Welcome to Truman State's Guatemalan
Revolution Resource Site!
Here you will find a brief history of the Revolution as well as a number of links with commentary concerning Guatemala and its turbulent revolutionary history.
Historical Summary of the Revolutionary
1944 to 1986
In 1944, Gen. Jorge Ubico's dictatorship was overthrown by the "October Revolutionaries"--a group of dissident military
officers, students, and liberal professionals. A civilian president, Juan Jose Arevalo, was elected in 1945 and held the
presidency until 1951. Social reforms initiated by Arevalo were continued by his successor, Col. Jacobo Arbenz. Arbenz
permitted the communist Guatemalan Labor Party to gain legal status in 1952. By the mid-point of Arbenz's term, communists
controlled key peasant organizations, labor unions, and the governing political party, holding some key government positions.
Despite most Guatemalans' attachment to the original ideals of the 1944 uprising, some private sector leaders and the military
viewed Arbenz's policies as a menace. The army refused to defend the Arbenz Government when a group led by Col. Carlos
Castillo Armas invaded the country from Honduras in 1954 and eventually took over the government.
In response to the increasingly autocratic rule of General Ydigoras Fuentes, who took power in 1958 following the murder of
Col. Castillo Armas, a group of junior military officers revolted in 1960. When they failed, several went into hiding and
established close ties with Cuba. This group became the nucleus of the forces that were in armed insurrection against the
government for the next 36 years.
Three principal left-wing guerrilla groups--the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP), the Revolutionary Organization of Armed
People (ORPA), and the Rebel Armed Forces (FAR)--conducted economic sabotage and targeted government installations
and members of government security forces in armed attacks. These three organizations, plus a fourth--the outlawed communist
party, known as the PGT--combined to form the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) in 1982. At the same
time, extreme right-wing groups of self-appointed vigilantes, including the Secret Anti-Communist Army (ESA) and the White
Hand, tortured and murdered students, professionals, and peasants suspected of involvement in leftist activities.
Shortly after President Julio Cesar Mendez Montenegro took office in 1966, the army launched a major counterinsurgency
campaign that largely broke up the guerrilla movement in the countryside. The guerrillas then concentrated their attacks in
Guatemala City, where they assassinated many leading figures, including U.S. Ambassador John Gordon Mein in 1968.
Between 1966 and 1982, there were a series of military or military-dominated governments.
In March 1982, army troops commanded by junior officers staged a coup to prevent the assumption of power by former
Defense Minister Gen. Anibal Guevara, whose electoral victory was marred by fraud. The coup leaders asked Brig. Gen.
Efrain Jose Rios Montt to negotiate the departure of presidential incumbent General Lucas Garcia. Rios Montt had been the
candidate of the Christian Democratic Party in the 1974 presidential elections and was also widely believed to have lost by
fraud. Rios Montt formed a three-member junta that annulled the 1965 constitution, dissolved the Congress, suspended
political parties, and canceled the election law. Shortly thereafter, Rios Montt assumed the title of President of the Republic.
Responding to a wave of violence, the government imposed a state of siege, while at the same time forming an advisory Council
of State to guide a return to democracy. In 1983, electoral laws were promulgated, the state of siege was lifted, political activity
was once again allowed, and constituent assembly elections scheduled.
Guerrilla forces and their leftist allies then denounced the new government and stepped up attacks. Rios Montt sought to
combat the threat with military actions and economic reforms, in his words, "rifles and beans." The government formed civilian
defense forces which, along with the army, successfully contained the insurgency. However, on August 8, 1983, Rios Montt
was deposed by the Guatemalan army, and Minister of Defense, Gen. Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores, was proclaimed head
of state. General Mejia claimed that certain "religious fanatics" were abusing their positions in the government and that
corruption had to be weeded out. Constituent assembly elections were held on July 1, 1984.
On May 30, 1985, after nine months of debate, the constituent assembly finished drafting a new constitution, which took
immediate effect. Mejia called general elections. The Christian Democratic Party (DCG) candidate, Vinicio Cerezo, won the
presidency with almost 70% of the vote and took office in January 1986.
Class and indigenous roots of the
The web article, Class and indigenous roots of Guatemalan revolution, is a great start in the discussion of the Guatemalan revolution. The author, Louis Proyect, in only a short span of seven pages, walks the reader through more that one hundred years of Guatemalan economic struggle.
The article focuses on Guatemala's indigenous population and their oppression by the "coffee bourgeoisie." Notable points include the rise of Jacobo Arbenz; the CIA supported overthrow of Arbenz; the failures of Guatemala's revolutionary process; and the 1960's Guatemalan guerrilla movements. Proyect also adds a critique of Guatemalan capitalism, and its recent economic system. He notes that 37 years of civil war has had a detrimental effect on Guatemala, and has left the country with an unstable political situation.
This is an excellent webpage for a brief yet thorough synopsis of Guatemala's past, present, and future in economics and revolution.
The Process of negotiation: Present situation of the Guatemalan
The General Command of the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) published this webpage on November 15, 1993. The focus of the page is on the recent peace-making efforts in Guatemala. Following a CIA backed coup d’etat in 1954, Guatemala fell into a very bloody civil war. The URNG takes credit for ending the civil war and initiating the peace process. Much of the page focuses on the human rights abuses that persist in Guatemala.
The page is very effective in conveying the group’s views about the peace process and the current situation in Guatemala. However, since the URNG is a part of the opposition and, therefore, inherently dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, their position must be taken with a grain of salt. The page is a good tool to learn about the current situation in Guatemala that is an outgrowth of the 1954 coup d’etat.
Constructing of Enemies: The Illusion of Communism and U.S. Intervention in Guatemala
Constructing of Enemies: The Illusion of Communism and U.S.
Intervention in Guatemala
This webpage, created by Scott Bailey, was very academic in its content covering the nonviolent social revolution in 1944 to the violent intervention by the United States in 1954. The discussion mainly focused on why the United States believed that communism was spreading to Guatemala, although the new government was based on the New Deal of President Roosevelt. The author created a very good well-based argument that the only reason that the United States intervened was so they could create a more stable market for United States businesses, such as the United Fruit Company, and not for the welfare of the people in Guatemala. This webpage gives the reader an example of how the United States enters into other countries to secure its own wealth.
The essay that was written for this webpage was very interesting and consisted of an abstract, an introduction, several body paragraphs, a conclusion, and a bibliography. One of drawbacks of this webpage is that if a reader wished to go to its home page they would find the rest of the website written in Spanish. The basic look of the webpage is dull and has no visual elements to intrigue the eye or to use as examples. Overall, this webpage, created for the University of Pugent Sound, was very strong in its argument and useful for someone using it for academic purposes.
The War in Guatemala
This web site was written by Krista Johnson in March of 1997 and focuses on the involvement and impact that the United States had on the Revolution in Guatemala. This author blames the United States government and the CIA for much of the bloodshed that occurred in the 36 years of civil war and accuses them of doing nothing to stop it. The web site gives an introduction to some of the key players that existed and events that happened that lead to the Revolution, citing many exact dates. This web site is helpful in explaining the causes of the Revolution. The author also includes a lengthy bibliography of references that would be helpful to a history student. One disadvantage to the writing on the web site is that the article seems persuasive, and so it sounds biased towards the United States government.
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