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Juan Jacobo Árbenz Guzman (Quetzaltenango, September 14, 1913-Mexico City, January 27, 1971) was a Guatemalan soldier and politician, Minister of National Defense (1944-1951) and President of Guatemala (1951-1954). He belonged to the group of soldiers who staged the 1944 Revolution. He was known as the “soldier of the people.” On June 27, 1954 he was overthrown by a coup led by the United States Government, with the sponsorship of the United Fruit Company and executed by the CIA through the PBSUCCESS operation, which replaced it with a military junta that finally handed power to Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas, and was accused of being a communist for attacking the interests of the North American fruit monopolies [d], mainly with the agrarian reform, and to include among its intimate circle of advisors the members of the Guatemalan Labor Party, which was the Communist Party of Guatemala, after the coup had to escape a tortuous exile in Mexico where he separated from his wife and children, he suffered an ironclad smear campaign orchestrated by the CIA and his daughter Arabella committed suicide in Colombia in 1965.
Finally, Jacobo Árbenz died in his exile from Mexico City in 1971.
His parents were Hans Jakob Arbenz Gröbli, a German immigrant from Switzerland, and Octavia Guzmán Caballeros, a Guatemalan from the Quetzaltecan society, whose father arrived in Guatemala in 1901 and had a pharmacy business in the city of Quetzaltenango. His family belonged to the upper class and was relatively wealthy; he had an older sister, Anna Arabella and a minor, Octavia Silvia, and his childhood was described as “well off,” but the family business collapsed due to his father’s addiction to morphine. Hans Arbenz had to work as administrator of a small farm, owned by a German immigrant who lived in the area.
Arbenz studied secondary school in Quetzaltenango, at María Bennett’s school in Rölz. I wanted to be an economist or engineer, but since the family no longer had money, I could not afford to study at a university. The availability of a scholarship for military cadets opened the possibility of studying at the Polytechnic School, where he joined the cadet in 1932 after passing the admission exams.
Árbenz excelled at the military academy and was considered “an exceptional student.” He held the position of “first sergeant” of the Cadet Knight Company, which was considered a great honor that, between 1924 and 1944, only six cadets had reached. His abilities earned him an unusual level of respect among school officials, including Major John Considine, then the American director of the Polytechnic School. Árbenz graduated in 1935.
In 1937, after graduating, he was called to serve at the Polytechnic School as an instructor. Regarding his trades as an officer of the Guatemalan Army, he worked mainly in the Fort of San José Buena Vista, in Guatemala City and in San Juan Sacatepéquez. There he learned about the harsh living conditions of the indigenous population and the ways in which forced labor operated, being the indigenous people subject to them. He not only had to take care of groups of indigenous people who were forced to work on some farms, but also the care of political prisoners who are also dedicated to this type of work.
It was in 1938 when he met María Cristina Vilanova, a woman belonging to the high society of El Salvador. A year later, when he was 26 and she was 24 years old, they got married, with the opposition of the parents of the bride, because they thought that the young officer could not give her the same quality of life as other suitors. Marriage had three children, Arabella, Leonora and Jacobo. In 1943 Árbenz ascended to the rank of captain and commanded the Company of Cadet Knights. He was then a distinguished officer and was described as a born leader.
Árbenz acted as triumvirate of the Junta de Gobierno, later he was Minister of Defense during the government of Juan José Arévalo and, finally, he was president of Guatemala from 1951 to 1954.
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