1993 Guatemalan constitutional crisis

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1993 Guatemalan constitutional crisis
DateMay 25, 1993 – June 5, 1993
  • President Jorge Serrano Elías resigns; Gustavo Espina becomes interim president
  • Espina removed from office by the Congress of Guatemala; replaced by Ramiro de León
President of Guatemala
Council of Ministers
Executive Branch
Congress of Guatemala
Constitutional Court
Supreme Court of Justice
Attorney General of the Nation
Chief Attorney General
Supreme Electoral Tribunal
Supported by:
 Organization of American States
 United Nations
 United States
Commanders and leaders
Jorge Serrano Elías
Gustavo Espina
Aída de Castillo
Roxana Baldetti[1]
Francisco Perdomo
Arturo Alvarado Pérez
Epaminondas González
Arturo Herbruger Asturias
Ramiro de León Carpio
Jorge García Laguardia
José Rubén Zamora

The 1993 Guatemala constitutional crisis took place in 1993 when then President Jorge Serrano Elías attempted a self-coup or autogolpe. On Tuesday May 25, 1993, Serrano illegally suspended the constitution, dissolved Congress and the Supreme Court, imposed censorship and tried to restrict civil freedom.[2]

The attempted self-coup was similar to the one carried out by Alberto Fujimori, but unlike Fujimori's, had no popular support: Serrano's action met with strong protests by most elements of Guatemalan society,[2] at the forefront of which was the Siglo Veintiuno newspaper under the leadership of José Rubén Zamora.[citation needed] This was combined with international pressure (the Organization of American States condemned the autogolpe[2]), and the army's enforcement of the decisions of the Constitutional Court, which ruled against the attempted takeover.[citation needed]

In the face of this pressure, Serrano resigned as president and fled the country. He was replaced on an interim basis by his vice president, Gustavo Espina.[2] However, Espina was judged by the Constitutional Court to have been involved in the coup as well, and Congress replaced him with Human Rights Ombudsman Ramiro de León.[2]


In the early morning hours of Tuesday May 25, 1993, President Jorge Serrano Elías suspended the Constitution, dissolved the Congress, disbanded the Supreme Court, and declared himself dictator for the next two and one half years.[3] He also suspended 59 articles of the Guatemalan Constitution. At the same time, Serrano called on the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to convoke elections for a National Constituent Assembly in 60 days.[4]

Serrano had seriously overestimated his support from the military and underestimated the international diplomatic reaction to his coup. Furthermore, his move had the unintended effect of catalyzing opposition not only to his leadership but to the whole structure of backroom military power that he had hoped would support him, thus bringing together an unlikely coalition of progressive business interests, human rights groups, and Maya activists that would play an important role in the 1996 Peace Accord negotiations”.[5]

In a last bid to stay in office, Serrano tried to recall the Congress which he had dissolved in May. Few responded and Serrano was forced to step down. He subsequently fled to El Salvador under military protection on June 2. Serrano’s departure provoked another crisis when on June 2 another of his supporters, Vice-President Gustavo Espina Salguero, proclaimed himself President. Espina was prevented from taking office on the evening of June 2 when only 44 deputies attended Congress to approve his swearing-in. On June 4, the Court of Constitutionality ruled that Espina was not eligible for the presidency due to his support for Serrano’s coup. The Court ordered the Congress to reconvene and elect a new President within 24 hours”.[6]


  1. ^ http://www.prensalibre.com/hemeroteca/primeros-aos-de-roxana-baldetti-en-la-politica
  2. ^ a b c d e Barry S. Levitt (2006), "A Desultory Defense of Democracy: OAS Resolution 1080 and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, Latin American Politics and Society, Volume 48, Issue 3, September 2006, Pages: 93–123. pp104-5
  3. ^ Dosal, Paul J. Power in transition: the rise of Guatemala’s industrial oligarchy, 1871-1994. Westport: Praeger. 1995. Pp. 1.
  4. ^ McCleary, Rachel M. Dictating democracy: Guatemala and the end of violent revolution. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. 1999. Pp. 105-148.
  5. ^ Fischer, Edward F. Cultural logics and global economies: Maya identity in thought and practice. Austin: University of Texas Press, Austin. 2001. Pp. 78-79.
  6. ^ Keesing’s record of world events June 1993. Pp. 39503.