Guatemala was originally home to one of the most advanced ancient cultures, the Maya.  Long ago this civilization vanished and today all that remains are ruins and a distantly related indigenous people.  In the sixteenth century these indigenous tribes came under the rule of Spain as it colonized Central and South America.  Under Spanish rule Guatemala went undeveloped and remained a colonial backwater.  It was not until the turn of the 20th century and the introduction of coffee that Guatemala began to develop economically.  Coffee soon became a major cash crop for the country.  It was grown on large plots of land owned by the descendents of the Spanish ruling class.  These huge farms were worked by the local indigenous populations.  The low cost of the under-paid labor allowed Guatemala to remain competitive in the global coffee market.


Guatemalan coffee workers Coffea/b0709tx.html


In 1930 the global coffee market collapsed with the onset of the great depression.  The landed elites feared that economic upheaval would in turn create social upheaval.  To prevent this, they placed General Jorge Ubico in power.  He used strong-arm military tactics to force the indigenous peasants into submission.  He was less harsh with the landed white elites, or Ladinos, but gave them little or no voice in government.  While Ubico oppressed and despised his countrymen, he looked upon foreigners with favor, especially foreign investors.  Under Ubico’s reign the United Fruit Company of Boston became a major economic and political force in Guatemala. 

          After a fourteen year dictatorship Ubico’s repressive methods brought about social unrest.  In 1944 university students and teachers began to demonstrate, calling for greater freedoms.  When Ubico tried to violently repress these protests he was met by a general strike that shutdown the country.  The dictator resigned, abdicating his power to his top generals.  This top core of generals was deposed by lesser generals who advocated elections and a new constitution. (Cullather 9-11)


Guatemala's Social Revolution