On 25 December 1919, thirty-one prominent citizens of the republic of Guatemala gathered with eighteen representatives of the capital's organized laborers to found a new political party, the Unionist Party (Partido Unionista). Created under the banner of Central American unity, the party announced in a pamphlet that its primary concern was the creation of a Central American republic. Despite the denials of party founders, all Guatemalans soon realized that the real purpose of the organization was to oppose the outdated and repressive government of Manuel Estrada Cabrera (1898–1920). The active participation in the establishment of the Unionist Party by distinguished members of the Guatemalan business community and prominent labor activists indicated the deep sense of disillusionment almost a half decade of Liberal positivism—with its consolidation of power in the presidency, absence of political democracy, and emphasis on economic development—had fostered.
In the early weeks of 1920 support for the Unionist Party grew rapidly and soon became extremely widespread. Even Estrada Cabrera's close relationship with the United States was not sufficient to impede the development of a unified opposition of students, urban workers, military officers, and a large proportion of the disgruntled elite under the Unionist banner. In response to a number of government arrests, the Unionists, with the support of the Guatemalan legislative body, the National Assembly, chose to attempt the removal of Estrada Cabrera on 5 April. The Assembly responded decisively on 8 April 1920 by declaring President Estrada Cabrera insane and electing Carlos Herrera as the new president.
Unfortunately for Herrera and the Unionist Party, an economic crisis and the revival of traditional political animosities first weakened and ultimately destroyed the fragile Unionist government. Herrera's inability or unwillingness to heed the advice of his ministers and govern with authority and vigor when irresponsible journalism, labor unrest, or peasant discontent arose, was a major factor in his removal. However, most significant were the fears expressed by members of Guatemala's military and coffee elite, who accused the president and the Unionists of promoting unrest, failing to quell labor radicalism, and permitting outbreaks of peasant insurrections. By late 1921, it was obvious that Herrera had failed to satisfy the demands of the republic's coffee elite for stability and profitability. On the evening of 5 December 1921, three senior army officers led a successful military coup that forced Herrera to resign and effectively ended the Unionists' brief term in government.
See alsoEstrada Cabrera, Manuel .
Rafael Arévalo Martinez, ¡Ecce Pericles! La tiranía de Manuel Estrada Cabrera en Guatemala (1983), pp. 463-478.
Wade Kit, "Precursor of Change: Failed Reform and the Guatemalan Coffee Elite, 1918–1926" (Master's thesis, Univ. of Saskatchewan, 1989).
Montenegro Ríos, Carlos Roberto. Historia de los partidos políticos en Guatemala. Guatemala: Mayaprin, 2002.
Wade A. Kit