During the 1930s, the United States of America fell into a depression, which affected the whole world. The United States of America being one of the most dominate countries in the world, left many other nations to rely on them for economic and social growth. Once the United States fell into this depression, others did too, leaving them to deal with a catastrophe on their own. It was a huge social and economical crisis for every country all around the world. For countries like Guatemala, during and after the depression was a remarkable time. Guatemala went through multiple presidents with different ideas to where they think which path Guatemala should take. During this time, the United States of America accepted some of Guatemala’s presidents. With presidential elections, groups arise and for many their main goal is help indigenous Guatemalans some dignity after all the humiliation and misery they been through. Guatemala was one of many countries that relied on the United States of America; during the depression Jorge Ubico was the president of Guatemala.
President Ubico held office for 13 years and during presidency, the United States of America believed that “alliance was the key to the longevity of the liberal dictatorships” (Vaden and Prevost, 308). During his presidency, some people loved him and others did not. For some Mayans they benefited and adored him while the poor people of Guatemala considered him a ruthless and tough president (Manz, 45). The United States of America actually favored President Ubico because he was attempting to protect and help Guatemalans and to grow as a country even in this time of need. In 1934, “Ubico presented the Vagrancy Law as a more modern or human means of involving the Mayas in the larger economic needs of the country’s elite” (Manz, 46).
The idea of the Vagrancy Law was to help peasants freely decide where to work (Manz, 47). President Ubico’s goal was to restore worldwide credit, which is why he established a “central government tax for road construction” (Manz, 47). By doing this Guatemala would improve and expand it’s exporting products like coffee to other countries like the United States of America. However, things started to change after the depression for Guatemala. In 1944, President Ubico was overthrown by a military coup; there was a “civilian-military uprising subsequently outs military junta” (Manz, 330), this event to the beginning of a revolution. Since President Ubico was overthrown, Juan Jose Arevalo became president of Guatemala in 1944. What made President Arevalo memorable is the fact that he was able to create a democratic constitution, which was widely known to people throughout Guatemala (Vaden and Prevost, 330).
During his presidency, President Arevalo repealed the Vagrancy Law. He also created a new labor code, which institutes basic workers right in 1947 (Vaden and Prevost, 330). Towards the end of his presidency, the formation of Partido Guatemalteco de Trabajo but was legalized in 1951 once Jacob Arbenz was elected into office (Vaden and Prevost, 330). The Partido Guatemalteco de Trabajo was a communist party and the United States of America was adamant in taking an anti communist position. Guatemala became one of the countries the United States of America had to worry about. President Arbenz was loved by the Guatemalans because he “distributed land to over 10,000 peasant families” after the land was taken away from them (Vaden and Prevost, 308). Land was taken away once the United Fruit Company wanted to grow and expand while keeping the United States of America’s pleased (Vaden and Prevost, 308).
President Arbenz believed since the land was not being used might as well create a land reform and put those untouched land to use and it help those who lost a job and land get it back. Guatemalans were really desperate at this point in life; some would work and not even get paid at times. According to Alejandro Ortiz he went to Ixcan because he was poor and had no land to live off of (Manz, 47). He would work at times he as well as other people would not get paid; they continued to work regardless if they were getting paid or not (Manz, 47). If people had land and jobs, more crops would be grown and Guatemalans would no longer depend on the world market and now focus on the internal market (Vaden and Prevost, 308). This would help generate more money into their country since people would purchase products from them instead of the international companies like United Fruit Company.
By doing this, the United States of America became upset and this led to them accusing and charging Guatemala for “serving as a ‘beachhead for Soviet expansion’ in the Western Hemisphere” (Vaden and Prevost, 309). This was the Central Intelligence Agency’s motive to move in and forcing President Arbenz to resign (Vaden and Prevost, 309). Not that long after, the Partido Guatemalteco de Trabajo came to an end and Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres emerges. The Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres arises during the 1970s. The Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres goal is help the
indigenous towns. There are many groups that supported the Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres. The indigenous, poor, and clergy, traditionalist Mayans of Guatemala including the United Nations supported the Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres and the guerrilla movement because they were fighting for what is right. They wanted to get rid of the regimes dominating rural areas in Guatemala. For the clergy liberation theology was to focus “on addressing the degrading poverty in Mayan rural regions, the dignity of the person, and social commitment” (Manz, 19). This liberation was to help escape people from prejudice and harassment within society through the Bible (Manz, 51). People were not taught to read; majority of society were illiterate.
However, according to according to Pedro Tum, once they were taught to read they read the bible (Manz, 68). This was extremely important because the people incorporated what they read into their daily lives (Manz, 68). The people knew their rights and regardless if they were given to them or not. They were willing to risk their lives in order to achieve those rights instead of being humiliated and miserable. The Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres wanted to make the history of the peasants aware to the public instead of keeping it behind closed doors. The Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres was offering those victims dignity that they have never brought before them by the government, which made those victims looked as unimportant drunk and unenlightened people (Manz, 74). According to Jeronimo, the guerrilla movement will be “viewed as having aimed for something positive, it was an experience, it has a history that cannot be forgotten. An effort was made to achieve something of benefit for the people” (Manz, 221).
From his point of view, it proves that this movement may not please everyone but it benefited society. For the traditionalist Mayans they too were for it since they group up in a world where everyone shared the work. There was not one person that was better than another. The men were the ones working the farms focusing on agriculture and the women were to stay at home creating clothing as well as utensils for the home (Manz, 34). This was an example that proved that during that timeframe everyone was treated equal. They all worked hard and got the same results. No one was being humiliated and harassed. This is why in that society the 1970s, they were astonished to see how much society has changed even though it was not that long ago. The traditionalist Mayans stood by the Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres, which later became the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca because they were fighting for what is right. However, the traditionalists Mayans were not alone.
The United Nations also supported the Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres because they too came to realization that the citizens of Guatemala were being abused and taken advantage of. There objective in 1994 was to “clarify with objectively, equity and imparity, the human rights violation and acts of violence” (Manz, 248). They wanted to restore communities like Santa Maria Tzeja with the help of nongovernmental organization. The only way they could change Guatemala’s society is to help the citizens out and put a stop to the military officials. Once the Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres was being heard by everyone all over world many people were not pleased.
People like the military officials who think they can get away with anything they do because no one would listen to the peasants of Guatemala and the fact that there are other problems the world was dealing with. However, they were wrong. Though according to an article written by Mario Recinos Lima the military officials blamed the deaths of 279 peasants for deserting their homes in Santa Maria Tzeja, which was protected by the military (Manz, 267). Also Helen Mack prosecuted the military officers for killing her sister and other Guatemalans (Manz, 267). This proves that many deaths were likely done by the military. The military officers wanted to keep life the way it was, which was looking down at the less fortunate and treating them badly for their own pleasure.
They wanted to keep the power not have it taken away from them by the Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres. The guerrillas were not trying to solve this problem through violence in fact they preferred to do it in peace. Sadly it did not happen as they wished it did. Thousands of people died while fighting for the rights of less fortunate. The efforts from the various social groups showed that people still care about other people. They want justice and want everyone to be treated equally. With getting treated equally came at a cost and expense of many people’s lives. Though this journey to equality was not easy I believe in the end the message as heard and understood. The people of Guatemala wanted their dignity back, which was taken from them without even realizing it and they got it.
Manz, Beatriz. Paradise in Ashes: A Guatemalan Journey of Courage, Terror, and Hope. Berkeley: University of California, 2004. Print.
Vanden, Harry E., and Gary Prevost. Politics of Latin America: The Power Game. New York [u.a.: Oxford Univ., 2012. Print.