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Morazán, Carrera, Walker, and the 1859 Treaty

EditorialMorazán, Carrera, Walker, and the 1859 Treaty

Francisco Morazán (1792-1842) was president of the Federal Republic of Central America from 1830 to 1839. Before he was president of Central America, he was the head of the state of Honduras. He rose to prominence in the Battle of La Trinidad on November 11, 1827. Morazán then dominated the political and military scene of Central America until his execution in 1842.

In the political arena, Francisco Morazán was recognized as a visionary and great thinker, as he attempted to transform Central America into one large and progressive nation. He enacted liberal reforms in the new Federal Republic of Central America, including freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. Morazán also limited church power by making marriage secular and abolishing government-aided tithing.

These reforms made him some powerful enemies, and his period of rule was marked by bitter infighting between liberals and conservatives. But through his military skills, Morazán was able to keep a firm grasp on power until 1837, when the Federal Republic became irrevocably fractured. This was exploited by the conservative leaders, who rallied around the leadership of Rafael Carrera, and in order to protect their own interests, ended up dividing Central America into five nations.

William Walker (1824-1860) was an American physician, lawyer, journalist and mercenary who organized several military expeditions into Latin America, with the intention of establishing English-speaking colonies under his personal control, an enterprise then known as “filibustering.”

Walker usurped the presidency of the Republic of Nicaragua in 1856 and ruled until 1857, when he was defeated by a coalition of Central American armies. He was executed by the government of Honduras in 1860.

In 1849, Walker had moved to San Francisco, where he was a journalist and fought three duels; he was wounded in two of these. Walker then conceived the idea of conquering vast regions of Latin America and creating new slave states to join those already part of the United States. These campaigns were known as filibustering or freebooting.

A somewhat cynical person once said, speaking of individual human beings, that life is a struggle, and then you die. We may say that, in many respects, life is not a tea party. When we examine the relations between and among communities, between and among societies, and between and among nation-states, we can see that these relations have been marked historically by many, many disputes, conflicts, and confrontations. That is why the Bible speaks of “wars and rumors of wars” as being characteristic of the human condition.

In the case of the Settlement of Belize, which became the colony of British Honduras in 1862, then a British Crown Colony in 1871, our population, compared to the populations in the republics north, west, and south of us, was relatively protected. And that was because we were “British subjects.” The havoc that Napoleon Bonaparte wreaked on Europe after he became the ruler of revolutionary France in 1796 did not extend to England. In fact, it was England which eventually led the push to stop Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. But, before that happened, Napoleon had humiliated Spain to the point where the Spanish Empire in the New World began to fall apart. Thus, Mexico and Central America became independent from Spain in 1821.

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, the republics immediately around Belize, experienced a lot of revolutions, civil wars, and overall violent lawlessness, while Belize/British Honduras suffered poverty, disease, racism, ignorance, and so on, but, compared to the republics around us, Belize enjoyed social stability and law-and-order.

This was the case, that is to say, Belize/British Honduras was peaceful compared to the republics around us, because the British Empire was in charge here. It is because some Belizean families were grateful for peace and law-and-order, besides some education, that they became Anglophiles: they admired the British and everything that was British, some to the point of adoration.

When Guatemala signed the 1859 Treaty with the United Kingdom which demarcated the borders of British Honduras with that republic, which is to our west and south, Guatemala was in a weak and pathetic condition compared to the British. Patriotic Guatemalans have been arguing, ever since 1859, that the Treaty was a treaty of land cession to the British, on Guatemala’s part, and not a treaty of boundary demarcation. Moving forward from that argument, the Guatemalans claim that British refusal to fulfill Article VII of the 1859 Treaty renders that treaty null and void. This will probably be the crux of the matter if the Guatemalan claim to Belize reaches the International Court of Justice (ICJ). (The Guatemalans also claim that Great Britain did not want the 1859 Treaty to smack of land cession because the British did not want the United States of America to accuse them of violating the terms of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850.)

The irony of Guatemalan insistence on how weak and vulnerable they were in 1859 is the fact that the roughneck half-Indigenous Guatemalan, Rafael Carrera, was still President of Guatemala in 1859. He did not die until 1865. And it was through force of arms on the battlefield that the illiterate Carrera had become President of Guatemala after defeating Francisco Morazán in 1840. Carrera was a symbol of Guatemalan military manhood.

Central America was in such a condition of turmoil in the years before 1859, however, partly because of American filibusters like William Walker, who violently seized control of Nicaragua between 1856 and 1857, that Carrera’s government in 1859 felt the need to enjoy the friendship of the United Kingdom as a protection against bandits, raiders, and filibusters. Again, the doves who were in the Guatemalan government, against the protests of the hawks in their legislature, felt that the demarcation of borders between Guatemala and Great Britain, in a treaty sanctioned by the United States of America, would prevent the continued expansion of British Honduran territory.

There is no doubt that the British treated the Guatemalans as weak inferiors in the second half of the nineteenth century. The Guatemalans themselves lament this: they condemn their own Pedro de Aycinena, who negotiated the 1859 Treaty, as being an Anglophile and a tool of the British. Pedro de Aycinena was responding, Aycinena believed intelligently, to some stark geopolitical realities, and he was acting in the name of a warrior Guatemalan President – Rafael Carrera.

Had Morazán defeated Carrera in 1840, the history of Central America would likely have been much different. Central America would have been one republic, a progressive republic, comprised of five nations – Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Salvador and Costa Rica, and would have been in a much stronger position to fight off filibusters like William Walker.

Carrera represented conservative (Church) interests in Guatemala and Central America who were viciously hostile to Morazán’s liberalizing, democratic instincts. As a result of Carrera’s victory and destruction of the Central American federation, the histories of Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador and Nicaragua became the same for the rest of the nineteenth century and most of the twentieth. These four republics became elitist oligarchies mixed in with military dictatorships. (We believe that sometime in the twentieth century, Costa Rica embarked on a different course from the aforementioned four republics.)

But, Carrera’s victory over Morazán isolated Guatemala and contributed to Guatemala’s humiliation by Great Britain in the 1859 Treaty. This is real. The relations between nation-states are marked by intimidation, treachery, dishonesty, aggression, greed and violence, and, overall, many actions which would not be approved of by Jesus Christ. Yet, in our region all our governments and peoples profess their Christianity and pray to the one God. Guatemala in 2018 approaches the nation-state of Belize with the same arrogant, aggressive attitude with which Albion dealt with that republic in 1859.

Over the years we have said to you in this newspaper that the narrative of the Battle of St. George’s Caye is not all that relevant to Belize’s post-colonial reality. There are many Belizeans who embraced the Centenary narrative because this was the official story that the British and their administrators and collaborators concocted for our ancestors in 1898. The British kept our African and Indigenous ancestors in the ignorant dark about all their racist and imperialist doings in Nicaragua, the Bay Islands, and even in Guatemala itself. The British never told us a word in school about the Caste War. The British had the right, in the world of international relations, to keep us “British subjects” in the dark because they, the British, were the rulers, and they protected us from all the violence and lawlessness north, west and south of us. And so, to repeat, some of our Belizean people had become lovers of the British.

When it was time for us Belizeans, after World War II, to move on to self-rule, to become a sovereign, independent nation, to throw off the shackles of racism, colonialism, and imperialism, we Belizeans, especially our Anglophiles, were relatively blind to the intrigues, the selfishness, and the treachery of the British. The British bullied and bamboozled the Guatemalans, and they left us Belizeans in this hole.

The thing is, this here Belize is at a point in our history where we need to prove something to the Guatemalans: we need to prove that we can stand on our own two feet. This is a very challenging moment, indeed, because many of us still are mentally committed to British breast milk. At this newspaper, we reject the elitist oligarchy which Belize has become. We demand freedom, justice, and equality for all Belizeans, regardless of ethnicity, race, color, religion, or whatever. In that regard, we seek to walk in the footsteps of Francisco Morazán, Vicente Guerrero, Benito Juárez, Emiliano Zapata, Antonio Soberanis, Philip Goldson, and George Price.

Power to the people.

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