BECK index

Guatemala 1850-1935

by Sanderson Beck

   Guatemala & Dictator Carrera 1850-70
   Guatemala & Liberals 1871-98
   Guatemala & Dictator Cabrera 1898-1920
   Guatemala & a New Party 1920-30 
   Guatemala & Dictator Ubico 1931-35

Guatemala & Dictator Carrera 1850-70

Guatemala & Carrera 1837-50

      José Rafael Carrera y Turcios was part Indian and had been President of Guatemala from December 1844 to August 1848. He returned from exile in 1849 and became commander-in-chief. Carrera and conservatives opposed reuniting the three middle republics. In 1850 about a third of Guatemalans were ladinos, a term which previously meant an Indian who could speak Spanish, and then it came to mean a mestizo or a person of mixed blood. A new law in 1864 would no longer legally distinguish between Indians and ladinos. Col. Mariano Paredes was President of Guatemala from 1 January 1849 to 6 November 1851. By 1850 Guatemala had commercial treaties with major European nations and had steamship service between the Caribbean coast and Europe. In 1850 Carrera’s corregidor of Totonicapán sent a communique to the Momostecan Indians that begins,

The Señor General of Guatemala when he sent me
to the corregimiento assured me that
the people of Momostenango would respect authority,
but if they did not, the rebels would be punished;
and the Señor General Carrera told me that
if they did not keep the order and obey the corregimiento
he would send me
a strong division of troops with cannons.1

      In 1851 a new unionist government gained power in Nicaragua, and they invaded Guatemala. Carrera’s forces defeated them at San José la Arada on February 2. Then he invaded El Salvador and defeated President Vasconcelos and replaced him with the Conservative Francisco Dueñas. Carrera returned to Guatemala in triumph and was promoted to Captain-General on March 3. President Paredes summoned a Constituent Assembly that met on 16 August 1851, and on October 19 they adopted a new constitution with a General Assembly choosing a president for four years and a Council of State of cabinet members and eight members chosen by the Congress. A House of Representatives was to have 55 deputies with 4-year terms, and cabinet members also had seats in the House.
      The conservative Assembly elected Rafael Carrera on October 19, and he became President of Guatemala on November 6. His 4-year constitutional term began on 1 January 1852. The Assembly decreed a constitution which centralized their government. Carrera worked with Church leaders and made a concordat with Pope Pius IX that gave him patronage over the Church. He also favored merchants and powerful families such as the Aycinenas, Piñols, and Pavón.
      Carrera led the Guatemalan army that invaded Honduras on 10 January 1853 and again by boats on August 18. On 21 October 1854 a general junta of respected persons made Carrera President for life. On 29 January 1855 the House of Representatives exempted the President from responsibility and put it on the ministers. On 13 February 1856 Guatemala made a treaty with Honduras that the government ratified on April 5. A revolt in Quetzaltenango was put down by the entire army, and many were executed. Also in 1856 President Carrera sent General Paredes to Nicaragua to fight against the American filibuster William Walker. Carrera got a loan from the London firm Isaac & Samuel to pay national debts, and they pledged half of the customs receipts for debt servicing. Guatemala’s government in the 1850s promoted coffee cultivation, and by 1855 they had ranches in Cobán, Antigua, and Amatitlán. In 1860 Guatemala had 951,000 people.
      By agreeing to the Wyke-Aycinena Treaty in 1859 Guatemala recognized British sovereignty over Belize, and the British promised to build a road from the Caribbean to the capital at Guatemala City. Belize became the Crown Colony of British Honduras in 1862. The British decided to have the railroad go directly to Belize, and Guatemalans had to construct their railroad to the Caribbean shore. When Salvadoran President Gerardo Barrios restricted the power of the clergy, President Carrera went to war against El Salvador again on 23 February 1863 and overthrew Barrios on October 26 and replaced him with the Conservative Francisco Dueñas once again. Spain recognized Guatemala’s independence on 29 May 1863. Rafael Carrera died on 14 April 1865.
      The Foreign Minister Pedro de Aycinena filled in as President for 40 days during Liberal revolts until the legislature selected General Vicente Cerna who was President from 25 May 1865 until 29 June 1871. His government defeated the insurgents and continued Carrera‘s conservative regime. Liberals found refuge in Honduras, and in April 1871 they joined with Honduran forces that defeated Dueñas in El Salvador. Mexico’s Liberal President Benito Juárez sent aid to the Liberal revolt in Guatemala led by Miguel García Granados, Serapio Cruz, and Justo Rufino Barrios against President Cerna. Cruz had begun the revolution in Sanarete in February 1867; but his supporters deserted him, and he was taken to the border of El Salvador. Cruz and 20 men invaded Guatemala from Chiapas in March 1869. Cruz in early May with 500 Indians and some ladinos with only 100 guns and some machetes marched to Momostenango and then to Santa Lucía. His men fled to the mountains, and Cruz retreated to Chiapas in July.
      In the elections the Conservative Cerna defeated the Liberal General Víctor Zavala, and Cerna’s second inaugural was on 24 May 1869. Troops called on General Zavala to lead a revolt, and he refused. Liberal García Granados agitated for change in the legislature. The government lacked money and had heavy foreign and domestic debts. Serapio Cruz gained support in the northwest with money from liberals to buy weapons, and Indians urged him to attack the government. He had about 850 men and was supported by Rufino Barrios, and Liberals in the capital prepared for the attack on 15 January 1870; but Cruz at the gate of Palencia was defeated and killed. The wealthy José Samayoa was banished and García Granados took refuge in the British embassy and then went to Chiapas.

Guatemala & Liberals 1871-98

       After Liberals defeated the conservative Dueñas in El Salvador on 10 April 1871, García Granados and Rufino Barrios invaded Guatemala and defeated Serapio Cruz who fled to Mexico. Barrios and Granados occupied San Márcos in May. Granados with 800 men defeated government forces led by Lt. Col. Calonge, and they fled to the capital. Granados at Patzicía issued another manifesto for a republic. President Vicente Cerna led his army, and they were attacked in Tierrablanca. Cerna became ill, and his men were routed. Men from the capital gave Cerna 2,100 men, and the rebels had 1,200. At La Antigua in late June rebels led by Granados and Barrios defeated Cerna’s army that had expanded to 2,400 men, and only 30 of them made it back to the capital. President Cerna resigned on June 28, and two days later García Granados became Provisional President of Guatemala. Coffee exports increased from 1% of Guatemala’s exports in 1860 to being 50% in 1871, and many coffee growers supported the Liberal Revolution of 1871.
      Guatemala’s Congress no longer existed; ministers fled; and the treasury was empty. Miguel García Granados was Acting President from June 30 to 4 June 1873. He suspended martial law, decreed liberal reforms, and restored relations with Costa Rica. Insurgents in Santa Rosa refused to submit and were put down with violence. Surrendering rebels were granted amnesty. Honduras was supporting insurgents, and Guatemala and El Salvador formed an alliance and declared war on 8 May 1872. Garcia Granados led the army, and Barrios acted as President. Allies won, and Granados returned on June 10. Barrios became commanding general of Los Altos. The cabinet included Víctor Zavala as War Minister, Marcos Aurelio Soto for Government and Justice, Alburez in Treasury, and Samayoa in Development. Col. Vicente Mendez Cruz led the insurgency which was soon suppressed, and his own men killed him. Cerna had rejected the movement to restore himself.
      President Granados expelled the Jesuits and ended the tithes tax. Archbishop Piñol and Bishop Ortiz Urruela were banished for encouraging rebellion, and they left. Religious communities of men were dissolved on 7 June 1872. The benefit of clergy (fuero eclesiástico) was ended. The number of rebellions against authority in Guatemala reached a peak of 24 a year in the mid-1860s and fell to zero in the mid-1880s.
      On 5 May 1873 the Constituent Assembly elected Justo Rufino Barrios the President. Granados had been kind-hearted to opponents, but Barrios did not tolerate sedition. He especially promoted education for the lower classes, and he funded improvements such as railroads and the telegraph. He granted amnesty to remaining rebels in Santa Rosa and other places. He had all the nuns moved into the Santa Catarina convent on 28 February 1874. He decreed that nuns could leave the convent and would get $20 a month. On March 3 the remaining nuns were put out and given a pension of $12 a month for life. President Barrios ended the Church’s monopoly in education, hospitals, charity, and the protection of orphans. The Catholic Church reacted by excommunicating Barrios and his successors.
      President Barrios summoned a diet to meet on 15 January 1876 during a civil war in Honduras. He mobilized 18,000 troops, and El Salvador had 7,300. Both nations agreed to disarm on January 23. The Assembly met again on September 11, and they passed some laws in October. On 1 November 1877 a plot to kill President Barrios with a bomb failed; 17 leaders were convicted and executed, and others had penalties or were pardoned.
      In November 1878 President Barrios summoned a Constituent Assembly to meet on 15 March 1879 to draft a constitution. He gave up his dictatorial powers because there was peace and prosperity. The Assembly approved a new constitution on December 11. Elections were held on 12 January 1880. Justo Rufino Barrios was re-elected and began a six-year term on March 1. Things were going so well that he left to visit the United States and Europe before returning to cross the United States to San Francisco, California in November 1882. He resigned on December 29 and was granted a leave of absence. He resumed the presidency on 6 January 1883. On August 4 President Barrios decreed that every Guatemalan who earned at least 8 pesos per month must buy at least one share (worth 40 pesos) per year for ten years in the Northern Railway. Barrios owned much of the stock.
      El Salvador and Honduras wanted to reconstruct the union of Central America while Nicaragua and Costa Rica were opposed. On 27 December 1883 Guatemala and Nicaragua agreed on a treaty. Each of the five nations sent five delegates to a congress in El Salvador in March 1884. On April 13 a bomb aimed at President Barrios hurt no one, and he pardoned the perpetrators. By 1884 the government had telephone service in Guatemala City and Quetzaltenango.
      President Barrios and his legislature on 28 February 1885 proposed a republic of five states. In his “Decreto de Unión Centroamericana” he proclaimed himself President of Central America, and it further

proclaims the union of Central America in a single Republic:
initiates, protects, and sustains all work, operations
and movements directed toward establishing it;
and with this purpose assumes the character
of Supreme Military Chief of Central America
and the exercise of absolute command as such,
until the reunification of these secciones
in a single Nation and under a single flag….
Every person of either a private or official character
who declares against the Union or opposes
its operations and work and impedes it in any way,
will be considered a traitor of the great cause of Nationality;
he will remain unable to discharge any function
or employment in the Republic of Central America,
and will be subjected to the consequences.2

Guatemala’s National Assembly met on March 5 and approved this. Barrios wrote to El Salvador’s President Zaldívar that Guatemala would force compliance. Mexico and the United States did not favor the plan, and El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica asked those two nations to intervene against the Barrios project. On March 10 Barrios mobilized Guatemala’s army and on March 23 moved them to the border of El Salvador. That nation appealed to Mexico which sent 15,000 soldiers to their Guatemala border. Barrios had 1,500 men and invaded El Salvador on March 31. In the next two days in the battle at Battle of Chalchuapa at least 1,500 Guatemalans were killed while Salvadorans lost only about 125 who died and had 150 wounded. Justo Barrios was killed on April 2.
      The next day the Assembly chose Alejandro Sinibaldi as Provisional President, and he revoked the February 28 decree and resigned on April 6. Then General Barillas Bercián became Acting President for over nine months. On April 15 the new government restored peace with El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, and diplomatic relations with Mexico.
      On 16 March 1886 Barillas Bercián was declared President, and he served for six years. After a plot by powerful people to assassinate Barillas was exposed, the entire cabinet was forced to resign. The new cabinet was formed by young men. In 1887 Guatemala made a reciprocity treaty with Germany so that there would be no tariff barriers between the two nations. In the year 1888 Guatemalan exports increased by more than $5 million, and they did so again in 1892 up to over $20 million.
      By the end of the 1880s telegraph lines united the country with the world. José Reina Barrios was the nephew of Justo Rufino Barrios. He was a moderate Liberal, and indigenous people from the mountains helped elect him President in January 1892 with 55% of the votes. The independent Liberal Francisco Lainfiesta had his policies published in the Diario de Centro America, and he got 35% of the votes. Reina Barrios was inaugurated on March 15. On May 10 the government approved selling up to 100,000 bonds for 100 pesos each to help complete the Northern Railway
      The Law Code of 1894 canceled the mandamiento system that provided laborers for public works. By 1895 Guatemala had 33 newspapers with five dailies in the capital. Most workers had 6-day workweeks and 10-hour or 12-hour workdays. In 1896 President Reina Barrios granted amnesty to all those who had been exiled. The Assembly voted to extend his six-year term by four more years. In the fall Barrios used force to stop the secession by Los Altos.
      The British citizen Edgar Zollinger helped manage the business of the Aparicio family. Juan Aparicio y Mérida was a coffee planter, director of the Banco de Occidente, a philanthropist, and had been mayor of Quetzaltenango. Manuel Estrada Cabrera became Vice President of Guatemala on 28 April 1897. On June 1 President Reina Barrios canceled the elections he had promised. General Daniel Fuentes and Col. Próspero Morales opposed Barrios in the elections that were canceled, and on September 7 they revolted by attacking San Marcos. Six days later President Barrios had Juan Aparicio executed, and he illegally appropriated the Aparicio businesses, ruining the Aparicio family’s assets. Zollinger believed that Aparicio’s execution was unlawful, and 8 February 1898 he shot President Reina Barrios four times, killing him. The President‘s bodyguards killed Zollinger.

Guatemala & Dictator Cabrera 1898-1920

      After the assassination of Guatemala’s President Reina Barrios on 8 February 1898 the cabinet met and recognized Vice President Manuel Estrada Cabrera as Interim President. That night he began removing officers and politicians who opposed him. Cabrera was from Quetzaltenango, had studied at the National University, became a lawyer, and was Interior Minister under President Reina Barrios. Some believed that Cabrera had planned the killing of Reina Barrios. President Cabrera also became Commander of the Army, and he appointed military officers as governors. He used his secret police to terrorize people. By August he had reduced the resistance to his presidency, and he held elections in September. The Liberal José León Castillo was not allowed to campaign, and he got only 672 votes. The “Liberal” Cabrera received 312,797 votes.
      President Cabrera believed that organizing workers was subversive, and he ordered the Army to suppress Indians and workers attempting to organize or strike. Guatemala had much public land. Yet encroaching on communal land of the indigenous was still allowed. Government even provided free or low-cost surveying of communal land to aid those with private titles. Arturo Ubico was president of Guatemala’s Congress for 16 years during the 22-year presidency of Cabrera. In 1898 Guatemala got 33% of its imports from the United States and about 21% from Britain and Germany which imported the most coffee from Guatemala.
      Carlos Novella developed the cement industry, and on 15 April 1902 he was given an exemption from fiscal and municipal taxes for imports of his supplies, and a 5-year exemption from the taxes on his factory and products. Over ten years these saved him 465,842 pesos.
      In the elections on 7 August 1904 President Cabrera received 548,830 votes, and Manuel Barillas got only 3 votes. In 1906 El Salvador supported revolutionaries from Guatemala, and Honduras joined Salvadorans in a war against Guatemala’s government. United States President Theodore Roosevelt offered diplomacy, and Mexico joined the US in mediating on the USS Marblehead. They invited all Central American countries to make peace, and they met again in Costa Rica. Nicaragua did not recognize the right of the US to intervene. The other four nations agreed to cooperate.
      The former President Barillas was an exile in Mexico plotting to kill President Cabrera when two assassins killed Barillas on 7 April 1907. The two murderers were from Cabrera’s personal guard, and after their capture they admitted that two senior officials in Guatemala’s government had sent them to kill Barillas. On April 28 the two Echeverría brothers tried to kill Cabrera with a bomb; but only his driver and a horse were killed, and Cabrera was not hurt. On May 2 Cabrera appointed Arturo Ubico’s brother Emilio to be Police Chief. Congress prohibited the importation of any explosives not authorized by the Minister of War. For 22 days police searched for conspirators, and two Romaña brothers were imprisoned for the rest of their lives. On May 20 the Echeverría brothers and their friends refused to surrender and killed themselves.
      On 20 April 1908 a military academy cadet shot at Cabrera and was killed. Cabrera executed several of his classmates. Also in 1908 President Cabrera executed the coffee planter José Cofiño who was head of the Conservative Party. The arrest and beating of José Azmita Castillo made the Castillos opponents of the dictator. In the penitentiary political prisoners were tortured, and many died.
      In 1899 Minor Cooper Keith had combined his banana plantations with Andrew W. Preston’s Boston Fruit Company to form the United Fruit Company (UFC). They developed a monopoly on bananas in Guatemala and brought in Jamaican and West Indian blacks as plantation workers in the tropical lowlands. Many got sick or died of yellow fever, malaria, and other tropical diseases, though UFC did set up clinics and vaccination programs. In 1901 Cabrera put UFC in charge of Guatemala’s postal service, and in 1904 he gave them exemptions, land grants, and control of the railroads to the Atlantic. In 1912 UFC took over the rest of the railroads and organized the International Railways of Central America (IRCA). They also bought steamships to export their products. IRCA monopolized rail transport and made $20 million in profits by 1920, and UFC dominated shipping. UFC formed the Tropical Radio & Telegraph Company in 1913. That year coffee was 85% of Guatemala’s exports. Before the Great War began in 1914, English, German, Dutch, and Italian freighters served Central American ports, but during the war North American ships dominated.
      In 1917 university reforms in Córdoba, Argentina would influence students at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala. Between 17 November 1917 and 24 January 1918 the capital at Guatemala City was devastated by five earthquakes. The Diario de Centro América twice a day described recovery efforts and criticized President Cabrera for doing little to relieve the suffering. The buildings with reinforced concrete remained standing, and afterward the cement business increased. In 1918 the United States persuaded President Cabrera to confiscate the German Empresa Eléctrica plant. When it was sold to the Electric Bond and Share Company (EBASCO), Cabrera received a $40,000 kickback. General Electric owned EBASCO, and by 1930 they were producing 80% of Guatemala’s power. Cabrera was involved with various businesses and accumulated about $5 million. Those who did not collaborate with him suffered either confiscation, exile, imprisonment, or death.
      In 1919 students, union workers, clergy, and the growing middle class founded the Unionist Party to challenge the oligarchy of the Liberals and the Conservatives. The oligarchs were wealthy merchants and financiers, foreign planters and investors, and politicians. Conservatives then started the Central America Unionist Party. Tácito Molina wrote a founding Act for the party that 51 citizens signed on December 25 and which was distributed in the capital on 1 January 1920.
      President Cabrera and the National Assembly accepted the party by March 1, though Carrera still had its sympathizers arrested. They organized a large demonstration on March 11, and the Army shot at them. Cabrera’s War Minister Adrián Vidaurre became president of the National Assembly and said that Cabrera could not go on.

Guatemala & a New Party 1920-30

      The Assembly declared President Cabrera insane on 8 April 1920, and they elected 36 to 6 the successful sugar businessman Carlos Herrera y Luna the President of Guatemala. The next day Cabrera ordered the army to bomb Guatemala City including the brewery of the Castillos, and the Assembly accepted his resignation on April 15.
      Prince Wilhelm of Sweden visited Guatemala and wrote Between two continents, notes from a journey in Central America, 1920. He defined the three classes as the Criollos who were descended from Spaniards, Ladinos who were the middle class and had no political power, and the Indians who were uneducated natives. The army had universal conscription, and almost all but the tenant farmers paid to be exempt. Only generals were paid, and barefoot soldiers had to beg.
      Carlos Herrera of the Unionist Party was President until 10 December 1921. On 17 August 1920 he approved the Asociación General de Agricultures (AGA). He reduced spending on the military and their influence. He was the first to appoint a civilian War Minister, and Emilio Escamilla decreased the Army from 20,000 men to 5,000 by February 1921. On May 13 Herrera annulled the Méndez-Williamson railroad contract with the IRCA. Generals and Liberals made Escamilla resign in July. Herrera did not grant concessions to the United Fruit Company and its subsidiaries in early December. On the 7th the Army formed a provisional junta of the Liberal General José Orellana Pinto and two other generals that deposed President Herrera. They canceled the Unionist constitution, convened the legislature, and repealed every legislative act since April 1920.
      Cabrera and the army were worried about subversives, and they supported the Liberal José Orellana Pinto who was unanimously elected president on 15 December 1921. On 1 February 1922 the United States Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles advised Guatemala’s foreign minister that the United States would recognize Guatemala’s government if they settled disputes with IRCA and the electric company. President José Orellana approved the concessions for the United Fruit Company and ratified the IRCA contract, and the US recognized the government on April 17. Orellana brought back General Lázaro Chacón and Jorgue Ubico. The Assembly approved the Central American Union Covenant.
      On 3 February 1923 about 200 stevedores refused to load a banana boat at Puerto Barrios unless they got higher pay, better medical service, and an end to favoring the hiring of black workers. Thousands of workers supported the dockworkers, and they demanded an end to UFC’s monopoly. In 1924 banana workers in Puerto Barrios demanded an 8-hour day and higher wages. The United Fruit Company rejected those, and the workers went on strike. UFC asked for government support, and President Orellana Pinto sent troops. Many strikers were injured, and some were killed; 22 leaders were arrested, and the strike ended after 27 days. Later in 1924 IRCA employees demanded shorter hours, more pay, and respect for their union. Again the government suppressed the strike that involved 5,000 workers. In 1924 Guatemalans were the first Central Americans to form a Communist Party. General Lázaro Chacón became Vice President of Guatemala on 28 April 1925. That year anarchists and Communists started the Federación Regional Obrera de Guatemala (FROG), and by 1929 they represented 2,000 workers in 13 syndicates. The government had another labor organization (FOG) with 5,000 members.
      On 25 May 1926 El Imparcial reported that President José Orellana had declared martial law and suspended the Constitution. The next day they stopped publishing. On September 26 President José Orellana Pinto while on vacation died of a heart attack. Some suspected poison, and the Unionist General Lázaro Chacón claimed he was Interim President and ended martial law. In the election on December 5 Chacón received 287,412 votes to 36,940 for the Progressive Liberal Jorge Ubico.
      President General Lázaro Chacón became infamous for raiding the treasury and extorting money from companies including the IRCA. Finance Minister Felipe Solares noted that the budget contained $100,000 in “extraordinary expenses” for the President. On 31 May 1927 the IRCA paid Chacón for settling the $2.5 million debt. IRCA profits were $3.1 million in 1929, and they fell to $1.1 million in 1933. Chacón was a shareholder in Novella’s cement company and granted them a 10-year tax exemption in 1928. On 17 January 1929 two dissenting colonels, who governed Quetzaltenango and Suchitepéque, and two more colonels led about 3,000 troops in a demonstration against Chacón and the corrupt government’s relationship with the fruit company. On that day President Chacón sent an army of 14,000 men followed the next two days by government planes that bombed Mazatenango and Quetzaltenango and forced the rebels to surrender. On January 20 Chacón had the captured rebel leaders executed. Industrialists founded the Asociación de Industriales de Guatemala (AIG), and they lobbied for reforms for five years. On November 15 the United Fruit Company merged with the Cuyamel Fruit Company. In the December elections 33 of the 39 deputies supported President Chacón. Coffee prices in 1927-28 decreased by almost half in 1929.
      On 28 July 1930 about 2,000 indigenous peasants in Totnicapan rose up and were suppressed by the army. General Jorge Ubico opposed Chacón in November 1930. President Chacón suffered a stroke and was forced to resign on December 12. Finance Minister Baudillo Palma became Acting President and died during the coup on the 17th led by Manuel Orellano Contreras who was De facto President until 2 January 1931.
      Guatemala lagged behind on literacy as most of the poor had no schooling. Some public schools were attended by the middle class, and most families from the United States or European nations sent their children to private schools. In 1930 Guatemala with about 1.7 million people had the largest population of any Central American country.

Guatemala & Dictator Ubico 1931-35

      Jorge Ubico Castañeda was born on 10 November 1878, son of the powerful politician Arturo Ubico. Jorge had a private tutor, went to fine schools, studied in the United States and Europe, and dropped out of the Escuela Politécnica to enlist as a lieutenant in 1897. As jefe politico he governed Alta Verapaz 1907-08 and Retalhuleu 1911-19. Following the Unionist Party removing a dictatorship, he fled to the United States in April 1920. He supported the Orellana Contreras coup and was Minister of War 1922-23. In 1926 Jorge Ubico was the presidential candidate for the Political Progressive Party and received 11% of the votes. He was not discouraged because he felt the election was rigged. He retired to his farm for a while.
      The National Assembly made José Reina Andrade Acting President on 2 January 1931. General Jorge Ubico Castañeda persuaded him to call elections soon, and on February 6-8 Ubico received all of the 305,841 votes and became President on February 14. During the Novella cement strike the police had arrested the strike leaders. After three months President Ubico released them on May 1. On that day the US Army Major John A. Considine replaced a general and became the director of the military academy, the Escuela Politécnica. Ubico acted as a dictator by dominating his cabinet and the National Assembly which only met for two months each year with sessions averaging only 30 minutes.
      President Ubico controlled oligarchs by suspending the Asociación General de Agricultures (AGA). They campaigned against giving concessions to the United Fruit Company to expand to the southern coast by operating a Pacific port. Ubico approved the plan that extended UFC’s banana monopoly. Banana exports increased from 4.9 million bunches in 1930 to 10.6 million bunches in 1939. Ubico’s model was Cabrera, and both suppressed oligarchs with nationalist ambitions. Ubico strengthened military control by appointing generals to govern all 22 departments.
      Salvadoran peasants rose up in January 1932, and Ubico had his agents arrest about 200 suspected Communists. President Ubico ordered ten leaders executed including Juan Pablo Wainwright, the Honduran who led a strike by UFC banana workers. Refugees from a failed leftist revolt in El Salvador were imprisoned.
      In 1934 President Ubico learned of a plot against him, and he cracked down with murders, executions, long terms in prison, and by exiling opponents. Time magazine reported that Ubico said, “I have no friends, only domesticated enemies.”3 Other opposing parties and labor organizations were also attacked. Most labor leaders went to Mexico or El Salvador. Like other right-wing dictators in Central America, Ubico was re-elected in the 1930s. His fascism was like Mussolini’s in Italy and Franco’s in Spain. In 1934 Ubico moved the Department from the Ministry of Development to be supervised by the National Police. Working conditions got worse, and wages declined. Crimes against foreigners were harshly punished. General Roderico Anzuero directed the secret service and informed Ubico of plots and resistance. Ubico did not like intellectuals. Many students, workers, and even prominent citizens were charged with conspiracy against the government. Some were arrested, and others were killed. Torture was used to get confessions, and then they were executed. The popular writer Jorge García Granados described what happened to him before he fled to Mexico.

In 1934 [Ubico] uncovered a conspiracy against him….
Seventeen men were seized, given a farcical trial in which
they were not even permitted defense attorneys,
and sentenced then to be shot.
Although I had no part in the conspiracy,
I wrote to Ubico a strong letter charging that
the trial was a mockery of the law,
and urging him to pardon the condemned.
   Ubico replied by sending a squad of police
to arrest me in my home, take me to the place of execution,
and force me to be
an eyewitness to the shooting of the seventeen.
Then I was thrown into prison
and held in solitary confinement for months.4

      Ubico’s tyranny forced labor unions to disband in the 1930s, though the Workers Confederation of Pan-American Labor continued in New York City as a non-Communist movement. Maya Indians were a majority of the unskilled and agrarian workers in Guatemala. Ubico discriminated against them and punished them for minor infractions. They were forced to “volunteer” to carry mail and messages, and only Mayans were conscripted into the Army and forced to drill on Sunday mornings. Ubico said they were “rude, brutish and with primitive origins,” and he hoped to “civilize” them.


1. Guatemalan Indians and the State: 1540 to 1988 ed. Carol A. Smith, p. 118-119.
2. Armies Without Nations: Public Violence and State Formation in Central America, 1821-1960 by Robert H. Holden, p. 53.
3. A Short History of Guatemala by Ralph Lee Woodward, Jr, p. 124.
4. The CIA in Guatemala: The Foreign Policy of Intervention by Richard H. Immerman, p. 34.

Copyright © 2023 by Sanderson Beck

Latin America & Canada 1850-1935 has been published as a book. For ordering information, please click here.

Latin America & Canada to 1850

Brazil 1850-1935
Uruguay 1850-1935
Argentina 1850-1935
Paraguay 1850-1935 
Bolivia 1850-1935
Chile 1850-1935
Peru 1850-1935
Ecuador 1850-1935
Colombia 1850-1935
Venezuela & Guianas 1850-1935
Haiti & Dominican Republic 1850-1935
Cuba 1850-1935
Puerto Rico 1850-1935
Panama 1850-1935
Costa Rica 1850-1935
Nicaragua 1850-1935
El Salvador 1850-1935
Honduras 1850-1935
Guatemala 1850-1935
Mexico 1850-1935
Canada 1850-1935

Chronology of Latin America to 1935
Chronology of Canada to 1935
Chronology of North & South America to 1786
Chronology of North & South America 1787-1844
Chronology of North & South America 1845-1896
Chronology of United States to 1896
World Chronology to 1830


BECK index