The Agrarian Reform
"It is the most precious fruit of the Revolution and the fundamental basis of the nation as a new country. "
-President Jacobo Arbenz 1953-
In a region of the world where power was measured through control of land, the progressive agrarian reform instituted from 1952 until the U.S. led invasion in 1954 was a vision for the future of Guatemala as an independent nation and a beacon of hope for all Latin America. Decree 900 was simple in its motive and powerful in its scope. The objective was clearly defined in the first two articles to end the abuses that had plagued the country for hundreds of years.
Article 1 states;
The Agrarian Reform of the October Revolution intends to eliminate the feudal property structure in the countryside and develop relations of production that originate to develop the land to the form of operational and capitalist methods of production in agriculture and to prepare the way for the industrialization of Guatemala.
Article 2 advanced the needs of the people by institutionalizing the security of equal and human rights;
All forms of servitude and slavery are abolished, which consequently prohibits the gratuitous personal benefiting of the peasants, young settlers and agricultural workers, the payment of work by land leasing, and indigenous redistributions, whatever the form in which they subsist, are forbidden.
During the 18 months of agrarian reform 691, 895 acres of national land and 1,519 acres of private land were distributed. Credits were granted to support production of idle territory. The United Fruit Company, which kept 85% of its 543,631 acres uncultivated, had 385,484 acres expropriated. The company received a payment in bonds from the State, according to the tax value of the property reported during the previous three years with an annual rate of 3% interest.
By 1954, more than 138 thousand families had benefited, the majority of them indigenous. More than half of the beneficiaries obtained agricultural credits to make proper use of the land. The agrarian reform represented a strong challenge to the traditional power structure in the countryside, promoting the organization of Local Agrarian Committees and ensuring indigenous groups equal opportunity in government affairs.
Guatemala was on the path to realizing a system which would end the inequalities between the indigenous peasants and the ruling classes. Land was not the only item at stake- one can argue that an entire system of racial and ethnic discrimination was threatened by the actions of a small Central American Country.