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Méndez Montenegro, Julio César (1915–1996)

Méndez Montenegro, Julio César (1915–1996)

Julio César Méndez Montenegro, (b. 23 November 1915, d. 30 April 1996), president of Guatemala (1966–1970). Born in Guatemala City, Méndez Montenegro interrupted his legal studies at the University of San Carlos to participate in the 1944 October Revolution. He was the first president of the Frente Popular Libertador (FPL), which supported Juan José Arévalo for president in 1945. After receiving his licenciatura in 1945, he taught at the National University until 1965, rising to dean of the law school.

After the mysterious death of his brother, two-time Partido Revolucionario (PR) presidential candidate Mario Méndez Montenegro (1912–1965), he agreed to substitute for him in the 1966 elections. He defeated the military-backed PID (Institutional Democratic Party) candidate by 45,000 votes but, because he did not receive an absolute majority, had to bargain with the military and its legislative supporters to secure the confirmation of the Congress. As a result, Méndez gave the military both a free hand in conducting the war against the guerrillas in the eastern departments of the country and virtual control of the countryside.

The Méndez Montenegro administration is remembered primarily for the "scorched earth" rural pacification campaigns led by Colonel Carlos Arana Osorio (his successor in office [1970]), the kidnapping of Archbishop Mario Casariego (1968), and for the emergence of the Mano Blanca (White Hand) and other right-wing terrorist organizations. However, his government pushed through some reform measures, most notably the nationalization of the railroad owned by the United Fruit Company. Schools, public hospitals, port facilities, and a major hydroelectric plant were constructed. Some campesino organizing and limited land distribution were attempted, but the regime was frustrated in its agrarian reform efforts. Attempts to overhaul the tax code were defeated by street demonstrations.

After leaving office, Méndez Montenegro held a law professorship at the University of San Carlos. He died April 30, 1996.

See alsoGuatemala; United Fruit Company.


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

William E. Thoms, "Civilian President Julio César Méndez Montenegro and His Guatemala" (M.A. thesis, Tulane University, 1977).

Michael Mc Clintock, The American Connection, vol. 2, State Terror and Popular Resistance in Guatemala (1985).

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

Additional Bibliography

Brockett, Charles D. Political Movements and Violence in Central America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Jonas, Susanne. The Battle for Guatemala: Rebels, Death Squads, and U.S. Power. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991.

Soto Rosales, Carlos Rafael. El sueño encadenado: El proceso político guatemalteco, 1944–1999. Guatemala: Tipografía Nacional, 2002.

                                          Roland H. Ebel

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