Jorge Ubico

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General of Division
Jorge Ubico Castañeda
Presidente Jorge Ubico Castañeda.png
21st President of Guatemala
In office
February 14, 1931 – July 1, 1944
Preceded by José María Reina
Succeeded by Federico Ponce Vaides
Leader of the Liberal Progressive Party of Guatemala
In office
1926 – July 1, 1944
Personal details
Born (1878-11-10)November 10, 1878
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Died June 14, 1946(1946-06-14) (aged 67)
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Political party Liberal Progressive Party
Marta Lainfiesta (m. 1905–1946)
; his death
Profession Soldier
Military service
Nickname(s) Number Five
Central America's Napoleon
Allegiance  Guatemala
Service/branch Military of Guatemala
Years of service 1896–1944
Rank General
Battles/wars War Totoposte (1903-06)
1921 Guatemalan coup d'état

Jorge Ubico Castañeda (10 November 1878 – 14 June 1946), nicknamed Number Five or also Central America's Napoleon, was a Guatemalan dictator. A general in the Guatemalan army, he was elected to the presidency in 1931, in an election where he was the only candidate. He continued his predecessors' policies of giving massive concessions to the United Fruit Company and wealthy landowners, as well as supporting their harsh labor practices.[1][2] Ubico has been described as "one of the most oppressive tyrants Guatemala has ever known" who compared himself to Adolf Hitler.[3] He was removed by a pro-democracy[4] uprising in 1944, which led to the ten-year Guatemalan Revolution.

Early years

Arturo Ubico Urruela, father of General Ubico.

Jorge Ubico was the son of Arturo Ubico Urruela, a lawyer and politician of the Guatemalan liberal party. Ubico Urruela was a member of the legislature that wrote the Guatemalan Constitution of 1879, and was subsequently the president of the Guatemalan Congress during the government of Manuel Estrada Cabrera (1898-1920). Jorge Ubico was privately tutored, and attended some of Guatemala's most prestigious schools, as well as receiving further education in the United States and Europe.[citation needed]

By 1897 Ubico received his commission into the Guatemalan army as a second lieutenant, a commission which was largely due to his political connections. He rapidly established himself in the army and rose through the ranks, and, after a military campaign against El Salvador, held the rank of colonel at the age of 28. A year later, he was made the governor (jefe politico) of the province of Alta Verapaz, followed four years later as governor of Retalhuleu.

During his tenure, he oversaw improvements in public works, the school system, public health, and youth organizations. In 1918, he drained swamps, ordered fumigation and distributed free medicine to combat a yellow fever epidemic, and won the praise of Major General William C. Gorgas, who had done the same in Panama. However, most of his reputation came from his harsh but effective punishment of banditry and smuggling across the Mexican border.

He returned to Guatemala City in 1921 to participate in a coup that installed General José Orellana into the presidency, after the sitting president Carlos Herrera y Luna refused to ratify the concessions that Estrada Cabrera had made to the United Fruit Company. Under Orellana he was appointed Secretary of War in 1922, but quit a year later. In 1926, after the death of President Orellana, Ubico ran unsuccessfully for president as the candidate of the Political Progressive Party. He temporarily retired to his farm until the next election.[citation needed]

Guatemalan instability

National Police Headquarters during Ubico's regime.

On December 1930, President Lazaro Chacón was forced to resign after having a stroke. By that time, Guatemala was in the midst of the Great Depression and bankrupt; Chacón's successor, Baudilio Palma, was deposed by a coup de' etat after only four days in office and was replaced by Gral. Manuel María Orellana. The United States opposed the new government and demanded Orellana resign; he was forced to leave the presidency in favor of José María Reina Andrade.[5][6]


The Liberal Party allied with the Progressives to nominate Ubico as Andrade's successor, in an election where Ubico was the only candidate on the ballot. In February 1931 he was elected with 305,841 votes.[7] In his inaugural address, he pledged a "march toward civilization". Once in office, he began a campaign of efficiency which included assuming dictatorial powers.[7]


Military dictatorship

Ubico's rule has been characterized as totalitarian;[8] John Gunther, who visited the country during 1941, described Guatemala as "a country 100 per cent dominated by a single man."[9] Added Gunther: "He [Ubico] has spies and agents everywhere, and knows everyone's private business to an amazing degree. Not a pin drops in Guatemala without his knowing it."[10] Guatemala under Ubico was likened to "a modern jail."[11]

He militarized numerous political and social institutions—including the post office, schools, and symphony orchestras—and placed military officers in charge of many government posts. He frequently traveled around the country performing "inspections" in dress uniform followed by a military escort, a mobile radio station, an official biographer, and cabinet members.[12][13][14][15][16]

UFCO and relations with the US

Ubico considered Guatemala to be the closest ally of the United States in the Caribbean. Adopting a pro-USA stance to promote economic development and recovery from depression, the United Fruit Company under Ubico became the most important company in Guatemala. It received import duty and real estate tax exemptions from the government and controlled more land than any other group or individual. It also controlled the sole railroad in the country, the sole facilities capable of producing electricity, and the port facilities at Puerto Barrios on the Atlantic coast.[17][18][19][20][21]

Relations with Germany

Newspaper column about Hitler greeting Ubico.

As part of a goodwill worldwide tour promoting the Berlin 1936 Summer Olympics, in January of that year the German light cruiser Emden arrived to Guatemala. Its crew travelled by train to Guatemala City where they paraded in front of Ubico's Army staff and the general public.

Middle class

While the middle class grew substantially during Ubico's regime,[22] the basic character of the regime remained oligarchical and his regime primarily benefited the landowning class.[23] The country's middle class, resentful of its inclusion from the government, later spearheaded the democratic revolution that removed Ubico from power.[24]


Ubico considered himself to be "another Napoleon". He admired Napoleon Bonaparte extravagantly and preferred to have his photograph taken in his general's uniform. Although he was much taller and fatter than his hero, Ubico believed that he resembled Bonaparte, and his nickname was "the Little Napoleon of the Tropics".[25] He dressed ostentatiously and surrounded himself with statues and paintings of Napoleon, regularly commenting on the similarities between their appearances.


Jorge Ubico in 1933.

Ubico was commended by both his defenders and his detractors for his personal integrity and for virtually eliminating corruption in Guatemala;[10][26][27] anyone found guilty of corruption was "instantly"[10] and "severely"[28] punished. The so-called Probity Law mandated that all public officials publicly declare their assets before taking office and upon leaving it[10] – and the law was rigorously enforced.[26]

Repression and controversy

On 18 September1934, Efraín Aguilar Fuentes, Juventino Sánchez, Humberto Molina Santiago, Rafael Estrada Guilles, and Colonel Luis Ortiz Guzmán were tortured and executed inside the Guatemala National Penitenciary,[a][29] accused of planning a plot to overthrow president Ubico.

In his book The paradox garden (Spanish: El Jardín de las Paradojas), written in 1935, Guatemalan writer Efraín De los Ríos accused the police chief, General Roderico Anzueto Valencia, of making up the plot to get rid of the accused conspirators. According to De los Ríos, this is what really happened:

In early September 1934, when Ubico announced a popular referendum to determine whether he should extend his presidential term for another six years, the lawyer Efraín Aguilar Fuentes -Property Registry director- sternly declined to be in favor of the president. When Ubico summoned him to the presidential office to chastise him, Fuentes coldly replied he was aware Police Chief Anzueto Valencia had embezzled up to twenty eight properties and therefore he, Aguilar, was not going to support the president. But he did not know that Anzueto was only the front man and the real owner was Ubico himself.[30]

In the following weeks, Anzueto Valencia made up a list of people involved in a false plot to murder Ubico Castañeda, and among the people in the list he included Aguilar Fuentes. All the people on the list were imprisoned, tortured and forced to confess. Their "confessions" appeared in the semi-official newspaper El Liberal Progresista.

De los Ríos was incarcerated once the government learned about these strong accusations. He remained in the National Penitenciary for most of the rest of Ubico's presidency.[31]

Resignation and continuation

School teacher María Chinchilla Recinos in 1940.

Ubico's repressive policies and arrogant demeanor led to a widespread popular insurrection led by middle-class intellectuals, professionals, and junior army officers. School teacher María Chinchilla Recinos' death during a peaceful demonstration on June 25, 1944 sparked an outcry that led to Ubico's resignation on July 1st 1944, amidst a general strike and nationwide protests. Initially, he had planned to hand over power to the former director of police, General Roderico Anzueto, who he felt could control. But his advisors recognized that Anzueto's pro-Nazi sympathies had made him very unpopular, and that he would not be able to control the military. Instead, Ubico chose to select a triumvirate composed of Major General Buenaventura Piñeda, Major General Eduardo Villagrán Ariza, and General Federico Ponce Vaides.

The three generals promised to convene the national assembly to hold an election for a provisional president, but when congress met on 3 July, soldiers held everyone at gunpoint and forced them to vote for General Ponce, rather than the popular civilian candidate Ramón Calderón. Ponce, who had previously retired from military service due to alcoholism, took orders from Ubico and kept many of the officials who had worked in the Ubico administration. The repressive policies of the Ubico administration continued.[12][32][33]

Revolution and overthrow

Opposition groups began organizing again, this time joined by many prominent political and military leaders who deemed the Ponce regime unconstitutional. Among the military officers in the opposition were Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán and Major Francisco Javier Arana. Ubico had fired Árbenz from his teaching post at the Escuela Politécnica (Politechnic School), and since then Árbenz had been in El Salvador organizing a band of revolutionary exiles. On 19 October 1944, a small group of soldiers and students led by Árbenz and Arana attacked the National Palace, in what later became known as the "October Revolution".[34] Ponce was defeated and driven into exile. Árbenz, Arana, and a lawyer named Jorge Toriello established a junta which held democratic elections before the end of the year,[35] and were won by a professor named Juan José Arévalo.[36]


Ubico died in exile in New Orleans on 14 June 1946.


Palaces built during Ubico's presidency
National Palace
Post Office
Interior Ministry, originally National Police
Museum, originally the November Fair Hall

See also

Notes and references


  1. ^ Molina Santiago had tried to form a political party in Quetzaltenango to support general Roderico Anzueto to compete against Ubico in the upcoming presidential elections.[29]


  1. ^ Streeter 2000, pp. 15–16.
  2. ^ Immerman 1983, pp. 48–50.
  3. ^ Shillington 2002, pp. 38–39.
  4. ^ Forster 2001, pp. 89–91.
  5. ^ Time 1930.
  6. ^ Time 1931.
  7. ^ a b Nuestro Diario 1931, p. 1.
  8. ^ Grieb, p. 42
  9. ^ Gunther, John. Inside Latin America (1941), p. 118
  10. ^ a b c d Gunther, p. 120
  11. ^ Nyrop, Richard F. (ed.), Guatemala: A Country Study (1983), p. 21
  12. ^ a b Streeter 2000, p. 11-12.
  13. ^ Immerman 1983, p. 32.
  14. ^ Grandin 2000, p. 195.
  15. ^ Benz 1996, p. 16-17.
  16. ^ Loveman & Davies 1997, p. 118-120.
  17. ^ Bucheli 2008, pp. 433–454.
  18. ^ Bucheli 2005, pp. 22–24.
  19. ^ Bucheli 2004, pp. 181–212.
  20. ^ Bucheli 2006, pp. 342–383.
  21. ^ Bucheli 1997, pp. 65-84.
  22. ^ Grieb, Kenneth J. Guatemalan Caudillo: The Regime of Jorge Ubico (1979), p. 282
  23. ^ Griev, p. 34
  24. ^ Grieb, p. 270-271
  25. ^ De los Ríos 1948, p. 98.
  26. ^ a b Grieb, p. 13
  27. ^ Nyrop, p. 21
  28. ^ United States Office of Inter-American Affairs, Guatemala: Volcanic But Peaceful (1943), p. 10
  29. ^ a b De los Ríos 1948, p. 375
  30. ^ De los Ríos 1948, p. 384.
  31. ^ De los Ríos 1948.
  32. ^ Immerman 1983, p. 40-41.
  33. ^ Jonas 1991, p. 22.
  34. ^ Immerman 1983.
  35. ^ Streeter 2000, p. 13.
  36. ^ Norton, Ben (18 Nov 2015). "This is why they hate us: The real American history neither Ted Cruz nor the New York Times will tell you". Salon. Archived from the original on 13 Aug 2018. Retrieved 11 Nov 2018.


  • Benz, Stephen Connely (1996). Guatemalan Journey. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-70840-2.
  • Bucheli, Marcelo (2008). Multinational Corporations, Totalitarian Regimes, and Economic Nationalism: United Fruit Company in Central America, 1899-1975. Business History. 50. pp. 433–454. doi:10.1080/00076790802106315.
  • Bucheli, Marcelo (2005). "Banana War Maneuvers". Harvard Business Review. 83 (11): 22–24. Archived from the original on 2012-12-11.
  • Bucheli, Marcelo (Summer 2004). "Enforcing Business Contracts in South America: the United Fruit Company and the Colombian Banana Planters in the Twentieth-Century". Business History Review. The President and Fellows of Harvard College. 78 (2): 181–212. doi:10.2307/25096865. JSTOR 25096865.
  • Bucheli, Marcelo (2006). "The United Fruit Company in Latin America: Business Strategies in a Changing Environment". In Jones, Geoffrey; Wadhwani, R. Daniel. Entrepreneurship and Global Capitalism. 2. Cheltenham, England: Edward Elgar. pp. 342–383. Archived from the original on 2007-10-13. Retrieved 2015-01-15.
  • Bucheli, Marcelo (1997). "United Fruit Company in Colombia: Impact of Labor Relations and Governmental Regulations on its Operations, 1948-1968". Essays in Economic and Business History. 15: 65–84.
  • Bucheli, Marcelo (2006). "United Fruit Company". In Geisst, Charles. Encyclopedia of American Business History. London, England: Facts on File. ISBN 978-0-8160-4350-7.
  • Bucheli, Marcelo (2004). "United Fruit Company". In McCusker, John. History of World Trade Since 1450. New York: Macmillan.
  • De los Ríos, Efraín (1948). Ombres contra Hombres (in Spanish) (3rd ed.). Mexico, D.F.: Fondo de cultura de la Universidad de México.
  • Díaz Romeu, Guillermo (1996). "Del régimen de Carlos Herrera a la elección de Jorge Ubico". Historia general de Guatemala. 1993-1999 (in Spanish). 5. Guatemala: Asociación de Amigos del País, Fundación para la Cultura y el Desarrollo. pp. 37–42. Archived from the original on 2015-01-12.
  • Gleijeses, Piero (1992). Shattered hope: the Guatemalan revolution and the United States, 1944-1954. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-02556-8.
  • Grandin, Greg (2000). The blood of Guatemala: a history of race and nation. Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-2495-9.
  • Forster, Cindy (2001). The Time of Freedom: Campesino Workers in Guatemala's October Revolution. University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 9780822941620.
  • Fried, Jonathan L. (1983). Guatemala in rebellion: unfinished history. Grove Press. p. 52.
  • Friedman, Max Paul (2003). Nazis and good neighbors: the United States campaign against the Germans of Latin America in World War II. Cambridge University Press. pp. 82–83. ISBN 9780521822466.
  • Immerman, Richard H. (1983). The CIA in Guatemala: The Foreign Policy of Intervention. University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292710832.
  • Jonas, Susanne (1991). The battle for Guatemala: rebels, death squads, and U.S. power (5th ed.). Westview Press. ISBN 978-0-8133-0614-8.
  • Krehm, William (1999). Democracies and Tyrannies of the Caribbean in 1940s. COMER Publications. ISBN 9781896266817.
  • Loveman, Brian; Davies, Thomas M. (1997). The Politics of antipolitics: the military in Latin America (3rd, revised ed.). Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-8420-2611-6.
  • Martínez Peláez, Severo (1990). La Patria del Criollo (in Spanish). México: Ediciones En Marcha. p. 858.
  • McCreery, David (1994). Rural Guatemala, 1760-1940. Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804723183.
  • Nuestro Diario (14 December 1930). "Noticias de primera plana". Nuestro Diario (in Spanish). Guatemala.
  • Nuestro Diario (8 February 1931). "Noticias de primera plana". Nuestro Diario (in Spanish). Guatemala.
  • Paterson, Thomas G.; et al. (2009). American Foreign Relations: A History, Volume 2: Since 1895. Cengage Learning. ISBN 0547225695.
  • Rabe, Stephen G. (1988). Eisenhower and Latin America: The Foreign Policy of Anticommunism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 9780807842041.
  • Shillington, John (2002). Grappling with atrocity: Guatemalan theater in the 1990s. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. pp. 38–39. ISBN 9780838639306.
  • Streeter, Stephen M. (2000). Managing the counterrevolution: the United States and Guatemala, 1954-1961. Ohio University Press. ISBN 978-0-89680-215-5.
  • Time (29 December 1930). "Wrong horse No. 2". Time magazine. United States.
  • Time (12 January 1931). "We are not amused". Time magazine. United States.
  • Time (20 April 1931). "Died. General Lazaro Chacon, 56, President of Guatemala". United States.

Further reading

  • Arévalo Martinez, Rafael (1945). ¡Ecce Pericles! (in Spanish). Guatemala: Tipografía Nacional.
  • Bucheli, Marcelo; Read, Ian (2006). "Banana Boats and Baby Food: The Banana in U.S. History". In Topik, Steven; Marichal, Carlos; Frank, Zephyr. From Silver to Cocaine: Latin American Commodity Chains and the Building of the World Economy, 1500-2000. Durham: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-3766-9.
  • Grieb, Kenneth J. (1979). Guatemalan Caudillo: The Regime of Jorge Ubico 1931–1944. Athens: Ohio University Press. ISBN 0-8214-0379-6. OCLC 4135828.
  • LaFeber, Walter (1993). Inevitable revolutions: the United States in Central America. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 77–79. ISBN 9780393309645.
  • Samayoa Chinchilla, Carlos (1950). El Dictador y yo (in Spanish). Guatemala City: Imprenta Iberia. OCLC 5585663.
Political offices
Preceded by
José María Reina Andrade
Coat of arms of Guatemala.svg
President of Guatemala

Succeeded by
Juan Federico Ponce Vaides
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