The Indian is an inexhaustable layer of exploitation and his best song is his taciturnity…. Guatemala is sad; a desperate, horrid, fearful sadness … a sad people living with a totally alien world within us. (Ernesto Juan Fonfrias, “Guatemala: un pueblo triste,” Diario de Centro América, Sept. 1, 1950.)
Fonfrias’ assessment of Guatemala in 1950 contains important clues to understanding the “revolution” from 1944 to 1954 and its overthrow. The revolution has been extensively studied; but most works have concentrated on American involvement in the overthrow of the government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in 1954 and have thus only provided us with limited views of the various conflicts that developed during the two revolutionary administrations (Juan José Arévalo, 1944-51, and Arbenz, 1951-54). This has most certainly been the case with studies of rural Guatemala during the revolution. Despite the importance of the agrarian reform initiated in 1952, the reform and the conflicts that it fostered are not clearly understood. Recent research has suggested, however, that the tensions were more complex and more deeply rooted in Guatemala's rural history than earlier works had indicated.