The Guerrilla Movement in Guatemala

Christina Diaz

Guatemala Civil War

In the mid-1950's Guatemala was in a time of dictatorship and international struggles. After the assassination of president Armas, General Ydigoras Fuentes became ruler of Guatemala. Later there was an attempted assassination on Fuentes by a junior military group. The soldiers would fail in their assassination and would retreat to begin multiple guerrilla movements in Guatemala. The Guerrilla groups were mostly made up of indigenous people because of the indigenous crude history with Landinos (Guatemalans of Spanish descent). These guerrilla groups were mostly "left wing" or of communist background, supported by Russia and China because of Russia's attempt to spread communism during the Cold War. When the Russians gave aid to the guerrilla groups, the US, who wanted to cease the spread of communism at the time supported the capitalist government. In the novel "A headlong rush into the future: Violence and revolution in Guatemalan indigenous village" by Greg Grandin and Gilbert M. Joseph, the two authors state that the natives struggled with finances because of Landinos because of communication issues, " The narrative that exists for Mayans as the mute and terrified Cannon fodder of an internecine conflict among the trigger-happy Landinos over an ideology-communism-that had little relevance to their communication lives and blames the violence on racial prejudice rather than political conflict." (276. Grandin and Joseph). Grandin and Joseph explain that because of the Landinos greed, the discrimination of native civilians was affected by the political conflict of capitalist country, this led to the outbreak of guerrilla groups and the bloodshed of the Guatemalan Civil War. The surprise attacks by the indigenous gurreilla groups would rage on for the next 36 years.

Economical reasons and movement

A large part of the guerrilla movement involved the economical stand of exportation of fruits and sugars. Landinos had begun taking large amounts of land to preserve for exportation. This would happen because Mayans would be tricked into agreeing to evict themselves off the land in the next year or so. This happened because Mayans did not speak or read fluently in Spanish. The right wing or capitalist side of Guatemala used means of trickery to support the united fruit company to bring prosperity to the nation. Mayans makes up around fifty percent of the Guatemalan population but when Castillo Armas was declared president, he restricted the right to vote for those who were illiterate. He deliberately did this to keep right-wing (democratic) politicians in the government because most Mayans were unable to speak Spanish fluently. The United fruit company of the USA made a massive profit from nationalized farmland that had previously been taken by the Mayans. This was a key economic reason that the guerrilla groups like the army of the poor formed. Talea Miller from the PBS news center put a critical point about violence within the war from her article "Guatemala's brutal civil war stating that, "The Inter-American Human Rights Commission released a report blaming the Guatemalan government for thousands of illegal executions and missing persons in the 1970s and documenting accounts of the slaughter of members of Indian communities." (Miller. 2011) The economical stand for natives was terrible and set off ruthless protests in multiple parts of Guatemala land.

My question and findings

A question I had for the movement was "What was the significance of multiple guerrilla groups? Why not create one whole rebel group?" Based on my findings I had found that each rebel group had multiple indigenous descent and their own goals to achieve for their communities within Guatemala. The Mayans wanted to keep their traditions and values to bring more generations to prosper. During the war, the Landino's took the Mayans sources of food and restricted the indigenous right to vote. The Mayans rebelled with brute force and because there was lack of leadership in the majority of the rebel groups. There was also different branches of indigenous people, although the groups aimed for similar achievements they all had objects of land, foods, fruits and sugar they wanted back.

Cited sources (OPVL)

Bird, David. "GENERAL YDIGORAS OF GUATEMALA, BAY OF PIGS FIGURE, IS DEAD AT 86." The New York Times. The New York Times, 7 Oct. 1982. Web. 21 Sept. 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/1982/10/08/obituaries/general-ydigoras-of-guatemala-bay-of-pigs-figure-is-dead-at-86.html>.

OPVL: The article of General Ydigoras originated from the New York times newspaper in 1982 by David Bird. He was a reporter of the NY times newspaper during the 1980's. The article's purpose was to explain General Ydigoras ruling tactics leading to the causes of the Guatemalan civil war. The articles value is crucial as General Ydigoras was an important figure of Guatemala who criticized the Mayans for their lack of education. The article does have a limit to the generals goals and achievements in helping the people during the time of the war and is a secondary source.


Grandin, Greg. A Century of Revolution: Insurgent and Counter insurgent Violence during Latin America's Long Cold War. Durham [NC: Duke UP, 2010. Print.

OPVL: Greg Grandin is a professor currently at the New York University. His work originates from 2010 and gives light to key points during the Guatemalan civil war. The paper's purpose was to have a greater understanding of what went on during the Civil War because only natives to the country had greater knowledge of the guerrillas true value. Grandan focuses on the view of indigenous people during the war. The article is limited in just the focus of the civil war and compares it too many times to other wars.


Miller, Talea. "Timeline: Guatemala’s Brutal Civil War." PBS.org. PBS, 12 Mar. 2011. Web. 21 Sept. 2015. <http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/latin_america-jan-june11-timeline_03-07/>.

OPVL: Talea Miller was the previous producer of the PBS News hour and is currently a reporter for the PBS news website. The articles purpose is fundamental for the basic structure of the war from start to finish. The articles value gave great depth in key events, it's valuable to how I would explain important topics in my area. The limit, however, is that the article lacks depth on a specific parts of the war making the timeline difficult to evaluate when finding important events in the war with guerilla groups.


Referenced site:


"Guatemala." Britannica School. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2015. Web. 15 Sep. 2015. <http://school.eb.com/levels/high/article/110100>.

Konrad, Edmond. "Guerrilla Movements." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. Ed. Jay Kinsbruner and Erick D. Langer. 2nd ed. Vol. 3. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2008. 579-584. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.