Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 6, 1886
Mr. Hall to
Guatemala, October 27, 1886. (Received November 20.)
Sir: * * * A very interesting article upon the subject of a Central American Union has recently appeared in a newspaper of Salvador. I inclose it herewith with a translation. The author, Senor Nicolas Angulo, is a prominent citizen of Salvador, and a candidate for the Presidency at the elections which are to take place during the next month.
He reviews the causes that brought about the dissolution of the original confederation and the several attempts that have been made since 1840 to restore the unions—by Morazan, during the same year; by Vasconcelos, President of Salvador, in 1851; by Gerardo Barrios, also President of Salvador, aided by General Jerez, of Nicaragua, in 1863, and by Barrios, President of Guatemala in 1875, 1883, and 1885, all of which terminated in absolute failure and the effect of which has been to postpone indefinitely the realization of that great idea.
His conclusions are that the restoration of the Central American Union is of vital importance to the welfare of these states, but that its accomplishment by force or diplomacy is impracticable; that it will be possible only when personal and revolutionary governments shall have ceased to exist in Central America and after several successive periods of constitutional rule in all of the states.
I have, &c.,
ideas concerning the central american nationality.
The advantages of the reunion of these five little Republics into one national body are evident; the world recognizes this truth which it is needless to discuss anew.
Patriots should only consider the objections that oppose it. Let us briefly enumerate some of the events that are in opposition to this great question.
Our first constituent assembly, instead of decreeing the continuation of the central government, to which the country was accustomed, with the needed reforms that prudence might suggest, converted the five provinces of the former Kingdom of Guatemala into five sovereign States, bound together by a federal union in imitation of the United States of America, and by this false step planted the germs of future dissensions.
The truth is that this assembly was almost coerced by circumstances. The long interregnum between the independence and the constituent assembly had created interests and developed local ambitions adverse to the centralization of power. Salvador had already declared herself a federal State. This, in a certain mode, imposed the federation, and the majority of Congress adopted it.
But the bond of union was very weak. The Federal Government, in opposition to the governments of the States, had not sufficient power to enforce its authority, and discord soon produced its disastrous results. Prado, chief of Salvador, was the fi rst to rise in arms against the federal Government of Arce, established in Guatemala. Upon a frivolous pretext he sent a column of Salvadorian troops under the command of General Figueros, whose real mission was to overthrow President Arce. The latter went out to meet Figueros and routed him at Arrazola.
The Guatemalan troops were not long, in their turn, in invading Salvador, and in keeping up that long disastrous war that did not terminate until 1829, by the entrance of Morazan in Guatemala.
That long period of war and disorder had brought about many complications that Morazan, named the President of the Confederation, could not overcome. That leader multiplied in vain his efforts to consolidate the union; new difficulties and disappointments [Page 64] sterilized his victories, and in the year 1840 the last shadow of a federal Government disappeared with this chief. The States declared themselves independent, and put off national reconstruction until better times. We will now record summarily the principal attempts at nationality made afterwards.
Morazan did not admit himself conquered in 1840. Two years later he landed at La Union, bringing with him arms and ammunition and a corps of officers selected from among the most distinguished of the federation. He marched without delay to San Miguel, expecting that all the patriotic would come to join his standard. But the people did not respond to his call. Happy in their repose and fresh in their memories of their past misfortunes, they commenced to look with horror upon the nationality, and even upon Morazan, who they saw was bringing into the country the torch of desolation without well-founded hopes of any important success. When the troops under Malespin, sent from the capital to combat him, were approaching San Miguel, he was obliged to re-embark with his partisans.
A short time afterward that legendary hero appears in Costa Rica, which he had taken possession of with an audacity worthy of better fortune, and he followed up, without rest, the idea of establishing his power in the other sections.
Without taking the necessary time to consolidate his Government in Costa Rica he commenced to recruit and to organize there the army which he expected to carry through Central America the flag of the union.
The hard-working and peaceful people of Costa Rica did not participate in his enthusiasm. They doubted, and, rightly, the success of a war against four governments, then united in friendship, and prepared for resistance. The violences and vexations consequent upon the conscription and upon a state of war caused great exasperation. The conscripted army revolted in mass and attacked Morazan, who was defended by the few Salvadorian soldiers who accompanied and remained faithful to him; but that handful of heroic Salvadorians fought uselessly against a whole people. Morazan was made a prisoner and shot on the 15th of September, 1842.
The year 1851, Vasconcelos, President of Salvador, believing himself with sufficient power and prestige to reconstruct the nation, and in accord with Honduras, raised the national standard and invaded Guatemala with an army of Salvadorians and Honduranians. His proclamation displayed the measure of his illusions, as great, to our sorrow, as was his ambition. Carrera waited for him at Arada, and defeated him on the 2d of February; a sad day for the Salvadorian people, who saw their arms tarnished and the generous blood of their sons shed in torrents in that useless struggle, as at other times in the pursuit of an impracticable ideal.
Still fresh the blood shed in Arada, Cabanas, the President of Honduras, Cabanas, the loser of battles, the hero persecuted by ill-fortune, considered himself called upon by destiny to reorganize the union. He convoked a Congress of the representatives of the other states at Tegucigalpa, without giving notice to Guatemala or Costa Rica. This Congress decreed the union of the three States with Cabañas naturally, as President; but although he had raised troops for the purpose of sustaining the acts of the Congress, the other two Governments hastened to disown them. For this reason Cabanas threatened war upon Dueñas, then the President of Salvador, which war was averted through the medium of diplomacy.
Afterwards he appeared as the invader of Guatemala, and expecting, doubtless, to be aided by the Guatemalans, he took possession of Chiquimula, where he could not sustain himself, and returned to Honduras.
The troops of Guatemala were not long in following him into his own territory, and in depriving him of his office.
The people commenced to repair the disastrous nationalist enterprises, when, in the year 1863, General Gerardo Barrios, President of Salvador, in turn undertook to reestablish, under his own command, the national union. Allied with Honduras, and imagining himself possessed of the power and prestige necessary for such a great undertaking, he provoked, that year, the war that, in his opinion, was to give him dominion over the five Republics, but which produced calamities only, and the premature end of that energetic Salvadorian whose ambition was his only fortune.
Barrios (of Salvador)* opened the campaign of 1863 with the glorious victory of Coatepoque over the army of Guatemala commanded by Carrera. No advantages resulted from this victory which gave Salvador the opportunity to obtain an honorable treaty of peace. Intoxicated by his triumph, and believing himself already the master of Central America, he sent Jerez with Salvadorean troops to take possession of Nicaragua.
This illustrious Nicaraguan, an unconditional unionist, had in good faith placed his prestige at the service of Barrios, believing that the latter would carry out his political ideal. The refugees and malcontents of Nicaragua persuaded him, as always happens in such cases, that the unpopularity of the Nicaraguan Government was so great that it could offer no resistance, and that when Jerez should present himself [Page 65] everybody would receive him with open arms. Allured by such hopes he invaded Nicaragua. The Nicaraguans received him with rifle-balls; they routed him, destroyed his prestige, but not his illusions.
These events, which took place in 1863, caused an unfavorable change in the situationof Barrios (of Salvador), who soon thereafter was completely abandoned by fortune; he continued, however, to waste uselessly the blood and treasure of Salvador in a barren, senseless struggle that only terminated with his flight from San Salvador in 1863.
Twelve years transpired without the recurrence of any serious menace of union to disturb the tranquillity of these States. The people who are happy in peace imagined that the experience of past misfortunes would serve as a check to restrain ambitious leaders from launching forth upon new adventures. But there is no possible check to ambition except the retribution that falls upon its own head. The lessons of experience serve for no purpose; every ambitious leader believes himself superior to his predecessors.
In the year 1875 a sinister rumor of union circulates, and a new tempest of calamities appears upon our political horizon. This dark cloud is the ominous ambition of Justo Rufino Barrios, Dictator of Guatemala, that menaces Central America.
When this jacketed Caligula had the unfortunate Guatemala prostrate under his feet, when he had destroyed there, by terror and ferocity, every element of resistance to his domination, he imagined he could extend his ominous power over the other Republics of Central America.
Salvador and Honduras, illy provided with the means of defense in their military organization, were invaded in 1876 by Guatemalan armies prepared and organized beforehand.
But Barrios met with more resistance than he imagined, and although he did not obtain the easy victory that he expected, he acquired notable advantages which permitted him to establish Zaldivar (recommended by Guardia, President of Costa Rica) as President of Salvador. Zaldivar guaranteed to Barrios an absolute solution and the surrender to him of Salvador whenever Barrios should undertake his national union enterprise. The nine years following 1876 were employed by Justo Rufino Barrios in perfecting his armament and in improving the organization and discipline of his militia. Zaldivar saw with unconcern those preparations, destined against Salvador, and, deaf to the voice of the patriots who pointed out the danger, neglected completely the military organization of the Republic, and in this way the country was an easy and sure prey to the ambition of the conqueror, an enormous crime against the country.
Justo Rufino Barrios, believing himself sufficiently prepared, in accord with Honduras, judging the circumstances favorable to the purpose, issued on the 28th February, 1885, his monstrous decree, declaring himself the supreme chief of the five Republics. A shout of indignation against him resounded on all sides; Salvadorians fly to arms; Nicaragua and Costa Rica hasten to resist.
Barrios soon invaded Salvador with a fine army; a partial success obtained on the frontier inflames his ambition and pushes him hastily toward Chalchuapa, bulwark of Salvadorians, where await him the bullets that were cast, at the time of the independence, to free us from a tyranny a thousand times worse than the colonial despotism.
Thus ended the life of this cacique, the most cruel and sanguinary monster that America has produced, defrauding even in his death the rights of justice and of public vengeance, which demanded the expiation of his crimes, leaving behind him, as a sole punishment in this world, the execrations of posterity, the real vengeance of the people.
But let us suppose for a moment that Barrios had triumphed in Salvador; that he had placed his foot upon Nicaragua, and subjugated Costa Rica; that with his system of implacable ferocity he had, as in Guatemala, destroyed all resistance, and, finally, had consolidated, his dominion upon the ruins of Central America; his evil genius would have had no stability; the execution of Central Americans would have borne no fruits. His power, linked to his personality, would hardly have lived during his own existence. The hour of his death would also have sounded the hour of redemption of Central America. New complications would have arisen, new hatreds and new interests would have been awakened, and the desired union would have been still further retarded.
Personal governments never establish anything that remains stable; their undertakings, dictated by ambition, stimulated by vanity, bearing no stamp of justice or of public expedience, fail inevitably as all works of iniquity must fail. The empire of Alexander lasted only the moments of his life. The great empire of Napoleon I went down also and forever at the first shock of evil fortune, and that absolute ruler of Europe, who dragged in his train a court of degraded kings, died like another Prometheus, chained to a rock where a vulture slowly devoured his vitals. Such are the lessons that tyrants should ever bear in mind.[Page 66]
From the foregoing is to be drawn a self-evident truth, unquestionable, clear as the light of day, “The Central American Union by force is impossible.”
What have the attempts made during the period of more than forty years left us? Death, desolation, misery, and ruin; hatred between the peoples; hatred renewed by war when it had begun to disappear. These ill-timed attempts have left us something still worse; the arrogant personal governments that concentrate all possible power in the person of the President in defraudation of the rights of the citizen, of the dignity of the nation, and of orderly administration, whose movements it disarranges.
The errors of Morazan brought out Carrera and inaugurated that disastrous era of life governments and dictatorships, more or less disguised, which are the real and great obstacle to the union and the cause of all the misfortunes of the people. The egotistical leaders, moved by personal ambition, who have drawn the sword in behalf of the union, have marched us backwards on that road.
The union is to be expected only from Governments constituted in accordance with law, emanated from the people, which follow the paths of legality; they alone can be inspired by the true interests of the citizen, with absolute abstraction if persons. To obtain the union it is essential that the five rulers should resign and place their powers upon the altar of public expediency, and only lawful rulers are capable of descending from those high positions (that turn the heads of tyrants) to intermingle voluntarily with their fellow-citizens, and enjoy the unfading glory of Aguilar, Campo, and San Martin, of grateful remembrance.
After so many years it is sad to confess it, only in Nicaragua is there alternation in power, in conformity with the law, and a Government that keeps within the sphere of legality which is alone compatible with democracy and liberty.
In the other Republics, with few exceptions, we have had rulers who have risen out of revolutions and continued in power by usurpation; as usurpers of public authority, they have been as tenacious as of their real estate, and disposed to surrender it only with their lives. With rulers of this class union is impossible, because union implies a voluntary abdication of power, which can only be arrested by force, and the national union, that generous aspiration, will continue to be nothing more than a nuisance to the peace of Central America.
Let, then, the unionists give their attention to the real difficulties that oppose the union. Let them found their hopes upon the present rulers of the five Republics; they are all new in power, and none of them are stained with the crime of usurpation; upon them depends the future of Central America.
Whenever, in the five Republics, there is alternation in power, without violence or revolutions for several successive periods, in conformity with the fundamental law, it may be expected that the five Governments will fix upon a day upon which the five Presidents shall resign, and turn over their powers to a national President. To attempt to obtain this union by diplomatic means is absurd; to attempt it by force is criminal.
- There were two Barrioses in Central America—Gerardo Barrios, President of Salvador in 1863, and Justo Rufino Barrios, President of Guatemala from 1870 to 1885.↩