Juan Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán was a Guatemalan military officer and politician who served as the 25th president of Guatemala. He was Minister of National Defense from 1944 to 1951, and the second democratically elected President of Guatemala from 1951 to 1954. 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 very influential across Latin America.Árbenz was born in 1913 to a wealthy 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 contributed to his progressive views. In 1938 he met and married María Vilanova, 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 into alcoholism, eventually dying in Mexico in 1971. In October 2011, the Guatemalan government issued an apology for Árbenz's overthrow. Wikipedia