Years of Spring

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Jorge Ubico

 

Led by students, the people overthrew Ubico in 1944. What followed has been called ten years of spring in Guatemala, the only significant time in this century when there was truly civilian rule. Juan Jose Arevalo was elected president with eighty-five percent of the vote. He was a profession, rather than a politician.

Calling his plan “spiritual socialism,” Arevalo institued a number of political reforms that affected Guatemala City more than the countryside. A social security law and a labor code protecting the rights of workers were two of his accomplishments. He did not attempt to change the distribution of the land for fear of being overthrown by the military and wealthy landowners.

However, his successor, Jacobo Arbenz, did finally institute a mild land reform that bought the vacant lands from their owners at a fair market value and distributed them to landless peasants. The 1950 census showed that two percent of the population controlled seventy-four percent of arable land. Seventy-six percent of the population owned only nine percent of the land. The Agrarian Reform Law of Arbenz’s government, by shifting land away from the largest owners to one hundred thousand peasants, changed the economic structure of Guatemala more than any other event in the previous century.

Part of the expropriation of land hit the United Fruit Company. The Guatemalan government bought unused land of United Fruit for the value they had put down on their tax returns for the last ten years. Company owners were outraged, saying the land was more valuable and they needed it in case something happened to their other land.

Voice of a Mountain is a video documentary of the lives of rural Guatemalan coffee farmers who took up arms against their government in a civil war that lasted 36 years. This documentary explores Guatemala's dark history from the perspective of those who saw armed revolution as their only hope for change in a poverty-ridden nation under years of military dictatorship. Ex-combatants talk about the bleak reality of the country that led to their involvement in the war, and the response of genocide from the Guatemalan government against its people. The documentary gives insight into their motives for joining an armed conflict as interviews reveal personal accounts of struggle, hope, tragedy, and the fruits of their resistance.

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