Carlos Castillo Armas was an army officer who became President of Guatemala after a military coup in 1954 overthrew President Jacobo Arbenz. The Castillo family came from modest means and when Carlos joined the Army it offered one of the only ways to achieve social mobility in Guatemala.
After surviving an abortive coup in 1950 and subsequently escaping from the penitentiary, Castillo gained the reputation of being a tough, brave, and persistent man. His differences with Arbenz came from the president's social reforms that included an agrarian reform and a pro-labor union stance. Castillo established his rebel army in neighbouring Honduras and received financial and material support from the American CIA. His rebel army invaded Guatemala in June, 1954 successfuly overthrowing Arbenz. The president went into exile and the rebel movement declared Castillo as interim President. He claimed regularized status after a plebiscite in which only oral votes were counted, and a constituent assembly convoked to draft a new constitution fixed a term of office. With parties on the left banned and those on the right blocked, his National Democratic Movement Party won the election he held in December 1955.
Castillo's first and foremost goal was to stamp out all traces of Communism in Guatemala. He prohibited activity by various political parties, labor unions, and other organizations suspected of Communism until they were purged. Most of the Communist leaders had left the country with Arbenz already, but Castillo continued to lead a search for minor officials in a process that many saw as a witch-hunt. Castillo did not act against the Institute of Social Security and the Institute for the Development of Production, both creations of the Arbenz era. But he re-organized labor unions and re-distributed land that Arbenz had expropriated to its original owners. Castillo began his own agrarian reform that he claimed to be superior than that carried out by Arbenz, because he did not give life time usufruct but conferred a title.
Castillo could not finish his administration. He was assassinated on July 26, 1957.
Bibliography: GRIFFITH, William, "Carlos Castillo Armas" in Helen DELPAR, Encyclopedia of Latin America (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974); SCHLESINGER, Stephen & Stephen KINZER, Bitter Fruit (New York: Anchor, 1983).
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