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Unlike the French and North American revolutions, which fought against a monarchical power, the Hispanic political revolution began by evoking the memory of the beloved Ferdinand VII of Spain. The French invasion of Spain in 1808 had unimaginable repercussions; the government was reestablished in the name of the King, and the territories of the Americas that were convened in the Cortes participated in the development of a charter in 1812 that created a constitutional monarchy. In the Kingdom of Guatemala, the application of constitutionalism gave rise to tensions between elected officials and former royal appointees. By way of indirect elections, the isthmus took its first steps in the construction of a representative system, and worked its way up to local, provincial, and legislative power. The Declaration of Independence, which took place on September 15, 1821, along with the Plan of Iguala inadvertently brought about a type of “examination” in which the provinces, empowered by their sovereignty and autonomy, broke away from the metropolis but produced a dilemma: Mexico or Guatemala. Independent from the choice, they assumed full ownership of the government that originated from the 1812 Constitution of Cádiz. Few people called for a congress, and the traditional referent in the political community, the cabildos, chose the Imperio del Septentrión (the Northern Empire). After the fall of the monarch Agustín de Iturbide, in March 1823, a constituency was organized to decide on their future government as the Provincinas Unidas del Centro de América (United Provinces of Central America). The new republican project was issued in a second Declaration of Independence or absolute independence, signed on July 1, 1823.

Article

Between 1944 and 1959, conflicts with anti-dictatorial exiles and democratic leaders against dictatorial regimes and dissident exiles shaped inter-American relations in the Caribbean Basin. At the end of World War II, anti-dictatorial exiles networked with students, laborers, journalists, and politicians in denouncing the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo, Nicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza, and Honduras’s Tiburcio Carías. Opponents of and dissident exiles from the 1944 Guatemalan Revolution and Venezuela’s Trienio Adeco (Adeco Triennium) under Rómulo Betancourt likewise turned to dictatorial regimes for aid. By 1947, a loose coalition of anti-dictatorial exiles with the help of Cuba, Guatemala, and Venezuela’s democratic leaders formed what would become known as the Caribbean Legion and organized the abortive Cayo Confites expedition against Trujillo. Seeking regional stability, U.S. officials intervened against this expedition and Caribbean Basin dictators and dissident exiles’ attempts to air-bomb Guatemala City and Caracas. Caribbean Basin leaders and exiles focused upon these inter-American conflicts, rather than the international Cold War. José Figueres’s rise to power in Costa Rica provided a pivotal ally to democratic leaders and anti-dictatorial exiles, and Caribbean Basin dictators began working with the Venezuelan military regime after the 1948 military coup. In 1949, Trujillo’s regime coordinated a counter-intelligence operation that destroyed the Caribbean Legion’s expedition at Luperón and brought greater attention to the region. By the early 1950s, dictatorial regimes operated as a counter-revolutionary network sharing intelligence, aiding dissident exiles, supporting Fulgencio Batista’s 1952 coup in Cuba, and lobbying U.S. officials against Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala and Figueres in Costa Rica. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) utilized these dictators and exiles during Operations PBFORTUNE and PBSUCCESS to overthrow the Guatemalan government in 1954, but U.S. officials intervened when the counter-revolutionary network invaded Costa Rica in 1955. From 1955 onward, anti-dictatorial exiles from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Venezuela continued organizing expeditions against Caribbean Basin dictatorships, and multiple groups conspired against Batista’s regime. Among Cuban exiles, Fidel Castro rose to prominence and received important resources and alliances through anti-dictatorial exiles. Dictators shared intelligence and gave aid to Batista, yet Caribbean Legion veterans, Cuban exiles, Betancourt, Figueres, and others helped Castro undermine Batista. In 1959, Castro supported anti-dictatorial expeditions, most notably those against Trujillo and Luis Somoza. However, Castro disagreed with many former exiles and Betancourt and Figueres’s policies, so the resulting tension separated Castro from democratic leaders and divided the region among dictatorial regimes, democratic governments, and Castro.

Article

Nahuatl is the Latin American indigenous language having the largest number of colonial documents. As with other colonial documents, the study of these manuscripts requires mastery of the language as well as the relevant historical and philological sources. The emergence of digital repositories in Mexico, the United States, France, and other countries has made hundreds of digital images available to scholars who would not have had access to these sources otherwise. Digital repositories also contain additional tools such as morphological parsers and dictionaries. These allow users to upload new images, transcriptions, and translations, turning digital archives into veritable platforms for scholarly exchange. The irruption of digital repositories promises to effect substantial changes in the field of Nahuatl studies.

Article

In the final decades of the 19th century the Central American nation of Guatemala represented some intriguing employment and entrepreneurial possibilities from the point of view of US citizens. The lure of coffee cultivation, mahogany harvesting, even mining was real. Additionally, the promise of employment building an inter-oceanic railroad resulted in significant numbers of African Americans journeying to Guatemala. The relocation offered good pay and many apparently believed that it would also take them to a place where Jim Crow racism was not the predominant and limiting factor that it was in the United States. For at least one of those men however, railroad work was not the primary enticement to the region. By 1893, such alleged opportunities in Guatemala had attracted the black athlete, entrepreneur, and entertainer Billy A. Clarke. During his two years in the country, with his sometime business partner and sparring mate, Rod Lewis, also an African American, Clarke operated a gymnasium where he taught the “Art of Pugilism,” staged several prize fights, and, for a time, captured the imagination of the capital city with the example of modern, imported entertainment and professional sports. Between 1892 and 1898, Guatemala was ruled by, first president, and later, dictator, General José María Reina Barrios. A globalizer enamored of modernization, European architecture, and North American technology, the environment fostered by Reina Barrios attracted not only contractors and African American workers from the United States to build railroads but also other foreigners who made for the Central American nation, bringing the outside world to the mile-high capital of Guatemala City. Into this setting came Billy A. Clarke, drawn by the same baseline possibilities of solid work and the prospect of less Jim Crow as his African American railroad compatriots, but with the additional promise that his individual skills as a fighter and promoter might reap even bigger rewards. The story of Clarke in Guatemala is one of race, identity, and creative self-promotion. Building an image that combined ideas of the exotic and powerful African with ideas of the North American armed with “know-how” and scientific fighting skills, Clarke became a Guatemala City celebrity and was eventually known as the “Champion of Central America.”

Article

During the Cold War’s earliest years, right-wing governments and oligarchic elites in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua fostered closer relationships with the Catholic Church. Dictatorial leaders like Guatemala’s Carlos Castillo Armas and dynastic regimes like Nicaragua’s Somoza family regarded the Church as an ally against supposed Marxist influence in the region. Those ties began to fray in the late 1960s, as the Second Vatican Council’s foundational reforms moved Catholicism farther to the political and social left around the globe. This shift was especially prominent in Central America, where Catholics like El Salvador’s Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero and Guatemala’s Father Stanley Rother were among Central America’s most visible critics and reformers as political violence increased across the region during the 1970s. Relatedly, evangelical Protestants, particularly Pentecostal groups based in the United States, flooded Central America throughout that decade. Their staunch anticommunism and established ties to influential policymakers and political lobbyists in the United States, among other factors, gave evangelical Protestants greater influence in US-Central American relations. Their influence was strongest during the early 1980s, when José Efraín Ríos Montt, an ordained Pentecostal minister with Eureka, California’s Verbo Ministries, seized Guatemala’s presidency via a coup in March 1982. Notable US evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson praised Ríos Montt’s regime for its rabid anticommunist ideology, while President Ronald Reagan claimed that the dictator had received a “bum rap” in the global press. Concurrently, some US evangelical missioners and pastors also foregrounded the Sandinista government’s anti-Protestant activities as additional justification for US support for Nicaragua’s Contra forces. Religious actors were also instrumental to Central America’s peace processes after the Cold War, as Catholic and Protestant leaders alike worked closely with regional governments and the United States to end decades of political violence and enact meaningful socioeconomic reforms for the region’s citizens.

Article

The magnitude and brutality of the internal armed conflict of Guatemala led to its becoming infamous worldwide. Although the militarized state became a monster that brutalized many different groups, indigenous communities suffered at a rate far greater than the Ladino or non-indigenous population. It is pertinent to note that the term “Ladino” in Guatemala has a long and complex history that stems from the colonial period. Its meaning has morphed through time, from being used by colonial authorities to define indigenous peoples fluent in the conqueror’s language—Spanish—to its current meaning that defines all peoples, from white to mestizo, who are not part of the elite class and do not identify as indigenous. It is important to note that while not a formal social scientific term, “Ladino” was included in the latest Guatemalan census (2018) and, as posited by social scientists, is a contested term the meaning of which might continue to change. Nevertheless, the dichotomy of Ladino and indigenous has underscored issues of power and wealth in Guatemalan society since the early colonial period and continues to do so. During the bloodiest years of the conflict, the military stepped up its repression and violence, leading to a series of massacres and displacements of tens of thousands of highland villagers and the razing of hundreds of communities. The focus on indigenous ethnicities as a factor of war allowed the massacres to be categorized as a genocide. What often gets lost in the recount is the historical foundations that made such atrocities possible. The cost of the war in Guatemala is ongoing and immeasurable. However, partial approximations can be made in both human and economic costs. What remains clear is that the war came at a great cost to future Guatemalan generations, as its repercussions continue to impact Guatemalan society.

Article

The Online Finding Aid for the Archivo General de Centro América will provide increased ways for researchers to identify documents of interest in a widely distributed microfilm copy of this primary resource for the history of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Chiapas (Mexico). The original archive, located in Guatemala, houses approximately 147,000 registered document collections from the colonial period, ranging in date from the 16th century to independence from Spain in 1821. The microfilm copy, composed of almost 4,000 reels of microfilm, is organized according to basic keywords designating the original province in colonial Guatemala, a year, and a subject-matter keyword. Also associated in the basic records of the finding aid (which are already available online) are the reference number assigned each document in the original archive, and the specific reel(s) on which it is found. With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, enhanced records are being created for documents dating between 1700 and 1821 identified as associated with Guatemala, the administrative heart of the colony, for which there are no published indices. Enhanced records add names of people and places not recorded in the original record, opening up the microfilm collection, and through it, the original archive, to broader social history including studies of the roles of women, indigenous people, and African-descendant people.

Article

Sylvia Sellers-García

What can we learn about the documents we work with if we incorporate a study of document creation, travel, and storage into the consideration of document content? Some well-known documents, such as the Popol Vuh, have backstories that reveal as much as their content. But even obscure documents, such as a dispute over a road detour in 18th-century Guatemala, can be read productively as objects with life trajectories. Understanding the “life” of this document—the world in which it was made, the tools and knowledge of its making, its travel while being written, its storage in colonial and national archives—sheds new light on its meaning. Similarly, all colonial documents can be interpreted in new ways if their lives are treated as part of the interpretation.

Article

Adrianna Catena

Around 1560, indigo-yielding plants were identified in the New World. Settlers turned with enthusiasm to the industry, cultivating the native Indigofera species on large-scale plantations from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to the Gulf of Fonseca. Production surged, and by 1600 indigo had become the third most valuable export from the Spanish Indies (behind silver and cochineal). After an initial, explosive start, the industry declined toward 1630, crippled by the onslaught of crop plagues, an insufficient supply of labor, and a collapsing transport system. A second boom came only in the second half of the 18th century, following the Bourbon reforms, and with the recovery of trade through the Central American ports. By this time, a steady increase in European demand for indigo had encouraged the spread of colonial production to Dutch Java, French Saint-Domingue, British Jamaica, and South Carolina. Yet the Central American product had a longstanding, elevated reputation on its sid, and fared well against its rivals with the rare flor tizate, the region’s finest, ranked highest in European markets. In the three centuries between the emergence of colonial production and the commercialization of a synthetic alternative at the close of the 19th century, indigo transformed lives and landscapes on both sides of the Atlantic. The industry formed an integral part of the Central American economy, with important social and environmental consequences for the region.

Article

Severo Martínez Peláez is the most important figure in the founding of contemporary Guatemalan historiography. His work, in particular La patria del criollo (The Homeland of the Criollo), has been viewed by historians as a starting point for advancing the reconstruction of Central American history. Additionally, his work continues to have a broad readership, who consider it a factor in understanding the present. His contributions are essential to the understanding of the colonial period in Latin America, including debates that inspired his theses concerning the character of society in that period and his historical views on indigenous peoples. Like other thinkers of the 1960s and 1970s, his focus was primarily on economic and social history, in particular class struggles. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the intellectual, political, social, and even personal conditions relevant at the time he was writing in order to thoroughly understand and appreciate his work.

Article

Henrietta Yurchenco, née Weiss, was a pioneer of ethnomusicology research. Her expeditions in various regions of Mexico and Guatemala between 1942 and 1946 allowed for the gathering of musical recordings from the Zoque, Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Chiapaneco, Tojolobal, Cora, Huichol, and Seri peoples of Mexico, and from the Quiché, Kekchí, Ixil, and Zutujil peoples of Guatemala. A portion of these expeditions were carried out thanks to an agreement signed between the Instituto Indigenista Interamericano (III; Inter-American Indigenist Institute) and the Mexican Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP; Public Education Ministry/Department) and the Library of Congress (LOC) in Washington. The recordings produced by these expeditions were made direct-to-disc and are preserved at the Fonoteca Nacional de México (Mexican National Music Library/Collection), where they have been completely digitalized. They were also recognized with the Memory of the World distinction by UNESCO in 2015. One-hundred thirty two (132) discs are preserved with hundreds of pieces from these cultures, of enormous value to Mexican cultural heritage. In her memoirs, published in two versions (Spanish and English), Yurchenco offers a fascinating account of her travels in Mexico and Guatemala. Additionally, she explores specific aspects of the aforementioned research in specialized journal articles and book chapters. Yurchenco was particularly interested in discovering traits from pre-Hispanic music. This goal drove her to explore remote regions of Mexico. Her work in its vast majority—both her writings and recordings on Latin America as well as on the rest of the world—still has yet to be studied.

Article

Mario Samper Kutschbach

Coffee production has been a significant economic activity in Central America since the 19th century, and it has played an important role in shaping social relations, politics, and culture in various ways over time, both within coffee-producing areas and in each country. Coffee continues to be a major export crop, although the region’s economy has diversified, and the prospects of coffee as a commodity and a way of life will influence the fortunes of many in the highland areas of the isthmus. The Central American coffee commodity chain, from planting, care of the coffee groves, and harvesting through transportation, processing, and storage to shipping, roasting, and distribution abroad and within each country, has evolved in response both to internal dynamics and to changes in the world market for coffee and consumer demand, international trading systems, capital flows, and marketing systems. The supply of credit and the exchange of knowledge and information on the market as well as technical expertise and the provision of inputs, genetic material, and equipment have helped shape and reshape this value chain. Farmers’ strategies and cooperative endeavors, as well as local processing, gathering, and storage facilities and financing and regulations, have adapted to changing trends and to market downturns, recoveries, and segmentation. Vertical and horizontal integration of the various links in this chain have also evolved, in ways that differ from one country to another. While historically there has been a trend toward concentration especially in processing and export, there has also been fragmentation and greater involvement of small- or medium-scale producers in cultivation and in primary processing in specific countries or areas. Certain pests and diseases, whose geographical distribution and severity have been related to agro-ecological conditions and practices, have also contributed to modifications in productive systems. Climate change has had increasingly severe short-term impacts on the frequency of extreme events and variability of rainfall and temperature, while warmer average temperatures have begun to affect the altitudinal range of coffee cultivation. There is definitely a future for specific types of Central American coffee, but not necessarily for all current areas, farms, and firms specializing in this tropical product.

Article

The Association of Communitarian Health Services (ASECSA) is a transnational, religiously influenced health program in Central America created during the Cold War. ASECSA was founded in 1978 by a small group of international health professionals with ties to programs started by Catholic and Protestant clergy and laity in Guatemala’s western highlands in the 1960s. It introduced a model of healthcare in which Maya health promoters and midwives became partners in healing rather than objects to be cured. Support for the health programs and ASECSA came from secular and religious international agencies, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), German Misereor, Catholic Relief Services, and the World Council of Churches. ASECSA was founded to disseminate knowledge of popular health education strategies used by health promoters and midwives to provide preventive and curative medical services to their communities. The education methods grew from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and its use by religious agents influenced by liberation theology. Although it was founded in Guatemala, ASECSA’s publications and meetings attracted participation by health professionals and paraprofessionals from Mexico, Central America, and even the Caribbean. Ecumenical religious centers affiliated with liberation theology in the 1960s and 1970s facilitated the development of popular health programs that played a defining role in the region.

Article

In the last decades of the 18th century, with the visit in 1784 of José Antonio Calderón to the Maya ruins at Palenque and the discovery in 1790 of the statue of Coatlicue and the Stone of the Sun in the central plaza of Mexico City, the study of ancient Mexico entered a new era. In the century that followed, teams of field surveyors, mapmakers, graphic artists, and artifact collectors worked across central and southern Mexico as well as in Guatemala. Some were commissioned by the Spanish Crown or later by national governments; many arrived from England, France, Germany, and eventually the United States. Early on they worked side by side with geologists, geographers, and field biologists as part of natural history expeditions, accumulating collections of artifacts that would be displayed in curiosity cabinets and early museums alongside trays of colorful butterflies and stuffed tropical birds. And then, as foreign travel books won popular audiences in Europe and the United States, and as international investors arrived in Mexico and Central America, archaeology also was taken up by enthusiastic amateurs looking to sell books, build private collections, or organize international trade fairs. For serious students of ancient history, field exploration and advances in archaeological record-keeping transformed a body of research and scientific speculation that since the 16th century had been dominated by theologians, historians, and philologists, who studied Spanish chronicles and native language annals but paid scant attention to the remnants of material culture. In the process, Aztecs and Maya were rediscovered as historical subjects, their histories disconnected from that of contemporary Indian peasants and recast as rivals to the great civilizations of the Old World. Ruins of monumental architecture, recovered artifacts in sculptured stone or finely crafted metals, and ancient texts inscribed on wooden lintels and bark cloth were reclaimed as part of national patrimonies to be protected by new state agencies and displayed in modern museums. On January 20, 1911, the International School for American Archaeology and Ethnology formally opened in Mexico City, and this formative period in the archaeological study of ancient peoples ended. Manuel Gamio introduced the study of stratigraphy to fieldwork practices in Mexico and the discipline was transformed once again.

Article

The Kingdom of Guatemala, a neglected backwater of the Spanish Empire under the Habsburgs, figured prominently in the long-term strategic planning of the Bourbon state. Royal preoccupation with this impoverished colony was reflected in the wide-ranging program of reform that the crown sought to put into practice in the isthmus over the course of the 18th century. For Philip V and his successors, the most pressing concern was the crown’s lack of control over the colony’s Caribbean coast (also known as the Mosquito Shore), a swampy and insalubrious region that for decades had been under the effective control of British interlopers and their native allies, the indomitable Sambo-Mosquitos. The main thrust of the reform project was therefore directed at addressing that serious security gap, a situation which, at the same time, severely limited Spain’s capacity to reap the benefits of Central America’s economy and trade. In its initial stages, the effort to implement the reforms proved to be a protracted and frustrating process, hampered by resistance from vested interests, lack of funds and personnel, natural disasters, and above all by recurring military conflict. It was not until the aftermath of the Seven Years War (1756–1763) that Charles III, facing the prospect of an even more damaging British attack, resolved to take decisive action and commanded his ministers to expedite the pace of reform. Royal orders were then issued that called for the de-Americanization and overhauling of the civil administration, direct state intervention to stimulate economic productivity and expand maritime trade, the establishment of a modern, efficient, crown-administered fiscal structure, the strengthening of the defense system, and the assertion of royal authority over the ecclesiastical establishment. Initially, the uncompromising manner utilized by the crown in introducing the changes, particularly the reforms to the fiscal system, provoked much unrest and resistance among wide segments of the population. But in the end, the reforms survived and, by the closing years of the century, most of the measures had largely met the crown’s objectives. The fiscal surplus generated by the economic and commercial expansion of the second half of the 18th century enabled the Bourbons to attain their principal strategic objective in Central America, namely dislodging the British enemy from much of the Atlantic coast. Unfortunately, not long after this climatic point, the decades-long effort quickly unraveled as the monarchy began to collapse in 1808. In the end, the reform project proved insufficient; the dream of attaining modernization and preeminent status among European powers remained elusive. As conditions in the mother country deteriorated, so did the economic and political stability of Central America. The kingdom’s provinces were engulfed by increasing political volatility and economic depression. Following the example of neighboring New Spain, Central Americans declared their independence in 1821. Thus, in the end, the Bourbons had “gained a revenue and lost an empire.”

Article

The role of religion shifted dramatically in Central American politics during the 20th century, as the Catholic Church moved from a position as conservator of the status quo to a powerful force for reform and human rights. The century also witnessed the rise, then the “boom,” of Protestant—specifically Pentecostal—religion. By the century’s end, Central America had become among the most Protestant regions of Latin America, with every country except Costa Rica and Belize measuring a large and rising evangélico minority. These changes unfolded alongside, and deeply affected, one of the most traumatic and violent periods in the region’s history, the so-called Central American crisis of the late 1970s and 1980s, when Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala became the battlegrounds for one of the last large proxy wars of the larger Cold War, between Marxist insurgencies and authoritarian governments.