Juan José Arévalo Bermejo

(b. 1904)

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(b. Taxisco, 10 Sept. 1904; d. Guatemala City, 7 Oct. 1990)

Guatemalan; President 1945–51 Prior to the Ubico dictatorship, Arévalo worked for the ministry of education. In 1934 he obtained a Ph.D. in education from the University of La Plata, Argentina. He taught at several Argentine universities and founded and directed the Pedagogical Institute in San Luis. Supported by a new political group, the Revolutionary Action Party (PAR), Arévalo was elected President in December 1944, following the overthrow of Ubico's successor, General Ponce. He took office on 15 March 1945.

Arévalo described his politics as ‘spiritual socialism’, although he was a confirmed anti-Communist (the party was banned under his administration). Reforms carried out under the new constitution included a labour code which afforded the right to strike to urban and rural workers and provided a series of measures for cases of unfair dismissal; health and education programmes; a social security system; a hospital building programme; and some attempts to integrate the indigenous population (over 60 per cent of the national population).

However, although the constitution provided for the takeover of idle land, Arévalo did nothing to reform the highly unequal system of land tenure, a source of mounting discontent. Nonetheless, he was labelled a Communist by domestic landowners. In 1951, he handed over power to his elected successor, Jacobo Arbenz. Following the overthrow of Arbenz in 1954 he was exiled to Mexico, returning in March 1963 to stand in the presidential elections of that year. The poll was pre-empted by a coup staged by Defence Minister Colonel Enrique Peralta Azurdia against President Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes and the elections were subsequently cancelled. Arévalo was appointed ambassador to France in 1970 but replaced in 1972.

Subjects: Politics.

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