Jorge Ubico y Castañeda

(b. 1878)

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(b. Guatemala, 1878, d. New Orleans, 14 Aug. 1946)

Guatemalan; President 1931–44 Ubico served as interior minister and as envoy to the USA under President Justo Rufino Barrios. He also served in the army as a lieutenant during the 1906 border war with El Salvador, even though he had failed to graduate from the military academy. He was subsequently appointed political and military commander of the departments of Alta Verapaz (1907–9) and Retalhuleu (1911–19), where he gained a reputation for being both efficient and cruel. He became army Chief of Staff in 1920. Ubico was one of the first Guatemalan officers to receive US military training and after 1920 was instrumental in introducing US methods more widely into the army.

In 1920 Ubico took part in the coup which installed General José M. Orellana as President, and served as his minister of war between 1921 and 1923. In 1922 and 1926 he stood as a presidential candidate but failed to win on either occasion. Following a coup in 1930, the US government helped to install him as President following cosmetic elections.

Despite a constitutional ban on consecutive terms of office, Ubico employed various fraudulent means to extend his presidency to five terms. He was noted for the brutality of his regime, under which torture, exile, and summary execution were commonplace. He abolished municipal authorities; centralized government administration under his personal control; introduced a vagrancy law which compelled indigenous people to work 150 days a year on the plantations; and banned all political parties apart from his own Liberal Progressive Party (PLP). During the Second World War Ubico supported the Axis powers, but eventually US pressure forced him to expropriate German properties. He was finally forced out of office in 1944 by mass demonstrations and strikes led by students, teachers, and professionals. He died in exile in New Orleans. In 1963 his remains were returned to Guatemala and buried with full military honours.

Subjects: Politics.

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