorship or the
The revolution of 1944 was not a revolution
of any one class. True, the revolution was primarily
carried out in Guatemala City, and led primarily by
members of the middle class, but in spite of this
significant urban-middle class flavor, the revolution
remained a "popular," widely supported movement, with
popular goals. In the slightly exaggerated words of
Contreras, "bourgeois" elements "at no time propelled the
revolution.20 The revolutionaries came from, and
represented, many backgrounds, and their goals went
beyond narrow group interests. The majority of the
evolutionaries would become "Arevalistas," and champion
Juan Jose Arevalo for President.
1. El Imparcial, Oct. 19, 1950.
de la revolution
Velez, En el XXX
de octubre (Guatemala,
3. Prensa Libre, Feb. 19, 1970.
4. El Imparcial, Oct. 19, 1972.
5. Manuel Galich, Por que lucha Guatemala
(Buenos Aires, 1956), 74; Marco Antonio Villamar
Contreras, interview with author, Guatemala City, July
6. Contreras Velez, Aniversario, 122.
7. Grieb, Guatemalan Caudillo, 46.
Richard Adams, Crucifixion by Power
National Archives of the Unite
cited as NAUS), Category 814.00
5, 1945), Dispatch number 131.
L hereafter be cited by number only.
10. For an example of one industrial success
story under Ubico, see: Paul J. Dosal, "The Political
Economy of Guatemalan Industrialization, 1871-1948: the
Career of Carlos F. Novella," Hispanic American
Historical Review, 68:2 (May 1988), 321-358.
Leo A. Suslow, "Aspects of Social Reforms in
1944-1949" (M.A. thesis, Colgate University,
12. Gonzalez Orellana, Historia, 367.
13. Tomas Herrera, Guatemala: revoluci6n de
octubre (San Jose, C.R., 1986), 67, 72; Alvaro Hugo
Salguero to Arevalo, August 20, 1946, Archivo General de
Centroamerica, Guatemala City (hereafter cited as AGC),
Correspondencia del Presidente de la Republica.
14. El Imparcial, August 14, 1965.
15. El Imparcial, Sept. 17, 1969.
16. La Hora, Oct. 5, 1966.
17. Prensa Libre, Oct. 29, 1974.
18. NAUS 814.00/1-1445 no. 1948.
19. Huberto Alvarado, "En torno a las classes
sociales en la revoluci6n de octubre," Alero, 8
(Sept.-Oct. 1974), 73.
20. Contreras Velez, Aniversario, 123.
TRANSITION TO ELECTED GOVERNMENT, 1944-1945
From October 20, 1944, to March 15, 1945, the new
Guatemalan leaders moved with great speed, unity of
purpose, and efficiency. With the fall of Ponce, a
triumvirate consisting of Major Francisco Javier Arana,
Captain Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, and Jorge Toriello Garrido,
took over the reins of government. The triumvirate
(the Junta Revolucionaria de Gobierno) had two primary
duties: protect the reform movement from its enemies and
serve as a transitional government until popular
elections established a full-fledged democracy. In decree
number one, dated October 25, the Junta Revolucionaria
dissolved the national assembly that had served the
dictators, and called for new elections to take place
November 3, 4, and 5. The newly elected assembly
(Asamblea Legislativa de la Republica de Guatemala)
declared itself inaugurated December 3, 1944. A separate
assembly was elected December 28, 29, 30, to draft a
constitution. The constituent assembly, (Asamblea
Constituyente de 1945) held its first official session
January 10, 1945, and presented the finished constitution
on March 11, 1945. Presidential elections were held
December 17, 18, 19, 1944, and Juan Jose Arevalo, the
president-elect, took office March 15, 1945. The Junta
Revolucionaria then dissolved.
The Junta, working with a cabinet and with advice
from leading revolutionaries outside the government,
issued 86 decrees between October 25, 1944 and March 14,
1945. Nearly all of them were then approved by the
legislative assembly. Most of the new laws made minor
changes in taxation or governmental structure, regulating
among other things, money and banking, imports, alcohol
and cigarettes. More decrees directly treated rural
concerns than urban ones. Sometimes favoring wealthy
landowners, sometimes not, the Junta tried to minimize
the fears of the upper class while at the same time
establishing the basis of social-economic reform. Decree
number four, of October 26, made easier the importation
of pure-blood cattle stock. Decree number five
reorganized the advisory body of the Oficina Central
del Cafe, giving greater representation to the coffee
growers. Decree number seven abolished forced labor on
public roads, which had been unjust to the workers, and
also caused labor shortages for the landowners. Decree
nine deprived large landowners of the rights of arbitrary
punishment of thieves and trespassers, which they had
used for decades to coerce farm workers. Decree 74 called
for the development of a program of hygiene and
sanitation in the rural areas. Decree 75 established
comprehensive and just regulations concerning contracts
between landowners and agricultural workers, to "preserve
the minimum rights that should be guaranteed the workers,
in accordance with the modern tendencies to achieve
better social justice." Stating that agriculture
deserved "total protection, because it is the principal
source of national income," the Junta by Decree 83
established an agricultural experiment station, in order
to scientifically improve the nation's main industry.
Another topic to which the Junta gave its
attention was education. Decree 12 declared the
university autonomous. Of more general interest was
Decree 20, which acknowledged that ignorance was the
"primordial cause" that impeded the development of
democracy, and that the revolutionaries, "with profound
intensity," desired "a nation great because of its
culture, its civility and its liberty." Therefore, decree
20 created a national committee for literacy (Comite
Nacional de Alfabetizaci6n), with jurisdiction in all of
Guatemala. Said committee could consist of any Guatemalan
or foreigner who identified with the ideals of the
revolution. All things considered, U.S. Ambassador Boaz
Long was favorably impressed with the work of the Junta,
and reported that the triumvirate had "done much to
provide a basis for the assertion that it was a most
The Asamblea Legislativa, during the transition to
elected government, passed 54 laws, the majority of them
being approvals of various Junta decrees. In the spirit
of world freedom and democracy, the assembly's first act
after it recognized its own inauguration was the approval
of Junta decree number 13, which recognized the
government of General Charles de Gaulle as the legitimate
government of France. The assembly did refuse to accept
a few of the Junta's less important decrees, and made
minor adjustments to some others. It also fell to the
assembly to name the president of the Poder Judicial and
members of the Corte Suprema de Justicia, who would begin
duties in March, 1945, at the same time that a new
President of Guatemala was inaugurated. But in the main
the assembly allowed the Junta to direct the pace of
A grand occurrence for the Guatemalan public
during the transition period was the election of a
president. Political parties had formed before and after
Ponce's fall from power, although these were generally
small and inexperienced. Their party platforms did not
reflect plans of government in minute detail, but rather
called for broad goals of material and moral
amelioration, agrarian reform, and assimilation of the
Indian.2 Unions also began to form, and to become a
political force. "We can say that the syndicate
organizations emerged the day following the resignation
of Ubico," wrote Alfonso Sol6rzano with only slight
exaggeration. While the Junta governed, the young
political organizations expanded, strengthened, and
prepared for the elections. Junta decree 17 prohibited
the members of the Junta, their relatives, and the
members of the cabinet from becoming president for six
Among the sixteen candidates for president, Dr.
Juan Jose Arevalo was the most popular choice. While
living in self-exile in Argentina, Arevalo received word
that he had been nominated for President of Guatemala.
The nomination surprised Arevalo, who had not been
involved with the anti-Ubico struggle since he left
Guatemala in 1935. He had in the meantime married an
Argentine woman, taken Argentine citizenship, and lost
much of his direct contact with Guatemala. He had not
demonstrated a strong political ambition. His life work
had been dedicated to the promotion and philosophy of
education, as a bureaucrat and a university instructor.
There remains some confusion over who first
suggested Dr. Arevalo for president, and how the
consensus spread, but most accounts mention Juan Jose
Orozco Posadas, a passionate idealist and future defender
of children's rights, as one of the men who began it all.
"We are not able to precisely remember the date," wrote
Contreras Velez, "when, one sunny morning, Juan Jose
Orozco Posadas entered the offices of Nuestro Diario, and
with melodramatic gestures and hands held high,
addressing those who were preparing the day's newspaper,
exclaimed with the enthusiasm of a boy who had just
obtained the toy of his dreams: 'Sefiores, I have the
man! The man with the clean hands! Juan Jose
The great majority of Guatemalans did not know
Arevalo. Only a small number of teachers, intellectuals,
and friends had known him personally, although many
educated people knew of his work. Indeed, throughout
Latin America, where his essays on philosophy and
education were highly respected, Arevalo had a reputation
as a serious intellectual.5 Mario Najera, a founder of
Renovaci6n Nacional (RN), the first political party to
nominate Arevalo, noted that "Arevalo was not known by
the great majority of his followers. We had few facts on
his life in Buenos Aires but we, at least I, had
faith in his capability, in his intelligence and in his
renowned reputation as an intellectual." Along with
Renovaci6n Nacional (RN), other parties joined the
support for Arevalo's candidacy, the most important being
Frente Popular Libertador (FPL), a large party comprised
mainly of university students.
Arevalo returned to Guatemala September 3, 1944,
after Ubico had resigned but before the overthrow of
Ponce. The Arevalo campaign already commanded a large
popular following, and many thousands of people took to
the streets and celebrated his return. "The people of
Guatemala had already elected him." Arevalo was well
aware that arriving in Guatemala under the rule of Ponce
put his life in danger, but it was an act that greatly
aided the momentum of revolution. For the many
Arevalistas who had never seen their candidate before, it
proved exciting and gratifying to find out that Arevalo
was a striking individual. He looked, sounded, and
acted like a president. Over six feet tall and weighing
about 200 pounds, a man with a booming voice, Arevalo was
handsome, charismatic, articulate, and passionate.
The Arevalistas constructed a coalition known as
Frente Unido de Partidos Politicos, and set forth a
campaign platform promising widespread political,
economic, and social reform. As of December 16, the
Frente included RN and FPL (which between them appealed
mainly to students, teachers, and young professionals);
Union Civica (consisting of older and business-oriented
members); Frente Nacional Revolucionario (a conservative
wing of the revolutionaries); Vanguardia Nacional
(tacitly Marxist oriented); and various other
associations, unions, and minor parties. The largest
groups were urban focused, but pro-Arevalista rural
organizations also existed. The actual number of
organizations fluctuated before the election, but the
Frente held together, and Arevalo won the presidency with
255,260 votes, or about 86% of the total. It was, by
general consensus, an honest election. Arevalistas had
already won over fifty of the sixty-eight congressional
seats in the elections of the previous month.
Opposition groups had made a frantic but vain
attempt to defeat Arevalo. Adrian Recinos, the
ambassador to the United States under Ubico, came in
second behind Arevalo with some 20,749 votes. The Church
had sided openly with conservative elements and did not
support Arevalo. A politically conservative sector of
the military officers' corps also opposed Arevalo and the
reformist ideals that he represented, but in the main
these officers kept a low profile and did not visibly
participate in the election.11
As already noted, at the very end of December, the
Guatemalans also elected a constituent assembly, which
began work on January 10, 1945, and finished March 11,
1945. Great optimism and a desire to work together
prevailed. Clemente Marroquin Rojas, a member of the
assembly, described his coworkers as being as spirited
as raw recruits who anxiously awaited the first encounter
with the enemy. Marroquin Rojas also thought the
assemblymen worked quickly out of fear that delay would
embolden the antirevolutionary forces.13
The constituent assembly elected a special
drafting committee of fifteen men, who would draw up
preliminary drafts of articles for the constitution, and
then submit them to the assembly for debate, amendment,
and vote. According to Kalman Silvert, the commission
consisted of six "mainstream democrats," six "centrists"
(three slightly to the right, three to the left), and
three "social democrats."14 The drafting committee and
the assembly based the constitution on a number of
sources, including the principles enunciated by the Junta
and other Guatemalans, and sections of constitutions
drawn up in other countries, for example Spain (1931),
Bolivia (1938), and in particular Mexico (1917) and Cuba
The finished constitution provided for an amount
of reform unparalleled in Guatemalan history. The
assembly generally agreed on the need for a strong
legislature; for guarantees of social rights, and
effective political democracy; and as a reaction against
the dictatorial past, a weak executive.6 Indians and
other low-income Guatemalans were offered safeguards
against past abuses. Article 82 promised education for
all Guatemalans. Article 83 provided for a comprehensive
program of protection and help for the indigenous
population. Literate women joined all males in obtaining
the vote. Articles 55 through 69 addressed labor reform
and included protection from debt peonage. Also, unions
were guaranteed the right to organize, female and child
workers obtained special rights, and work limits were set
for all laborers. Article 21 banned discrimination based
on sex, race, color, class, religious beliefs or
political ideas. Article 63 called for a social security
system. Article 91 flatly prohibited the existence of
latifundios, but neglected to define what "latifundios"
meant. Article 92 allowed expropriation of private
property in the national interest. Various provisions
guaranteed freedom of speech, assembly, and other
Economic nationalism, the desire to have
Guatemalans control the economy, played an important part
in the constitution. Article 95 stipulated that
hydrocarbons could be exploited only by the Guatemalan
government, or private companies primarily owned by
Guatemalans. In the lumber industry, Guatemalans would
be given first preference.
Jorge Garcia Granados, the outstanding personality
and president of both the constitutional assembly and the
drafting committee, became known as the "father" of the
Guatemalan constitution. Garcia, a grandson of
ex-president Miguel Garcia Granados, had been a well
known political activist for many years before the
revolution. From 1937 to 1938 he headed the Latin
American arm of the Subsecretaria de Propaganda for the
Spanish Republican government.1 Garcia later described
himself as a non-Marxist socialist, with viewpoints close
to those of the British Labour Party.1 Garcia's
leadership at the constitutional assembly helped make
some of the more advanced provisions possible. But
Garcia was not an extreme leftist or nationalist--for
example he favored foreign participation in oil
exploration and exploitation.19
Jorge Mario Garcia Laguardia, in a study of
Guatemalan constitutions, concluded that the 1945
constitution was superior to the two that followed, in
1954 and 1965, because all sectors of the society had
participated in its creation, including communists,
industrialists and merchants. It was a document of
political compromise.20 Although the constitution had
provided the basis for substantial reform, it did not
immediately break down the old order. Conservatives and
moderates participated in the assembly, and as a result
of their efforts the constitution, according to
Marxist-oriented Guerra Borges, had been "interwoven with
modern ideas and a bad aftertaste of obsolete ways."21
Women revolutionaries would probably agree. Women's
groups, including the women's branch of Renovaci6n
Nacional, had asked the Constituent Assembly in vain to
grant suffrage rights to illiterate women as well as to
illiterate men. Provisions which protected the
landowners included article 90, which guaranteed private
property, while conservative elements generally could
take reassurance from Article 32 which prohibited
political organizations of an international or foreign
character. Article 32 was meant to prohibit communism in
particular, and it thus gave added protection to the
existence of private property, as well as additional
clout to large landowners and others who traditionally
labeled their political opponents "communists."
Dr. Juan Jose Arevalo became president of
Guatemala on March 15, 1945. That month's Revista Azul,
a magazine for women, noted that the revolution had
brought "a fresh and renovating gust of wind," blowing
away apathy and discouragement. "We have a free
country," said the magazine, "a civic consciousness each
day grows deeper." Furthermore the revolution gave "new
respect to woman. Revista Azul also reported that
Arivalo's inauguration caused such deep happiness that
"a good percentage of the spectators cried with sincere
The revolutionaries accomplished the transition
from temporary rule to elected government quickly and
efficiently. They elected a president only two and
one-half months after the overthrow of Ponce; and an
elected constituent assembly worked fiercely and produced
a constitution in two months. The new President took
office less than five months after the victory of the
revolution. In order to achieve this rapid transfer
of power to a popularly elected government, the
revolutionaries had to cooperate with one another. They
did not always agree, but they proved willing to
To be sure, not all Guatemalans supported the
revolutionary process and transition to democratic
government. Even though virtually no possibility existed
that Ubico or his cohorts would regain control of the
government, rumors abounded of plots being made by
conservatives unhappy with the populist, democratic
nature of the revolution.25 Those unhappy with the
revolution and with the newly elected government,
however, were indeed few. The great majority of
Guatemalans believed that the Junta and the assemblies
had constructed a solid foundation for democracy and
justice. A sense of historic importance permeated the
atmosphere, it seemed Guatemala was moving into the
1. NAUS 814.00/1-445 no. 1948.
2. NAUS 814.00/3-2945 no. 2314.
3. Alfonso Solorzano, "Factores econ6micos y
corrientes ideol6gicas de octubre de 1944" in Historia de
una decade (Guatemala, n.d.), 50.
4. Prensa Libre, Feb. 3, 1970.
5. For a variety of positive opinions on
Arevalo, taken from across Latin America, see: Alberto
Ord6fez Arqiello, ed., Arevalo visto por America
6. Mario Efrain Najera Farfan, Los estafadores
de la democracia (Buenos Aires, 1956), 70-71.
7. Herrera, Guatemala, 70.
8. Clemente Marroquin Rojas, "Platicamos con el
Dr. Arevalo," La Hora, Sept. 13, 1972.
9. Ricardo Asturias Valenzuela, interview with
author, Guatemala City, July 8, 1987; Oscar Barrios
Castillo, interview with author, Guatemala City, July 9,
10. Juan Jose Arevalo, Escritos politicos
y discursos (La Habana, 1953), 145-6.
11. NAUS 814.00/3-945 no. 2237.
12. Clemente Marroquin Rojas, Cronicas de la
constituyente de 1945, 2nd ed. (Guatemala, 1970), 47.
13. La Hora, June 8, 1970.
14. Silvert, A Study in Government, 14.
15. Luis Marinas Otero, Las constituciones de
Guatemala (Madrid, 1958), 198-200; Silvert, A Study in
16. Silvert, A Study in Government, 17.
17. Ronald Hilton, ed., Who's Who in Latin
America: Central America and Panama, 3rd ed. (Stanford,
18. Silvert, A Study in Government, 15.
19. Ibid., 14.
20. Jorge Mario Garcia Laguardia, "Politica y
constitucionalidad en Guatemala," El Imparcial, Sept.
21. Alfredo Guerra Borges, Pensamiento economic
social de la revolucion de octubre (Guatemala, 1977), 15.
22. El Imparcial, Feb. 5, 1945; Feb. 6, 1945.
23. "Protecci6n social: un logro fructifero de
la Revoluci6n Guatemalteca," Revista Azul, 4(March 1945),
24. Gloria Mendez Mina, "Toma posesi6n el nuevo
President de Guatemala," Revista Azul, 4 (March 1945),
25. See for example: La Hora, Nov. 3, 1944.
DR. JUAN JOSE AREVALO BERMEJO
Arevalo, as President of Guatemala, was a sincere
humanist. He did not leave the presidency a rich
man, nor did he spend his time in lavish splendor, as had
been the previous norm in Guatemala. Even Arevalo's
critics, except for the most biased, recognized his
inherent honesty. Clemente Marroquin Rojas, a formidable
opponent of Arevalo, observed that Arevalo had the
opportunity to become wealthy but refused to do so.
It is true that as president he lawfully earned 2,400
Quetzales a month, that is, at least 24 times the salary
of most Guatemalans. Such disparity, however, was not
seen as unusual, and in any case it was hoped that with
the ensuing reforms of the post-Ubico era income
disparities in Guatemala would be reduced. In 1959,
eight years after his presidency and after he had written
several books, his fortune in Guatemala was valued at
300,000 Quetzales, which did not include two houses in
The young Doctor Arevalo had entered the Ministry
of Education in 1934, in the post of Oficial Mayor de
Educaci6n Publica, but quickly clashed with the Ubico
dictatorship, and left in self-imposed exile. Arevalo's
great frustration with the dictatorship is reflected in
his 1935 essay, "Istmania," where he argued that if
only Ubico could be deposed, and free government
established, the teachers would be able to guide the
nation's youth to modern civilization. Arevalo's
innovative ideas and efforts at educational reform in
Guatemala subsequently earned him the praise of El
Imparcial, which in 1939 recognized him as one of the
nation's greatest teachers.4
Arevalo had never aspired to become a politician.
In a 1968 interview, Arevalo admitted his disgust for
politics. As a child, he dreamed of becoming a great poet
or novelist. From the age of 14, he wrote verse, and he
finished a novel when 15 years old. After entering the
university he began to favor philosophy over poems and
novels, and started to dream of being "a universal
thinker." Also at that time, he began to disdain
politics. Such an attitude he made clear in his early
writings, particularly with the following statement in
1935: "Politics is an inferior activity to which certain
individuals dedicate their lives when they are incapable
of being of service to a higher cause."6
Arevalo did, however, develop a political
philosophy in several essays he wrote from 1935 to
1939. It was with these few pieces of work that the
Guatemalans had to judge their nominee for president.
Writing in the abstract style of a philosopher, he called
for the politicians to pass laws ending political and
economic exploitation. In Latin America, Ar6valo
claimed, more than 50 million people were "subjected to
economic servitude, surrounded by a spiritual vacuum, and
obliterated by political incapacity."7 Legislators must,
therefore, "redeem the masses in servitude," and allow
the educators to "eliminate the spiritual remnants of
colonialism."8 Arevalo believed that the politicians, the
economists, and the technocrats would take care of the
nuts and bolts, i.e. the physical needs of the people;
while the educators would establish the spiritual
development of values and culture.
Throughout these pre-1940 writings can be found
words of hope and optimism. Arevalo saw great potential
in humanity, in all races, to achieve high culture and
good government. Culture was not something only a select
few could obtain, it was achievable for everyone. But
culture could not be obtained by accident. It was the
duty, the "mission" of responsible intellectuals who must
be the "bearers of the civilizing word."0 This duty was
historical, for "we are all heirs to the spiritual
legacy of the past, inevitably laboring for the future of
With proper guidance, Arevalo believed, the youth
of Central America would break away from the oppression
of the past. Moreover, only the young were capable of
forging a democratic structure in Central America,2
because the young always vigorously believe in their high
potential and are never servile. It was the duty of
the educator to nurture the youth toward their
revolutionary goals, to instill in them a high spiritual
awareness, and put them on the road to social and
cultural excellence, before they could be spiritually
defeated by the oppressive systems of Central American
government. Once set in motion, youth would make
Central America great.15
Arevalo retained concern and respect for Latin
America's indigenous people but felt that European
culture was superior. He wanted to preserve the wholesome
aspects of indigenous customs and traditions, but he
believed that the Indian people must be integrated into
the dominant, European-oriented culture.16 "Our high
culture is from across the ocean, predominantly from
France and Spain," Arevalo claimed.17 But he was against
Franco's "Hispanidad," and the colonial legacy of Spain.
"We desire to transform Guatemala into a modern state,"
he said,8 and modern, for Arevalo, included freedom from
all forms of foreign domination. "From the hands of the
Spanish to the hands of the English, from English hands
to the hands of the Yankees," Central America had never
known true independence.9
Arevalo also called for the union of Central
America. He believed that the failure to unify Central
America into a single nation, first tried after
independence from Spain, was a strong impediment to
cultural and economic development. Central American
provinces had fought among themselves and internally,
breaking into small states easily controlled by dictators
and strongmen. If the isthmus would form into one large
federation, it would be impossible for these dictators
to stay in power. In Arevalo's idea of a united and
federated Central America, there would be institutional
and group autonomy within the society, e.g. for the
military, the press, and the university. These various
groups and institutions would work in harmony with the
nation as a whole, but with the freedom to best achieve
each one's highest potential. A united Central America,
democratic and free, would "finish automatically" the
egotistical and voracious strongmen.20
Arevalo did not alter his political philosophy
when he received the nomination for president in July,
1944, but during the months of the presidential campaign,
and after, he further developed and defined his
pre-revolution ideas. Altogether, Arivalo's beliefs
constituted a philosophy he began to call "spiritual
socialism," in which "spiritual" signified the moral,
ethical, cultural aspects of humanity. "I am in favor of
an ethical or spiritual socialism," said Arevalo in
December 1944.21 "Spiritual" also included the
congeniality and sympathy held by mankind for mankind,
and the concept of patriotism.22
"Spiritual Socialism," as articulated by Arevalo
when presidential nominee and president elect, contained
as corollaries a number of direct promises to the people
of Guatemala. The legislative and judicial branches of
government, he promised, would be autonomous. Arevalo
would govern only as an advisor or a regulator; he would
"coordinate" the various forces in society.24 Spiritual
Socialism would be both a moral and an economic
liberation; a liberation and protection for the whole
society, not just for certain individuals or the rich.2
"We will liberate and protect the worker, without
persecuting or hurting the employers," he said.2 Arevalo
praised the women for their participation in the
revolution, and promised: "We will liberate woman from
social serfdom," and put her in a "new relationship of
collaboration with man"27
"Spiritual Socialism," which Arevalo described
piecemeal in various articles, speeches, and interviews,
in his esoteric and philosophical style, was perhaps most
unclear in regard to his stand on land reform. For
example, note the following remarks:
The dignity of the human being is even more
important than his material interests. Of course,
such a point of view does not imply that material
interests should be forgotten or neglected. We hope
to establish a different relation between the owner
or manager of the farm and the rural worker at his
service. This worker has to be treated like a human
being, not a slave. This is of maximum importance,
and, consequently, the worker's levl of income and
manner of life have to be elevated.
Arevalo recognized that to achieve the promised
improvements for rural workers, changes in the land
tenure system must occur. He saw the need to "liberate
the land."29 "Guatemala," Arevalo said, "is a country
with a semifeudal economy: agriculture, livestock,
latifundios, powerful foreign companies of the colonial
type, masses of men rented out for work, etc."30 He
promised a "greater distribution of land," but this did
not mean anyone would be deprived of his "legitimate
On land reform, Arevalo exercised caution, knowing
the volatility of the land issue. Nor had he developed
detailed ideas for the future of Guatemala's overall
economic structure. His expertise, and his interest,
focused on education, and on his belief that with benign
government and the help of educators, Guatemala's
problems could be overcome. But Arevalo promised to work
for a modern and just economy in cooperation with
"capitalists, workers, towns, merchants, industrialists,
and professionals.32 He promised he would not implement
economic policy autocratically, but would seek the help
of technicians, specialists, and professionals. Time
and effort would be expended, policy would not be made
Concerning international economics, Arevalo
promised that Spiritual Socialism would "liberate the
nation from international servitude and from economic
slavery." The Republic of Guatemala must not stay "one
more day on its knees before the foreigners.34 At the
same time, Arevalo claimed that Spiritual Socialism was
much different from communism. "We are not materialist
socialists," he wrote. "We do not believe man is
primarily stomach."35 Communism, fascism, and nazism
"give food with the left hand, while the right hand
destroys the essential laws and morals of man.36
Arevalo above all believed in education,
impartial justice, the value of each human, and
responsible government. Those who influenced Arevalo's
political formation were both Latin Americans and North
Americans, including Abraham Lincoln, Benito Juarez, and
Hipl6ito Yrigoyen; while he was especially inspired by
the policies of Franklin Roosevelt. In the 1920s and
1930s, Arevalo had been influenced by the ideas of Jose
Vasconcelos, and he profoundly admired the ideals of the
In many respects, Arevalo had seemed to be the
perfect candidate. His strong emphasis on the role of
education attracted the teachers. His equally strong
emphasis on the role of the young attracted the students.
His proposal for a strong legislature and judiciary
appealed to the politicians and judges. His promise to
keep the university and the military largely autonomous
pleased the members of these institutions. Political
conservatives were appeased or at least calmed by his
disdain for communism and his promises to protect the
rights of the employers. He also promised to consult all
groups on economic reforms, and enact such measures only
after careful study. Arevalo made clear his desire to
bring justice and modernization to Guatemala, not by
authoritarian means but by the participation of the whole
society. Moreover, the masses were to be helped, taught,
guided into the modern world, not permitted uncontrolled
For his supporters, Juan Jose Arevalo was even
more than the sum of the parts of his political platform.
His energy, optimism, sense of duty to society, pride
and dignity, all epitomized the highest ideals of the
revolution. The new Guatemala also yearned for
international respect, and Arevalo had, for himself
at least, already achieved a measure of this. All in all,
Arevalo could be seen as a worthy symbol of the educated,
humanistic, cultured image that Guatemala wanted for
1. Clemente Marroquin Rojas, "Devueltos los
bienes del Dr. Juan Jose Arevalo," La Hora, March 16,
2. Prensa Libre, March 11, 1959.
3. "Istmania," not published until 1945, can be
found in Arevalo's Escritos politicos.
4. El Imparcial, June 16, 1939.
5. "Entrevista a Juan Jose Ar6valo," El libro y
el pueblo (Mexico City), June 1968.
6. Arevalo, Escritos Politicos, 18.
7. Juan Jose Arevalo, "Social Structure of
Education in our America" in Harold Eugene Davis, Latin
American Social Thought (Washington D.C., 1961), 491.
8. Ibid., 487.
9. Arevalo, Escritos politicos, 56.
10. Ibid., 11, 17.
11. Arevalo, "Social Structure," 485.
12. Arevalo, Escritos politicos, 18.
13. Ibid., 26.
14. Ibid., 30, 34, 44.
15. Ibid., 47; and throughout Arevalo's
16. Juan Jose Arevalo, Escritos pedagogicos y
filos6ficos (Guatemala, 1945), 38-42, cited in Marie
Berthe Dion, "The Social and Political Ideas of Juan Jose
Arevalo and their Relationship to Contemporary Trends of
Latin American Thought" (M.A. thesis, The American
University, 1956), 43-44. Arevalo was strongly attracted
to Europe, he made his first trip there in 1927.
17. Juan Jose Arevalo, "Guatemala desea amistad
de Mexico," Excelsior (Mexico City), Feb. 15, 1945.
18. Juan Jose Arevalo, "Nosotros deseamos
transformar a Guatemala en un estado moderno" El Popular
(Mexico City), Nov. 12, 1944.
19. Arevalo, Escritos, 8.
20. Ibid., 59-60.
21. Arevalo, "Nosotros deseamos," El Popular
(Mexico City), Nov. 12, 1944.
22. Arevalo, Escritos politicos, 165-166.
23. Arevalo, "Guatemala desea amistad,"
Excelsior (Mexico City), Feb. 15, 1945.
24. Arevalo, Escritos politicos, 168.
25. Ibid., 144.
28. Arevalo, "Nosotros deseamos," El Popular
(Mexico City), Nov. 12, 1944.
29. Arevalo, Escritos Politicos, 167.
30. Ibid., 165.
32. Ibid., 167.
33. Ibid., 167-8.
34. Ibid., 143.
35. Ibid., 130.
36. Ibid., 132.
37. Juan Jose Arevalo, inter
Guatemala City, July 14, 1986.
38. Fedro Guillen, "Charla
Arevalo," El Imparcial, May 17,
Novedades (Mexico City), Nov. 29, 1961.
view with author,
POLICIES AND ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE
At the time of the presidential inauguration in
March, 1945, Juan Jose Arevalo, and the men who would
share with him the reins of government, had not yet
decided, in exact detail, what policies they would adopt
to transform their nation. They had not, for example,
developed plans on how they would alter the unjust
patterns in land ownership, or balance the needs and
demands of workers and employers. The main focus of
the revolution had been the overthrow of dictatorship,
not the formation of a specific step by step blueprint
for the future. They realized their inexperience in
politics and government, and recognized the need to
research, experiment, and learn: in this regard, they
were prepared to travel to other nations in search of
knowledge, and bring foreign advisors to their own
country. However, many of the reformers had already
developed firm convictions about the goals which
Guatemala should embrace and the means in general that
should be adopted to achieve these goals. They knew that,
to modernize and democratize Guatemala, they had to build
a human infrastructure of educated and skilled people.
The masses would have to be uplifted and brought into a
national economy; they would need modern technical
skills, personal management skills, political
sophistication, and physical health.
The Arevalistas agreed that they must create
programs and institutions capable of rationally directing
the economy and society. They believed it was crucial to
spend government funds on projects of industrialization,
agricultural diversification, and scientific and
technical modernization as well as mass education. They
must halt government malfeasance and not allow the
nation's wealth to end in the coffers of a wealthy few,
or rich foreign-owned companies. To a large degree,
the New Deal of President Franklin Roosevelt reflected
the kind of democracy they wanted. The New Dealers in the
United States, in the words of Eric Goldman, "talked of
uplifting the masses, fighting the businessmen,
establishing economic controls over the society,
questioning the traditional in every part of living."1
The reformers achieved, or had begun to achieve by the
end of Arevalo's term in 1951, some of their goals. In
1951, Guatemala had become a better place to live, for
most people, than in 1944.
The revolution produced a political freedom far
more extensive than Guatemalans had ever known before. In
1948, Clemente Marroquin Rojas, a severe critic of the
government, had to admit that "one of the few victories
of the October 20 Revolution is individual liberty, very
limited in some ways, but liberty after all." Jose
Castro, a friend of the government, observed that
"everyone talks in a loud voice, gesticulates, and
argues, free from fear."3 Actually, political turmoil
and oppositionist threats resulted in some curbs on
freedom, but much less so than under previous
governments. The new administration's treatment of the
Church serves as an apt example. Although the Church
hierarchy opposed the reform movement with hostile verbal
attacks, it was not persecuted in return. The Church,
between 1944-1954, experienced more growth and more
freedom of religious and political expression than at any
time since 1871.
Education became a top priority of the Arevalo
government, and by 1951 educational services had
significantly increased. Social welfare and educational
expenditures under Ubico had remained rather constant,
and in the 1943-4 fiscal year reached their highest
level at 2,524,100 Quetzales; under Arevalo expenditures
for these services rose every year, and reached
15,506,600 Quetzales in fiscal 1948-9 (i.e. about one
third of the national budget). By 1951, public
education by itself had become the top priority in the
According to Arevalo's annual message to Congress,
in March, 1951, there were 3,676 schools in Guatemala
(including industrial, technical, and special education
schools), 199,139 students, 10,198 teachers, and
1,109 students were studying with government
scholarships. In the last year, 40,990 children had
learned how to read, about 50 new schools had been
built, and more than 90 more were under construction. A
dance school, a commercial school, an art gallery, and
two museums had been built. Also, 204 new positions for
secondary school teachers had been created. Teaching
had become a higher paying profession soon after the
revolution: pay went from fourteen Quetzales a month to
seventy-five a month in villages, from twenty-two to
seventy-five in department capitals and from thirty to
seventy-five in Guatemala City.8
Close to Arevalo's heart was the education of the
masses. An executive decree of May 23, 1946, created the
Misiones Ambulantes de Cultura Inicial, to be directly
dependent on President Arevalo. The Misiones Ambulantes
were "moving schools," consisting of a small number of
government representatives who would move through the
countryside giving help and advice to campesinos.
Personnel would be limited to a licensed teacher, a
military officer, a last year medical student, an
agricultural expert, and a translator. These "moving
schools", according to plan, would teach patriotism, the
rights and duties of Guatemalan citizens, the origin and
goals of the revolution, and health and childcare. They
would also promote and oversee the construction of new
houses, improve health care, help solve labor problems
and improve the rural economy in general. Sports programs
would be established, and when possible, cinema, music,
and theater. All school-aged campesino children would be
taught to read and write and given a basic education, as
would adults under age 30. The use of footwear,
handcarts, and packmules would be encouraged. The
misiones were also instructed to compile "complete and
systematic information" on the local inhabitants and
the region, "from economic, cultural, military and
political points of view." The above cited guidelines,
however, were only part of the many detailed instructions
that were to direct the program. Five of these "moving
schools" were actually established, and during Arevalo's
period they moved over a wide area of the Guatemalan
countryside. The "schools" worked energetically to
comply with their guidelines. Among other things they
founded libraries, handed out educational material,
formed musical and theatrical groups, showed educational
films, and created schools that would continue the
educational work of the mission after it had moved on to
another place. In fiscal year 1948-1949, they treated
3,145 medical patients, and in 1950-1951, they treated
6,789 patients. They helped with agriculture and local
construction.10 They also became effective instruments of
Arevalo himself devised plans for a unique system
of schools called Escuelas Federaci6n, that he hoped
would offer solutions to a number of existing problems.
Arevalo noted that under the traditional school system, a
school bell rang to cancel the class session, often at a
time when students and teacher were engaging in "premium
moments of fruitful discourse." Such moments came only
after careful cultivation by the teacher. The students
would then leave, to change class, recess, or go home,
and the teacher had the task of recreating a feeling
of harmony at the next class. The school bell, used in
this way, would therefore have to be eliminated. But the
school bell, according to Arevalo, was only symbolic of
greater difficulties. The entire educational system,
which dictated subjects to be covered, time allotted
for each, and even the physical environment, hampered the
best efforts of the educator. Arevalo believed that the
teacher was in fact an educational artist, who should
have the freedom to create each class in his or her own
In order to give the teacher-artist complete
autonomy, even the school building would be constructed
in a new style. The schools should be outside of the
city center, and have ample space indoors and out. The
actual style of the buildings would vary according to
local needs, but the largest would consist of a large,
circular center core, with eight classrooms that
projected out from it like spokes on a wheel. Other
buildings erected on the school site would include
special technical training centers. Each teacher was to
be autonomous in his "spoke," free to arrange class
subjects and time, thus allowing the teacher and students
to achieve their highest potential.11
The large center building would serve a number of
important roles. It could be used by sport groups,
political parties, agricultural societies, religious
groups, and others. It could be used as a theater,
conference hall, etc. Patriotic themes created by
Guatemalan artists should decorate the hall, and the
national flag should top the building. In short, the
center building would unite the school with local and
national organizations of government and society, thereby
making the school, in the highly abstract and
theoretical mind of Arevalo, a centerpoint in national
culture. Education in these schools was generally
considered to be of high quality, during and after the
Arevalo period. Less than a dozen of the larger type
"federation schools" were constructed before the end of
Arevalo's term; new construction stopped under Arbenz
because of the high costs in relation to traditional
schools. However, the creation of the federation schools
demonstrates Arevalo's and the Arevalistas' commitment to
education, and the place of central importance that they
The reformers also believed they had a duty to
further educate themselves, when necessary, by
researching in other nations, and bringing foreign
experts to Guatemala to help guide the reform programs.
In creating a social security system, the government
sent Lic. Jose Rolz Bennet to the United States, Canada,
Cuba and Mexico to research their social security
programs, and U.S. experts on social security were
brought to Guatemala. In the Ministry of Economy, a
large number of foreign specialists worked as advisors.6
Juan Jose Orozco Posadas traveled to the United States,
Mexico, and Cuba, to study programs designed to protect
the rights of children, and to ameliorate the condition
of children born into poverty. In order to help
modernize the national police, in 1946 Edwin L. Sweet of
the United States was hired to teach at the police
Another goal of the Arevalo administration was
to reform the economy, and at the same time weaken the
power held by the elite groups and foreign businesses.
Although they largely failed in this last regard, the
reformers managed to run a generally successful economy
that brought many Guatemalans increased benefits, and
laid a framework of reform that should have eventually
provided some long term solutions to old economic
problems. The Arevalistas benefited from treasury
surpluses accumulated during World War II; and during
Arevalo's presidency, Guatemalan exports (dominated by
coffee, bananas, and chicle) continued in strong demand
in the United States.8 The Arevalistas were thus able
to promote their reforms with very little foreign aid,
and at the end of fiscal year 1948-1949 owed an external
debt of only $670,000, making the interest and
amortization charges "of negligible size.19 Government
income for fiscal 1950-1951 was 44,975,780 Quetzales, the
budget that year was 48,948,280 uetzales.20 (Government
budget that year was 48,948,280 Quetzales. (Government
income in 1944 had been 18,200,000 Quetzales, and Ubico's
last approved budget had been 11,868,384.) The real
gross national product and real per capital income rose
significantly under Arevalo.
U.S. Embassy reports indicate a continued strength
in the Guatemalan economy. The annual economic report
for 1949 called the Guatemalan economy "reasonably
stable," and in spite of rainstorms that had caused
considerable damage, the year "ended in an atmosphere of
prosperity."23 Industrial production of sugar, matches,
electric power, alcoholic beverages, cement, cigarettes,
flour, private construction, and slaughterhouse output,
all increased. "On the whole, 1949 was a satisfactory
year for industry."24 Guatemala City and vicinity
consumed 50,642,000 kilowatt hours in 1949, an increase
of some 5,000,000 kilowatts from 1948. Electric plant
facilities were significantly extended in other areas of
Guatemala, and at least nine rural villages received
electric light. Also in 1949, rural and urban bus
traffic strongly increased, and air service expanded, as
did the number of roads. Eleven bridges were built, and
Guatemala City received an automatic telephone system.26
For 1950, U.S. Embassy reports indicate that economic
expansion continued, and stability remained.27 Imports
for the first 10 months of 1950 were $59,598,000, with
exports of $54,178,000, resulting in a modest deficit of
$5,420,000.28 Foreign exchange reserves on December 31,
1950, remained at $39,400,000. Reserves had increased
$1,333,000 in 1950, although there had been a decrease of
$9,286,000 in 1949. For the first month of 1951, the
Embassy reported that "business in general was good," and
"retail sales in most lines equaled or surpassed January
1950 and January 1949.29 Jim Handy correctly noted that
the economy "was in significantly better shape in 1951
than it had been in 1944." From this he concluded
that "the economic policy of the Arevalo administration
proved to be a modest success,"30 although it is
naturally difficult to determine what part governmental
actions played in the economy's overall performance.
Taking advantage of their strong economy, the
Arevalistas had enacted some important reforms. Among
other measures, new money and banking laws helped
modernize the monetary system, and a reorganized national
bank, the Banco de Guatemala, was inaugurated July 1,
1946. The national bank would be autonomous from the
government, and its services open to all citizens and all
economic interests of Guatemala. Government policies
under Arevalo in general favored the expansion of
agricultural production, and the staples of the average
Guatemalan (corn, rice, and beans) increased.32
Guatemalan (corn, rice, and beans) increased. An
autonomous governmental development agency, the Instituto
de Fomento de la Producci6n (INFOP), began operations in
early 1949, working with an initial budget of 6.5 million
Quetzales. INFOP policies helped increase agricultural
production, stimulate industry, and raise the general
standard of living of the nation. INFOP, among other
things, had the authority to provide loans and farming
supplies to small farmers, begin projects of irrigation
and other improvements, buy and sell both crops and land,
colonize new land, establish industrial enterprises,
undergo programs of research, grant industrial loans,
improve transportation and promote low cost housing.
INFOP promoted a crop diversification program, which soon
began to have some successes, particularly with cotton.33
The Departamento de la Vivienda Popular, a department of
INFOP, was entrusted to make investigations of the
housing problem, help plan and execute housing projects,
give loans, guarantee mortgages, etc. The department
received 2 million Quetzales for the first year, with the
promise of about 250,000 for a subsequent annual
budget. To further alleviate the housing problems
of the Guatemalan poor, the Rent Control law of 1949
created rent ceilings, protected tenants from eviction,
and prohibited discrimination on grounds of race,
religion, and nationality, or against families with
Students, professionals, and the middle class in
general received many benefits after the revolution. They
secured government positions, and when programs for
reform were enacted, they filled most of the leadership
posts. The Arevalo government devoted about one-third of
the state expenditures to education and social welfare,
including the construction of schools, hospitals, and
housing, all of which needed professional planning and
supervision. The university received autonomy, and went
into a period of bureaucratic and educational reform.
Educators, artists, and intellectuals also benefited from
the relative political freedom and the various government
programs. In five years, according to one source, more
books were imported and more bookstores founded than in
the previous 50 years.3
The creative and artistic climate of the Arevalo
years was reflected in the appearance of numerous
publications of intellectual quality. The Revista de
Guatemala, founded in 1945, became one of the most
prestigious cultural magazines in the Hispanic world.
In the pages of the Revista, Guatemalans, Mexicans,
Spaniards, and others, many of them already well known,
published fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and book reviews.
The Revista emphasized artistic and literary themes, and
remained open to all writers of merit, no matter what
their political ideology.38 Politically, however, the
Revista supported the Arevalo government, and it retained
a Marxist tone in its articles and comments on politics.
The Revista de Economia, to name another example, devoted
itself exclusively to economic issues. In 1949, its
articles included a comparison of the social security
systems in Guatemala and the United States, and an
article on banking by Dr. Raul Prebisch, who would soon
become Latin America's best known economist. The
Universidad de San Carlos, established on the first
anniversary of the Revolution, dedicated itself to the
concerns of the university.
The Arevalo government contributed in a number of
ways to the creation of quality publications. In 1946,
for example, an Arevalo decree established "Los Clasicos
del Istmo," a program designed to publish the outstanding
literary works of the last 125 years, from the five
Central American nations. Also in 1946, Arevalo
established a monthly pension of 300 Quetzales for each
of three outstanding Guatemalan authors, based solely on
literary merit, in order to encourage the labor of
others. (One recipient was a political conservative.)
After five years of the literacy crusade, the Ministry of
Education noted that the people who could now read needed
books, cheaply and easily obtained. So, on 27 October,
1950, the Ministry created the Biblioteca de Cultura
Popular "20 de Octubre," which was to be a series of
works of educational and cultural merit, mass produced
and sold at a very low price. The first volume was:
Rafael Landlvar, el poeta de Guatemala.
The Arevalista reform movement inspired some of
the artists to become politically involved. Working
through publications, exhibitions, concerts and lectures,
they felt it their duty to promote national reform
programs. A partial list of outstanding names would
include Otto Raul Gonzalez, Luis Cardoza y Aragon, Miguel
Angel Asturias, and Manuel Galich. Asturias, a later
Nobel prize winner, promoted pro-revolution themes in his
books Viento fuerte (1950), and El papa verde (1954).
Talented young writers and artists particularly attracted
to the political left formed themselves into the small
group called Saker-Ti (a Quiche word meaning "dawn"). A
typical Saker-Ti notice in the Diario de la Mafana
claimed, "We are carrying our force to the popular
One manner in which middle class reformers
exercised their leadership involved efforts to ameliorate
the condition of the Indian. The integration of the
Indian into the national culture was seen as "the
cornerstone of progress" for Guatemala, but the Indian
would be allowed to live free in his "particular
environment," and "conserve his authentic way of life."40
In order to assist in this endeavor, the Instituto
Indigenista Nacional was created by the government in
August, 1945. It was placed officially under the
auspices of the Ministry of Education but had an advisory
board that included scholars, a representative from the
As-ociacion Guatemalteca de Agricultores, and
representatives from the ministries of education,
economy, agriculture, public health, and government. The
Institute aimed to "elevate the cultural, social, and
economic level of the indigenous groups"41 by means
of research, the promotion of conferences and
discussions, and the publication of its findings. These
measures, of course, did little to immediately help the
Indian overcome poverty and oppression, but the work of
the Institute represented, and reinforced, a broad
commitment to justice and improvement.
A number of reform programs did in fact affect the
condition of the rural population in general and the
Indian in particular. Some Guatemalan towns received
roads, improved housing, water, electricity, and other
material aids. Political activity and social change were
promoted by the "misiones culturales," the political
parties, unions, and government propaganda in general.
New awareness resulted, and virtually all department
capitals of Guatemala underwent some political changes.42
In San Antonio Sacatepequez, for example, the ladinos had
long excluded the Indians from power. During Arevalo's
term of office, the Indians became politicized and began
to openly challenge the ladinos.43 As early as 1945, the
Indians in San Luis Jilotepeque had become active in
A new awareness of women's rights had also
surfaced with the revolution. Women had gained respect
from their active participation in the overthrow of Ubico
and Ponce, and their new involvement in the political
process. Although only literate women had been given the
vote, women activists continued to work for complete
suffrage. One group of women who identified with the
ideals of the Revolution formed the Alianza Democratica
Femenina Guatemalteca y Panamericana.
A number of specific programs for children began
under Arevalo. The Comedores Infantiles (children's
kitchens) provided food for a limited number of
disadvantaged children, and the Guarderias Nacionales
(day nurseries) provided care for the children of women
working in the market place. Income from pinball and slot
machines, private donations, and government
appropriations funded these small scale programs.4 Leo
Suslow in 1949 found the children's kitchens in Guatemala
City neat and comfortable, and the children happy. "Lunch
at a kitchen center included a large portion of beef
stew, bread, and milk.46 On 20 June 1947, the Ministry
of Education began a special national lottery, with the
profits reserved for children's education. One man who
deserves much credit for the establishment of children's
aid programs was Juan Jose Orozco Posadas, RN member and
early advocate of Arevalo for President.
Penitentiary reform and other changes in the
Penal Code also concerned the Arevalo government. Just
7 days after his inauguration, Arevalo directed his
Minister of Government to "investigate the judicial
situation of all and each one of the prisoners, with the
goal to mitigate, as much as possible, their
conditions.47 The government also directed that anyone
who remained incarcerated for 5 or more months must be
taught how to read and write.48
It was characteristic of Arevalo's style of
government that he was not willing to rely exclusively on
formal programs and legislation to change his promises
into reality. He thus demonstrated a willingness to give
personal and individual help to those in need. Arevalo,
from the beginning of his presidency, received large
numbers of letters and petitions from all parts of
Guatemala informing him of injustices and needs; requests
and complaints.4 Arevalo paid serious attention to
these letters, making his own suggestions and orders, or
passing them on to other officials to be investigated.
Many of the President's instructions were written in his
own handwriting, leaving no doubt of his personal
People expected the help of their new President in
numerous ways. They wanted his intervention in family
problems, between parents and offspring, among relatives.
Letters came from relatives of prison inmates. One
destitute old woman had relied on her daughter for life
support, but her daughter had been jailed for drinking "a
little corn beer."50 Villages requested water,
electricity, a cemetery. Ladinos expressed fear that
Indians were becoming too forward, and demanding too
much. Indians complained about the domination of ladinos,
and property disputes were common. Local officials were
sometimes unworthy. A village in the department of
Solola declared that the mayor sold public trees for
private profit, coerced local elections, and "in the
night entered the women's jail to make evil use of the
The documents often do not indicate how, or if,
the problems were resolved, but they do indicate that
Arevalo took his correspondence seriously, and that he
often gave orders to solve the issue in question. For
example, when the mother of an ill, eleven year old girl
wrote the President, complaining that the father had
refused to maintain or educate the child, President
Arevalo ordered that the man must help.52 The mayor of
Chiquimulilla asked for musical instruments; he was sure
that Guatemala City had extras not being used. Arevalo
wrote a memo to the Minister of Government, instructing
him to try to find the instruments. "I am interested,"
wrote Arevalo.53 In another case, a boy claimed to be
destitute, with a mother to take care of: he wanted a job
as office boy at the government palace, so he could
attend school. Arevalo directed that the boy be given a
job at the first opportunity.54
A most pathetic letter came from Mrs. Kalksteen
Rombaut. She explained that she was of foreign birth,
and had immigrated to Guatemala in 1931. She and her
husband, with only five Quetzales in assets, found work
in a pastry shop. They lived poor, and worked sixteen
years without rest. Her husband never took her anywhere,
and finally began to beat her. Also, she had to work
harder than he did. She bore two children, but then her
husband forced her to have a sterilization operation.
Her husband was, after all, despotic and cruel. The
letter, three full pages of small type, went into great
detail. Arevalo directed the letter to Francisco Valdes,
the Minister of Government, and wrote: "Paco Valdes:
another drama! Let's see what we might do." Subsequent
pages attached to the letter in the archives, signed by
the national Chief of Police, show that the police were
busy finding out the facts, and trying to resolve the
In addition to the correspondence he received,
Arevalo sent investigative teams into the countryside to
find out the needs and desires, large and small, of the
people. On the basis of the reports of these teams,
Arevalo might send technocrats to specific villages, or
arrange a loan for developing a water supply. In one
case, a village requested three costumes for musicians in
the religious ceremony of a cofradia: Arevalo consented,
and directed that the bill be sent to his office.56
Arevalo also made personal promises, face to face, when
he traveled in the country. The President received a
couple of letters of follow-up, reminding him of his
promises, in one case to make a son take care of his
mother; in another case to free a woman's husband from
jail, that he might take care of the woman and her
In spite of the commendable goals, and significant
successes, the reformers of the Arevalo period still
faced huge national problems in 1951. Beginnings had
been made, and life for many families had improved. But
"old Guatemala" had not yet transformed itself into a
"new Guatemala." In 1950, one economic study found
that, in spite of advances made under Arevalo, "limited
markets, inadequate agricultural production, high cost of
raw materials, lack of an integrated transportation
system, shortages of capital and credit, obsolete
technology, traditional policies of high profit margins
at the expense of sales volume, inadequate nutrition, and
poor education of workers," all conspired "to inhibit
the growth of industry."58 El Imparcial reported that
malnutrition, unsanitary housing, malaria, tuberculosis,
intestinal parasites, typhoid, and alcoholism remained
major health problems. Calorie intake stayed 20% below
minimal standards; total protein 15%; and animal protein
60%.59 Despite literacy campaigns, the 1950 census
discovered that illiterates made up 71.9% of the
population over age seven. Although credible estimates
for the illiteracy rate under Ubico are unavailable, it
is unlikely that the Arevalistas had made great
progress. From the revolution to the end of Arevalo's
term in office, the total population increased about
400,000; and people who learned to read only numbered
about 82,000.62 Annual wages remained low, about 100 to
200 Quetzales for the rural worker and about 360 to 1200
in Guatemala City.60 Export earnings continued to rely
heavily on coffee.
In 1950, a Pan American Union study on housing in
Guatemala reported that the typical rural family still
lived in a primitive hut of one room, dirt floors, and
thatched roofs.63 In the capital, which received about
3,000 rural families a year, thousands of families lived
in "flimsy shacks.64 The report noted that the
government was trying to mitigate the hardships, had made
some advances, and had passed new laws that were "well
framed and broad in scope.65 It calculated, however,
that in order to overcome present housing deficiencies
and meet the needs of the growing population, the
government would have to allocate about one quarter of
its budget to housing for 25 years. This is something
Guatemala was clearly not in a position to do.
Some observers of the Arevalo period have pointed
out various problems within the government itself that
may have slowed progress. Suslow believed that
bureaucratic conflicts between the Instituto Guatemalteco
de Seguridad Social and the Ministry of Public Health
delayed social security benefits, and that the "rapid
turnover" of public health ministers damaged UNICEF
efforts to promote health care programs for Guatemalan
children. El Imparcial likewise complained of a lack
of coordination between branches of government, and the
lost time, lost energy, and "money invested in things
stupid and crazy.68 Arevalo has been criticized for
constructing a large expensive sports center, for the 6th
Caribbean Olympics of 1950, when so many needed housing
and basic care; one critic called the stadium "that white
elephant of the Revolution.69 Jorge Garcia Granados
claimed that the government put too much money into
education and political propaganda, when Guatemala
actually needed first of all an economic
But many of the claims of the critics have been
poorly substantiated, and often they were politically
motivated. Certainly, the reformers deserve a measure
of blame, as in the many cases of working at cross
purposes among themselves. Policy mistakes were
indubitably made. But the reformers also had to contend
with vast poverty, ignorance, and general backwardness,
on a scale that solidly defied any short-term solutions.
At the same time, a strong opposition worked against
reform. All in all, in consideration of the obstacles,
the Arevalistas enacted praiseworthy reforms and made
some progress toward carrying them out. The social and
economic welfare of the "people" had become a government
1. Eric Goldman, The Crucial Decade (New York,
2. Clemente Marroquin Rojas, "No hay que tener
miedo," (leaflet) Nov. 24, 1948, AGC, Unfiled papers and
documents for 1949.
3. Jose Castro, La revolucion desde el poder:
viaje de ida y vuelta a Guatemala (La Habana, 1948), 4.
4. Anita Frankel, "Political Development in
Guatemala, 1945-1954: The Impact of Foreign, Military,
and Religious Elites" (Ph.D. diss., University of
Connecticut, 1969), 169. For particulars on the Church,
see Chapter 8.
5. Adler, Public Finance, 72-3.
6. Silvert, A Study in Government, 34;
Gonzalez, Historia, 370. Gonzilez notes that education
held fifth place in Ubico's budget.
7. Juan Jose Arevalo, Seis afos de gobierno,
vol.2 (Guatemala, 1987), 184-5.
8. Suslow, "Social Reforms," 45. One Quetzal
equalled one dollar.
9. Ministerio de Gobernaci6n to Gobernador
Departmental, June 4, 1946, AGC, Ministerio de
10. Arevalo, Seis afos, II, 42, 103, 186.
11. Juan Jose Arevalo, Que significant las
escuelas federationn"; solution Guatemalteca en un
conflict universal entire la arquitectura y la pedagogia
(Guatemala, 1949), passim.
13. Jorge Arriola, interview with author,
Guatemala City, June 20, 1987; Gonzalez, Historia, 370,
434. Some of these schools remain in existence, and they
retain a good reputation.
14. Arevalo, Seis anos, II, 182; Gonzalez,
Historia, 370, 434.
15. Juan Jose Arevalo, "El doctor Juan Jose
Arevalo habla sobre el regimen de Seguridad Social,"
Prensa Libre, Feb. 8, 1985, p.5.
16. El Imparcial, April 3, 1979.
17. Memoria de Ministerio de Gobernaci6n, p.52,
March 1, 1946, AGC, Ministerio de Gobernaci6n, Varios.
18. John Hans Adler, Eugene R. Schlesinger, and
Ernest C. Olson, Public Finance and Economic Development
in Guatemala (Stanford, 1952), 20, 32-33.
19. Ibid., 276.
20. Arevalo, Seis afos, II, 178-179.
21. Ibid., 178; Silvert, A Study in Government,
35; Adler, Public Finance, 29; Mario Monteforte Toledo,
Guatemala, monografia sociologia (Mexico, 1959), 551.
Some of the figures cited by the above authors do not
22. Adler, Public Finance, 28-30; Monteforte
Toledo, Monografia, 579-86.
23. Gilbert E. Larsen to Department of State,
"Annual Economic Report-1949," p.2, NAUS 814.00/4-1050.
24. Ibid., p.4.
25. Ibid., p.26.
26. Ibid., pp.33-37.
27. NAUS 814.00/2-350; 3-350; 3-2950; 4-2750;
6-3050; 8-450; 8-850; 9-150; 9-2850; 11-350; 12-150;
28. NAUS 814.00/2-251.
30. Jim Handy, "Revolution and Reaction:
National Policy and Rural Politics in Guatemala,
1944-1954" (Ph.D. diss., University of Toronto, 1985),
106; see also: Alfonso Bauer Paiz, "La revoluci6n
Guatemalteca del 20 de octubre de 1944 y sus proyecclones
economico-sociales," Alero, 8 (Sept.-Oct. 1974), 62-64.
31. Robert R. Hendon, Jr., "Some Recent Economic
Reforms in Guatemala" (M.A. thesis, 1949), 123; Adler,
Public Finance, 20; Monteforte Toledo, Monografla, 568.
32. Handy, "Revolution," 103.
33. Monteforte Toledo, Monografia, 450-1.
34. Anatole A. Solow, Housing in Guatemala
(Washington D.C., 1950), 34.
35. Ibid., 33.
36. Mario Monteforte Toledo, La Revoluci6n de
Guatemala 1944-1954 (Guatemala, 1975), 20.
37. Rodney T. Rodriguez, Revista de Guatemala:
Indice Literario (Guatemala, 1987), 1.
38. Ibid., 9.
39. "El grupo Saker-Ti," Diario de la Maniana,
Sunday Supplement, Jan. 15, 1950.
40. Boletin del Instituto Indigenista Nacional,
1:1 (Oct.-Dec. 1945), 3,41. See also: NAUS
41. Ibid., 29.
42. Adams, Crucifixion, 187.
43. Robert Ewald, "San Antonio Sacatepequez
1932-1953," in Political Changes in Guatemalan Indian
Communities, ed. Richard Newbold Adams (Michigan, 1957),
44. John Gillin, "San Luis Jilotepeque
1942-1955," in Adams, Political Changes, 25.
45. Leo A. Suslow, "Social Security in
Guatemala: A Case Study in Bureaucracy and Social Welfare
Planning" (Ph.D. diss., University of Connecticut, 1954),
47. Julio Cesar Mendez Montenegro to Ministro de
Gobernacion, March 22, 1945, AGC, Correspondencia del
President de la Republica.
48. Valdes to Gobernadores, Feb. 14, 1946, AGC,
Ministerio de Gobernaci6n, Varios.
49. Documents in AGC show that hundreds of
letters and petitions reached Arevalo's office before the
end of 1945, and continued to arrive thereafter.
50. No. 298 clas. 540, Jan. 1946, AGC,
Correspondencia del Presidente de la Republica.
51. No. 7320 clas. 42.7, Jan. 1946, AGC,
Correspondencia del Presidente de la Repiblica.
52. No. 2364 clas. 021-9-D, Feb. 1947, AGC,
Correspondencia del Presidente de la Republica.
53. No.540, August 14, 1946, AGC,
Correspondencia del Presidente de la Republica.
54. No. 159 clas. 660-ch, Jan. 1946, AGC,
Correspondencia del Presidente de la Rep6blica.
55. Angela Luisa Kalksteen Rombaut to Arevalo,
Sept. 1946, AGC, Correspondencia del Presidente de la
56. No. 3685 Ref. 312.4, August 20, 1946, AGC,
Correspondencia del Presidente de la Republica.
57. No. 4932 ref. 102-fac., Feb. 4, 1947, AGC,
Correspondencia del Presidente de la Republica.
58. G.E. Britnell, "Problems of Economic and
Social Change in Guatemala," The Canadian Journal of
Economy and Political Science, 17:4 (Nov. 1951), 475.
59. El Imparcial, May 7, 1951, cited in Suslow,
"Social Security," 32.
60. Solow, Housing, 19; NAUS 814/4-2050, p.10.
61. Monteforte Toledo, Monografia, 41.
62. Manuel Chavarria Flores, Analfabetismo en
Guatemala (Guatemala, 1952), 85,98, cited in Gonzalez,
63. Solow, Housing, 13.
64. Ibid., 12, 15.
65. Ibid., 35.
66. Ibid., 3.
67. Suslow, "Social Security," 38,288.
68. El Imparcial, Oct. 19, 1948, p.5.
69. Elly Rodriquez Gonzalez, "Silva Falla merece
mi respecto" La Hora, April 10, 1958.
70. El Imparcial, May 7, 1946; for the same
viewpoint, see Silvert, A Study in Government, 45.
POLICIES AND ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE
The Arevalo period produced neither a "rural
revolution," nor an "urban revolution." It was instead a
"revolution" that embraced the entire nation in its
origin and in its unfolding. Certainly, in isolated areas
of the republic some people were unaware of the changes
taking place, and nearly all of the activity,
particularly in 1944, took place in Guatemala City. But
the revolution of October 1944 and the Arevalista
movement that grew out of it received impetus from both
rural and urban Guatemala, and the Arevalista government
included the entire nation in its reform policies.
In 1944, the political parties had endeavored to
promote revolt beyond Guatemala City, the center of
activities, and create a genuine national revolution.
The Frente Popular Libertador (FPL) and to a lesser
degree the Partido Renovaci6n Nacional (RN), had begun
working in 1944 to organize party chapters throughout the
nation, particularly with the help of rural-based
teachers. El Progreso, which received an FPL chapter on
July 25, 1944, experienced violence between Arevalistas
and Poncistas in September. Violence also occurred in
Mazatenango, Quetzaltenango, and Chiquimula.
Initial reforms would be obtained most easily in
urban areas, which could be more easily reached by the
national governmental apparatus, but the Arevalistas
believed that urban reform alone could not possibly
modernize Guatemala. The Arevalistas also understood
that any political party or group that wanted political
power needed to obtain the vote of the countryside, where
the majority of eligible voters lived. The power of the
rural vote was seen in 1950, when Arbenz failed to carry
the majority in Guatemala City, but won the presidential
elections based on his win in the rural areas.
Furthermore, the rural voters had to be released from the
domination of the large landholders, who in 1945, and in
many cases beyond, continued to retain much influence
over the workers and local officials.
Two great issues of the utmost controversy, labor
reform and land reform, would mark the Arevalo period.
The Arevalistas hoped that these reforms would transform
the nation, and destroy the traditional land and work
patterns that kept the majority of Guatemalans in a state
of exploitation and misery. The issue of labor reform
was treated first, and new laws and government policies
would greatly benefit the workers under Arevalo.
Unions began to form openly during the summer of
1944, and the Arevalo government and the Arevalista
political parties throughout the Arevalo period,
encouraged union growth and the promotion of workers'
rights. Increasingly, however, union members gained
political power and were able to advance their demands
autonomously. By 1950, more than 150 unions existed with
nearly 100,000 members. Unions helped their members
during periods of emergency, such as sickness or natural
disaster, and they helped formulate proposals for new
labor laws. Unions also served to watch for labor law
infractions by the employers.6
New labor laws gave the workers many benefits.
The most far-reaching measure was the labor code of May
1, 1947, later expanded by amendments in 1948. Edwin
Bishop correctly noted that the code was "fairly drawn,
well-written and comprehensive. It established
provisions for severance pay for discharged workers,
collective bargaining, overtime pay, compulsory contracts
between labor and management, minimum wages, the right to
strike, guaranteed vacations and other rights recognized
by the 1945 constitution. The Inspecci6n General de
Trabajo, charged with overseeing infractions of the code,
obtained extensive indemnities for the workers between
1947 and 1950.8 In 1949, the office worked on 4,016
disputes and directed employers to pay over $100,000 to
workers, most of which covered unjustified discharge from
employment. If the Inspecci6n General could not settle
the complaint, it was passed on to another new agency,
the Tribunales de Trabajo.
Initially labor reform affected primarily urban
areas, but organized labor also made advances in the
agrarian sector. Labor activity took place early on
national fincas and on the relatively advanced farms of
the United Fruit Company. In 1949 there were forty-six
farm unions, and many more were being formed.10 In 1950,
the Confederaci6n Nacional Campesina de Guatemala (CNCG)
was founded, and soon became an influential voice for
Archer Bush concluded in 1950 that the unions and
the labor codes had had a positive effect on the workers.
Wage increases, better working conditions, and job
security represented part of the advances. Self-respect
and "psychological satisfactions" resulted from the
working man's new status, along with feelings of
increased prestige and social unity. The unions, wrote
Bush, were "forming the backbone of a new social group,"
Workers also received benefits from the Instituto
Guatemalteco de Seguridad Social (IGSS), an autonomous
and nominally obligatory system which began operation on
January 2, 1948. IGSS benefits would eventually include
coverage for accidents, maternity, illness, old age, and
death.12 The IGSS planners realized they faced a lack of
trained personnel and medical facilities, public
ignorance, insufficient funds, and a lack of accurate
data; therefore they planned a gradual program that would
cover the entire nation only after ten years. Urban
workers received the first benefits, because an urban
infrastructure made the administrative tasks much easier.
After six months, the program insured 80,000 workers, and
after one year it insured 140,000 workers. During the
first year, it paid out Q498,382 in benefits. In
mid-1950, a U.S. Embassy economic report on the previous
six months noted that "the successful social security
program continued to make gains.15 By March 31, 1951,
more than 170,000 received IGSS coverage, the majority
being not urban but rural workers.16 Leo Suslow believed
that a significant improvement occurred in the well-being
of the covered workers. Although Suslow knew of no
specific studies that dealt with the effect which the
IGSS had on Guatemala's Indians, he noted that "one still
cannot ignore the direct observation of Indians in
hospitals, Indians in the rehabilitation centers, and
Indians receiving cash benefits and pensions."17
Many reformers believed that it was crucial to
enact far-reaching land reform, meaning the partition and
redistribution of large land holdings, along with other
measures to aid the campesino. The Comite-Politico
Ferrocarrilero, a union political committee, defined the
importance of land reform in a manifesto of December
By means of agrarian reform our agricultural
production will be increased to new levels, new
horizons will be opened up to our industry, our
internal market will be expanded and new human
masses will be incorporated with the capacity of
consumers. To carry out agrarian reform means to
modernize and mechanize agricultural exploitation,
to develop a national industry based upon domestic
raw materials, to substantially improve the living
conditions of the working popular in, elevating
its welfare and its cultural level.
In 1947, Max Ricardo Cuenca, writing in the Revista de
Guatemala, argued that without land reform Guatemala
would remain a weak, underdeveloped nation, unable to
achieve modernization and independence from the United
States and other world powers. "Only with agrarian
reform can democracy be consolidated, the country
industrialized, hunger and misery liquidated, culture
developed, Central America united, and Belize
Letters and petitions requesting new land, the
return of stolen land, and help with boundary disputes,
predated Arevalo's inauguration, and continued
thereafter. In some villages, people banded into
"Comites Pro-Tierras" to jointly fight for local land
rights, as they did in Ayarza, Santa Rosa.20 Examples of
the requests could include the petition from San
Sebastian Caotan, asking the President to help the
campesinos, and give them free land, "as has been done
for other people."21 A petition, signed in 1947 by 55 men
from San Agustin Acasaguastlan, claimed that the large
landowners and the mayor were stealing communal land,
crops, trees, and the labor of workers.22
Arevalista political parties and unions included
land reform among their platform goals, and some of the
more zealous members, especially in PAR, began working in
1944 and 1945 for more equitable distribution of the
nation's land. In 1946, the second congress of the
Confederaci6n de Trabajadores de Guatemala (CTG) demanded
"democratic agrarian reform."23 The first "great
convention" of the Federaci6n Sindical de Guatemala
(FSG), in June 1947, called the land reform problem
"urgent." Jim Handy noted that "every major economic
publication in the country not linked to the landowners'
associations argued periodically that the agrarian
structure of the country needed to be altered."24
The Arevalo government, however, had to approach
the land reform issue with caution. The great
landholders retained much economic power, and opposed any
significant reform. But worry centered also on the
peasants themselves. Reformers wondered if an orderly
program of land reform could be devised that would not
degenerate into massive land takeovers by peasants
suddenly overwhelmed by greed and high expectations. The
countryside was indeed an area of potential rebellion,
and it appeared that "agitators," i.e. extremist leaders,
were preparing the campesinos for confrontation. Indeed,
a number of land invasions did occur. Arevalo himself
advocated a cautious route to land reform. In a January,
1945 interview, Arevalo stated that poor farmers needed
more land, cheap credit, and expert instruction, but
reforms would be made only after extensive and careful
study.25 Many reformers agreed with Arevalo. The FSG
political statement of 1947, for example, had noted the
"urgent" need for land reform, which must be implemented
to put an end to feudalism. All the people would have to
join together in the "revolutionary fight." But the
statement also declared that FSG opposed demagogues, who
misled the campesinos, and put the national economy in
danger. In Guatemala, "there is no need to provoke
difficult situations," because the nation possesses "land
In 1946, several large meetings took place between
department governors, town mayors, and representatives
from the central government. Those who attended approved
a number of "agreements" that would be reflective of
the government's initial caution, and the strong
local influence still retained by the large landowners.
Concern for peace and economic stability ranked high, and
the participants agreed on the "persecution and
elimination" of political agitators "who exploit and
incite the campesinos to rebellion." Also, vagrancy in
all forms must be prosecuted, and landowners who comply
with the humanitarian needs of the workers must be
protected. The participants offered a few minor
suggestions to improve the life of the worker; for
example, the promotion of sports and inexpensive work
tools, and the discouragement of drinking alcoholic
beverages. In sum, it was agreed that the needs of
landowners and workers had to be recognized; and rural
On July 2, 1947, a circular sent to all department
governors by the Ministry of Government ordered that
anyone who advocated the violent seizure of private land
must be punished severely. It must not be allowed that
agitators compel campesinos or workers to join or form
associations that work toward taking land from the
owners. The governors must "proceed with great energy
against the agitators, consigning them immediately to the
tribunals of justice." Victor Manuel Gutierrez and other
labor leaders protested to Arevalo, claiming that the
circular would be used to unjustly harass the workers and
campesinos, and protect the enemies of the revolution.28
These complaints were largely unjustified, for the
government continued to work for rural reform, even while
it tried to maintain rural peace.
Outbreaks of violence attributed to agitators were
not rare. For example, the Arevalo administration in
early 1946 forced CTG leader Amor Velasco from his post
in the municipality of Malacatan because of charges that
Velasco was inciting local Indians to seize private
landholdings.29 Also in 1946, in another case, the
government instructed the police in Malacatan to arrest
the campesino leaders of a local farm union. Several days
after the arrests, while the Malacatan Chief of Police
was driving to Guatemala City with his wife, a group of
campesinos attacked him, in reprisal for the arrest of
their leaders. The chief's wife received some
injuries.30 In early 1948, for another example,
political disturbances in El Tumbador, San Marcos,
culminated in the killing of the town mayor by Indians
from neighboring farms. Some local members of PAR had
allegedly incited the Indians with Marxist demagogy, and
spent several years in jail for their crimes.3
Between 1945 and 1951, the Arevalo government
managed to enact only a few reforms that dealt with
land. The government was, however, able to experiment
with cooperatives, collectives, and land grants in the
farms under its control.32 The Arevalo administration
directly administered a number of lands and plantations,
some of which had been confiscated from the dictator and
his followers, while others had been confiscated from
Germans during World War II. In 1949, there were over
100 government controlled farms and plantations, which
supplied about 11% of government income. In one case,
Arevalo himself ordered that the entire farm "Yerba
Buena" be given to the campesinos of Cuilco,
Outside of the government farms, the desire for
reform was expressed primarily by ongoing research
projects. Within the Arevalo administration, by February
1946, the Direcci6n General de Colonizaci6n y Tierras,
under the Ministry of Agriculture, was investigating
land reform projects.35 In 1947, Congress created the
land reform projects. In 1947, Congress created the
Comision de Estudios Agrarios, which began its own
investigations on land reform needs. In 1948, Congress
passed the Law of Expropriation, which permitted the
state to seize property, if compensated at a fair price,
in order to satisfy the public material or spiritual
welfare. On December 21, 1949, ostensibly in order to
overcome food shortages after extensive hurricane damage,
the government promulgated the "law of forced rental." It
was the first law to seriously affect landowners, and at
the time it caused great controversy. The law mandated
that landowners who had been renting land for the past
four years must continue renting those lands for two more
years, and rent to peasants at a fair price any land left
uncultivated. The rent could not exceed ten percent of
the farmer's products, paid in money or in kind. Fines
for violation were only 10 to 50 Quetzales, but the law
successfully benefited the renters, and directly led
into more extensive reforms under the next
administration.6 Other efforts at reform included
colonization programs that tried to mitigate land
problems with population resettlement. Because of
geographic and financial obstacles, few areas were
The failure of the Arevalistas to enact profound
land reforms caused much unhappiness. Typical of the
complaints sent to Arevalo was one from the people of San
Miguel Duefas, who by August of 1947 had become
displeased with the government's handling of a local land
dispute. The matter had been passed from the Mi. ister of
Government, to the Minister of Communications, to
Agriculture, and back to Government, without resolution.
The petitioners praised the President, but damned those
who worked for him. "But, Mr. President, your Ministers
have defrauded you," the petition claimed.38
But the progress in bringing the nation
significant land reform went further than the laws
themselves would indicate. Increasing political awareness
in the rural areas resulted from official education
programs and the efforts of political parties and unions.
The land reform issue became widely discussed, in and out
of the government, and specific proposals on land reform
were increasingly made. When the Comite Nacional de
Unidad Sindical (CNUS) presented its detailed plan for
agrarian reform in September, 1949, the result of much
preparation, the nation went into open debate. In 1950, a
special committee in Congress began drawing up its own
comprehensive land reform proposal. The issue of land
reform, it became apparent, had reached maturity.
Arevalo was no wild-eyed radical, nor were the
great majority of the Arevalista reformers. They
dedicated themselves to modernization and social justice
while they rejected extreme measures. Persons of the
far political left find the Arevalista reforms minor,
which they certainly were, compared with, for example,
what Castro would eventually do in Cuba. But the
Arevalistas were serious about changing Guatemala in
major ways. Their goals were high: they expected to
accomplish a lot. They would become very frustrated, and
some would become increasingly radicalized, when success
seemed to elude them.
1. Herrera, Guatemala, 67.
2. Alvaro Hugo Salguero to Ar6valo, August 20,
1946, AGC, Correspondencia del Presidente de la
3. Herrera, Guatemala, 72.
4. Edwin W. Bishop, "The Guatemalan Labor
Movement, 1944-1959," (Ph.D. diss., University of
Wisconsin, 1959), 73-4, 76.
5. Archer C. Bush, "Organized Labor in
Guatemala 1944-1949," (M.A. thesis, Colgate University,
1950), part 3, pp.49, 53.
6. Ibid., part 3, p.38.
7. Bishop, "Guatemalan Labor," 74.
8. Bush, "Organized Labor," part 1, p.42.
Gerrit Huizer, The Revolutionary Potential
s in Latin America (Massachusetts, 1972), 137.
11. Bush, "Organized Labor," part 3, pp.77-78.
12. Suslow, "Social Security," 66.
13. Ibid., 70.
14. Suslow, "Social Reforms," 115.
15. Gilbert E. Larsen to Department of State,
"6-months economic report," NAUS 814,00/8-850.
16. Suslow, "Social Security," 77.
17. Ibid., 286.
18. Bush, "Organized Labor," Appendix B, 2.
19. Max Ricardo Cuenca, "La reform agraria
democratic en Guatemala," Revista de Guatemala, 7(March
20. No. 3264 clasificaci6n 121.1, June 12, 1947,
AGC, Correspondencia del Presidente de la Republica.
21. No. 2832 clasificaci6n 240, June, 1946, AGC,
Correspondencia del Presidente de la Republica.
22. No. 1882 clasificaci6n 42.1, April 12, 1947,
AGC, Correspondencia del Presidente de la Rep6blica.
23. Bishop, "Guatemala Labor," 119.
24. Jim Handy, "The Most Precious Fruit of the
Revolution: The Guatemalan Agrarian Reform, 1952-1954,"
(Article to be published by the Hispanic American
Historical Review), 6.
25. El Popular (Mexico City), Jan. 29, 1945, in
NAUS 814.001/1-3145 no.22847.
26. Primer Gran Convenci6n de la Federaci6n
Sindical de Guatemala, AGC, Ministerio de Gobernaci6n,
27. No.1690, Feb. 20, 1946, AGC, Ministerio de
28. CTG to Arevalo, July 17, 1947, AGC,
Correspondencia del Presidente de la Republica.
29. NAUS OIR5123, p.52.
30. No.601, June 4, 1946, AGC, Direcci6n General
31. NAUS 814.00/1-1348 no.27.
32. Suslow, "Social Reforms," 49,68.
33. Gilbert E. Larsen to Department of State,
"6-months economic report," NAUS 814.00/8-850; Jose
M. Ayabar de Soto, Dependency and Intervention: The Case
of Guatemala in 1954 (Boulder, 1978), 128.
34. Acuerdo, May 3, 1947, AGC, Ministerio de
35. No.001521, Feb. 13, 1946, AGC, Ministerio de
36. Ayabar de Soto, Dependency, 126.
37. Suslow, "Social Reforms," 49,68.
38. Petici6n, August 24, 1947, AGC,
Correspondencia del Presidente de la Repiblica.
THE BREAKDOWN OF REVOLUTIONARY UNITY
The success of the revolutionaries of 1944 in
destroying the dictatorship had produced much enthusiasm
and hope for a better future, but underneath the shared
desire for modernization and other general goals existed
serious disunity within the Guatemalan polity and
society. Conflict and divisions had long characterized
Guatemalan society, for example between Indians and
ladinos, and between great landlords and the peasants.
Even within rural Indian and peasant communities serious
class divisions had developed. Factional divisions in
Guatemalan national politics had also existed since
Guatemala become an independent nation in 1821. In the
1920s, a largely middle-class movement challenged the
status quo, but Ubico's dictatorship produced an
unwilling peace. Ubico, however, could neither solve
Guatemala's historical divisiveness, nor eliminate the
reformist challenge to the traditional order.
The "revolutionaries" who had united to overthrow
Ubico and Ponce would soon have to contend with serious
disagreement among themselves. Many of these differences
became sharply apparent during the Constitutional
Assembly of 1945, but hope remained that the various
factions would peacefully coexist, so that democracy
would prevail. However, as Alfonso Guerra Borges
observed, "the particular interests of various groups
became clear and their opposing positions hardened,
increasingly so, in the development of events'"2
Some Guatemalans speculated that Guatemalan
culture contained an unusually high degree of inherent
contentiousness. In an editorial entitled "Brothers or
Wild Beasts?", El Imparcial claimed: "In other parts of
the world two or more people who are active in different
political groups, or profess different ideologies, can
discuss, fight verbally in the courts or in the press;
but in private or social matters are good friends, or at
least they respect each other." But not in Guatemala. All
points of contention become personal, a "matter of honor
and injured self-love." Prejudice and hate create
mountains out of mole hills. The reasoning behind the
argument loses importance, and reasoning "can go to the
devil," for the only matter that counts "is the quantity
of insults, affronts, or calumnies that one accumulates
against the adversary."3 Mary Holleran, a visitor to
Guatemala during Arevalo's presidency, had her own view.
"Perhaps because the ladino is a racial mixture, blended
of the old world and the new, possessing a split
personality, he suffers more from an inferiority complex
than anyone else, I think perhaps, in the world. He is an
extremist in everything. It is practically impossible to
carry on a reasonable argument with him, for, rather than
face the inevitable and logical conclusions, he will
change the subject and go off on a tangent." These
views are, of course, overly harsh. They reflect,
however, the volatility which characterized the breakdown
of revolutionary unity.
Age differences may have contributed to the
breakdown of revolutionary unity. Men and women of all
ages joined the revolution, and all ages could be found
all over the political spectrum. But it became clear
that a deep divide existed between some younger and older
revolutionaries; in particular between the so-called
"generation of 1920" and the "generation of 1944," with
the younger group demanding immediate changes and the
older group speaking for caution and restraint. Personal
ideology and political tactics played roles in this
"generation gap," but a struggle for leadership between
the two age groups was also inherent in the conflict.
The appellation, "generation of 1920," identified
the group that in their youth had contributed to the
overthrow of Estrada Cabrera in 1920, and then worked for
reform in the 1920s. Part of this generation had suffered
years of imprisonment and exile while some had managed to
fit in or co-exist with the Ubico dictatorship. In
general, the "generation of 1920" had been, and remained,
less zealous than the young of 1944. Clemente Marroquin
Rojas, an outstanding "1920" member, admitted in a
newspaper article in 1945 that the 1920 generation had
emphasized the concept of "liberty," but had not
developed deep patriotic notions about Guatemala as a
whole. The youth of 1944, however, embraced nationalism
and were "more penetrated with duty.5 Causes not
championed by the 1920 generation included the uplifting
of the Indian, land reform, and the readjustment of
wealth between the rich and poor. These older
revolutionaries, had, however, played a key role in
bringing down the dictator, and in creating the new
government. Eight members of the 1920 generation, for
example, had served on the Constituent Assembly's 15
member drafting committee: Francisco Villagran, Jorge
Garcia Granados, Jose Falla Arls, Manuel de Le6n Cordona,
Jorge Adan Serrano, Clemente Marroquin Rojas, David Vela,
and Luis Alberto Paz y Paz. The years of their births
were, respectively: 1897, 1900, 1897, 1896, 1897, 1897,
Part of the "Generation of 1920," including
Guillermo Flores Avendafo and Adan Manrique Rios, had
opposed the Arevalista movement from the beginning.
Indeed, whether members of the "Generation of 1920" or
not, the great majority of those who led the opposition
against Arevalo were of relatively advanced age. Adrian
Recinos, who placed second in the 1944 presidential race,
was 58 years old, and Manuel Maria Herrera (3rd place)
was about the same.
The greatest amount of zealous energy came from
the young; the "generation of 1944." The young, in
particular the university students and young
professionals, had given the revolution its overwhelming
numbers, in part because they themselves were many, in
part because they helped organize those workers who had
taken part in the fight. In the words of an El Imparcial
article, written 30 years after the October revolution,
"significant elements of the generation of 1920"
participated in the revolution and the "confusing chain"
of events that followed, but this generation was greatly
overshadowed by the Arevalismo of the young and the
popular masses, i.e. "that impressive phenomenon that
more than a political phenomenon was a social