Created: 12/28/1953

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in Evaluation of tbe Significance of tbe Shift ln Political Pover







os citizen, on outstanding student of Latin American history.

Source has been intimately associated vith the educational system la Guatemala3 and maintains close contact vith his professional counterparts by correspondence and biennial trips to Guatemala. Because of his stature as anand his knowledge of political events la Guatemala sicca the Octoberhe vas Invited la3 to present the following papereeting of OB historians.


The arresting feature of the monument designed in Guateaala City to ccmmemorate the heroes ofevolutionriumvirate of symbolical figuresniversity studentaborer. These three groups vere recognised aa having supplied tba cajor soar* of the manpowerart of tbe leadership for tbe DovomeBt vhlch accomplished the downfall of the dictatorship* of General Jorge UMco and his personally designated successor. General federico Ponce Valdes. The triumph of the revolution brought to control of the nacbinary of govameant social and economic groups largely nev to the field of political action and thusighly significant shift In political gravity. Th* purpose of this paper is to examine soma of tba effects of that shift In political povar aad to evaluate its significance and.portentocial movement.


To understand tbe rolei of the protest groups in the revolutionary mo Tenant, It is essential first to knov the nature of their grievances against th* old regime. Tbe tenets of Ouateaalan Llberalisa had been so long In rogue without substantial change that, unnoticed by the party leadership, time bad eroded away most of their challenge and appeal, particularly to younger, ambitious eleaenta of society. During the long ascendancy of the Liberals, worship'at the sarin* of materialhadignificant transformation ln the physical and economic condition of the country. But vitb the prld* and glamour of innovationhe very social and economic groups which material development brought into existence could look upon the instruments of tbe transformation vith disillusioned eyas. Obligations assumed and concessions made as the necessary price of progress ln an earlier age could be viewedising generation as unwarranted and onerous public burdens, and foreign investors, balled as benefactors of the nation by Liberal orators at the turn of the century, could be suspiciously regarded as foreign exploiters of Guatemalan resources, labor and public velfare.

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3- Unaware of any Impending change in public attitude, tbe Ublco regime consistently deaonatrated traditional Liberal materialistic emphasis, obliviousDees to spiritual and intellectual values, and harshness of method tovard politics! dissenters and adversaries. Tba cumulative effect of lta abuses, shortcomings, snd errors of Judgment added impetusrovlng unrest vhlch vas made even more acute by tha economic pressures exertedorld economy geared to the necessities of war. To these vague resentments, the world crusade against totalitarian dictatorship and the accompanying idealietic pronouncements gave ideological content and Justification

Each of the three groups vhlch formed the revolutionary spearhead also harbored special grievances against the existing order. Students and teachers had once beentatus of some Importance In Liberal philosophy, but by the end of the Ublco administration their role had been stripped of all dignity aad prestige, and the current salary scales placed thaa on aa economic level little above that of domestic aervants. Moreover, the prevailing official standard of values offered little promise of Improved status in the future. The tendency of the dictator vaa to curtail, rather than to expand, educational faelUtlaa aad thus to thwart the hopes of the lover levels of the social order that they might be able tc Improve their positions through education. Tbe contempt of tha dictator for the educational function of the echools was manifested lo, several ways. He militarized the schools of the Republic, required both students and teachers to march endlessly into grace his festival? and, as titular head of tha Ministry of Education, he kept Antonio VlHaccTta, an old man of soma Intellectual achievement and scholarly renown but vho demonstrated for tbe problems of popular education no understanding and no concern. Vhen resistance to tba dictator became overt, tha teachers la the person of Mar fa Chinchilla, an attractive young woman killed when Ubico's policerxnen's demonstration, provided the revolution with its protomartyr and its emotional appeal.

A similar discontent vas braving among the younger military men. The highest military poets vere monopolized by old aad trusted, although often allegedly la-competent, henchmen of Ublco vho maintained the populace ia the grip of tha dictator by the most arbitrary aad brutal use of force. It vas charged that aa extravagant number ef promotions was glvea within thla group without regard for capacity, merit or service, but that younger officers vere able to envision military careers only

la the humble status of oamandanta of cadets in the milltsrlxed schools. The ultimate insult to the younger military vas tha retention ae Minister of War of GeneralReyes vho vas popularly reputed to ba, avaa at aa advanced age, aa Illiterate Indian atill. The regime was characterised as supported by, andan oppressive militarism distasteful to the public aad frustrating, or even Insulting, to the younger elements of the military service.

working class was also caught up la tbs brewing unrest. It vas beginningthe ecosomic affects of the war in the form of pressure from risingrelatively static Incomes. The workers were not permitted to organizeto seek improvement of their situation by collective action sad anysuch means toore advantageous wage scale or better workingtreatedreach of public order. Under tha circumstances, the workersthe regime had abandoned them to the exploitation of foreign latereststhe favor of the dictator.

T. It was the unlvarsity students, thebe workers, and the younger military men wbo, with Important help from the professional groups, actually precipitated the movement that ended the long period of so-called Liberal domination. The university students,imilar action la El Salvador which brought tbs dictator of thatugitive to Guatemala, began tho general strike vhlch caused Ublco to step down. During the interim regime of General Ponce, labor was allowed to organise in slndlcatos and leaders sprung from the middle ranks of the socio! scale began to give form aad expression to the discontent of the workers, But vhen the Railroad Union and the Union of Workers of Tlqulsate began to press



demand* for higher salaries, the movement vas branded by the Pence governaent as tbe work of sgitators calculated to upset the public order. Political parties vere formed during the ease period, with heavy participation by students and professors andgroups, first In the capital and then in the departments. One of the parties, Renovacion Naclonal, perouadod Dr Juan Joseormer teacher in Guatemala, to return from his exile in Argentina toandidate for theIn the forthcoming election. When the Ponce regime appeared to be Intriguing to perpetuate itself in pover vith all the hated attributes of the Ublco dictatorship, th* sane groups united and, students and workers fighting by the side of the military, overthrew the government of Oblco's designate onct kkt

Their eucceesful revolution earned the dissident groups the opportunity toovernment aad torogram more satisfactory to then than those of the fallen regimes. evolutionary Junta, cosposed of tvo young aray officersivilian, vas Installed to preside over the governaent until the elections were heldev constitution vas drafted. Ths Inauguration of Juan Jose* AreValo, the successful candidate for the presidency, under the nev fundamental lav onarinitiated tbe constitutional regime vhlch continues to the present.

The key posts of the nev governments vere filled by men of the revolutionary party vho vere, ln general, lacking ln experience and whose principal qualification for officeecord of opposition to the old regimes or distinguished service to the Revolution at some stage of its development. The new bureaucracy was formedby groups froa the middle ranks of tha social order, among which teachers and university etudentey the professional classprinkling of military men were conspicuous. Although the workers were not directly represented, their middle rank leaders vere to be found in official positions.

10. Ideologically the nev government did not rapidly catch its bearing. Th* unifying fore* of the revolutionary party had been the cocaon determination to overthrow the dictatorship but, once the vork of destruction vas accoaplished, no similar unanimity of opinion was discernible on the essential*onstructive program to follow.-Arevalo had, during tbe electoral campaign, propounded his doctrine of "spiritual socialonfused body of philosophy vhlch tbe revolutionaries assumed to be as profound as it was obscure, but lt struck no popular chord and contributed little or nothing tovard establishing either lncedlate or ultimate objectives for the revolution. In reality, the Arevalo administration began vith no coherent Ideology and no program.

U. trong sense of the urgency of national regenerationatriotic necessityonspicuous characteristic of the revolutionary current. Tbe absence ofharply defined Ideology or agreement upon the essential elementsrogramwith these aspirations tovard which energies bent on national improvement could be directed, made It easy for many revolutionariee, including some of the sincerely idealistic, to drift into political opportunism or to be attracted to projects of predominately nationalistic purport. The early experience of the Arevalo administration demonstrated, whether by accident or by design, that nationalistic actions evoked vide spread and enthusiastic popular support. Iaperiallaa,as it bore upon relations betveen Guatemalan laborers and forelgn-ovnedand the controversy between the governments of Guatemala and th* UK over Belize, provided the government with sn lasue on which, temporarily at least. It could unite ln its support the diverse factions which overthrew Ubico, turn popular attention away fromdefectB ard divisions ln the internal administration, and,eventuallynified revolutionary party.

12. Communist elements recognised in the nationalistic emphasis of the government an area of possible ideological agreement which might be exploited,to their advantage. By singling out the US, of all the Western democracies, for attack and concentrating on the antl-imperialist theme, thoy might find it possible to travel, at leastime, in tbe company of the ardent nationalists and of the opportunists vho flocked

cornaflarriAiAG ctpicials cmly


to' tho supportopular issue. In pursuit of this tactic, the Communists castln the role of the most vociferous and uncompromising of

nationalists and, as such, mada themselves during both the administration of Arevalo and tha regime of Jacobo Arbenz vhlch succeeded It, the Indispensable spearheads for measures vhlch more timid leadership might have been reluctant to advocate. The popularity of actions directed against the US aada lt virtually Impossible for tba enemies of Communism to attack the Communist leaders on the basis of their program vlth any hope of success.

The revolutloniataesorted to the use of force in order to capture the machinery of government, control of vhlch thay considered necessary for tbe redress of their grievances. It has been characteristic of the period sincethat tho groups newly risen to pover havo sought to make and consolidate their gains chiefly by political action. Their record provides an insight into both the specialof each group and the tactics employed la an attempt to reconcile and harmonize themattern of political action capable of commanding the unified support of all revolutionary elements.

The young military sen of the new regime vere the first to reap the rewords ofrevolution. Thoy were able immediately to purge from tho militarythe officers highest in rank and, incidentally, those most advanced In age, and to secure control ia their own hands. The military force vas constituted the "national Army of tbend vas given special status as guardian of tbe public liberty, protector of legally coastltuted governments, and defender of the Constitution. Although theoretically an apolitical, obedleat, aad non-deliberative body, the attitude of the army hoaowerful, if not the dominant factor ln all post-revolutionary administrations. Itact of perhaps equal significance that the middle class army has consistently supported those administrations.

15- Teachers aad students expected free the nevrogram of extensiveof educational opportunities vhlch vould underwrite the democratic basee guaranteed by the nev constitution and elevateosition of prestige tbeand cultural values which Ublco scorned. As tangible proofs of tho reality of Intellectual freedom, the schools were demilitarized, and the National University was granted autonomy.aculty of Humanities was added to those already existing In the Universityopular University was established to help propagate the fuller cultural life which the revolution promised. Salaries of teachers vere raised aad they vere allowed toabor union. Schools suppressed by Ublco were re-opened, and aa extensive prograa of school building construction was planned. ramatic effort to free tho country at one blow of the burden end stigmaredominantly Illiterate population, and to establish the indispensable basisunctioning democracy, an intensive literacy program was inaugurated. The new regime was obviously attempting to give dignity and some economic security to the teaching profession and toationalistic yearning for cultural respectability among the civilized nations of tho earth.

16. Labor likewise earned Its reward for participation la the revolution. 5 specifically recognized among tho basic rights of labor those to have employment, to organize In elndicatoa, snd to strike. It also established theof compulsory preferential employment of Guatemalan laborers ln equality of circumstances, and of obligatory hiring of Guatemalan nationals to account forpercentages of both positions and payrolls. These provisions, together with the body of social leglalatlon incorporated in the Constitution, and tbe social security system provided for ln the same instrument vere intended to give status and. security to laborers. Moreover, the government haa maintained an attitude ofand sympathy tovard the siadlcalist movement ond toward tbe demands of striking laborera vhlch employers, especially foreign-owned enterprises, have characterized as less than objective.



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17. The Idea of binding small cultivotors to the revolution by bos* variety ofeform vasart of the revolutionary strategy from the beginning. The revalo administrationodel agricultural community at Poptun in an attempt to colonize the allegedly fertile but unoccupied lands of the Peten, but colonists from densely populated areas refused vhen tbe settlement was completed to emigrateite that, for vontoad, could be reached only by air. The Arbens-sponsored agrarian reform undertakes the distribution of uncultivated lands located In the already settled areas. The prevailing system of large landholdlngs in the densely populated areas of Guatemala makes land redistribution desirable, buto keen national avareness of the problem' and no strong popular demand for reform. There vas no Zapata In the Guatemalan revolution. The agrarian reform lav Is apparently an attempt toody of peasant smell landowners whose economic stake In the maintenance of the status quo vill tie them politically to the revolutionary party. It ls also possible that the measure vas, inevice for placing beyond the reach of litigation the properties of German flnquerosand expropriated during the second World War. Whatever lta motivation, the lav enjoys unquestioned local popularity and, except for die-hard conservatives, its critics nov confine themselves to pointing out defects sad abuses In its methods rather than In its objectives. It is posaible that future historians may discover in thetatesman's measure vhlch averted Inloody prelude to laad distribution on tbe pattern! of Mexico or China.

16. In summary, the revolutionary activity oftransferred control of the political power In Guatemala from the old aristocracy to social and economic elements of the population .that vould in our society be called middle class sad proletarian. ocial revolution was thus carried through Its political phase, snd the revolutionary parties next attempted, by meansegislative prograa to consolidate the social and economic phases as veil. In some respects resembling the Mexican revolution, upon vhlch certain of its detalla vere consciously patterned, the Guatemalanlacked much of the widespread, deep-seated, aad burning popular demand for basic reform vhlch characterized the former and on the basis of which an obviously revolutionary program could be built. The middle rank leadership ln Guatemala, therefore, sought issues capable of compelling the enthusiasm and loyalty of the masses. Patriotic at lta inception;the revolutionary movement found inbe most effective Issue on which tcide base of popular support. f

19* Measures of great economic and social significance hare been carried latawithout plan, but consistent with certain objectives of thenev order breaks the exclusive claim of tbe old aristocracy toattempts to establish bases which will assure dignity and sone security toof the middle and lover middle social and economic order*. The basedemocracy has also beea considerably broadened. Suffrage has beenall men and to literate women, and political activity bas been extended onunprecedented scale that some institutions traditionally oblivious toas tho cofradlas of the Indians, axe sold to hove token on politicalappears that tbe revolutionary leadership has been successful, by these measures,welding together la Itslose of favored interests composed of army teachers, organized labor, aadlass of small

whose economic aad social gains spring directly from the revolution.

20. esult of the nationalistic tone of many, of the measures adopted by the nev govemnenta, particularly the crusade against OS Imperialism ln any of lta real or Imagined forms', the Communists were provide! with an Issue on which tbey could make commba cause with not1 emailstc who perhaps agreed with them in nothing else. Posing as the most ardent of Guatemalan nationalists they have worked their way vlth' relative safety againat attack froa their enemies, into the position of wheel horses for nationalistic measures. The degree to which they have penetrated and influenced tbe government will probably not be accurately known until Guatemalan nationalists are confrontedhoice betveen the fundamentally opposed interests of their


ovn nationalism and international Ccaaaunisa. It vould be tbe role of wisdom for tba DE Government, ln dealing vitb the current regime, to distinguish carefully, but decisively, between the tvo.

SI. Aldous Huxley might perhaps allow, at thisaraphrase of bis dlotum that "To understand European politics, one should read tho history of Centralne has the feeling, ln studying Guatemalahat aany aspects of that situation have counterparts elsewhere in our troubled world. Perhaps we would be justified in assuming that recent events in other underdeveloped areas night be-better understood in the light of the Guatemalan revolution, that "to understand the contemporary world, one should read the recent history of.Guatemala."

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