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Guatemala: Past and Present

Copyright Date: 1940
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 480
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The only comprehensive study in any language of the political, economic, and social development of Guatemala from the time of the Spanish Conquest to the present. It is especially significant at this time because of the importance of Latin-American relations, and because Guatemala is the Central American state with the largest investment of United States capital, greatest foreign trade, economic development, and population. The author is an authority on Caribbean affairs, has served as commercial attache in Havana, and filled other government posts. He is now professor in the School of Commerce at the University of Wisconsin. This book is the definitive account of Guatemala--indispensable to an understanding of the country. It is illustrated with 80 photographs, maps, and graphs, includes a bibliography, notes, index. Recommended to businessmen, officials, students of Caribbean affairs, and inquiring travelers.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3629-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. Part I. Political Development

      (pp. 3-12)

      The conquest of Central America is a chapter in the extraordinary expansion of Spanish control over the New World in the epic half-century after the great discovery. Columbus himself had skirted a portion of the Atlantic Coast on his fourth voyage in 1502. As new explorations were undertaken many of the leaders who were to be famous in the early Spanish activities in America found their way to this portion of the mainland.

      Juan Díaz de Solis, later to sail southward as far as Argentina, was in 1506 one of the leaders of an expedition to the coast of Honduras...

      (pp. 13-22)

      The colony left leaderless by the death of Alvarado in 1541 had had a disturbed history while the conquistador was off on his various ventures following the establishment of the first capital. It had not steadily taken on strength. In the little over three years that the seat of government had been at Iximché, the town barely held its own. Some settlers drifted back to Mexico or went to other regions where life had a faster tempo.

      The most insistent problems were holding the Indians in subjection and creating means to induce them to work so as to produce a...

      (pp. 23-33)

      Before following the relationships of the province of Guatemala to the outside world, including both the mother country and foreign powers, the extent of the area called Guatemala should be considered. Some dozen and a half definitions are given of the name itself, and the geographic areas to which it has been applied are almost as various.

      Guatemala was the name given by the Spaniards to their first capital at Iximché, to the later capital at what is now Antigua, and to the present-day seat of government. It was applied also by Alvarado to the regions which he conquered and...

      (pp. 34-46)

      The movement for independence which elsewhere in Spanish America stirred the colonists to revolt against the long established government of the mother country had only a faint reverberation in Central America. The years of active campaigning in Mexico to the north and in South America from Caracas to Buenos Aires were approaching their end before any but a few radicals of little influence planned similar developments in the intervening region. There the colonial government was at pains to minimize the reports of dissatisfaction elsewhere and to declare that opposition to the established system was an effort to destroy and vilify...

      (pp. 47-62)

      The death of Carrera gave new hope to the long repressed Liberals. Some weeks before he died he had named a military associate, Vicente Cerna, as his successor. Cerna was not of the metal of the man who had selected him. The choice was approved by the House of Representatives acting with officials as a General Assembly, and Cerna was inaugurated on May 24, 1865. Four years later he was chosen again by a similar body and inducted into office May 2, 1869. By that time the series of revolts which was definitely to turn the tide against reaction had...

      (pp. 63-74)

      The political history of Guatemala since the fall of Barrios, like that of the preceding period, is one of partisan dissensions alternating with years of relative peace maintained by strong-handed presidents who have not hesitated to assume dictatorial powers when in their judgment such action seemed necessary. All of the chiefs of state have been Liberals. The power of none has rested on the popular ballot freely cast.* In the fifty-four years following 1885 three presidents, José María Reyna Barrios, Manuel Estrada Cabrera, and Jorge Ubico, have ruled, for terms of seven, twenty-two, and eight years respectively. The term of...

      (pp. 75-89)

      Guatemalan foreign relations since the winning of independence fall into three classes. Most discussed and at times most disturbing to the local authorities have been those with the four other Central American states, especially with neighboring Salvador and Honduras. As long as the old Federation existed these relationships were not foreign and even after its demise they were looked upon as only semiforeign, for Central Americans generally have regarded them-selves as only temporarily under separate governments and have cherished a deep seated ambition that some day one flag shall again float over the territory of the old Captaincy-General. To attain...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
      (pp. 90-98)

      The history of Guatemala for the first fifty-eight years after the winning of independence shows a number of attempts to organize the public powers, which merit but brief mention. None resulted in a true fundamental law and none left standards of action which find expression in the frame of government now in force.

      The declaration of independence on September 15, 1821, was followed so promptly by the annexation of Central America to Mexico that there was no opportunity to call the assembly of representatives of the provinces which it contemplated. When Filísola was approaching the end of his stay in...

      (pp. 99-110)

      The government which may develop under any constitution depends of course to a great degree on the character of the electorate to which it applies. Possibly the organization of political powers above sketched might, under other circumstances, have been the foundation of a government in which individual rights would have been observed, popular control of publics affair developed, and the three departments of government kept in their declared relationships to each other. There is nothing in the phrasing of the Guatemalan constitution which per se places limitations on the functioning of a true democracy. Still it is clear that in...

  4. Part II. Economic Advance

      (pp. 113-124)

      After the conquest was over and indeed even during it one of the primary problems confronting the Spaniards had been to secure an adequate labor supply. The conquerors, as had previously proved to be the case in the West Indies and Mexico, were unwilling themselves to undertake heavy manual labor. All classes among them promptly desired to render it unnecessary by exploiting the labor of the Indians.¹

      From the steps taken to bring about that happy state of affairs rose the contest between the conquerors and old settlers on one side and the representatives of humanitarian standards in treatment of...

      (pp. 125-140)

      The contest between the realists and the humanitarians in Guatemala was not slow to develop. Las Casas arrived at his new post at Ciudad Real, Chiapas, in 1545. The encomenderos were ready to see that he should find there no bed of roses; they refused to recognize either the new laws or the new bishop.¹ Even the local clergy denied him their cooperation. But the old warrior would not be overawed. He brought matters to a head by ordering the priests to refuse to absolve, confess, or give communion to those who held Indian slaves. When one priest did so...

      (pp. 141-167)

      Less attention has been given by both Guatemalan and foreign scholars to the latter portion of the colonial regime than to its earlier years, and the government is only now assembling at the capital the departmental records upon which much of the work of future historians will be based. At present therefore the materials for estimating labor developments are far from satisfactory.

      The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the colony were far from prosperous, as the colonists constantly complained. There were no local resources which could well be greatly exploited for overseas commerce, and Spain was content to allow Guatemala...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
      (pp. 168-179)

      Land problems arose almost contemporaneously with the first settlement. Land was plentiful, for native plantings before the conquest occupied only a fraction of the area. The Spaniards, however, did not seek to cultivate new fields themselves but through the Indians who were assigned to them. No individual allotments were made until 1528.

      But in these original assignments some overlapped, the grants were not in accord with what many felt they deserved, and not all citizens had been given lands. Those neglected complained. They had no interest in public order, and complaints reached the city council of the little capital that...

      (pp. 180-196)

      Study of the vital statistics, the chief economic products, and the imports and exports of any country gives one of the keys to its manner of life and to the civilization which may develop within it. But reliable statistics are, in all countries, of recent development. They could not exist before public administration had acquired strength and a trained personnel. In Guatemala both have been lacking, almost to our own day. In the colonial period collection of the necessary data was far beyond the power of the local governments. Even in the scattered settlements in which Spaniards lived those who...

      (pp. 197-213)

      Exports from Guatemala, by which it can create the credits for imports its people demand, have been characteristically vegetable products. Since local manufacture has always been sharply limited the trade in these items has had great importance, especially for that portion of the population living above the subsistence level and for the government, which has depended heavily on the taxes on imports and exports.

      The leading articles in export have gone through a remarkable series of changes, necessitating shifts in local activities to meet new conditions in world trade, and have caused great changes in the relative importance of producing...

      (pp. 214-233)

      The financial position of Guatemala and its public debts are best judged from the general economic background of Central America as a unit. All of these five republics lie in the tropics and have worked under the handicaps which tropical conditions seem to place upon industrial activities.

      The influence of tropic climates has been modified by the elevation of certain of the areas, in which the larger part of the populations live. There, with some exceptions, the greatest economic activity has developed. Nevertheless even in these more favored areas the industrial aptitude or at least the industrial performance of the...

      (pp. 234-239)

      When the Spaniards entered, no metal currency existed in Guatemala, and such trade as was carried on was by barter.¹ The conquerors, however, in setting up their system of tributes had to create some monetary measure and adopted thepeso de minasas a standard.² The first standard coins circulating in the country appear to have been gold and silver minted in Mexico for Alvarado.³ But coins entering from Mexico were scarce, and much of the trading among the early settlers themselves continued on a barter basis both in internal commerce and in the trade allowed with other colonies and...

      (pp. 240-264)

      Public services in all new countries must develop slowly. The problems of winning a livelihood and those of defending the community from attack absorb the attention of the inhabitants. The social surplus devotable to both private and public activities is limited.

      The experience in Guatemala has been no exception. The city council even in the earliest years of the colony did endeavor to establish certain rudimentary services, but its funds were always low and the population had to win its way in all but small degree by individual initiative. The most insistent public need was for better communications. It continued...

  5. Part III. Social Life

      (pp. 267-277)

      No Real census of the population of Guatemala has ever been taken. The early estimates were never more than guesses, and the later colonial calculations were little better. Accuracy is not claimed even for the counts taken in the republican period.

      Native chroniclers who discussed the preconquest and conquest periods reported military engagements in which 90,000 and even 120,000 were engaged, and battles in which as many as 14,000 were left dead upon the field.¹ It seems clear that no population which could furnish armies of this size could have existed and that no such slaughter could possibly have occurred,...

      (pp. 278-287)

      Concerning the social organization of the population of in preconquest times Spanish writers give but scant information. What has come down to us is too often colored by the temptation to present the bizarre contrasts with the circumstances the authors knew in their own countries. There is almost no serious effort to portray the culture the natives had developed against the background of the conditions they were facing in the pre-Colombian era. A similar lack continues throughout the colonial period and to a degree even to the present time. Only in the most recent years have either Guatemalan or foreign...

      (pp. 288-308)

      Few formal descriptions of the social relationships in Guatemala in the republican period have been undertaken by Guatemalans, but from its beginning foreigners have visited both the capital and the back country.¹ From their accounts the changes going on may be estimated. Most of the earlier travelers shared, at least before their journeys, the prevalent opinion that independence assured a rapid economic and social development to the freed Spanish colonies. Others were diplomatic representatives who followed the practice of saying nothing but good. A few, especially those of anti-Catholic leanings, at least did not err in too great praise of...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
      (pp. 309-325)

      Present-day relationships between the central government and the Indian population and the political and social organization of the Indian communities within themselves have been little studied either by Guatemalans or foreigners. In many respects the Indian communities are a state within a state or a group of small states within a state. They are so various, their life is so largely determined by local custom and so little a matter of record, that statements concerning them must be of the most general character or be confined to single communities used as illustrations.

      There exist no constitutional provisions which guarantee the...

      (pp. 326-338)

      No Efforts were made in the colonial period to establish a system of public education to reach the great mass of the population. The Crown consistently tried to promote the teaching of the principles of the Christian religion in even the most distant districts, and the work of the Church in that field stands out in Guatemala as in other colonial areas as one of the greatest accomplishments of Spain. But instruction of the average citizen in lay branches was considered to lie outside the functions of public authority. Even had that not been the case the treasury had no...

      (pp. 339-356)

      It has long been the custom among citizens of the more advanced democracies to decry dictators and all their works. Dictators and dictatorships are incompatible with that equality of political power with which citizens of democracies are assumed to be endowed and with that equality before the law which is accepted as one of the foundations of good government. It is not intended here to call into question the soundness of these convictions. Neither is it planned to consider whether there be innate qualities among the peoples of certain races or living between certain latitudes which make them capable or...

  6. NOTES
    (pp. 357-402)
    (pp. 403-410)
  8. A Note on Spanish Pronunciation
    (pp. 412-412)
  9. Index
    (pp. 413-420)