Carlos Castillo Armas

Carlos Castillo Armas

Carlos Castillo Armas (November 4, 1914 – July 26, 1957) was president of Guatemala from July 8, 1954 until his assassination in 1957.

Early life

Born to a landowner in Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa in Escuintla department, Carlos Castillo was abandoned by his father and left to be raised by his poor mother. He attended and graduated from the national military academy, the Escuela Politécnica. Afterwards, he trained at Fort Leavenworth, where he befriended many members of the U.S. military. He then participated in the coup that toppled president Jorge Ubico and General Federico Ponce in 1944, and was appointed as director of the Escuela Politécnica. A supporter of assassinated Colonel Jacobo Arana, he was opposed to the perceived liberal direction that the country was taking under Juan José Arévalo and attempted to overthrow his government shortly before the election of his successor, Jacobo Árbenz. Castillo was wounded and arrested, but in 1951 he succeeded in escaping to Honduras, where he organized forces opposed to the leftist policies of Árbenz.

The coup

The United States was also opposed to the nationalization efforts, the destabilizing effect of the Czech weaponry that arrived in Guatemala on May 15, 1954 [] , [] and Arbenz's perceived communism. This led to CIA support for Castillo (CIA codename: "Calligeris") and his army. In 1954, they invaded Guatemala, forcing Árbenz to resign in favor of Carlos Enrique Díaz. Two days later, the army, under Colonel Elfego Monzón deposed Díaz and established a military junta. On July 2, 1954, Carlos Castillo was invited to join the ruling junta. Six days later, on July 8, he succeeded Monzón.

Presidency and assassination

On September 1, the remaining members of the military junta resigned, and Carlos Castillo was formally declared president, ushering in a decades-long period of dictatorial rule. Upon taking office, he disenfranchised more than half of Guatemala's voting population by removing the voting ability of illiterates. By the end of July 1954, Castillo had not only cancelled the law that facilitated the nation's land reform, Decree 900, forcing peasants to vacate their newly acquired lands, but, at the CIA's request, formed the National Committee of Defense Against Communism, which is generally acknowledged to be Latin America's first modern death squad. He purged the government and trade unions of people suspected of left-wing sympathies, banned political parties and peasant organizations, and restored the secret police force of the Jorge Ubico era. Towards the end of the summer of 1954, Castillo issued the Preventive Penal Law Against Communism, which increased the penalties for many "Communist" activities, including labor union activities.

In 1955, Castillo postponed the next year's presidential election. He did allow for congressional elections. However, only his own party, the National Liberation Movement (MLN) was allowed to field candidates. In Richard Nixon's Vice Presidential visit in 1955, he commented that "President Castillo Armas' objective, 'to do more for the people in two years than the Communists were able to do in ten years,' is important. This is the first instance in history where a Communist government has been replaced by a free one."

In 1956 he implemented a new constitution and had himself declared president for four years. He was shot dead in the presidential palace by a palace guard, Romeo Vásquez, on July 26, 1957. It is still uncertain whether the killer was paid to assassinate Castillo, or had other motives. Vásquez was found dead a short while later in what is believed to be a suicide. Castillo was succeeded by Luis González.

ee also

*History of Guatemala
*Jacobo Arbenz
*Elfego Monzón

References and further reading

*Stephen Kinzer, Stephen Schlesinger. "Bitter Fruit". 2005 Edition. David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies

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