Cerezo Arévalo, Marco Vinicio (1942–)

views updated

Cerezo Arévalo, Marco Vinicio (1942–)

Marco Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo (b. 26 December 1942), president of Guatemala (1986–1991). Vinicio Cerezo was born in Guatemala City into a politically prominent family. His grandfather was murdered for opposing Jorge Ubico (1931–1944) and his father served on the Guatemalan Supreme Court. In 1954 Cerezo's political inclinations were awakened by the U.S.-sponsored overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz (1951–1954). He joined the Christian Democratic Party (DCG) while a law student at the University of San Carlos. After completing his degree in 1968, he studied at Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana, and in Chile, Venezuela, West Germany, and Italy. He was elected to the congress in 1974. During the repressive regime of General Lucas García (1978–1982), he survived at least three attempts on his life.

In 1986 Vinicio Cerezo became the first elected civilian president since 1970 and only the second since Juan José Arévalo (1945–1951). Cerezo faced a difficult situation in 1986: a troublesome insurgency on the left, an intransigent military on the right, an increasingly mobilized peasantry, and an economy in a state of crisis (declining GNP, escalating inflation, 40 percent unemployment, and scarce foreign exchange). To address these problems Cerezo launched a neoliberal program of export diversification, currency devaluation, removal of price controls, and increased taxes. The results were generally favorable for the national economy, but living standards for most people were reduced. This led to a series of massive strikes in 1987, 1988, and 1989.

Although supported by the military high command, Cerezo was opposed by field commanders who thought that domestic concerns were taking precedence over the government's counterinsurgency efforts. Coup attempts by disgruntled officers were launched in May 1988 and again in 1989.

In January 1987 Cerezo renewed the diplomatic relations with Britain that had been ruptured in 1981 by the granting of independence to Belize. In 1986 and 1987, he hosted the Central American peace talks in Esquipulas which led to the successful implementation of the Arias peace plan, whose goal was the settlement of the insurgency wars in Central America.

Although elected on a platform to bring peace to Guatemala, Cerezo made little progress in ending the leftist insurgency or improving the country's human rights record. The coalition of four major guerrilla groups, the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Union (URNG), expanded its operations, and the number of assassinations by alleged right-wing death squads increased in Guatemala City. The problem was exacerbated by the massacre of fourteen men and boys in the Indian village of Santiago Atitlan in December 1990, which resulted in the cutoff of U.S. military aid.

Plagued by charges of corruption and drug trafficking, Cerezo was unable to secure the election of his handpicked successor, but he did preside over the first successive democratic presidential election in 151 years. Jorge Serrano Elías (b. 1945) was inaugurated in January 1991. In 1999 Cerezo won one of the two National Congress seats and was then re-elected in the 2004–2008 term.

See alsoArévalo Bermejo, Juan José; Guatemala; Guatemala, Political Parties: National Guatemalan Revolutionary Unity (URNG).


Stephen Kinzer, "Walking the Tightrope in Guatemala," in New York Times Magazine, 9 November 1986.

Inforpress Centroamericana, Guatemala—1986, The Year of Promises (1987).

James Painter, Guatemala: False Hope, False Freedom: The Rich, the Poor, and the Christian Democrats (1987).

Stephen Kinzer, "What Has Democracy Wrought," in New York Times Magazine, 26 March 1989.

Roland H. Ebel, "Guatemala: The Politics of Unstable Stability," in Latin American Politics and Development, edited by Howard J. Wiarda and Harvey F. Kline (1990).

Additional Bibliography

Amaro, Nelson. Guatemala, historia despierta. Guatemala: IDESAC, 1992.

                                        Roland H. Ebel