Manuel José Estrada Cabrera

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Manuel Estrada Cabrera

Manuel José Estrada Cabrera (born November 21, 1857 in Quetzaltenango , Guatemala , † September 24, 1924 in Guatemala City ) was a Guatemalan president and the dictator of his country for 22 years.


Manuel Estrada was born the illegitimate son of the Catholic seminarist (and later priest) Pedro Estrada Monzón and Joaquina Cabrera in Quetzaltenango. His father did not recognize him at first and he lived with his mother in poor conditions. So he started an apprenticeship as a carpenter, but was later able, thanks to the support of a Jesuit , to finish his school education and complete a law degree at the Universidad San Carlos de Guatemala ( Centro Universitario del Occidente ).

After completing his studies in 1881, Estrada established himself as a lawyer and notary in Quetzaltenango. In 1884 he married Desideria Ocampo , with whom he had two sons. He also had 12 illegitimate children from five different women, all of whom he recognized.

A short time after he had established himself as a lawyer, Estrada was appointed magistrate first in Retalhuleu , later in Quetzaltenango, where he was then promoted to judge at the court of appeal. He was a professor and later dean of the law faculty of the Centro Universitario del Occidente of the Universidad San Carlos de Guatemala in Quetzaltenango.

Political career

Estrada was politically active on the side of the liberals. He has been repeatedly elected a member of the National Assembly. Under President Barillas he was appointed governor ( jefe político ) of the Retalhuleu department .

In 1891 Estrada was elected mayor of Quetzaltenango, where he set himself a permanent monument with the construction of the theater ( Teatro Municipal ), which he initiated and started . In 1892 President Reina appointed him to his cabinet, where he held the post of Justice and Interior Minister and was the first deputy to the President ( Primer Designado a la Presidencia ).


After the violent death of President Reina on February 8, 1898, Estrada was appointed as his first deputy by the cabinet as his successor. In 1905, 1911 and 1917 he was elected to office, which, however, lacked legitimacy in view of the persecution, imprisonment, murder and expulsion of numerous opposition politicians by the secret police. Overall, Estrada had a term of 22 years, the longest term in Guatemalan history. Estrada could rely on the support of the National Assembly, whose president Arturo Ubico (the father of the later president Jorge Ubico Castañeda ), was one of his most loyal followers.

Key measures taken by his government included:

  • The reopening of the schools closed under President Reina and numerous measures to promote education,
  • the enactment of an Agriculture and Mining Act ( Código de Agricultura y Minería ) and the creation of a Ministry of Agriculture,
  • various social measures, etc. a. to improve the situation of single mothers and their children, elderly people and disabled workers,
  • the completion of the railroad between Guatemala City and the Caribbean coast, as well as other rail, road and telegraph connections,
  • the completion of the high sea port in Puerto Barrios .

Guatemala experienced a strong economic boom under the Estrada government. This was mainly due to the massive commitment of foreign, above all US and German companies, such as The United Fruit Company . However, the Estrada government is responsible for negotiating conditions that are extremely unfavorable for Guatemala (extensive land donations, full tax exemptions, etc.) for the investments of these companies. Land of the indigenous population was expropriated, the displaced people were driven to the cities, where they were subject to proletarianization , or forced to work on the plantations.

In 1906, on the initiative of former President Barillas, who was living in exile in Mexico , an uprising against the Estrada government took place, which was supported by the governments of most of the other Central American states. With the help of the Mexican President Porfirio Díaz and the American President Theodore Roosevelt , Estrada managed to resolve the Central American crisis and put down the uprising. In March of the following year, Barillas was assassinated in Mexico City , which is said to have been ordered by Estrada.

In the course of his reign there were also several (according to Estrada six) assassinations of President Estrada. For example, the young officer cadet Víctor M. Vega shot at close range at an official ceremony in the presidential palace in 1908, but Estrada happened to duck at the crucial moment and only one finger was injured. Estrada took this incident as an opportunity to shoot numerous opposition members of the Military Academy ( Escuela Politécnica ) and to close the academy.

From 1917 the Estrada government came under increasing pressure. There were several reasons for this: First of all, the government lost the sympathies of both merchants and the young, emerging industry, as well as the poorer sections of the population, due to a failed financial policy that resulted in massive inflation . In addition, the severe earthquakes that devastated large parts of Guatemala City in 1917 and 1918 increased the plight of the population already hit by fiscal policy. In addition, Estrada also lost the support of the US government when he refused to surrender to the US the German assets seized during World War I.

Fall and death

On March 11, 1920, a demonstration organized by the Unionist Party ( Partido Unionista ) in favor of the restoration of the Central American Federation took place in Guatemala City . This resulted in shots (the real originator and background of which are unclear), which the demonstrator Benjamin Castro fell victim to. This incident led to a radicalization of the protests, which were now directed directly against the president. The conflict between the Estrada government and the supporters of the Unionist Party escalated in the days that followed and took on the form of civil war. There were numerous fatalities on both sides.

On April 8, the President's private secretary, General José María Letona , told the National Assembly that the President was mentally ill. In light of this statement, the National Assembly decided to suspend the president from office. A few days later, on April 14, Estrada announced his resignation.

Estrada was arrested first in the former military academy and later in a house rented by his son Joaquín and charged with crimes committed under his government. He took on his own defense. However, most of the more than 60 proceedings could not be completed because Estrada died on September 24, 1924. He was buried in Quetzaltenango with great sympathy from those who supported his dictatorship.


Manuel Estrada served the Guatemalan Nobel Prize for Literature Laureate Miguel Ángel Asturias as a model for his 1946 novel "Der Herr President" ( El Señor Presidente ).

Estrada received 37 medals and distinctions during his presidency. a. from Spain , the German Empire , the USA , Brazil , Greece and Portugal , although he left Guatemala only once in his life for a short mission to Costa Rica in 1897.


  • Hector Gaitán A .: Los Presidentes de Guatemala . Artemis & Edinter, Guatemala 1992, ISBN 84-89452-25-3
  • Gustavo Adolfo Montenegro: Yo, el supremo . In: Revista D (weekly supplement of the newspaper Prensa Libre) No. 72 of November 20, 2005

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Leslie Manigat : L'Amérique latine au XXe siècle - 1889–1929 . H146. Éditions du Seuil, Paris 1991, ISBN 2-02-012373-8 , pp. 116 ff . (première édition aux Éditions Richelieu 1973).
predecessor Office successor
José María Reina Barrios President of Guatemala
Carlos Herrera y Luna