Revolution Day: Guatemala – October 20, 2011

Guatemala observes Revolutionary Day

Revolution Day is a public holiday in Guatemala.

October 20

Revolution Day is a public holiday in Guatemala.

Ubico admired Napoleon Bonaparte and preferred to have his photograph taken in his general’s uniform. Although he was much taller and fatter than his hero, Ubico believed that he resembled Bonaparte, and his nickname was “the Little Napoleon of the Tropics“. He preferred travelling by motorcycle on his frequent inspection tours of Guatemala’s twenty-two departamentos.


This public holiday commemorates the almost bloodless democratic revolution of 1944 when discontented university and military leaders overthrew the military dictator Jorge Ubico y Castaneda.The early morning of the Friday of October 20th Guatemala City lived a war. The Palace of San Jose and the Barrack of Matamoros were partially destroyed that day.

Near the end of World War II, Guatemalans had been ruled by a harsh dictator for over a decade. In the spring of 1944, a coalition of teachers, skilled workers and students decided to put an end to the dictatorship, fuelled by the dream of four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

The people established a democratic government following this and elected ex exile Juan Jose Arevalo (previously a philosophy professor in Argentina) as President in 1945.

Juan José Arévalo Bermejo (10 September 1904 – 8 October 1990) was the first of the reformist presidents of Guatemala. Preceded by military junta interregnum after a definitive pro-democracy revolt in 1944. Arévalo’s 1944 election is considered by historians the first fair and democratic election in Guatemala’s republican history; since independence from Spain, the country had seen a series of dictatorships.

History of Revolution Day


As a first act of defiance, the teachers demanded higher wages and refused to march in an annual Teachers Day Parade scheduled for June 30, 1944. On June 29, several non violent protests gathered in the capital’s central square, the dictator responded with the cavalry and killed 200 persons. These became martyrs, which sparked a broad general strike that paralyzed the country and forced Ubico to surrender power to his generals. Alejandro Cordova, a famous Guatemalan journalist, wrote several articles against the government and gave a powerful speech before being assassinated. This gave even more strength to the revolutionary movement among Guatemalans. Ponce called a free election, as if presenting himself as democratic.

Dr. Juan Jose Arevalo Bermejo living in exile in Argentina, came back to Guatemala to run against Ponce, who ordered his immediate arrest. After all, Ponce was forced to run to Mexico on October 22 due to an armed revolt led by Major Francisco Arana and Captain Jacobo Arbenz, known as the October Revolutionaries. Free elections were soon held and Arevalo won the elections. This started what is called The Ten Years of Spring, a period of free speech and political activity, proposed land reform, and a perception that great progress could be made in Guatemala.

Revolution Day Traditions, Customs and Activities

The day is marked by massive protests (sometimes with tens of thousands of participants and sometimes lasting more than one day) by unions, farmers, teachers and human rights organizations who still seek the truth about the desaparecidos (vanished), more than 200.000 victims of the Guatemalan civil war. Several speakers take the stage to voice out Guatemalans discontent about current national issues. Besides these there are loud celebrations with music and more, centring on the Plaza Mayor in Guatemala City.

Guatemalans are fond of setting off fireworks, and this is no exception. Government tolerates and promotes the day as a good stress reliever for citizens, who the next day returns to their daily lives.

For ages before the Spanish arrived in Guatemala in 1524, the Ancient Mayan people wore clothing that they made on backstrap looms. This tradition has survived with their descendants in the mainly rectangular handwoven garments worn today.

These include a woman’s upper body garment called a huipil, skirts that can be wrapped around the body or tubular ones that can be stepped into, utility cloths called servilletas for everyday use and for ceremonies, and men’s or women’s headcloths called tzutes.

They also make men’s kilts (rodilleras), men’s pants, women’s shawls (rebozos and perrajes), sashes, and hair ribbons, all woven by hand. Men from some villages also knit wool carrying bags for themselves and for their sons.



The @GuateSinHambre Twitter page was opened on October 5 to bring awareness to the 6000 people who have died in Guatemala from causes associated with malnutrition last year. Also, to the 18 people that die every day, including children and the elderly.

In one night, @GuateSinHambre gained over 300 followers and is aiming for thousands more in order to present this issue to the presidential candidates in Guatemala. This movement is trying to gain support, not only from people who reside in Guatemala but also support from people around the world, using every media outlet possible to spread the news. LINK ABOVE PHOTO.

Entry from: Guatemala City, Guatemala
Entry Title: “Revolution Day”Entry: 2011

“I boiled everything I own-clothes, shoes, and backpack- to kill the bedbugs and headed back down to Guatemala City just in time for the celebration of Dìa de la Revolucìon. Today is a national holiday commemorating October 20th, 1944 when a group of leftist students, workers, and military officers overthrew the dictatorship of General Jose Ubico. The coup kicked off what is known as the “Ten Years of Spring,” a period marked by support for worker’s rights and the beginnings of a land reform program giving peasants some of the vast holdings of the United Fruit Company that had been laying unproductive for years. The short lived experiment was given a forced abortion in 1954 when a CIA-supported coup replaced the progressive government with a series of military regimes lasted for the next 37 years.

Today the holiday stands out among the majority of holidays that honor the army and the state. It’s marked by massive protests by unions, student groups, farmers, and human rights organizations who are still seeking the truth about what happened to the “desaparecidos,” the more than 200, 000 victims of Guatemala’s civil war. Although the war officially ended ten years ago, the majority of those that have disappeared have never been accounted for. Meanwhile, the military generals responsible for these crimes continue to go about their lives with total political immunity.

The groups here in the plaza today have also come to address a number of new issues that threaten the human rights of Guatemalans. Speakers take the stage to denounce the building of a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border (complete with a song and dance routine by a crew dressed as a brick wall). A student group is also present to inform the crowd of the threat of Plan-Pueblo Panama- a mega-project involving the governments of Mexico and Central America that involves creating a trail of highways and hydroelectric dams that will displace communities throughout all of Mesoamerica.. More groups take the stage to speak about the privatization of water and the damage brought to the country by mining. And, of course, and effigy is burned.

The government tolerates this display because they know that. when the day is over. their projects will still proceed as planned. They even promote the day, seeing it as a good stress release for their subjects before they return to business as usual the next day. Tomorrow the army will continue to go unpunished, and rich landowners will continue to enjoy the fruits of land they have stolen from their previous owners. Dams will keep going up, and those who resist the flooding of their land will be shot or taken away. The newspapers will marvel at how much progress Guatemala is making in human rights. It will maybe even earn itself a seat on the U.N. Security Council.

But, for now, there is an effigy burning, people are spray painting, and there are more of us than of them. Most of the people present know that 36 years of civil war have changed nothing, that the conditions for most Guatemalans are worse off than they were before the war began. Yet they continue coming here year after year, no matter what the future looks like. And even if we all knew that revolution had absolutely no chance for success, that there was not a shred of hope for changing this system, we would still keep doing the same work we’re doing.

It reminds me of a quote from George Orwell: “When they asked me why I went to Spain I told them “to fight fascism” and when they asked me the reason for that I replied “common decency.””

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Photos from this trip:
1. “Banner1”
2. “Banner2”
3. “Banner3”
4. “Banner4”
5. “Burning Effigy”
6. “Effigy”
7. “Flags”
8. “Police”
9. “Prayer Ceremony”
10. “The Dancing Wall”

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A Celebration of Women

sends our blessings to all the Women of our World in Guatemala.

Celebrate this day!


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