RAFAEL CARRERA (1814-1865) – The population of Guatemala under Carrera was about 512,000, most of whom were Indians, very slightly mixed with white. Negroes did not number over 1,000, half of whom were unmixed blacks who called themselves Caribs, and still do.
As for Carrera, he is sometimes called a mulatto and sometimes a zambo, that is half-Negro, half-Indian. Enciclopedia Ilustrada says that his father was a Negro and his mother an Indian. (See “Carrera,” Vol. XI, pg. 1325.) Encyclopedia Americana, in its sketch of him, says the same. On the other hand, C. L. Jones, in his authoritative work, Guatemala, Past and Present, pg. 42 (1940), says that Carrera’s parents were listed in the parish register as mulattoes. He adds, “One of his few apologists deduces from the available records that the boy (Carrera) inherited at the most 17 and a half percent of Negro blood. The rest he estimates at 10 and a half Indian and 72 percent white.”
The American diplomat Stephens, evidently thinking that it was less humiliating to deal with an Indian than with a Negro ruler, said of Carrera, “His friends, in compliment, call him a mulatto; I, for the same reason, call him an Indian, considering that the better blood of the two.” (Incidents of Travel in Central America, Vol. I, pg. 224.)
The character El Supremo in C. S. Forrester’s popular novel Captain Horatio Hornblower is undoubtedly Carrera.
– pg. 199, World’s Great Men of Color (Volume II), J. A. Rogers, Touchstone , 1996
In early May of last year, I visited Guatemala City to get a medical opinion. I traveled by road on Tuesday, May 1, leaving the Melchor border area around 7:30 a.m. and reaching Guatemala City around 4, 4:30 the evening. I returned to Belize, again by road, on Saturday, May 5, 2012.
This was my first trip ever to Guatemala, and it was a learning experience. My wife and one of my daughters flew in from Belize to Guatemala City through Flores, Petén. So, about an hour and a half after I checked into our twelfth floor room at the Radisson in Guatemala City, our Guatemalan hostess drove my wife and daughter from the airport to the hotel.
For the next three days, this Guatemalan lady, her daughter, and one of her daughter’s friends, were our hostesses. On the Thursday the lady had to work, so her daughter and her friend took us around. I am sure these ladies are from the Guatemalan upper classes, but they are not the super-rich. My wife and daughter had been in Guatemala City on a couple occasions before, and had struck up a great friendship with the mother, who was working at the time with the doctor to whom my wife had been referred.
I can remember being a little concerned that I would be entering Guatemala City on May Day, because traditionally this is a day on which the trade unions and working people all over the world take to the streets, and sometimes there is violence. Indeed, the unions demonstrated in Guatemala City that May 1, and there was some trouble, but I only read about it in the newspapers the following day.
The first city you meet on your way from Melchor to Guatemala City is Poptún. You’re traveling southwest, more or less, so you bypass Flores, which is in a more westerly direction. The general area west of Belize is what is called El Petén. This is Guatemala’s largest department. Some of our slave ancestors here did run west to the Petén, but for sure more of our ancestors ran north to Mexico’s Yucatán.
Petén is poor, and the Yucatán also used to be poor. These are provinces which are very far away from their respective national capitals, Guatemala City and Mexico City. In fact, where travel before the twentieth century was concerned, the Yucatán was much closer to Texas by sea than it was to Mexico City by road. This made for very interesting history. Texas used to be New Spain, or Mexico, so there was a close, important relationship between the Yucatán and Texas until the middle of the nineteenth century, when Texas became part of the United States.
Even though the Petén is poor today, where natural resources and economic potential are concerned Petén is of major interest on Wall Street. There is petroleum in the Petén. The Petén deposits are part of a petroleum triangle which includes Chiapas in Mexico and good old Belize.
There are interesting differences between the histories of Mexico and Guatemala, even though both became independent from Spain at the same time in September of 1821. Most of my educated friends don’t like to hear me say this, but if we don’t know anything about the histories of Mexico and Guatemala, it is because we were victims of a British colonial education system, and almost nothing has changed since Belize’s independence in 1981.
I will go further. Our mentality was more colonial than we ever admit, especially we in Belize who call ourselves “Creoles.” We black and brown Belizeans thought we were better than Mexicans and Guatemalans, because we were clinging so tightly to the British: our passports said “British subject,” and we behaved as if we were proud of that. Cold talk, Jack. “Subject” is just a nicer word for “slave.”
The Petén is the least beautiful part of Guatemala that I saw on my trip. I think the reason for this is that it was mainly in the Petén that the Guatemalan generals began grabbing land after they overthrew Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 and began waging war against Guatemala’s indigenous people. The Guatemalan generals are to blame for much of the abuse of land and forest in Petén. I’m just saying.
What I’m doing with my column this Tuesday is promoting an article we will start printing on Friday about Rafael Carrera, Guatemala’s greatest warrior president. Carrera, who was part black and part indigenous, ruled Guatemala from 1840 to 1865. During Carrera’s rule, the histories of Guatemala and Mexico diverged substantially, one of the reasons being that Carrera and the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy in Guatemala were as one. In Mexico, meanwhile, Yucatán’s Caste War was featuring serious attacks on the Church’s partnership with the ladino oligarchy, while in Mexico City itself, the famous indigenous Mexican president, Benito Juárez, began cracking down on the power of the Church.
In Mexico and Central America during the nineteenth century, the major political parties opposing each other were considered “Liberal” or they were considered “Conservative.” The Liberal parties focused on the plight of the masses, which meant they would get into conflict with the Church hierarchy, which was in partnership with the ruling elite. Juárez was a Liberal. The Conservative parties represented the interests of the oligarchy, in league with the Church leaders. Even though Rafael Carrera was black and indigenous, he was a Conservative. The difference between Juárez and Carrera, I submit, is the difference between Mexico and Guatemala.
I am giving you a broad outline. I am not a professional historian. This was not what I wanted to do with my life. I thought that by now all these schools in Belize would be teaching this type of material in order to educate Belizeans properly. But, they are still not so doing. They have something to hide. I’ve been telling you this for more than forty years, but you like things the way they are. What can I say?
I say power to the people. Power in the struggle.