In 1901 Guatemala again opened up to the rest of the world
as foreign companies sought resources the country had, most notably in the form
of fruit, but also with products such as coffee. The most powerful player in this
exchange was the United Fruit Company (based in the
United States), who had so much power and money, they actually bought Guatemala's
communication systems, railroad, ports, and much of its land, in many ways taking
over what were once government-operated systems. This foreign dominance continued
through the 1940s as Guatemala improved economically, however lost control over
its country in the process.
In 1944 the people revolted against their current dictator, one in a long line of
dictatorships as a communist-leaning organization overthrew their dictator, General
Jorge Ubico. However, Ubico managed to replace three of his generals in his stead,
an act that didn't sit well with the revolutionaries, leading to a second military
coup and new leadership once again. This coup however was only intended to overthrow
the military leadership and once that task was completed, the military stepped aside
and allowed for free elections in 1945; the first in the country's history.
Despite positive improvements, these freedoms only lasted for about ten years and
in the early 1950s political arguments and power struggles began again. These battles
were primarily between the indigenous people and the mestizos (combination of Native
American and European) regarding social standing and economics. The
reactions the government made to these protests were brutal as massacres were done
to prove power. When changes were made it came at the expense of foreign investors,
whose land was taken from them in order to redistribute, giving the government no
true allies domestically or abroad.
These actions took the country in a direction towards communism and neither the
people nor the country's former foreign investors viewed this as positive, perhaps
due to the United States investing money
in marketing campaigns in the country. The people did eventually fight the government
and their president, Jacobo Arbenz stepped down in 1954.
The new government did little to comfort the people and in 1960 civil war broke
out in Guatemala. This war involved foreign powers once
more as the United States supported the current government and Cuba supported a
communist faction. More than these two groups though were dozens of groups as both
the extreme left and right fought the current status of the country. More importantly,
the indigenous population was suppressed and many of these people were killed by
both side of the battle as later many accusations of genocide were made. These battled
ended in 1966 when Julio Cesar Mendez Montenegro took over the presidency and began
a battle to wipe out any remaining insurgency groups. Although he maintained political
power, the violence in the country continued for years.
Through the 1970s and early 1980s the government was controlled by military dictators
who had rigged elections and hand-picked their successors. In the early 1980s General
Efrain Rios Montt, who had taken over as a compromise candidate started local civilian
defense patrols to fight the insurgents. This essentially created government organized
militias as any insurgent or government protestor was killed without trial throughout
the country. It did accomplish what Montt had hoped, it ended most of the insurgent
In 1983 Montt was overthrown and by 1986 a democratically elected government was
installed. This, and following governments were strife with corruption though and
little progress was made until 1994 when the congress resigned and a new election
took place. In 1996 a peace was signed between the parties who had been fighting
since 1960 and things settled down.
Since 1996 Guatemala has made slow progress as educational
and infrastructural changes have been slow to be implemented and political conflicts
continue, but now being fought through words, not weapons. Additionally, the country
has become a transit point for the drug trafficking trade moving from
South America to North America, particularly
the United States and Canada.