Castillo Armas, Carlos (1914–1957)

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Castillo Armas, Carlos (1914–1957)

Carlos Castillo Armas (b. 4 November 1914; d. 26 July 1957), president of Guatemala (1954–1957). Born into a provincial Ladino family in the department of Escuintla, Castillo Armas pursued a military career, rising to the rank of colonel and director of the national military academy in 1947.

Obsessed by the July 1949 assassination of army chief and presidential candidate Colonel Francisco Javier Arana (an act he attributed to Arana's political rival, Lieutenant Colonel Jacobo Arbenz, who was elected president in November 1950), Castillo Armas launched a five-year rebellion against the Arbenz regime. In November 1949 he led an abortive attack on a Guatemala City military base. He was shot, but he revived while being taken to the cemetery. Sentenced to death, he tunneled out of the Central Penitentiary in June 1951 and took refuge in the Colombian embassy, which granted him political asylum. From Colombia he moved to Honduras, where, with a number of other Guatemalan political dissidents, he launched the National Liberation Movement. Supported by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), this offensive succeeded in overthrowing Arbenz on 2 July 1954 and established Castillo Armas as leader of a five-man governing junta set up in San Salvador under the auspices of U.S. Ambassador John Peurifoy. On 10 October 1954 Castillo Armas was elected president in an unopposed plebescite.

The presidency of Carlos Castillo Armas followed three broad interrelated policies: the dismantling of most of the governmental programs and institutions established by the Cerezo Arévalo and Arbenz regimes during the so-called revolutionary decade (1944–1954); a socioeconomic strategy that can be termed "conservative modernization"; and close cooperation with the United States. The "liberationist" regime banned all existing political parties, labor federations, and peasant organizations; disenfranchised three-quarters of the electorate by excluding illiterates; annulled the Arbenz agrarian reform law; and restored the right of the Roman Catholic Church to own property and conduct religious instruction in the public schools.

Seeking to become a "showcase of capitalist development," the regime encouraged foreign investment by granting tax concessions and by repealing laws restricting foreign oil exploration and investments in public utilities. It secured substantial loans and credits from the United States for road building and beef and cotton production. It also sought to stimulate internal investment by maintaining low taxes and wage rates.

The July 1957 assassination of President Castillo Armas by one of his personal bodyguards in the National Palace has been attributed to a power struggle in his political party, the National Democratic Movement.

See alsoGuatemala .


Richard N. Adams, Crucifixion by Power: Essays on Guatemalan National Social Structure, 1944–1966 (1970).

Thomas Melville and Marjorie Melville, Guatemala—Another Vietnam? (1971).

Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer, Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala (1982; repr. 1983).

James Dunkerley, Power in the Isthmus: A Political History of Modern Central America (1988).

Additional Bibliography

Streeter, Stephen M. Managing the Counterrevolution: The United States and Guatemala, 1954–1961. Athens: Ohio University Center for International Studies, 2001.

                                 Roland H. Ebel

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Castillo Armas, Carlos (1914–1957)

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