Guatemalan Revolution – Ten Years of Spring
The Guatemalan Revolution is the 10-year period in Guatemalan history between the popular uprising that overthrew dictator Jorge Ubico Castañeda in 1944 and the United States-orchestrated coup d’état in 1954 that unseated President Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán. The Ten Years of Spring are the only years of representative democracy in Guatemala from 1930 until the end of the Civil War.

From the late 19th century, Guatemala was governed by a series of authoritarian rulers who sought to strengthen the economy by supporting the export of coffee. This began with President Manuel José Estrada Cabrera in 1898 and continued with his successors, who granted significant concessions to the American corporation, United Fruit Company. These concessions dispossessed many Indigenous people from their lands. Jorge Ubico Castañeda ruled as a dictator from 1931. He continued his predecessors’ policies of giving huge concessions to the United Fruit Company, and intensified the process with the institution of harsh labour regulations and a police state.

In June 1944, a popular pro-democracy movement led by university students and labour organizations forced President Ubico to resign. Ubico appointed a three-person junta to take his place, which continued his oppressive policies until toppled in a military coup led by Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán in what is known as the October Revolution. The coup leaders formed a junta and quickly called for open elections, which Juan José Arévalo won by a landslide. He then implemented a moderate program of social reform.

Six years later, Árbenz was elected in yet another democratic election. Whilst in power he set about continuing Arévalo’s reforms and beginning some of his own. He began a land-reform program, whereby uncultivated and large landholdings were expropriated in return for compensation and redistributed to poverty-stricken agricultural workers. It is estimated that half a million people benefitted from this decree.

Of course, the rich are never happy when someone is playing Robin Hood; having lost some of their land, the United Fruit Company lobbied the American government to overthrow Árbenz. Unfortunately for Árbenz and for Guatemala, the State Department responded by orchestrating a coup under the false pretence that Árbenz was a communist. Carlos Castillo Armas rose to power ending the Ten Years of Spring and provoking Civil War.
Nov 22, 2016
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