José María Reina Barrios

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José María Reyna Barrios
Reina barrios3.jpg
General José María Reina Barrios
Museo Nacional de Historia de Guatemala
Coat of arms of Guatemala.svg
15th. President of Guatemala
In office
Preceded by Manuel Lisandro Barillas Bercián
Succeeded by Manuel Estrada Cabrera
Personal details
Born (1854-12-24)December 24, 1854
San Marcos, Guatemala  Guatemala
Died February 8, 1898(1898-02-08) (aged 43)
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s) Argelia Benton
Children He did not have any children with Argelia Benton; but he did have five children out of wedlock, among them Joaquín and José.[Note 1]
Parents Joaquín Reina y Celia Barrios[Note 2]
Residence Guatemala City
Occupation Military
Religion Mason
Nickname(s) «Reinita»
«Don Chemita»
«Man of the tragic eights»[Note 3]

José María Reyna Barrios (24 December 1854, San Marcos – 8 February 1898) was President of Guatemala from 15 March 1892 until his death on 8 February 1898. He was born in San Marcos, Guatemala and was nicknamed Reynita, the diminutive form, because of his short stature.

He was a moderate of Guatemala's Liberal Party, who worked to solidify the less controversial of the reforms of late president Justo Rufino Barrios.

Political Life[edit]

Algeria Benton, American wife of Reyna Barrios, playing the harp. Benton married Reyna Barrios on May 17, 1886, in the Guatemalan consulate in New York.[1]
Algeria Benton de Reyna Barrios official portrait. Mrs. Benton de Reyna Barrios had a cold and distant relationship with her husband by the time he was killed.

Reyna Barrios was nephew of Justo Rufino Barrios, and as such he started his political career while his uncle was still President of Guatemala. After Barrios sudden death in Chalchuapa, El Salvador on April 2. 1885, Reyna Barrios increased his political activity under the government of Manuel Lisandro Barillas, who was jealous of his popularity and sent him to Europe under false pretenses that there was a diplomatic appointment for him. The appointment never materialized and Reina Barrios was stuck in Europe and then in the United States for a few years.[2]

1892 Presidential elections[edit]

Reyna Barrios finally made it back to Guatemala, in time to run ran for office in the 1892 presidential elections. It was the first election in Guatemala that allowed the candidates to make propaganda in the local newspapers. [3] The canditates who ran for office were:

Name Party Supported by: Other information
Lorenzo Montúfar Liberal Liberal Club
He was the only one of all candidates who made an engraving of his portrait to publish it in the newspapers and was accused of wasting resources for doing this.[4]
Francisco Lainfiesta Liberal None Published his government proposal in the Diario de Centro America, taking advantage of the freedom of the Press that existed during Barillas' government.
José María Reyna Barrios Liberal Liberal Club Eventual winner.
Miguel Enríquez Conservative Conservative Party Enríquez had been a liberal, but became a conservative after the persecution that he suffered from the Barillas administration.[Note 4]
José Carranza Llerena Conservative None Medical Staff of President Barillas.

Barillas Bercian was unique among all liberal presidents of Guatemala between 1871 and 1944: he handed over power to his successor peacefully. When election time approached, he sent for the three Liberal candidates to ask them what their government plan would be. The following anecdote recounts better what happened then:[5]

First arrived lawyer Francisco Lainfiesta, and General Barillas, with the friendliest of smiles, said: «Mr. Lainfiesta: you are one of the candidates in the upcoming elections and perhaps the more likely to win. Therefore, I would like to know what your attitude and your political system of government will be, if you get to win. Especially, I would like to know your attitude about my person; because I have made my mistakes, I do not deny it. I was a simple worker at my carpentry when General Justo Rufino Barrios sent for me to be appointed second presidential designate. I would therefore, Mr. Lainfiesta, know what conduct you will observe towards me.» Mr. Lainfiesta said: «General Barillas: if luck would favor me with the election victory, my government will be based on strict adherence to the Constitution; the law would be the law and anyone who has acquired some responsibility, will have to answer for it before the relevant courts. A firm and righteous compliance with the constitutional provisions shall be the standard of my conduct as president». «Very well» said general Barillas, and both parted cordially.

First instant photograph ever made in Guatemala. It shows general Reyna Barrios during military exercise in Guatemala City in 1896.[6]

Barillas then brought in Dr. Montúfar and interrogated him in the same or similar way as he had done Mr. Lainfiesta. Dr. Montúfar responded in similar terms as Lainfiesta, stressing his claims to obedience of the Constitution and strict enforcement.

Finally general Reyna Barrios came in; when in the midst of pleasant conversation, General Barillas repeated his question, and Reyna replied, with a sincere smile: «We should not even talk about that, general; because you and I are the same. Rest assured that I will know how to respect and protect you.» And then both shook hands with effusion.[5] By the election period, the first two days of voting favored Lainfiesta. But by the third day, a huge column of Quetzaltenango and Totonicapán Indigenous people came down from the mountains to vote for general Reyna Barrios. The official agents did their job: Reyna was elected president[7] and, not to offend the losing candidates, Barillas gave them checks to cover the costs of their presidential campaigns. Reyna Barrios, of course, received nothing, but he went on to become President on March 15, 1892.[8]


During his first term in office, the power of the landowners over the rural peasantry increased during his presidency. He oversaw rebuilding of parts of Guatemala City on a grander scale, with some wide avenues built on the model of those of Paris. He oversaw Guatemala hosting the first "Central American Fair" in 1897. On his second term, he printed paper currency to fund his ambitious plans, resulting in monetary inflation and rise of popular opposition to his regime.

1897 Central America Fair
Hotel Exposición 1896
Central American Fair hall ready for its grand opening.
1897 Central American Fair hall during the event.
Central American Fair booklet, printed by the Guatemalan Post Office.[9]


Poster of Guatemala city during Reyna Barrios administration.[10]

As part of the efforts for the Central American Fair, his government embellished the city with avenues and monuments following Parisian style. Due to the 1917-1918 earthquakes most of these structures were lost.[11]

His administration also work on improving the roads, installing national and internation telegraphs and introducing electricity to the capital city. The transoceanic railway was the main objective of his government, as it was intended to open the door to international investors, given that it was an excellent opportunity to move good from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean at a time when the Panama Canal was not built yet.

Buildings and monuments built during Reyna Barrios administration

Monument Image After 1917-1918 Location Description
Plaza de Armas -Central Square- remodeling Parque antiguo.jpg
Guatemala City Center As part of the Central America Fair, Reyna Barrios ordered a series of monument and building constructions. Among them, he remodeled Central Square, removing the old Spanish Fountain and adding an elegant iron fence to the area.
Presidential Palace Palacioreynabarrios1896.jpg
Terremoto1718 b.jpg
Plaza de Armas -Central Square- Reyna Barrios hired Spaniard architect José de Bustamante, to build his Presidencial Palace. The contract was approved on February 8, 1895 and the structure was build in a garden of the old Spanish Royal Palace. It cost around 400,000 pesos; construction began on January 1, 1895 and the Palace was opened to the public on December 24, 1896.[12] It was the headquarters for the Government executive branch during Reyna Barrios and Manuel Estrada Cabrera administrations, until it was destroyed by the 1917-1918 earthquakes.
"30 de junio" boulevard Boulevar30junio2 2014-07-15 23-47.jpg Garciagranados1918.jpg Extension towards the south of Guatemala City. Avenue built in honor of the Liberal Reform from 1871. Several monuments, palaces and halls were built along the road. Only some statues survived the earthquakes of 1917-18.
"La Reforma" Palace and Museum Palacioreforma1900.jpg
Palacuoreforma1918.jpg "30 de junio" boulevard Located at the end of the "30 de junio" boulevard, this palace and museum was a favorite place for tourists and nationals alike, until it was destroyed by the 1917-18 earthquakes. In its place, later a monument to the Independence was built.
Central American Fair Hall Exposicion centroamericana.jpg N/A "30 de junio" boulevard Built for the Central American Fair of 1897.
Registro de la Propiedad Inmueble N/A Guatemala City Edificio Rosa.jpg Old plaza of Guatemala City Originally built for the Real Estate Record office, it was one of the very few buildings that survived the 1917-18 earthquakes. Later, it was transformed into the National History Museum.
Escuela Agrícola de Indígenas Escuelaindígena.jpg Taracena1918c.jpg «La Aurora» city park This agriculture school was in the "La Aurora" city park. Later, it was used for the Male Normal School, but was destroyed by the 1917-1918 earthquakes.


Palace of La Reforma. Built by Reyna Barrios between 1892 and 1898. it was destroyed by the 1917 Guatemala earthquake.

José María Reina was assassinated on 8 February 1898,[13] by Edgar Zollinger, a British citizen of Swiss stock, shortly after his reelection. Reina Barrios, who was interred in the Metropolitan Cathedral, was succeeded as President by Manuel Estrada Cabrera.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Valdeavellano 1896, p. 10.
  2. ^ Hernández De León 1930.
  3. ^ Castellanos 2014, p. 40:00.
  4. ^ Castellanos 2014, p. 40: 00.
  5. ^ a b De Los Rios 1948, p. 78.
  6. ^ Valdeavellano 1896, p. 24.
  7. ^ De Los Rios 1948, p. 82.
  8. ^ De Los Rios 1948, p. 79.
  9. ^ Castellanos 2014, p. 6:00.
  10. ^ Valdeavellano 1896, p. 125.
  11. ^ Hernández de León 22 de abril de 1959.
  12. ^ Álvarez Arévalo 2015.
  13. ^ Hammerton, J. A., ed. (2007). Peoples of All Nations, Volume 7. Concept Publishing Company. p. 2556. ISBN 9788172681449. 



  1. ^ Consuelo Reyna Barrios was indeed daughter of Mrs. Argelia Benton a carried the Reyna Barrios last name; however, in reality, she was the daughter of general Salvador Toledo, Reyna Barrios Chief of Staff.
  2. ^ Justo Rufino Barrios' sister.
  3. ^ Since he was murdered at 8 pm on February 8, 1898.
  4. ^ In fact, after the elections he had to run away from his farm in Salama after being accused of sedition; he was captured and executed near Zacapa.
Preceded by
Manuel Lisandro Barillas Bercián
Coat of arms of Guatemala.svg
President of Guatemala

Succeeded by
Manuel Estrada Cabrera