Orellana, José María (1872–1926)

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Orellana, José María (1872–1926)

José María Orellana (b. 11 July 1872; d. 26 September 1926), president of Guatemala (1921–1926). Born to humble rural parentage in El Jícaro, in the eastern department of Zacapa, Orellana was a military man for most of his life. As a youth, according to legend, Orellana attracted the attention of Guatemalan president Manuel Estrada Cabrera, who became the boy's mentor and sent him to Guatemala's military academy, the Escuela Politécnica. After Orellana graduated as an officer and an engineer, he served his mentor in several military and political capacities. Although Orellana remained close to the dictator during his rule, he was still highly respected for his honesty and fairness as an officer and a politician. He was described as broad minded, tolerant, hard working, and sincere.

At the time of the overthrow of Estrada Cabrera in 1920, Orellana was a member of the Guatemalan National Assembly and the dictator's minister of public instruction. In his capacity as minister, Orellana opposed many of Estrada Cabrera's actions, contributed to the momentum of the uprising, and, thereby, was recognized as a friend and supporter of the Unionists—the coalition opposing Estrada Cabrera.

Nonetheless, Orellana, like many senior military officers, became disillusioned with the Unionists' experiment with democracy and the unrest that was associated with their government (1920–1921). Consequently, with the support of several senior members of Guatemala's Liberal Party, he agreed to participate in the coup that ousted the government of Carlos Herrera on 5 December 1921. Early in 1922, General Orellana achieved an overwhelming victory as the Liberal candidate in the presidential election and served as president until a heart attack resulted in his death.

See alsoEstrada Cabrera, Manuel; Guatemala; Guatemala, Political Parties: Unionist Party.


Joseph A. Pitti, "Jorge Ubico and Guatemalan Politics in the 1920's" (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of New Mexico, 1975).

Wade Kit, "Precursor of Change: Failed Reform and the Guatemalan Coffee Elite, 1918–1926" (Master's thesis, Univ. of Saskatchewan, 1989).

Additional Bibliography

Aguilar de León, Juan de Dios. Semblanza de José María Orellana Pinto. Guatemala: Llerena F&G Editores, 1998.

                                          Wade A. Kit

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