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Guatemala Civil War 1960-1969

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 U.S.-backed group led by Col. Carlos Castillo Armas invaded the country from Honduras in 1954 and quickly took over the government.

The 1950s witnessed dissension by peasants and workers who resented the reversal of the reforms put in place by Arevalo and Arbenz. Land was returned to the rich landowners, the constitution of 1945 was replaced, leftist political parties were outlawed, and poverty continued to be the reality of the present and the outlook for the future for most Guatemalans. Corruption at high levels became commonplace. Nevertheless, the dissension did not coalesce into insurrection until early in the next decade under the presidency of Ydigoras.

In response to the increasingly autocratic rule of Gen. Ydigoras Fuentes, who took power in 1958 following the murder of Colonel 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.

In Guatemala City demonstrations, riots, and strikes shook the authorities and forced Ydigoras to call up army reserves to restore order. The president also took the opportunity afforded by disorder to reorganize his cabinet, placing military officers in every position but the foreign ministry. The government then put forth a powerful response to the guerrillas, practically destroying the movement and sending the survivors reeling back to the mountains and forests to treat their wounded and find replacements for their dead.

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.

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Page last modified: 11-08-2017 14:54:18 ZULU