On Armed Forces Day in Guatemala on July 30, the country commemorates the anniversary of a momentous revolt against oppression. Between outdated ideologies and a fresh perspective on the world, this is your typical fight of the titans and the balance of conservative philosophy versus the vigor of liberal thought. On this day, many lifetimes ago, Vincente Cerna’s autocratic, immovable rule was overthrown by the Liberal Revolution, and a new era in Guatemalan history began.
History of Armed Forces Day (Guatemala)
The history of Armed Forces Day in Guatemala is incomplete without mentioning Vincente Cerna, a military officer and close associate of dictator Rafael Carrera (1840 to 1865). Carrera’s rule evoked mixed reactions in Guatemala. He was undoubtedly a ruthless despot but also ushered in an era of peace and development, particularly in the growth of coffee culture in Guatemala. Before Carrera died, he named Cerna as his successor. Cerna continued what Carrera had started, and for a while, everything went great. Soon, pressures on his regime began mounting. By 1867, his rule saw numerous insurrections and rebellions. Political alliances in the region began falling apart too. Cerna’s government was on poor terms with the more liberal regime in Mexico under Benito Juárez. Guatemalan and foreign groups keen to modernize and expand coffee in the region grew increasingly frustrated with Cerna’s policies. He hung on to power regardless and unleashed a campaign against detractors.
The tipping point arrived when he forced Miguel García Granados, leader of the opposition, into exile. A rash act that prompted Guatemalan and Mexican allies to stage a joint coup against Cerna. With that, the Liberal Revolution of 1871 began, led by García Granados and Justo Rufino Barrios. The liberal forces defeated Cerna’s army on June 29, 1871, and took control of the government the next day.
The coup marked the beginning of a new chapter for Guatemala. It paved the way for 12 years of agrarian reform under a new head of state, Justo Rufino Barrios. Originally titled Revolution Day, the anniversary of the revolt ultimately became Día del EjÉrcito (Army Day), a public holiday in honor of the armed forces. Each year, Guatemalans celebrate with grand military parades and processions. By the 21st century, a counter-movement against Army Day celebrations emerged. Activists organized a March of Remembrance in honor of thousands of civilians killed by military leadership during the civil war.
Armed Forces Day (Guatemala) timeline
Cerna consolidates his position as right-hand man to Carrera.
Following Carrera’s death, Cerna wins the closely-contested Presidential elections by a narrow margin.
Cerna manipulates his way into re-election and stifles political dissent.
Liberal forces march against Cerna and capture the Presidential Palace.
Armed Forces Day (Guatemala) FAQs
What are Guatemalan soldiers called?
The Special Operations Division of the Guatemalan Armed Forces is known as the Kaibiles. They are experts in counterinsurgency operations and strategies for jungle warfare.
What is Guatemala renowned for.?
Guatemala is best known for its volcanic landscape, fascinating Mayan culture, and the colorful colonial city of Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But this small Central American country has a wealth of homegrown produce and talent.
Who are Guatemala's allies?
Guatemala is a member of several regional and international alliances. Some of these include the Association of Caribbean States (A.C.S.), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and the Organization of American States (O.A.S.).
How to Observe Armed Forces Day (Guatemala)
Attend the parades
The fabulous parades are the highlight of Armed Forces Day celebrations. Attend these parades and experience Guatemalan national pride first-hand.
Read up on the Civil War
While marching battalions are excellent, today is also a reminder of Guatemala’s fraught history. Read it up, and you may understand why some people dislike festivities on Armed Forces Day.
Pay your respects
Armed Forces Day can also be a quiet observance. Regardless of political affiliation, remember all lives lost in battle, both civilian and military.
5 Interesting Facts About Central America
Costa Rica abolished its military
In 1949, Costa Rica, the region’s most politically stable country, abolished its military in favor of education, healthcare, and environmental protection.
A misplaced border
In 2010, Nicaragua invaded Costa Rica due to a misplaced border, courtesy of Google Maps.
The fake citizenship papers
During WWII, El Salvador issued over 40,000 fake citizenship papers to save Jews from concentration camps.
The expensive transit costs
The average toll fee to cross the Panama Canal is a whopping $54,000.
The incomplete Pan-Am highway
The mega highway remains incomplete due to a gap of wild tropical rainforests between Panama and Colombia that’s impossible to penetrate.
Why Armed Forces Day (Guatemala) is Important
It celebrates a new era
Armed Forces Day revisits a significant chapter in Guatemalan history. It celebrates a time of new ideas and modernization.
It marks the end of tyranny
Armed Forces Day marks the end of a brutal dictatorship. And that’s always a cause for celebrations.
It makes us pacifists
Reading about war and its irreversible impacts necessitates the need for peace. It ensures we never allow history to repeat itself.
Armed Forces Day (Guatemala) dates