The Guatemalan Revolution II

        I.            Juan Jose Arevalo and Spiritual Socialism (1945-51)

A.      Exiled philosophy professor elected in rare example of free election

B.      Named his governing philosophy “Spiritual Socialism”

1.  Dedicated to dismantling authoritarianism in Guatemala

2.  Personal freedom of conscience within a commitment to the general welfare

3. Use of the word “socialism” would attract U.S. attention

C.      1945 Constitution

1. Devolution of power away from the president with a system of checks and balances

2. Universal suffrage, aimed at including the Maya

3. Basic Enlightenment era civil liberties

D.      Participates in Caribbean Legion

1.  Reformist allies that sough to overthrow dictatorships in the Caribbean region

2.  Made the United States nervous, as U.S. officials feared instability of revolutions

E.       Economic and social policies

1.  Promoted home-grown industries and a national bank to promote growth

2. Promoted reforms that led to rapid unionization

3. Began land reform, but modestly

4. Extensive social programs

5.  Worked to involve Mayans more directly in national government and society

F.       Conservative elites despised Arevalo, who survived 25 coup attempts

.      II.            Jacobo Arbenz (1950-54)

A.      One of the officers who overthrew Ubico, won with strong Mayan and lower class support

B.      Focused on modernization and fostering Guatemalan independence internationally

C.      Land reform and Decree 900

1.  Meant to improve life of peasants, produce wealth to support modernization

2. Decree 900 (17 June 1952)

a.       Would expropriate unused land to redistribute to peasants

b.      32 biggest farms had 1.72 million acres, but 1.58 million went unused

c.       Former owners would be paid based on self-declared tax value

d.      1.66 million acres would be redistributed to 100,000 peasant families

D.      Conflict over Decree 900

1.  United Fruit a major target, demanded ten times what Arbenz offered ($15.9 million vs. $1.185 million

2.  United Fruit launched a major public relations campaign against Arbenz in the United States

3.  Other landed elites bitterly opposed, accused Arbenz of being a Communist

E.       U.S. response

1.  Suspicions advanced when Communist party legalized, allowed to participate in land reform

2. Motivated by Cold War Ethos, Eisenhower government begins to mobilize against Arbenz, isolating him diplomatically and imposing an embargo


1. Eisenhower authorizes action against Arbenz when the increasingly isolated leader orders weapons from Czechoslovakia

2.  CIA launches a disinformation coup against Arbenz

a.       Gathers a very small force in Hondurans to invade

b.      Used disinformation on radio to make people think a major invasion was underway

c.       Dropped a few sticks of dynamite out of a small plane on Guatemala City to spread fear

d.      Arbenz believed real invasion was underway, but Army did nothing to counter it

e.      Without support of Army, Arbenz fled country

f.        Castillo Armas, leading 300 men, took over

    III.            Aftermath

A.      Armas and his successors would roll back gains of Revolution

B.      Army would take increasing role in government, several military governments

C.      Rebel groups would form - civil war would rage for almost 40 years

D.      Army would use scorched earth tactics and death squads to fight rebels

E.       Some 100,000 would die - Mayan peasants would suffer the most

F.       Tens of thousands went into exile

G.     Meanwhile, USA gets the idea these kinds of coups are easy - contributes to debacles in Cuba, Vietnam