Guatemala History

Guatemala History from the 20th Century to the Present Day

The longest ruler: Manuel Estrada (1898-1920)

Manuel Estrada ruled for a particularly long time, namely 22 years. Under him the economy took off. Large coffee and banana plantations were created. Companies from the USA, especially the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita), played a major role in the upswing.

Estrada generously gave land and gave companies large tax rebates. At the end of his reign and afterwards there were renewed disputes between the various camps. There were several overturns and many short presidencies.

Dictatorship of Jorge Ubico (1931-1944)

In 1931 Jorge Ubico came to power. Although he came into office by election, he established a dictatorship. Political opponents were persecuted and murdered, there were no more elections, and no parties were allowed. The indigenous peoples were suppressed particularly brutally. They had to do forced labor for the big landowners. From 1936 they were increasingly expropriated. So the Indians who owned land were taken away. Only 2 percent of the population were large landowners, but they owned 70 percent of the land.

In 1944 there were popular protests and finally a general strike. Jorge Ubico was overthrown. A military junta and Federico Ponce Vaidez followed him, but the “October Revolution” ended this period of dictatorships in 1944.

Arévalo and Árbenz: a decade of democracy (1944-1954)

Numerous reforms were carried out or at least started under the presidents Arévalo and Árbenz. Their reign is also called the democratic decade. Árbenz began distributing unused land to poor farmers by the United Fruit Company.

Operation SUCCESS (1954)

At the instigation of the USA, a country located in Caribbean and Central America listed on pharmacylib, Árbenz was overthrown in a coup in June 1954. This coup was carried out by the United States Secret Service (CIA) founded in 1949 and called Operation SUCCESS. The US wanted to prevent a “communist threat” – the Cold War was in full swing at this point. Árbenz wasn’t a communist at all, but came from the bourgeois-conservative camp. 400 trained fighters under the leadership of Carlos Castillo Armas invaded and occupied the country.

From Arman to Ydígoras (1954-1963)

Carlos Castillo Armas took Arbenz’s place. All reforms carried out so far have been reversed. After his assassination in 1957, several right-wing military dictatorships took turns. In 1958, Miguel Ydígoras became president. The CIA continued to support the governments in Guatemala.


Political opponents were allowed to “disappear” in the civil war: They were arrested or kidnapped, tortured and killed. The families of the victims were left in the dark where their loved ones had “disappeared” to. In Spanish, these people are also called Desaparecidos, the disappeared.

Civil War (1960-1996)

During the presidency of Miguel Ydígoras the “civil war” began in Guatemala. Four left guerrilla organizations fought against the Guatemalan government, which deployed paramilitary groups in addition to its soldiers and committed numerous human rights violations. The guerrillas were supported by Cuba, the government by the CIA. In 1982 the four guerrilla groups joined forces.

At least 140,000 people died, and many people fled to neighboring countries. The overwhelming majority of the victims, it is estimated that 83 percent, were members of Mayan peoples, who were murdered in bloody massacres, particularly in the 1980s, because they were suspected of supporting the rebels. Whole areas were bombed.

End of the Civil War (1996)

From 1986, there were peace talks with the rebels for the first time, all of which initially failed. Under the presidents Ramiro de León Carpio and Álvaro Arzú Irigoyen they were finally successful in 1996, after this time the United Nations (UN) were involved. The paramilitary groups were disarmed and the civil war ended.

In the 21st century

With the end of the civil war, the country began to democratize. Corruption and conflicts over land as well as a drug war continue to cause major problems in Guatemala. The party landscape is not very stable, many only exist for a short time before they dissolve again.

The Christian Democrat Alfonso Portillo was President from 2000, followed by the conservative Óscar Berger from 2004 to 2008. In 2005, the tail of Hurricane Stan hit Guatemala hard. From 2008 to 2012 Álvaro Caballeros was President. He belongs to the UNBE, a social democratic party.

In 2012 Otto Pérez Molina became President. He belongs to the GANA party (Great National Alliance), a conservative party. Pérez Molina is accused of being a general involved in human rights abuses during the civil war. In September 2015 he announced his resignation. Jimmy Morales Cabrera has been the country’s president since January 2016. Alejandro Giammatei, the candidate of the conservative Vamos party, won the 2019 presidential election.

Guatemala History