Jorge Ubico

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Jorge Ubico
General-Jorge-Ubico.jpg
President of Guatemala
In office
14 February 1931 – 4 July 1944
Preceded by José María Reina Andrade
Succeeded by Juan Federico Ponce Vaides
Personal details
Born (1878-11-10)November 10, 1878
Guatemala City
Died June 14, 1946(1946-06-14) (aged 67)
New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Nationality Guatemala Guatemalan
Political party Liberal Party

Jorge Ubico y Castañeda (10 November 1878 – 14 June 1946) was President of Guatemala from 14 February 1931 to 4 July 1944.

Early years[edit]

Born to Arturo Ubico Urruela, a lawyer and politician of the Guatemalan liberal party, Jorge Ubico was privately tutored and attended school in Guatemala's most prestigious institutions as well as receiving further education abroad in the United States and Europe.

By 1897 Ubico received his commission into the Guatemalan army as second lieutenant, which was largely a reflection of his political ties. Here he established himself by rapidly rising through the ranks, and, after a military campaign against El Salvador, held the rank of colonel at the age of 28. A year later, he was made the governor (jefe politico) of the province of Alta Verapaz, followed four years later as governor of Retalhuleu. During his tenure, he oversaw improvements in public works, the school system, public health, and youth organizations. In 1918, he drained swamps, ordered fumigation and distributed free medicine to combat a yellow fever epidemic,[1] and won the praise of Major General William C. Gorgas, who had done the same in Panama. However, most of his reputation came from his harsh but effective punishment of banditry and smuggling across the Mexican border. He returned to Guatemala City in 1921 to participate in a coup that installed General José Orellana into the presidency. Under Orellana he was appointed Secretary of War in 1922, but quit a year later. In 1926, after the death of President Orellana, Ubico ran unsuccessfully for president as the candidate of the Political Progressive Party. He temporarily retired to his farm until the next election.

President of Guatemala (1931-44)[edit]

In 1930, President Lazaro Chacón resigned after having a stroke. By that time, Guatemala was in the midst of the Great Depression and bankrupt. The Liberal Party joined with the Progressives to nominate Ubico as Chacón's successor, and although he was the only candidate on the ballot, he received 305,841 votes.[2][unreliable source?] In his inaugural address, he pledged a "march toward civilization". Once in office, he began a campaign of efficiency that included assuming dictatorial power.

Adopting a pro-USA stance to promote economic development and recovery from depression, the United Fruit Company under Ubico became the most important company in Guatemala. He considered Guatemala to be the closest ally of the United States in the Caribbean. The company received import duty and real estate tax exemptions from the government and controlled more land than any other individual or group. It also controlled the sole railroad in the country, the sole facilities capable of producing electricity, and the port facilities at Puerto Barrios on the Atlantic coast.[citation needed]

Ubico considered himself to be "another Napoleon". He admired Napoleon Bonaparte extravagantly and preferred to have his photograph taken in his general's uniform. Although he was much taller and fatter than his hero, Ubico believed that he resembled Bonaparte, and his nickname was "the Little Napoleon of the Tropics".[3] He dressed ostentatiously and surrounded himself with statues and paintings of Napoleon, regularly commenting on the similarities between their appearances. He militarized numerous political and social institutions—including the post office, schools, and symphony orchestras—and placed military officers in charge of many government posts. He frequently travelled around the country performing "inspections" in dress uniform followed by a military escort, a mobile radio station, an official biographer, and cabinet members.[4][5][6][7][8]

Ubico's repressive policies and arrogant demeanor led to a widespread popular insurrection led by middle-class intellectuals, professionals, and junior army officers. On 1 July 1944 Ubico resigned from office amidst a general strike and nationwide protests. Initially, he had planned to hand over power to the former director of police, General Roderico Anzueto, who he felt he could control. But his advisors recognized that Anzueto's pro-Nazi sympathies had made him very unpopular, and that he would not be able to control the military. Instead, Ubico chose to select a triumvariate of Major General Bueneventura Piñeda, Major General Eduardo Villagrán Ariza, and General Federico Ponce Vaides. The three generals promised to convene the national assembly to hold an election for a provisional president, but when the congress met on 3 July, soldiers held everyone at gunpoint and forced them to vote for General Ponce, rather than the popular civilian candidate Dr. Ramón Calderón. Ponce, who had previously retired from military service due to alcoholism, took orders from Ubico and kept many of the officials who had worked in the Ubico administration. The repressive policies of the Ubico administration were continued.[4][9][10]

Opposition groups began organizing again, this time joined by many prominent political and military leaders who deemed the Ponce regime unconstitutional. Among the military officers in the opposition were Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán and Major Francisco Javier Arana. Ubico had fired Árbenz from his teaching post at the Escuela Politécnica, and since then Árbenz had been in El Salvador organizing a band of revolutionary exiles. On 19 October 1944 a small group of soldiers and students led by Árbenz and Arana attacked the National Palace, in what later became known as the "October Revolution".[11] Ponce was defeated and driven into exile, and Árbenz, Arana, and a lawyer name Jorge Toriello established a junta and declared that they would hold democratic elections before the end of the year.[12]

The winner of the 1944 elections was a philosophy professor named Juan José Arévalo. Arévalo ran under a coalition of leftist parties known as the Partido Acción Revolucionaria ("Revolutionary Action Party", PAR), and won 85% of the vote in elections that are widely considered to have been fair and open.[13] Arévalo implemented social reforms such as minimum wage laws, increased educational funding, near-universal suffrage (excluding illiterate women), and labor reforms; but many of these changes only benefited the upper-middle classes and did little for the peasant agricultural laborers that made up the majority of the population. Although his reforms were relatively moderate, he was widely disliked by the United States government, Catholic Church, large landowners, employers such as United Fruit Company, and Guatemalan military officers, who viewed his government as inefficient, corrupt, and heavily influenced by Communists. At least 25 coup attempts took place during his presidency, mostly led by wealthy conservative military officers.[14][15] During the 1944 revolution, Arana had demanded that he be appointed as the Chief of Staff in exchange for loyalty to the Arévalo government. However, Arévalo did not trust Arana and installed Árbenz as the minister of defense to act as a check on Arana. Over time, tensions rose between Arana and Arévalo, peaking when Arana was mysteriously killed in a Guatemala City gun battle on 18 July 1949, ultimately leading to a failed revolt that was put down by troops led by Árbenz.[16]

Ubico died in exile in New Orleans on 14 June 1946.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Current Biography 1941, pp847-49
  2. ^ "Rare Distinction of Gen. Ubico's Election," San Antonio Express, February 12, 1931, p3[unreliable source?]
  3. ^ "Little Napoleon of the Tropics Dies," San Antonio Light, June 16, 1946, p.1
  4. ^ a b Streeter, 2000: pp. 11-12
  5. ^ Immerman, 1983: p. 32
  6. ^ Grandin, 2000: p. 195
  7. ^ Benz, 1996: pp. 16-17
  8. ^ Loveman and Davies, 1997: pp. 118-120
  9. ^ Immerman, 1983: pp. 39-40
  10. ^ Jonas, 1991: p. 22
  11. ^ Immerman, 1983: pp. 41-43
  12. ^ Streeter, 2000: p. 13
  13. ^ Streeter, 2000: p. 14
  14. ^ Streeter, 2000: pp. 15-16
  15. ^ Immerman, 1983: p. 48; p. 50
  16. ^ Streeter, 2000: pp. 16-17

Bibliography[edit]

  • Benz, Stephen Connely (1996). Guatemalan Journey. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-70840-2. 
  • Gleijeses, Piero (1992). Shattered hope: the Guatemalan revolution and the United States, 1944-1954. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-02556-8. 
  • Grandin, Greg (2000). The blood of Guatemala: a history of race and nation. Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-2495-9. 
  • Immerman, Richard H. (1983). The CIA in Guatemala: The Foreign Policy of Intervention. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-71083-2. 
  • Jonas, Susanne (1991). The battle for Guatemala: rebels, death squads, and U.S. power (5th ed.). Westview Press. ISBN 978-0-8133-0614-8. 
  • Loveman, Brian; Davies, Thomas M. (1997). The Politics of antipolitics: the military in Latin America (3rd, revised ed.). Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-8420-2611-6. 
  • Rabe, Stephen G. (1988). Eisenhower and Latin America: The Foreign Policy of Anticommunism. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-4204-1. 
  • Streeter, Stephen M. (2000). Managing the counterrevolution: the United States and Guatemala, 1954-1961. Ohio University Press. ISBN 978-0-89680-215-5. 

Further reading[edit]

Preceded by
José María Reina Andrade
(acting)
President of Guatemala
1931–1944
Succeeded by
Juan Federico Ponce Vaides