Manuel Estrada Cabrera

Manuel Estrada Cabrera was born November 21, 1857 in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.1 Cabrera was one of Central America’s longest reigning dictators. He ruled the country for 22 years, from 1898 to 1920.2 Cabrera took office following the assassination of Reyna Barrios, whom he had served as Vice President.3

Cabrera’s reign was characterized by events that led to the buildup popular discontent and eventual unrest in Guatemala. Upon taking over as president, Cabrera failed to take steps to slow or reverse economic decline. and the depreciation of the national currency, the peso.4 In 1901, Cabrera granted the United Fruit Company exclusive rights to take over the postal service and handle mail services between Guatemala and the United States.5 This step most likely occurred due to repeated US military interventions in the region during this decade. These interventions ensured that US companies wielded significant influence in other countries. Cabrera also allowed United Fruit free access to large tracts of Guatemala land to grow bananas and use as needed.6 Cabrera’s reign faced frequent and strong opposition due to his frequent brutality and general disrespect towards the laboring classes.7 This opposition was also bolstered by the increasing influence of universities in the late 1910’s and early 1920’s. Faculty and students called for a societal restructuring in Guatemala, and encouraged citizens to question the actions of their ruler.8 Various groups began to form with the goal of overthrowing Cabrera including a group led by Jose Piñol, a minister who delivered many anti-Cabrera sermons to his parish.9 The Unionist party formed in 1920 with ideal of a new and more benevolent government. As the presence of this group grew within the country, the United States cautioned Cabrera not to take any drastic measures to disband this group.10 The Unionist party joined forced with the National Assembly in April, 1920, and fought against Cabrera’s supporters until Cabrera surrendered days later with the promise of his life.11 Cabrera was overthrown in 1920 and lived until 1924, when he died in jail.12

1 “Manuel Estrada Cabrera,” Encyclopedia Britannica, Accessed March 10, 2020.

2 Kit, Wade, “The Fall of Guatemalan Dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera: U.S. Pressure or National Opposition?,” Canadian Journal of Latin American and caribbean Studies, no. 15 (29): 106.

3 Ibid., 111

4 Wagner, Regina, von Rothkirch, Cristóbol, and Stull, Eric, The History of Coffee in Guatemala (Benjamín Villegas & Asociados: Bogata, 2001) 139.

5 Page, Melvin, and Sonnenburg, Penny, Colonialism: International, Social, Cultural, and Political Encyclopedia Vol. 1 (ABC-CLIO: Santa Barbara, 2003) 601

6 Ibid., 601

7 Kit, Wade “The Fall of Guatemalan Dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera,” 112

8 Ibid., 111

9 Ibid., 113

10 Ibid., 116

11 Ibid., 120

12 “Manuel Estrada Cabrera,” Encyclopedia Britannica