Guatemalans overthrow a dictator, 1944


To end the dictatorship of Jorge Ubico

Time period

May, 1944 to July 1, 1944



Location City/State/Province

Guatemala City
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 1st segment

Methods in 4th segment

Segment Length

Approximately 10 days

Notes on Methods

Formal statements, Processions, Ordinary Industrial Strike, Formal statements, Processions, Communication with a Wider Audience, Ordinary Industrial Strike, Strikes by Special Groups, Formal statements, Communication with a Wider Audience


Federico Carbonel and Jorge A. Serrano- these men personally delivered the Memorial de los 311, a petition to the dictator, and were then treated like the leaders of the opposition by the government.


The newspaper El Imparcial

External allies

Mexican embassy

Involvement of social elites

Not known, although it is known that “petitions and messages from important people poured into the palace” asking Ubico to resign (Sharp, 92).


The Jorge Ubico military government

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not Known

Campaigner violence

Not known; after Ubico’s resignation, certain students and workers who had campaigned helped army officers to take control of the capital, force was probably used.

Repressive Violence

Police violence - beatings, arrests, shootings, burnings. Soldiers killed Maria Chinchilla, who became the movement’s first martyr.





Group characterization

professionals (lawyers)
San Carlos University students
business owners
industrial workers
the general Guatemalan public

Groups in 1st Segment


Groups in 2nd Segment


Groups in 4th Segment

San Carlos University students
Prominent Guatemala City citizens

Groups in 6th Segment

Industrial Workers
business owners
General Public

Segment Length

Approximately 10 days

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

6 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

10 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

The president, Jorge Ubico resigned on July 1, 1944. Ubico, however, handed the government over to a military triumvarate, headed by Federico Ponce. Ponce threatened to control the government without using democratic means. On October 16, students and teachers distributed leaflets calling for a political strike. On October 18, students and workers helped young military officers to seize control of Guatemala City. In early 1945, a new constitution was adopted; free elections were held. Dr. Juan José, a liberal democrat was named president.

The organizing groups survived until democracy was restored.

The campaign grew to encompass almost the entire Guatemalan population except for the military.

Database Narrative

Beginning in 1931 Jorge Ubico ruled Guatemala with an iron fist with the help of the vicious secret police. He admired Hitler’s tactics. By the summer of 1944, a similarly brutal dictator, Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, was overthrown in the face of a widespread nonviolent campaign in nearby El Salvador. This campaign served as a template for Guatemala’s own movement.

In Guatemala, the campaign began mildly. In May of 1944, forty-five lawyers petitioned the Ubico government for the removal of an arbitrary judge who tried political opponents; Ubico responded by asking for the specific charges against the judge.

A day before the annual teacher and schoolchildren parade in honor of the dictator, two hundred teachers petitioned for a raise. The leaders of the petition were then arrested and charged with sedition. To this the rest of the teachers responded with a boycott of the parade; these teachers were fired.

On June 7, 16 students of San Carlos University petitioned for a change in faculty. Ubico agreed to the students’ demands. These students then escalated their demands. Later, on June 20, opposition groups declared the creation of the Social Democratic Party in a manifesto that supported opposition parties, social justice, and the lifting of the terror and hemispheric solidarity. Two days later, the students wrote a proposition for sweeping university reform, and threatened Ubico with a student strike if these demands were not met within 24 hours. In response to this threat, Ubico suspended the articles of the constitution that guaranteed individual rights, including public assembly. On June 23, both schoolteachers and university students held a strike.

Ubico had once declared that if three hundred Guatemalan citizens asked him to resign, he would. Therefore, on June 24, Ubico was presented with a petition (Memorial de los 311) asking for the return of constitutional liberties and explaining the reasons for the civil unrest; 311 prominent citizens of the capital signed the petition. This document was not printed in the newspaper El Imparcial until July 7, when the liberties were returned.  At noon on the 24th, students marched with their arms behind their backs in a peaceful demonstration purposefully passing in front of the U.S. Embassy. That evening, a peaceful assembly called for Ubico’s resignation and the organizers distributed leaflets explaining the movement’s position. That night, the police beat, shot and arrested hundreds during a neighborhood religious and social celebration.

By the morning of June 25, soldiers, cavalry, tanks and machine guns made their daunting appearance in the streets of Guatemala City. Dissent leaders Federico Carbonel and Jorge A. Serrano (who had delivered the Memorial de los 311) were summoned to meet government officials in the National Palace. During this time, demonstrations continued even though the campaigners were menaced with guns and tear-gas bombs. Women dressed in mourning clothes congregated and prayed at the Church of San Francisco in the center of Guatemala City.  Once there the women formed a silent, peaceful march. The cavalry fired toward the crowd, killing Maria Chincilla Recinos, a schoolteacher. She became the movement’s first martyr for she was both symbolic and physical evidence of Ubico’s brutality.

By June 26, all of Guatemala City joined in the struggle. The citizens responded to Recinos’ killing by shutting down the economy. Everything closed, workers struck, railway workers joined in a sympathy strike; streets were desolate. The week of June 26 to June 30 the strike, entitled Brazos Caídos (Fallen Arms), took control of the commercial, industrial and service sectors of Guatemala City. On this day (June 26), 50,000 campaigners and supporters congregated around the National Palace urging Ubico to resign at the top of their lungs.  

Ubico had respectable members of the opposition followed and their cars taken away. He also ordered the deportation of foreigners who closed their businesses, and the police intimidated business owners to keep their businesses open. Ubico issued a decree stating that all personnel of transportation and communication companies were under military law. But all this was to no avail; the capital was shut down by the general strike. The opposition issued Ubico a letter of unanimous desire that he resign and return constitutional liberties. The dictator’s power was quickly disintegrated; only the U.S. Ambassador and the army remained loyal. Impotent to restore normalcy on the streets or to stop the petitions for his expulsion, Ubico resigned on July 1, 1944.

Ubico, however, handed the government over to a military triumvirate, headed by Federico Ponce. Early in October it became evident that Ponce would not allow free elections to take place. On October 16, students and teachers handed out leaflets calling for a political strike. On October 18, students and workers aided young military officers to seize control of Guatemala City. In early 1945, a new constitution was adopted and free elections were held. Dr. Juan José, a liberal democrat, was named president.


El Salvadorian campaign to oust the Maximiliano Hernández Martínez military government influenced this campaign (See "El Salvadorans bring down a dictator, 1944")(1).


Lakey, George. Powerful Peacemaking: A Strategy for a Living Revolution. New Society Publishers: Philadelphia, 1987.

Sharp. Gene. The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Extending Horizons Books: Boston, 1973.

Valdez Ochoa, Ileana Patricia. “Asociaciones Femininas Durante el Gobierno de Jorge Ubico Castañeda (1,931 –1,944): Caso de María Chinchilla.” Diss. Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala Escuela de Historia. November, 2002.

See also: Sharp, Gene. Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential. Boston: Extending Horizons Books, 2005.

Additional Notes

Most of the action occurred during the last segments of the campaign; the campaign gained more momentum once the students and teachers of the San Carlos University became more active.

Edited by Max Rennebohm (18/05/2011)

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Aurora Muñoz 30/11/2009