Ydígoras Fuentes, Miguel (1895–1982)

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Ydígoras Fuentes, Miguel (1895–1982)

Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes (b. 17 October 1895; d. 6 October 1982), president of Guatemala (1958–1963). Born in Pueblo Nuevo, Retalhuleu, to a family of Basque ancestry, Ydígoras pursued a military career, rising to the rank of general. He served as a departmental governor and as the head of the department of highways during the dictatorship of General Jorge Ubico (1931–1944), when he developed a reputation in the countryside as a tough but fair administrator. As a reward for supporting the new junta of the October Revolution (1944), he was named ambassador to Great Britain, where he became impressed by British parliamentary democracy.

In 1950 he ran for the presidency of Guatemala against Jacobo Arbenz (1950–1954), but was forced into hiding during much of the campaign. Exiled to El Salvador, he helped organize the U.S.-backed insurrection that toppled Arbenz in 1954.

After the assassination of President Carlos Castillo Armas in July 1957, Ydígoras reorganized his political party, Reconciliación Democrática Nacional, and campaigned for the presidency against Miguel Ortiz Passarelli, the official candidate. When the government declared Ortiz the winner in a disputed election, Ydígoras launched the massive street demonstrations that succeeded in overturning the election. In January 1958 he defeated Colonel José Luis Cruz Salazar in what was considered to be a fair and free election.

The Ydígoras Fuentes regime was a peculiar mixture of populism, economic conservatism, and nationalism. Thus, he strongly supported the creation of the Central American Common Market and pushed through an industrial incentives law, a law protecting foreign investment, a limited agrarian reform law, and an income-tax law. Ydígoras also permitted substantial personal liberty.

Faced with the threat of Castroite subversion and the need for support from the United States, Ydígoras secretly provided a base for the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Reaction by nationalist officers led to a military uprising in November 1960 that was put down by loyal army units with U.S. assistance. In 1961 several of the rebellious officers launched the guerrilla movement that has continued into the 1990s.

In March 1962 charges of electoral manipulation, administrative incompetence, and corruption precipitated a student-led protest movement that forced Ydígoras to install a military cabinet in order to retain power. But the military turned against him when he permitted their old nemesis (and also that of the United States), former president Juan José Arévalo (1945–1951), to return to Guatemala to contest the 1963 elections. Ydígoras was overthrown on 30 March 1963 in a coup led by his defense minister, General Enrique Peralta Azurdia (1963–1966).

Ydígoras lived in exile in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and El Salvador until the early 1970s, when he returned to Guatemala under an amnesty offered to all ex-presidents living abroad by President Carlos Arana Osorio (1970–1974). He commented extensively in the press on Guatemalan affairs. In 1980 he traveled to the Vatican to see fulfilled a goal for which he had worked many years—the beatification of Hermano Pedro de Bethancourt.

See alsoArana Osorio, Carlos; Castillo Armas, Carlos.


Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes, My War with Communism (1963).

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

Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer, Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala (1982, repr. 1983).

James Dunkerley, Power in the Isthmus: A Political History of Modern Central America (1988), Fransico Villagrán Kramer, Biografía política de Guatemala: Los pactos políticos de 1944 a 1970 (1993).

Additional Bibliography

Ebel, Roland H. Misunderstood Caudillo: Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes and the Failure of Democracy in Guatemala. Lanham, MD: Tulane Studies in Political Science and University Press of America, 1998.

                                       Roland H. Ebel