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Gaceta de Guatemala in the Colonial Period  

Catherine Poupeney Hart

Gaceta de Guatemala is the name of a newspaper spanning four series and published in Central America before the region’s independence from Spain. As one of the first newspapers to appear in Spanish America on a periodical basis, the initial series (1729–1731) was inspired by its Mexican counterpart (Gaceta de México) and thus it adopted a strong local and chronological focus. The title resurfaced at the end of the 18th century thanks to the printer and bookseller Ignacio Beteta who would assure its continuity until 1816. The paper appeared as a mainly news-oriented publication (1793–1796), only to be reshaped and energized by a small group of enlightened men close to the university and the local government (1797–1807). In an effort to galvanize society along the lines of the reforms promoted by the Bourbon regime, and to engage in a dialogue with readers beyond the borders of the capital city of Guatemala, they relied on a vast array of sources (authorized and censored) and on a journalistic model associated with the British Spectator: it allowed them to explore different genres and a wide variety of topics, while also allowing the paper to fulfill its role as an official and practical news channel. The closure of the Economic Society which had been the initial motor for the third series, and the failure to attract or retain strong contributors led slowly to the journal’s social irrelevance. It was resurrected a year after ceasing publication, to address the political turmoil caused by the Napoleonic invasion of the Peninsula and to curb this event’s repercussions overseas. These circumstances warranted a mainly news-oriented format, which prevailed in the following years. The official character of the paper was confirmed in 1812 when it appeared as the Gaceta del Gobierno de Guatemala, a name with which it finally ended publication (1808–1816).


Bourbon Reforms in Central America, 1700–1808  

Jorge González Alzate

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.”


US Interventions and Occupations in Latin America  

Alan McPherson

From 1800 to the present, US troops have intervened thousands of times in Latin America and have occupied its countries on dozens of occasions. Interventions were short-term and superficial, while occupations lasted longer and controlled local governments. The causes of these troop landings reflected the United States’ motivations as it expanded from a strong, large republic into first a continental and then an overseas empire at the expense of its smaller, weaker neighbors. Those motivations included colonial land hunger, cultural chauvinism, the exploitation of resources, the search for markets abroad, competition against other great powers, political reformism, global ideological struggle, and the perception that US domestic problems originated in Latin America. US troops undertook almost all these interventions and occupations, although private groups sometimes joined. The major periods were the expansion of the continental republic from 1811 to 1897, the war in Cuba and the apex of occupations (1898–1933), the Good Neighbor years (1934–1953), the Cold War (1954–1990), and the post-Cold War period (1991–2018 and ongoing). Scholars of these events have become increasingly critical and diverse, not only seeing them often as unnecessary brutal failures but also foregrounding extra-military aspects of these episodes, such as economics, race, and gender.