This rare map was made by the Dirección General de Caminos, the Guatemalan roads authority, during the rule of President General Jorge Ubico, a totalitarian dictator who was obsessed with infrastructure projects. Predicated upon the most recent official information, the map is the most accurate and detailed transportation map of Guatemala ever published to date, created after a decade of unprecedented, feverish road construction. With symbols explained in the legend, below the title, the map notes all forms of topographical features; cities and towns of various sizes; railways; aerodromes; national highways; departmental highways; asphalt roads; macadamized roads; gravel roads; dirt roads; as well as roads under construction. Additionally, markers note the distances along highways from the ‘ground zero’ point of the ‘Palacio Nacional’ in Guatemala City.
Of note is the great highway being built across the country to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala’s only window to the Atlantic (which was already served by an American-run railway). Also, ‘Belice’ (Belize / British Honduras) is shown here to be a department of Guatemala, contesting Britain’s long-held claim and rule over the region.
The present map was published in Guatemala City after a hand-drawn manuscript by a photostatic method, giving the map a charmingly crude provincial flavour. The map was both separately issued, in plain hard covers (as here), and also folded within copies of very rare book on Guatemalan roads, Guía kilométrica de las 23 rutas nacionales de la república de Guatemala (Guatemala: Tipografía nacional, 1942). Both the map in its separate form, as well as the Guía kilométrica, are very rare, with each known in only a handful of examples. We can find only 5 institutional examples of the separate map (held by the Library of Congress; University of Chicago; University of Georgia; Bringham Young University; and the State Library of New South Wales) and we are not aware of any sales records.
The present map showcases Guatemala’s recently expanded transportation network that was one of the signature accomplishments of the country’s ruler, President General Jorge Ubico Castañeda (1878 – 1946). Ubico, who was President of Guatemala from 1931 to 1944, is often called ‘Central America’s Napoleon’ and was known for his extreme totalitarian military regime.
Ubico hailed from a good family, being the son of Arturo Ubico Urruela, an esteemed lawyer and one of the main authors the Guatemala’s 1879 Constitution. After joining the army, he rapidly rose its ranks, holding a number of senior administrative posts and a departmental governorship.
After years of scheming, in 1931, he manouvered himself into the presidency, winning an election in which he was the only candidate. He rapidly created a total police state, such that the contemporary chronicler John Gunther remarked that Ubico “has spies and agents everywhere and knows everyone’s private business to an amazing degree. Not a pin drops in Guatemala without his knowing it” and that Guatemala is “a country 100 per cent dominated by a single man”. Ubico militarized the entire society making schools, the post office, and even the national orchestra as parts of the armed forces.
While Ubico was open admirer of Adolf Hitler (he treated visiting German sailors to a full military parade), his was very closely allied to Washington, and the United Fruit Company of Boston, which controlled so much of Guatemala’s land, was given outrageous commercial privileges.
On a positive note, Ubico was personally obsessed with infrastructure projects. He built what remains to the present day many of the country’s great public edifices and dramatically expanded the its road network, as well as its other transportation mediums. While Ubico did not draft the present map, he surely supervised its creation, for the subject matter meant so much to him; he would not let this “pin drop” without his knowledge!
In 1944, about two years after the present map was made, even some of his former supporters ‘had enough’, and Ubico was deposed in a popular uprising that led to the decade-long Guatemala Revolution. He was exiled to New Orleans, where he spent the rest of his days.
References: Library of Congress: G4811.P2 1942 .C4; OCLC: 38094718 and 5476314.