Politician and military officer who was the President of Guatemala from 1951 to 1954. He was ousted in a coup d’état engineered by the United States government and CIA because they saw his policy of land reforms as a threat to their economic holdings in the country. Jacobo Arbenz was born on September 14, 1913 in Guatemala. Fidel Castro offered him a place in Cuba after he was ousted from political office. He hoped to study Economics in college, but after his family went bankrupt, he couldn’t afford to attend university. Scroll below and check our most recent updates about Jacobo Arbenz Net Worth, Salary, Biography, Age, Career, Wiki. Also discover more details information about Current Net worth as well as Monthly/Year Salary, Expense, Income Reports!

Colonel Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán (Spanish pronunciation: [xaˈkoβo ˈarβenz ɣuzˈman]; September 14, 1913 – January 27, 1971), nicknamed The Big Blonde (Spanish: El Chelón) or The Swiss (Spanish: El Suizo) for his Swiss origins, was a Guatemalan military officer who was the second democratically elected President of Guatemala, serving from 1951 to 1954. He was also the Minister of Defense from 1944 to 1951. He was a major figure in the ten-year Guatemalan Revolution, which represented some of the few years of representative democracy in Guatemalan history. The landmark program of agrarian reform Árbenz enacted as president was enormously influential across Latin America.
Árbenz was born in 1913 to a middle-class family, son of a Swiss German father and a Guatemalan mother. He graduated with high honors from a military academy in 1935, and served in the army until 1944, quickly rising through the ranks. During this period, he witnessed the violent repression of agrarian laborers by the United States-backed dictator Jorge Ubico, and was personally required to escort chain-gangs of prisoners, an experience that radicalized him. In 1938 he met and married his wife María Villanova, who was a great ideological influence on him, as was José Manuel Fortuny, a Guatemalan communist. In October 1944 several civilian groups and progressive military factions led by Árbenz and Francisco Arana rebelled against Ubico’s repressive policies. In the elections that followed, Juan José Arévalo was elected president, and began a highly popular program of social reform. Árbenz was appointed Minister of Defense, and played a crucial role in putting down a military coup in 1949.
After the death of Arana, Árbenz contested the presidential elections that were held in 1950 and without significant opposition defeated Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes, his nearest challenger, by a margin of over 50%. He took office on March 15, 1951, and continued the social reform policies of his predecessor. These reforms included an expanded right to vote, the ability of workers to organize, legitimizing political parties, and allowing public debate. The centerpiece of his policy was an agrarian reform law under which uncultivated portions of large land-holdings were expropriated in return for compensation and redistributed to poverty-stricken agricultural laborers. Approximately 500,000 people benefited from the decree. The majority of them were indigenous people, whose forebears had been dispossessed after the Spanish invasion.
His policies ran afoul of the United Fruit Company, which lobbied the United States government to have him overthrown. The US was also concerned by the presence of communists in the Guatemalan government, and Árbenz was ousted in the 1954 Guatemalan coup d’état engineered by the US Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency. Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas replaced him as president. Árbenz went into exile through several countries, where his family gradually fell apart. His daughter committed suicide, and he descended further into alcoholism, eventually dying in Mexico in 1971. In October 2011, the Guatemalan government issued an official apology for Árbenz’ overthrow.

Early life

Árbenz was born in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, the second-largest city in the country, in 1913. He was the son of a Swiss German pharmacist, also named Jacobo Árbenz, who immigrated to Guatemala in 1901. His mother was a Ladino woman from a middle-class family. His family was relatively wealthy and upper-class; his childhood has been described as “comfortable”. Árbenz inherited his father’s Nordic features. At some point during his childhood, his father became addicted to morphine and began to neglect the family business. He eventually went bankrupt, forcing the family to move to a rural estate that a wealthy friend had set aside for them “out of charity”. Jacobo had originally desired to be an economist or an engineer, but since the family now had no money, he could not afford to go to a university. He did not want to join the military, but there was a scholarship available through the Escuela Politécnica for military cadets. He applied, passed all of the entrance exams, and entered as a cadet in 1932. His father committed suicide two years after Árbenz entered the academy.

Military career and marriage

Jacobo Árbenz seated next to his wife María Villanova

Árbenz seated next to his wife María Cristina Villanova in 1944. His wife was a great ideological influence upon him, and they shared a desire for social reform.

Árbenz excelled in the academy and was deemed “an exceptional student”. He became “first sergeant”, the highest honor bestowed upon cadets that only six people received from 1924 to 1944. His abilities earned him an unusual level of respect among the officers at the school, including Major John Considine, the US director of the school, and of other US officers who served at the school. A fellow officer later said that “his abilities were such that the officers treated him with a respect that was rarely granted to a cadet.” Árbenz graduated in 1935.

After graduating, he served a stint as a junior officer at Fort San José in the capital Guatemala City and later under “an illiterate Colonel” in a small garrison in the village of San Juan Sacatepéquez. While at San José, Árbenz had to lead squads of soldiers who were escorting chain gangs of prisoners (including political prisoners) to perform forced labor. The experience traumatized Árbenz, who said he felt like a capataz (i.e., a “foreman”). During this period he first met Francisco Arana.

Árbenz was asked to fill a vacant teaching position at the academy in 1937. Árbenz taught a wide range of subjects, including military matters, history, and physics. He was promoted to captain six years later, and placed in charge of the entire corps of cadets. His position was the third highest in the academy and was considered one of the most prestigious positions a young officer could hold.

In 1938 he met his future wife María Villanova, the daughter of a wealthy Salvadoran landowner. They were married a few months later, without the approval of María’s parents, who felt she should not marry an army lieutenant who was not wealthy. María was 24 at the time of the wedding, and Jacobo was 26. María later wrote that, while the two were very different in many ways, their desire for political change drew them together. Árbenz stated that his wife had a great influence on him. It was through her that Árbenz was exposed to Marxism. María had received a copy of The Communist Manifesto at a women’s congress and left a copy of it on Jacobo’s bedside table when she left for a vacation. Jacobo was “moved” by the Manifesto, and he and María discussed it with each other. Both felt that it explained many things they had been feeling. Afterwards, Jacobo began reading more works by Marx, Lenin, and Stalin and by the late 1940s was regularly interacting with a group of Guatemalan communists.

October revolution and defense ministership

President Jorge Ubico in the 1930s. Like his predecessors, he gave a number of concessions to the United Fruit Company and supported their harsh labor practices. He was forced out of power by a popular uprising in 1944.

Historical background

In 1871 the government of Justo Rufino Barrios passed laws confiscating the lands of the native Mayan people and compelling them to work in coffee plantations for minimal compensation. Several United States-based companies, including the United Fruit Company, received this public land, and were exempted from paying taxes. In 1929 the Great Depression led to the collapse of the economy and a rise in unemployment, leading to unrest among workers and laborers. Fearing the possibility of a revolution, the landed elite lent their support to Jorge Ubico, who won the election that followed in 1931, an election in which he was the only candidate. With the support of the United States, Ubico soon became one of Latin America’s most brutal dictators. Ubico abolished the system of debt peonage introduced by Barrios and replaced it with a vagrancy law, which required all men of working age who did not own land to perform a minimum of 100 days of hard labor. In addition, the state made use of unpaid Indian labor to work on public infrastructure such as roads and railroads. Ubico also froze wages at very low levels, and passed a law allowing landowners complete immunity from prosecution for any action they took to defend their property, including allowing them to execute workers as a “disciplinary” measure. The result of these laws was a tremendous resentment against him among agricultural laborers. Ubico was highly contemptuous of the country’s indigenous people, once stating that they resembled donkeys. He gave away 200,000 hectares (490,000 acres) hectares of public land to the United Fruit Company, and allowed the US military to establish bases in Guatemala.

October revolution

Árbenz, Toriello and Arana

Árbenz, Jorge Toriello (center), and Francisco Arana (right) in 1944. The three men formed the junta that ruled Guatemala from the October Revolution until the election of Arévalo.

In May 1944 a series of protests against Ubico broke out at the university in Guatemala City. Ubico responded by suspending the constitution on June 22, 1944. The protests, which by this point included many middle-class members and junior army officers in addition to students and workers, gained momentum, eventually forcing Ubico’s resignation at the end of June. Ubico appointed a three-person junta led by General Federico Ponce Vaides to succeed him. Although Ponce Vaides initially promised to hold free elections, when the congress met on July 3, soldiers held everyone at gunpoint and forced them to appoint Ponce Vaides interim president. The repressive policies of the Ubico administration were continued. Opposition groups began organizing again, this time joined by many prominent political and military leaders, who deemed the Ponce regime unconstitutional. Árbenz had been one of the few officers in the military to protest the actions of Ponce Vaides. Ubico had fired Árbenz from his teaching post at the Escuela Politécnica, and since then Árbenz had been living in El Salvador, organizing a band of revolutionary exiles. Árbenz was one of the leaders of the plot within the army, along with Major Aldana Sandoval. Árbenz insisted that civilians also be included in the coup, over the protests of the other military men involved. Sandoval later said that all contact with the civilians during the coup was through Árbenz.

On October 19, 1944, a small group of soldiers and students led by Árbenz and Francisco Javier Arana attacked the National Palace in what later became known as the “October Revolution”. Arana had not initially been a party to the coup, but his position of authority within the army meant that he was key to its success. They were joined the next day by other factions of the army and the civilian population. Initially, the battle went against the revolutionaries, but after an appeal for support their ranks were swelled by unionists and students, and they eventually subdued the police and army factions loyal to Ponce Vaides. On October 20, the next day, Ponce Vaides surrendered unconditionally. Árbenz and Arana both fought with distinction during the revolt, and despite the idealistic rhetoric of the revolution, both were also offered material rewards: Árbenz was promoted from Captain to Lieutenant Colonel, and Arana from Major to full Colonel. The junta promised free and open elections to the presidency and the congress, as well as for a constituent assembly. The resignation of Ponce Vaides and the creation of the junta has been considered by scholars to be the beginning of the Guatemalan Revolution. However, the revolutionary junta did not immediately threaten the interests of the landed elite. Two days after Ponce Vaides’ resignation, a violent protest erupted at Patzicía, a small Indian hamlet. The junta responded with swift brutality, silencing the protest. The dead civilians included women and children.

Elections subsequently took place in December 1944. Although only literate men were allowed to vote, the elections were broadly considered free and fair. Unlike in similar historical situations, none of the junta members stood for election. The winner of the 1944 elections was a teacher named Juan José Arévalo, who ran under a coalition of leftist parties known as the “Partido Acción Revolucionaria'” (“Revolutionary Action Party”, PAR), and won 85% of the vote. Arana did not wish to turn over power to a civilian administration. He initially tried to persuade Árbenz and Toriello to postpone the election, and after Arévalo was elected, he asked them to declare the results invalid. Árbenz and Toriello insisted that Arévalo be allowed to take power, which Arana reluctantly agreed to, on the condition that Arana’s position as the commander of the military be unchallenged. Arévalo had no choice but to agree to this, and so the new Guatemalan constitution, adopted in 1945, created a new position of “Commander of the Armed Forces”, a position that was more powerful than that of the defense minister. He could only be removed by Congress, and even then only if he was found to have broken the law. When Arévalo was inaugurated as president, Arana stepped into this new position, and Árbenz was sworn in as defense minister.

Government of Juan José Arévalo

Arévalo described his ideology as “spiritual socialism”. He was anti-Marxist and believed in a capitalist society regulated to ensure that its benefits went to the entire population. Arévalo’s ideology was reflected in the new constitution that was ratified by the Guatemalan assembly soon after his inauguration, which was one of the most progressive in Latin America. It mandated suffrage for all but illiterate women, a decentralization of power, and provisions for a multiparty system. Communist parties were forbidden. Once in office, Arévalo implemented these and other reforms, including minimum wage laws, increased educational funding, and labor reforms. The benefits of these reforms were largely restricted to the upper-middle classes and did little for the peasant agricultural laborers who made up the majority of the population. Despite the fact that his reforms were based on liberalism and capitalism, he was viewed with suspicion by the United States government, which would later portray him as a communist.

When Árbenz was sworn in as defense minister under President Arévalo, he became the first to hold the portfolio since it had previously been known as the Ministry of War. In the fall of 1947, Árbenz, as defense minister, objected to the deportation of several workers after they had been accused of being communists. Well-known communist José Manuel Fortuny was intrigued by this action and decided to visit him, and found Árbenz to be different from the stereotypical Central American military officer. That first meeting was followed by others until Árbenz invited Fortuny to his house for discussions that usually extended for hours. Like Árbenz, Fortuny was inspired by a fierce nationalism and a burning desire to improve the conditions of the Guatemalan people, and, like Árbenz, he sought answers in Marxist theory. This relationship would strongly influence Árbenz in the future.

On December 16, 1945, Arévalo was incapacitated for a while after a car accident. The leaders of the Revolutionary Action Party (PAR), which was the party that supported the government, were afraid that Arana would take the opportunity to launch a coup and so struck a deal with him, which later came to be known as the Pacto del Barranco (Pact of the Ravine). Under the terms of this pact, Arana agreed to refrain from seizing power with the military; in return, the PAR agreed to support Arana’s candidacy in the next presidential election, scheduled for November 1950. Arévalo himself recovered swiftly, but was forced to support the agreement. However, by 1949 the National Renovation Party and the PAR were both openly hostile to Arana due to his lack of support for labor rights. The leftist parties decided to back Árbenz instead, as they believed that only a military officer could defeat Arana. In 1947 Arana had demanded that certain labor leaders be expelled from the country; Árbenz vocally disagreed with Arana, and the former’s intervention limited the number of deportees.

The land reforms brought about by the Arévalo administration threatened the interests of the landed elite, who sought a candidate who would be more amenable to their terms. They began to prop up Arana as a figure of resistance to Arévalo’s reforms. The summer of 1949 saw intense political conflict in the councils of the Guatemalan military between supporters of Arana and those of Árbenz, over the choice of Arana’s successor. On July 16, 1949, Arana delivered an ultimatum to Arévalo, demanding the expulsion of all of Árbenz’ supporters from the cabinet and the military; he threatened a coup if his demands were not met. Arévalo informed Árbenz and other progressive leaders of the ultimatum; all agreed that Arana should be exiled. Two days later, Arévalo and Arana had another meeting; on the way back, Arana’s convoy was intercepted by a small force led by Árbenz. A shootout ensued, killing three men, including Arana. Historian Piero Gleijeses stated that Árbenz probably had orders to capture, rather than to kill, Arana. Arana’s supporters in the military rose up in revolt, but they were leaderless, and by the next day the rebels asked for negotiations. The coup attempt left approximately 150 dead and 200 wounded. Árbenz and a few other ministers suggested that the entire truth be made public; however, they were overruled by the majority of the cabinet, and Arévalo made a speech suggesting that Arana had been killed for refusing to lead a coup against the government. Árbenz kept his silence over the death of Arana until 1968, refusing to speak out without first obtaining Arévalo’s consent. He tried to persuade Arévalo to tell the entire story when the two met in Montevideo in the 1950s, during their exile: however, Arévalo was unwilling, and Árbenz did not press his case.

1950 Election

Árbenz’s role as defense minister had already made him a strong candidate for the presidency, and his firm support of the government during the 1949 uprising further increased his prestige. In 1950 the economically moderate Partido de Integridad Nacional (PIN) announced that Árbenz would be its presidential candidate in the upcoming election. The announcement was quickly followed by endorsements from most parties on the left, including the influential PAR, as well as from labor unions. Árbenz carefully chose the PIN as the party to nominate him. Based on the advice of his friends and colleagues, he believed it would make his candidacy appear more moderate. Árbenz himself resigned his position as Defense Minister on February 20 and declared his candidacy for the presidency. Arévalo wrote him an enthusiastic personal letter in response but publicly only reluctantly endorsed him, preferring, it is thought, his friend Víctor Manuel Giordani, who was then Health Minister. It was only the support Árbenz had, and the impossibility of Giordani being elected, that led to Arévalo deciding to support Árbenz.

Prior to his death, Arana had planned to run in the 1950 presidential elections. His death left Árbenz without any serious opposition in the elections (leading some, including the CIA and US military intelligence, to speculate that Árbenz personally had him eliminated for this reason). Árbenz had only a couple of significant challengers in the election, in a field of ten candidates. One of these was Jorge García Granados, supported by some members of the upper-middle class who felt the revolution had gone too far. Another was Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes, who had been a general under Ubico and had the support of the hardline opponents of the revolution. During his campaign, Árbenz promised to continue and expand the reforms begun under Arévalo. Árbenz was expected to win the election comfortably because he had the support of both major political parties of the country, as well as that of the labor unions, which campaigned heavily on his behalf. In addition to political support, Árbenz had great personal appeal. He was described as having “an engaging personality and a vibrant voice”. Árbenz’ wife María also campaigned with him; despite her wealthy upbringing she had made an effort to speak for the interests of the Mayan peasantry and had become a national figure in her own right. Árbenz’ two daughters also occasionally made public appearances with him.

The election was held on November 15, 1950, with Árbenz winning more than 60% of the vote, in elections that were largely free and fair with the exception of the disenfranchisement of illiterate female voters. Árbenz got more than three times as many votes as the runner-up, Ydígoras Fuentes. Fuentes claimed electoral fraud had benefited Árbenz, but scholars have pointed out that while fraud may possibly have given Árbenz some of his votes, it was not the reason that he won the election. Árbenz’ promise of land reform played a large role in ensuring his victory. The election of Árbenz alarmed US State Department officials, who stated that Arana “has always represented the only positive conservative element in the Arévalo administration” and that his death would “strengthen Leftist [sic] materially”, and that “developments forecast sharp leftist trend within the government.” Árbenz was inaugurated as president on March 15, 1951.


Colonel Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán addressing the crowd at his inauguration as the President of Guatemala in 1951

Inauguration and ideology

In his inaugural address, Árbenz promised to convert Guatemala from “a backward country with a predominantly feudal economy into a modern capitalist state”. He declared that he intended to reduce dependency on foreign markets and dampen the influence of foreign corporations over Guatemalan politics. He also stated that he would modernize Guatemala’s infrastructure without the aid of foreign capital. Based on advice from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, he set out to build more houses, ports, and roads. Árbenz also set out to reform Guatemala’s economic institutions; he planned to construct factories, increase mining, expand transportation infrastructure, and expand the banking system. Land reform was the centerpiece of Árbenz’s election campaign. The revolutionary organizations that had helped put Árbenz in power kept constant pressure on him to live up to his campaign promises regarding land reform. Agrarian reform was one of the areas of policy which the Arévalo administration had not ventured into; when Árbenz took office, only 2% of the population owned 70% of the land.

Historian Jim Handy described Árbenz’ economic and political ideals as “decidedly pragmatic and capitalist in temper”. According to historian Stephen Schlesinger, while Árbenz did have a few communists in lower-level positions in his administration, he “was not a dictator, he was not a crypto-communist”. Schlesinger described him as a democratic socialist. Nevertheless, some of his policies, particularly those involving agrarian reform, would be branded as “communist” by the Guatemalan upper class and the United Fruit Company. Historian Piero Gleijeses has argued that although Árbenz’ policies were intentionally capitalist in nature, his personal views gradually shifted towards communism. A goal of Árbenz was to increase Guatemala’s economic and political independence. He believed that to do this Guatemala needed to build a strong domestic economy. He made an effort to reach out to the indigenous Mayan people, and sent government representatives to confer with them. From this effort he learned that the Maya held strongly to their ideals of dignity and self-determination; inspired in part by this, he stated in 1951 that “If the independence and prosperity of our people were incompatible, which for certain they are not, I am sure that the great majority of Guatemalans would prefer to be a poor nation, but free, and not a rich colony, but enslaved.”

Relationship with communists

Although the policies of the Árbenz government were based on a moderate form of capitalism, the communist movement did grow stronger during his presidency, partly due to Arévalo having released its imprisoned leaders in 1944, and also through the strength of its teachers’ union. Despite the Communist party being banned for much of the Guatemalan Revolution, the Guatemalan government welcomed large numbers of communist and socialist refugees fleeing the dictatorial governments of neighboring countries, and this influx strengthened the domestic movement. In addition, Árbenz had personal ties to some members of the communist Guatemalan Party of Labour, which was legalized during his government. The most prominent of these was José Manuel Fortuny. Fortuny played the role of friend and adviser to Árbenz through the three years of his government, from 1951 to 1954. Fortuny wrote several speeches for Árbenz, and in his role as agricultural secretary he was involved in crafting the landmark agrarian reform bill. Despite his position in Árbenz’ government, however, Fortuny never became a popular figure in Guatemala, and did not have a large popular following like some other communist leaders. The communist party remained numerically weak, without any representation in Árbenz’ cabinet of ministers. A handful of communists were appointed to lower-level positions in the government. Árbenz read and admired the works of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin; officials in his government eulogized Stalin as a “great statesmen and leader … whose passing is mourned by all progressive men”. The Guatemalan Congress paid tribute to Joseph Stalin with a “minute of silence” when Stalin died in 1953, a fact that was remarked upon by later observers. Árbenz had several supporters among the communist members of the legislature, but they were only a small part of the government coalition. Árbenz himself slowly moved towards communism as a part of his personal ideology, but only joined the communist party in 1957, three years after his overthrow, after he had been further radicalized by the actions of the CIA.

Land Reform

Farmland in the Quetzaltenango Department, in western Guatemala

The biggest component of Árbenz’s project of modernization was his agrarian reform bill. Árbenz drafted the bill himself with the help of advisers that included some leaders of the communist party as well as non-communist economists. He also sought advice from numerous economists from across Latin America. The bill was passed by the National Assembly on June 17, 1952, and the program went into effect immediately. The focus of the program was on transferring uncultivated land from large landowners to their poverty-stricken laborers, who would then be able to begin a viable farm of their own. Árbenz was also motivated to pass the bill because he needed to generate capital for his public infrastructure projects within the country. At the behest of the United States, the World Bank had refused to grant Guatemala a loan in 1951, which made the shortage of capital more acute.

The official title of the agrarian reform bill was Decree 900. It expropriated all uncultivated land from landholdings that were larger than 673 acres (272 ha). If the estates were between 672 acres (272 ha) and 224 acres (91 ha) in size, uncultivated land was expropriated only if less than two-thirds of it was in use. The owners were compensated with government bonds, the value of which was equal to that of the land expropriated. The value of the land itself was the value that the owners had declared in their tax returns in 1952. The redistribution was organized by local committees that included representatives from the landowners, the laborers, and the government. Of the nearly 350,000 private land-holdings, only 1,710 were affected by expropriation. The law itself was cast in a moderate capitalist framework; however, it was implemented with great speed, which resulted in occasional arbitrary land seizures. There was also some violence, directed at landowners as well as at peasants who had minor landholdings of their own. Árbenz himself, a landowner through his wife, gave up 1,700 acres (7 km2) of his own land in the land reform program.

By June 1954, 1.4 million acres of land had been expropriated and distributed. Approximately 500,000 individuals, or one-sixth of the population, had received land by this point. The decree also included provision of financial credit to the people who received the land. The National Agrarian Bank (Banco Nacional Agrario, or BNA) was created on July 7, 1953, and by June 1951 it had disbursed more than $9 million in small loans. 53,829 applicants received an average of 225 US dollars, which was twice as much as the Guatemalan per capita income. The BNA developed a re

He was married to Maria Cristina Villanova until his death. He has not shared about He's parent's name. We will update Family, Sibling, Spouse and Children's information. Right now, we don't have much information about Education Life.

First NameJacobo
Last NameArbenz
DiedJan 27, 1971 ( age 57)
Birthday & Zodiac
Birth SignVirgo
Birth DateSeptember 14, 1913
BirthdaySeptember 14
Birth PlaceGuatemala
Height & Weight
Height (Approx.)Not Available
Weight (Approx.)Not Available

After being elected president he set land reform as his central goal, as only 2% of the population owned 70% of the land.

Jacobo Arbenz Net Worth

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