Piety, Power, and Politics

Piety, Power, and Politics: Religion and Nation Formation in Guatemala, 1821–1871

Douglass Sullivan-González
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Piety, Power, and Politics
    Book Description:

    Douglass Sullivan Gonzalez examines the influence of religion on the development of nationalism in Guatemala during the period 1821-1871, focusing on the relationship between Rafael Carrera amd the Guatemalan Catholic Church. He illustrates the peculiar and fascinating blend of religious fervor, popular power, and caudillo politics that inspired a multiethnic and multiclass alliance to defend the Guatemalan nation in the mid-nineteenth century.Led by the military strongman Rafael Carrera, an unlikely coalition of mestizos, Indians, and creoles (whites born in the Americas) overcame a devastating civil war in the late 1840s and withstood two threats (1851 and 1863) from neighboring Honduras and El Salvador that aimed at reintegrating conservative Guatemala into a liberal federation of Central American nations.Sullivan-Gonzalez shows that religious discourse and ritual were crucial to the successful construction and defense of independent Guatemala. Sermons commemorating independence from Spain developed a covenantal theology that affirmed divine protection if the Guatemalan people embraced Catholicism. Sullivan-Gonzalez examines the extent to which this religious and nationalist discourse was popularly appropriated.Recently opened archives of the Guatemalan Catholic Church revealed that the largely mestizo population of the central and eastern highlands responded favorably to the church's message. Records indicate that Carrera depended upon the clerics' ability to pacify the rebellious inhabitants during Guatemala's civil war (1847-1851) and to rally them to Guatemala's defense against foreign invaders. Though hostile to whites and mestizos, the majority indigenous population of the western highlands identified with Carrera as their liberator. Their admiration for and loyalty to Carrera allowed them a territory that far exceeded their own social space.Though populist and antidemocratic, the historic legacy of the Carrera years is the Guatemalan nation. Sullivan-Gonzalez details how theological discourse, popular claims emerging from mestizo and Indian communities, and the caudillo's ability to finesse his enemies enabled Carrera to bring together divergent and contradictory interests to bind many nations into one.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7050-7
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Figures, Maps, and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. 1 Piety, Power, and Politics
    (pp. 1-18)

    Barely five years had elapsed since the famed military caudillo from the eastern highlands of Guatemala, Rafael Carrera, had triumphed over his liberal enemies, in 1839, and set in motion a series of events that led to the establishment and consolidation of an independent republic of Guatemala. Now, neighboring El Salvador through military intervention threatened to reintegrate Guatemala to the Central American federation. During the events surrounding this 1844 military contest of wills, the Salvadoran president tried to entice the famed guerrilla priest Francisco Gonzalez Lobos to join his forces in their goal to oust Carrera. One of Carrera’s principal...

  6. 2 The Catholic Church Regroups
    (pp. 19-33)

    Rafael Carrera’s open letter to the vicar general Antonio Larrazábal in December 1840 questioned with measured indignation the church’s lethargy and inability to fill the vacant parishes that now dotted the Guatemalan landscape. Part of the Carrera movement’s unquestioned esprit de corps had been based on the commitment to vindicate a repressed church; now, less than a year into his administration, the needs of many of his constituents still went unfilled. Not only did the lack of ministers perturb the caudillo but the sheer incompetence of those remaining pushed his manic temperament to the edge. Carrera’s frustration led to suspicion...

  7. 3 Popular Protest and Religious Commotions
    (pp. 34-59)

    Cholera epidemics intensified the life and death drama that held captive the people of Guatemala and severely tested the ability of any administration to withstand the challenges to its integrity during a plague. The most famous epidemic of Guatemalan history, the cholera epidemic of 1837 catalyzed the initial insurrectionary movements of the 1830s, undermined the legitimacy of the Gálvez administration, and opened the way for Carrera and his followers to move into power. Whereas the 1837 cholera epidemic made way for the collapse of the Gálvez liberal administration, the 1857 cholera epidemic did not undermine the Carrera regime. Why not?...

  8. 4 The Covenant
    (pp. 60-80)

    No clearer testimony evidences the social upheaval and shifting political landscape in Guatemala in February 1838 than the graphic narrative by the traveling U.S. diplomat John Lloyd Stephens. Recently arrived for the first time in the capital, Stephens witnessed the insurrectionary triumph of the military caudillo Rafael Carrera and his “tumultuous mass of half-naked savages, men, women, and children, estimated at ten or twelve thousand.” Stephens described how Carrera’s indigenous followers, upon entering the abandoned plaza and within earshot of a terrified white elite, shouted “Long live religion and death to foreigners!” A political uprising incited by religious concerns had...

  9. 5 Carrera, the Church, and Nation Formation
    (pp. 81-119)

    Conflict in the eastern highlands of Guatemala gave rise to independent Guatemala and the demise of the Central American federation during the Carrera years. The caudillo, swept into power by a popular insurrection in 1838, built his conservative coalition on the vindication of popular grievances and the restoration of the Catholic church. During the first decade of his dominance Carrera, in his pursuit of a solid basis of support, jockeyed with the Catholic hierarchy over the lack of parish ministers in the eastern highlands. Within a few short years, relations chilled between church leaders and Carrera. Overall, Carrera’s alliances in...

  10. 6 What Changed?
    (pp. 120-132)

    The year 1865 would not be forgotten within the church and in Guatemala. The prime spokesperson, Juan José de Aycinena, died at the age of seventy-two after a protracted infection in one of his legs. In and of itself, Aycinena’s death on February 17, 1865, did not represent a cataclysmic event within Guatemala’s Catholic church. Aycinena only gained the de jure status of bishop, within the Catholic church, and settled with his highest claim in Guatemala as rector of the San Carlos University.¹ As ideologue and theologian, however, Aycinena had left his mark on the republic by questioning the organic...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 133-160)
  12. Chronology
    (pp. 161-162)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 163-176)
  14. Index
    (pp. 177-182)