GUATEMALA CITY, (Reuters) – Guatemala will seek to make amends to former president Jacobo Arbenz, ousted in a violent coup nearly 60 years ago, as the Central America nation tries to emerge from generations of violence and political unrest.
The populist Arbenz was only the second freely elected president in Guatemala when his promise to redistribute land irritated fruit exporters and led to a 1954 coup backed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom will issue a public apology to the former leader’s family on Oct. 20, a national holiday to commemorate a revolution that started in 1944 and paved the way for the country’s first democratic elections.
The government will also add a retelling of Arbenz’s legacy to school textbooks that do not recognize the former president, who spent almost three decades in exile before dying in Mexico in 1971, and name a stretch of major highway after him.
“Today’s youth don’t know what actually happened, the true story,” Claudia Arbenz, Jacobo’s granddaughter, told Reuters.
The apology will come as Colom’s term ends and weeks before the final round of a presidential election on Nov. 6. The front runner is right-wing former military general Otto Perez who, if elected, would be the first Guatemalan president since a 1996 peace settlement to have worn a uniform. Perez, who left the army in 2000, has been accused of genocide during the civil war that killed nearly 250,000 civilians, most of them indigenous Mayans. He has never been charged.
He denies allegations he was involved in rights abuses and points to his role signing the 1996 peace accords with leftist guerrillas as proof that he is a pragmatist.