Impaired democracy in Guatemala


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Impaired democracy in Guatemala 1944-1951
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v, 286 leaves : ; 28 cm.
LeBaron, Alan
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Subjects / Keywords:
Revolutions -- Guatemala   ( lcsh )
Politics and government -- Guatemala -- 1945-1985   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1988.
Includes bibliographical references.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Alan LeBaron.
General Note:
General Note:

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University of Florida
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Copyright 1988


Alan LeBaron



ABSTRACT ...............................................iv


1 INTRODUCTION........................................... 1

2 THE REVOLUTIONARIES OF 1944 ......................8


4 DR. JUAN JOSE AREVALO BERMEJO...................34

PART I ......................................... 46

PART II ........................................ 75


8 AREVALISTAS VS. THE OPPOSITION, 1945-1949...... 112

9 AREVALISMO: UNITY AND DISUNITY, 1945-1949...... 141

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

BIBLIOGRAPHY...... ....................................270

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




December 1988

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

did occur.

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.


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

consumer sector.1

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

and exile.

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
? 20
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.


1975), 123.

Alvaro Contreras
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
17, 1987.

6. Contreras Velez, Aniversario, 122.

7. Grieb, Guatemalan Caudillo, 46.

8. Ibid.

1970), 183;
6-545 (June
material will

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.

d States
File Date

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.

1949), 112.


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.


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

'democratic' revolution."

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

Arevalo!'" 4

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

democratic rights.


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

modern age.


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
(Guatemala, 1951).

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
Government, 14.

16. Silvert, A Study in Government, 17.

17. Ronald Hilton, ed., Who's Who in Latin
America: Central America and Panama, 3rd ed. (Stanford,
1945), 25.

18. Silvert, A Study in Government, 15.

19. Ibid., 14.

20. Jorge Mario Garcia Laguardia, "Politica y
constitucionalidad en Guatemala," El Imparcial, Sept.
21, 1978.

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.


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

the species."11

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

rights. "31

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

Mexican Revolution.38

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.

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid.

28. Arevalo, "Nosotros deseamos," El Popular
(Mexico City), Nov. 12, 1944.

29. Arevalo, Escritos Politicos, 167.

30. Ibid., 165.

31. Ibid.

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,


Juan Jose


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

national budget.6

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

government propaganda.

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

gave it.

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

local politics.4

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
49 -
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

women's problems.5

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,
1956), 121.

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
Gobernaci6n, Varios.

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.

12. Ibid.

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.

29. Ibid.

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
814.011/2-2645 no.2191.

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),

46. Ibid.

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,
Historia, 404.

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.


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
9 .
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

peasant labor.

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,"

in Guatemala.11


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 abundance."26

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

relations harmonized.27

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

actually colonized.37

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.

9. Ibid.

of Peasant


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
1947), 77.

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
Gobernaci6n, Varios.

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
de Policla.

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
Gobernacion, Correspondencia.

35. No.001521, Feb. 13, 1946, AGC, Ministerio de
Gobernacion, Varios.

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 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,

1901, 1894.


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