Serrano Elías, Jorge Antonio (1945–)

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Serrano Elías, Jorge Antonio (1945–)

Jorge Antonio Serrano Elías (b. 26 April 1945), president of Guatemala (1991–1993), the first active Protestant to be elected president of a Latin American nation. Born in Guatemala City and educated at the University of San Carlos and at Stanford, Serrano became an evangelical Protestant in 1975. He served as president of the Council of State under the administration of General Efraín Ríos Montt (1982–1983). Serrano then formed the Solidary Action Movement (MAS) and placed third among eight candidates in the 1985 presidential election. In 1990, after the Court of Constitutionality ruled Ríos Montt ineligible for another term, most of his electoral support switched to Serrano. This propelled Serrano into the January 1991 runoff election in which he defeated National Center Union (UCN) candidate Jorge Carpio in a landslide. Serrano's administration was neoliberal and private-sector oriented. With army support, he suspended the Constitution on 25 May 1993 to quell rising social unrest. In the face of widespread domestic and international pressure, however, the military removed Serrano on 1 June 1993 and allowed the Congress to elect a successor, Ramiro de León Carpio. He now lives in Panama with his family. The Guatemalan government has made several unsuccessful attempts to have him extradited. He was linked with the 2001 Enron scandal in the United States, as investigators found that Enron made suspect payments of $17 million to a Panamanian company with close ties to Serrano.


For a more detailed biographical sketch of Serrano, see the entry by Ralph Lee Woodward, Jr., in the Encyclopedia of World Biography, vol. 18, edited by David Eggenberger (1994). For a detailed overview of recent Guatemalan political history, see James Dunkerley, Power in the Isthmus: A Political History of Modern Central America (1988). Details of Serrano's presidential administration may be found in Howard H. Lentner, State Formation in Central America: The Struggle for Autonomy, Development, and Democracy (1993). For an excellent summary and analysis of Serrano's religious background, see David Stoll, "Guatemala Elects a Born-Again President," in Christian Century 108, no. 6 (20 February 1991): 189-190. For a perceptive interpretation of Guatemalan society and politics prior to and during the administration of Serrano, see Víctor Perera, Unfinished Conquest: The Guatemalan Tragedy (1993).

Dosal, Paul J. Power in Transition: The Rise of Guatemala's Industrial Oligarchy, 1871–1994. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995.

García Laguardia, Jorge Mario, and Adolfo González Rodas. Democracia y defensa constitucional. Guatemala: Serviprensa, 1992.

McCleary, Rachel M. Dictating Democracy: Guatemala and the End of Violent Revolution. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1999.

                             Ralph Lee Woodward Jr.