Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> Guatemala
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 635-636
GUATEMALA: The Party System in 1950-1954 and 1953-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

The Guatemalan political system experienced some drastic changes between 1950 and 1962. These transformations resulted in part from opposing political orientations of the Guatemalan administrations in this time period. The dramatic shift in the dominant ideology affected the political structure by changing the allocation of power among groups as well as the workings of the political process itself. This is well illustrated by the number and kinds of political parties that developed during each administration.

Immediately following the overthrow of the fifteen-year dictatorship of General Jorge Ubico in 1944, political parties began to organize as part of a general movement toward major reform in Guatemala. The candidate of these reform parties, Professor Juan José Arévalo Bermejo, was elected president in 1945 and remained in office until 1950. He was supported during his regime by a group of three parties: the National Renovation (RN), the Revolutionary Action (PAR), and the Popular Front (FPL).

Our period begins with the election of Arévalo's defense minister, Colonel Jácobo Arbenz Gúzman, as president in 1950. He extended Arevalo's moderately left-wing programs. There was a further proliferation of parties and factions, during the Arbenz regime, and a merger was attempted to unite all pro-government groups. The ideological differences between the very radical and the moderate left-wing groups precluded the development of a permanent merger. The Arbenz regime did not restrict communist activities. In fact, the communists reorganized as the Guatemalan Labor Party (PGT) in 1952. Many persons, both inside and outside Guatemala, came to fear possible communist domination. Some were also shaken by Arbenz's expropriation of United Fruit Company holdings. With assistance of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Lt. Col. Carlos Castillo Armas led a successful revolt against the Arbenz government in 1954, thus ending the first half of our period.

Colonel Castillo Armas became president of Guatemala and remained in that position until his assassination in July 1957. Some of his actions to promote the cause of anticommunism included exiling political enemies (those involved with the past regime), destroying the union movement, suspending all previous political parties, and forming a new government party, the National Democratic Movement (MDN). He also allowed the formation of a Catholic party, the Christian Democratic party (PDCG). The presidential election of October 1957 brought victory to the MDN candidate, Chief Justice Miguel Ortiz, and protests of fraud from the opposition. The election was nullified after civil unrest and was reheld in January 1958. General Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes, leading his own National Democratic Reconciliation Party (PRDN), was declared president by the Congress. Ydigoras continued his presidency until March 1963, when his administration was overthrown by his defense minister, Colonel Enrique Peralta Azurdia, prior to the scheduled presidential elections. A rumored communist infiltration of the Revolutionary Party (PR), the moderate left-wing party, and the possibility of Arévalo's return to Guatemala caused the military coup.

Continuity and Change since 1962

The graph of party representation over time for Guatemala is one of the most confusing among the 53 countries in our set. Moreover, Guatemala had more parties (ten) that qualified for study than any other country. Of the seven original parties, only three continued through 1978. Three new parties were of sufficient strength and duration to qualify for inclusion.

Original Parties, Terminated

441 National Democratic Movement. The MDN apparently failed to survive the interregnum following the 1963 coup. It did not contest the 1964 elections for a constituent assembly to draw up a new constitution.

444 National Democratic Reconciliation Party. Also called Redención, Ydígoras's PRDN seemed to be another casualty of the 1963 coup. The largest party in the assembly before the coup, it too did not reappear to contest the 1964 elections for a constituent assembly.

445 National Renovation Party. The RN was a member of the government coalition led by Arévalo and Arbenz that was overthrown by Castillo Armas in 1954, which is the date the party terminated.

446 Revolutionary Action Party. PAR was also in the government overthrown by Castillo Armas, and it too ended in 1954.

Original Parties, Continuing

442 Christian Democratic Party. One of the smallest parties in the assembly before the 1963 coup when its activities were suspended along with other parties, the PCD was not reregistered as a party until 1968. It contested the 1970 elections and tripled its strength in 1974.

443 Revolutionary Party. The PR emerged after the 1963 coup as the second strongest party in the 1964 elections to the constituent assembly. It became the government party under President Julio César Mendez Montenegro in 1966.

447 Guatemalan Labor Party. A major force in the Arbenz regime overthrown in 1954, the Labor Party (also called the Communist Party) apparently continued its clandestine existence through 1978. But, with an estimated membership of only 750, "it does not play a significant role in internal affairs" (Yearbook on International Communist Affairs, 1978, p. 381).

New Parties, Continuing

448 Central Aranista Organization. The party of former president Carlos Arana Osorio, its date of creation is unclear, but it first contested the 1974 election which has been selected as its birthdate.

449 Institutional Democratic Party. Successor to the old PRDN, the party of General and former president Ydigoras Fuentes, PID was created in 1965. It successfully backed General Kjell Eugenio Laugerud García for president in 1974 in coalition with the National Liberation Movement. PID switched into an alliance with the Revolutionary Party in 1978, supporting the candidacy of General Romeo Lucas García, who won against the MLN candidate.

4410 National Liberation Movement. Formed in 1960 as a split from the National Democratic Movement (MDN), the MLN emerged after the 1963 coup to contest the 1964 elections while its parent group did not. The MLN candidate, Colonel Carlos Arana Osorio, won the presidency in 1970, and the party shared in the next presidency through an 1974 electoral alliance with PID. But the MLN's candidate in 1978, Colonel a former president Enrique Peralta Azurdia, lost a disputed election to the candidate of the PID-PR coalition.


Entering 1979, Guatemala's party system reflects the same character as that of a quarter of a century ago. It still features numerous parties engaged in a bewildering series of splits, mergers, and alliances while jockeying to elect various army officers to the presidency. The Guatemalan party system is highly unstable and personalistic.

[For party politics in Guatemala since 1962, go to the essay by Daniel M. Corstange]

1. Our study of party politics in Guatemala is based on a file of 1,687 pages from 79 documents, virtually all of which are in English (See Table 1.3). The number of pages identified for the PGT, which is the communist party in Guatemala, is an estimate, for the party was indexed with code 449, which was also applied to "other parties." Code 449 was used 844 times, and we estimate that 90 percent of the references were for the PGT and its predecessors. The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Janet Benshoof. Doreen Kostel Ellis used the file to code all seven Guatemalan parties on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Our consultant was Joel Verner.