José María Orellana Pinto
José María Orellana's portrait in 1925
|President of the Republic of Guatemala|
10 December 1921 - 26 September 1926
|Lázaro Chacón González|
|16th First Vice President of Guatemala|
December 8, 1921 - April 28, 1922
|President||Carlos Herrera y Luna|
|José Ernesto Zelaya|
|Born||July 11, 1872|
El Jícaro, El Progreso, Guatemala
|Died||September 26, 1926 (aged 54)|
|Nickname(s)|| Don Chema |
José María Orellana Pinto (July 11, 1872 - September 26, 1926) was a political and military leader in Guatemala. He was chief of staff of President Manuel Estrada Cabrera and President of Guatemala between 1921 and 1926, after overthrowing Conservative Unionist President Carlos Herrera. During his rule the Quetzal was established as the currency of Guatemala. Orellana Pinto died under suspicious circumstances in 1926 at the age of fifty-four. He was buried in the Guatemalan capital with state honors.
José María Orellana Pinto was born in El Jícaro; he was the son of Esteban Orellana and Leonora Pinto. Orellana had a military career becoming General of the Guatemalan Army. He was elected to the Guatemalan legislature on several occasions, as a member of the Liberal Party, and was also Chief of Staff of the President Estrada Cabrera; when serving as such, on April 29, 1907, he was riding alongside the president's coach when the latter suffered a bomb attack -which had been planned by the brothers Avila Echeverría and some of their relatives and friends-. Miraculously, both the president and Orellana were unharmed by the assassination attempt and almost immediately initiated the prosecution of the perpetrators.
On December 5, 1921, general Orellana -sponsored by the United Fruit Company- lead a coup d'état against president Carlos Herrera who had resisted to approve the concessions granted to the United Fruit Company and its subsidiaries by his predecessor, Manuel Estrada Cabrera. Orellana had the help of several army officers, among them general Jorge Ubico.
On December 5, 1921, Orellana was appointed as Interim President, and eventually became Constitutional President after winning the elections the following year. During his term in office, he ratified concessions that the government of Estrada Cabrera had made to the United Fruit Company (UFCO) and that Herrera had refused to ratify. He also encouraged the creation of a tripartite republic formed by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, but this was unsuccessful. In 1923, in celebration of the birth centennial of liberal writer and ideologist Dr. Lorenzo Montúfar y Rivera, the government erected a monument to his memory in Avenida Reforma.
Gum raw material extraction in the northern department of Petén was sold to Percy W. Shufeldt, who carried out the operation without paying taxes; unlike his predecessor--Carlos Herrera--Orellana gave favorable contracts such as the Shufeldt one to foreign companies. Another examples was the Electric Company, which had been expropriated from German shareholders after World War I, and was sold to the American Bond and Share Company on May 4, 1922.
Orellana promoted the construction of hundreds of kilometers of railways and was pressured by the International Railways of Central America[Note 1] to enforce the Méndez-Williamson railroad contract, signed in 1908 by then president Manuel Estrada Cabrera. When Estrada Cabrera was ousted, IRCA had intended to enact this agreement but the acting president Carlos Herrera refused to implement the contract;[Note 2] after Herrera was overthrown, Orellana ratified the contract on March 10, 1922.
The Guatemalan Congress issued the following laws during his term in office:
On 25 May 1926, El Imparcial -a private newspaper- had published a news flash: Martial law enacted which referred to executive decree 916, in which President Orellana had suspended the individual guarantees contained in the Constitution; the main reason for such decision was that "insidious and unpatriotic activities of certain elements" tended "to disrupt the peace and development of the country", which, at once, made it impossible to solve the national economic problem. Although El Imparcial was not circulating regularly in the previous days -due to a government boycott-, after May 26 it ceased publication indefinitely. Thereafter, only the official news outlets, such as Diario de Centro América and El Guatemalteco, could circulate, carrying irrelevant information. The story took a sudden turn on Sunday September 26, when, at 0:15 pm, Orellana died during a vacation trip to Antigua Guatemala; he was in a room at Hotel Manchén. "A violent angina attack ended the life of our illustrious president," explained Diario de Centro America in a special edition that day. These strange circumstances led to the suspicion that he was poisoned. General Lázaro Chacón assumed as interim President and immediately lifted Martial Law and allowed private newspaper to be published again.