Manuel Estrada Cabrera
|Manuel José Estrada Cabrera|
|President of Guatemala|
8 February 1898 – 15 April 1920
|Preceded by||José María Reina|
|Succeeded by||Carlos Herrera|
21 November 1857|
|Died||24 September 1924
Manuel José Estrada Cabrera (21 November 1857 – 24 September 1924) was President of Guatemala from 1898 to 1920. He was a strong ruler, who modernised the country’s industry and transport, but only by granting concessions to the American-owned United Fruit Company, whose influence on the government was felt by many to be excessive. Cabrera used increasingly brutal methods to assert his authority, including armed strike-breaking, and the general elections were effectively controlled by him. He was eventually removed from office when the national assembly declared him mentally incompetent, and he was jailed for corruption.
Manuel Estrada forcibly took the presidency after the assassination of José María Reina. The Guatemalan cabinet called an emergency meeting to appoint a new successor, but declined to invite Cabrera to the meeting. Nevertheless, Cabrera entered "with pistol drawn" to assert his entitlement to the presidency.
United Fruit Company
One of Cabrera's most famous and most bitter legacies was allowing the entry of the United Fruit Company into the Guatemalan economical and political arena. As a member of the Liberal Party, he sought to encourage development of the nation's infrastructure of highways, railroads, and sea ports for the sake of expanding the export economy. By the time Cabrera assumed the presidency, there had been repeated efforts to construct a railroad from the major port of Puerto Barrios to the capital, Guatemala City. Yet due to lack of funding exacerbated by the collapse of the internal coffee trade, the railway fell sixty miles short of its goal. Cabrera decided, without consulting the legislature or judiciary, that striking a deal with the United Fruit Company was the only way to get finish the railway. Cabrera signed a contract with UFCO's Minor Cooper Keith in 1904 that gave the company tax-exemptions, land grants, and control of all railroads on the Atlantic side.
Cabrera often employed brutal methods to assert his authority. One American Minister returned to the United States after he learned the dictator had given orders to poison him. Former President Manuel Barillas was stabbed to death in Mexico City, on a street outside of the Mexican Presidential Residence on Cabrera's orders, the street now bears the name of Calle Guatemala. Also, Cabrera responded violently to workers' strikes against United Fruit. In one incident, when UFCO went directly to Cabrera to resolve a strike (after the armed forces refused to respond), Cabrera ordered an armed unit to enter the workers' compound. The forces "arrived in the night, firing indiscriminately into the workers' sleeping quarters, wounding and killing an unspecified number."
In 1906 Estrada faced serious revolts against his rule; the rebels were supported by the governments of some of the other Central American nations, but Estrada succeeded in putting them down. Elections were held by the people against the will of Cabrera and thus he had the president-elect murdered in retaliation. Estrada continued in power until forced to resign by new revolts in 1920. By that time, his power had declined drastically and he was reliant on the loyalty of a few generals. While the United States threatened intervention if he was removed through revolution, a bipartisan coalition came together to remove him from the presidency. He was removed from office after the national assembly charged that he was mentally incompetent, and appointed Carlos Herrera in his place on April 8, 1920.
Estrada's most curious legacy was his attempt to foster a Cult of Minerva in Guatemala. He ordered a number of Hellenic style "Temples of Minerva" built in major cities of the country.
- Chapman, Peter. Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World. NY: Canongate, 2007. pg. 54.
- Paul J. Dosal, Doing Business with the Dictators: A Political History of United Fruit in Guatemala, Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1993, p.3.
- Chapman, Peter. Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World. NY: Canongate, 2007.
- Peter Chapman, Bananas, pg. 83.
- Paul J. Dosal, Doing Business with the Dictators: A Political History of United Fruit in Guatemala, Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1993, p.27.
José María Reina
|President of Guatemala