Guatemala Accepts Responsibility for Cold War Ouster of President Arbenz
State settles human rights case with Arbenz family, will make amends for past crimes


CONTACTS: Chris Kyle and Mary Robinson, student attorneys with the International Human Rights Law Clinic,
210-313-1200,; Professor Rick Wilson, director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic, 202-274-4246,

WASHINGTON, May 20, 2011 – On Thursday, representatives of the family of former Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán signed a historic settlement with representatives from the Republic of Guatemala at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  This settlement ends a nearly 60 year dispute between the Arbenz family and the Republic of Guatemala.  Under the agreement, Guatemala will make reparations designed to rehabilitate the legacy of the first democratically elected President of Guatemala and compensate his estate and family.

President Arbenz assumed the office of the Presidency in 1951 following his democratic election.  He embarked upon an ambitious social reform program to help the people of Guatemala. A CIA/United Fruit Company backed coup on June 27, 1954 forced President Arbenz and his family into exile, replacing the democratically elected government with a military junta. The forcible removal of President Arbenz led to almost 40 years of instability that saw chaos, violent civil war, repression, genocide, and gross violations of human rights. Guatemala remained under repressive military rule until the signing of peace accords in 1996.

The Arbenz family has been represented for the last five years by multiple student teams from the International Human Rights Law Clinic at American University Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C.  The clinic represented the family in proceedings before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 

“We applaud Guatemala for finally delivering justice to President Arbenz and his family,” said Chris Kyle, one of the student attorneys working on this case. “They have had to endure a great deal of tragedy to get to this point. It is our sincere hope that this agreement will allow the family to finally close a difficult chapter in their lives and begin the healing process.”

Placing this settlement in a broader human rights context, student attorney Mary Robinson added, “Guatemala's recognition of the wrongs perpetrated against President Arbenz nearly 60 years ago, and its action today to restore him to his rightful place in history, represents a significant achievement for human rights in the Americas and highlights the strong role that the Inter-American Commission can and must play.”

Law students Kyle and Robinson negotiated with Guatemala for almost a year leading up to this settlement and were supervised by Professor Rick Wilson, director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic.  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is the human rights organ of the Organization of American States.


The International Human Rights Law Clinic at American University Washington College of Law offers student attorneys the opportunity to represent individuals, families, or organizations alleging violations of recognized or developing human rights norms before international and domestic judicial bodies.

The Clinic provides representation in international human rights cases and political asylum cases and work on projects to influence U.S. law and policy on human rights issues. Student attorneys have represented clients in cases before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, the African Commission on Human Rights, United Nations human rights treaty bodies, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and the Armed Forces, and U.S. District Courts.