Features — 20 October 2018
The British over there

Dr. Assad Shoman wrote in his little black book, Pocket Guide to the Referendum on the ICJ: “By around 1700, however, Spain no longer had much presence here…” Well, guess which European power filled the vacuum?

After the Americans had consolidated their victory in their war of independence (1775-1783), that nation started to flex southward. Other European powers, notably the Germans, were nosing around, but the great challenge to the British would come from its former colony, the USA.

Last year the Amandala carried an excerpt from a paper a lady named Anna Ella Carroll wrote to US president Abraham Lincoln, in which paper she told about all the virtues of Belize and all the Americans could do with it if they got a toehold. Of course, the Americans had designs on Guatemala and other countries in our hemisphere too. I draw today from a dissertation by an American student of Ohio State University. Many of the “revelations” concerning Belize aren’t new, but the American perspective adds much spice to the pot.

Selections from an American’s papers

The excerpts herein come from the paper, American Policy in Guatemala, 1839-1900, which is a dissertation “presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy in the Graduate School of the Ohio State University” by Warren Albert Beck, B.A., M.A. (1954)

Some selections from the first chapter, titled “Troublesome Beginnings.”

Beck says it wasn’t easy sailing for the Americans at the beginning, mainly because the American State Department couldn’t decide if it should negotiate with the Government of Guatemala, or the United Provinces of Guatemala.

This dilemma had grown out of the confused state of affairs which followed the separation of the Captaincy-General of Guatemala from Spain. At first united to Iturbide’s short-lived Mexican empire, the five Central American states organized a federal union in 1825 under the name of the United Provinces of Central America. The United States promptly recognised this new federal union and signed a treaty of commerce and friendship with it on December 5,1825.

In May, 1838, the individual Central American states were granted permission by the federal government to form their own governments; and though the federal government was to linger on, it was, to all Intents and purposes, dead. Guatemala finally declared her Independence from the federal government on March 21, 1847. Hence in the period between 1838 and 1847 theAmerican diplomatic representatives were commissioned, not to Guatemala, but to a Central American government which was actually no longer in existence.

It wasn’t an easy road for the first diplomats the US sent to Guatemala. Beck says: Futility marked the early relations of the United States with Central America. Nothing went right; everything went wrong. The very agents of the Washington government seemed to move under an evil star. Physical hardships, vexations of the spirit, dread diseases, and in some cases death itself attended them.

Of the eleven appointees before 1849, three died enroute; another succumbed before he started on his mission; one escaped with his life by being dismissed before he embarked; another survived by contriving to draw his salary for more than a year without going near the Central American capital; and another traveled over the length and breadth of the country unable to find a government to receive him. Though the remaining four reached their destination and were relieved, only one of these prolonged his stay beyond a few months and he committed suicide soon after his return to the United States.

During this period the US relied on an American citizen, a Mr. Henry W. Savage, who lived in Central America. He, in many instances, acted as a sort of defacto diplomat.

General William S. Murphy, an official who was sent by the US government, presented his credentials to the Guatemalan government in December, 1841, and left for home on March 30, 1842. Though ill with malaria for the three months of his stay, he was able to dispatch home lengthy reports pointing out that there was no hope of reviving the United Provinces of Central America and that there was in Central America a real threat to American interests from the British.

Murphy reported that British interests practically had control of the state. President Carrera [1844-1848; 1851-1865] was depicted as an ardent national leader but one who was unacquainted with the wiles of British diplomacy. The British Agricultural and Colonizing Society was active in an attempt to obtain a renewal of old grants and to obtain new ones, especially at the seaports.

According to Murphy, the real object in obtaining these grants, is to give to the Government of Great Britain a fit occasion, as well as a probable claim, to colonize and settle the Main Ports and Rivers ofthe State, and for the protection of Her colonies, she finds it eventually necessary to erect Ports, Garrison Towns and actually take possession of the country.

Murphy may have exaggerated the ulterior motives of British attempts to gain land grants, but there was no question about the attitude with which Her Majesty’s Government set out to collect money owed British citizens. The British debt resulted from a loan to the old Central American Federation which totaled $47,613 when that government was dissolved. Guatemala was allocated $19,389 as her share of the debt. Unable to collect by peaceful means from a bankrupt government not yet adequately organized, Britain prepared “to proceed by means of its own to effect a settlement.”

In this crisis the Guatemalan Minister of Foreign Affairs turned to the unofficial American representative for help.
Some selections from the second chapter, titled “A Decade of Distrust.”

The decade of distrust began with numerous reports that the once friendly feeling displayed toward Americans had markedly cooled. The “servile” or monarchial party in control of the Guatemala government was blamed for the change in attitude. It was alleged that this Conservative party served the Interests of England first, mainly, because the English would be more likely to be sympathetic to a return or monarchial institutions than would the North Americans. Carrera’s followers were even blamed for the collapse of the old Federation.

The antipathy which the Guatemalan government sought to stir up against the United States was thought to stem from hatred of our democratic institutions. This fear of the Americans prompted Guatemala to sound out the British as to the possibility of their taking over the country as a protectorate. In this proffer, however, she was rebuffed. Lord Palmerston, speaking through the British Chargé rather bluntly stated that “Guatemala must look to her own resources for means of defense and not depend on foreign powers for protection.”

Guatemala was also to display some irritation toward the Monroe Doctrine during the decade of the fifties. Her minister to Washington pointed out that the assumption that the United States had the exclusive right to interfere in the political affairs of this continent was not accepted either by Europe or by the Spanish American states. Irisarri Antonio José de Irisarri Alonso – Guatemalan diplomat]informed the Department that “Such guardianship is highly injurious to the rights of those nations whose inherent sovereignty and independence are conceded.”

Guatemalan resentment was undoubtedly increased because of the colossal stupidity of an American Minister. Seeking to prevent the consistent encroachment of British settlers over the Belize frontier, Guatemala in 1859 negotiated a treaty settling the boundary with British Honduras. To Minister Clarke this constituted the giving up of territory in violation of both the Monroe Doctrine and the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. Clarke saw Britain and Guatemala secretly united against American interests. Hence, he protested vigorously to Guatemala. To these rather foolish objections Guatemala justifiably inquired as to how she could violate a treaty to which she was not a party. It was suggested that if the United States had any objections to the treaty, they should be presented to Great Britain rather than to Guatemala.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala bluntly stated to the American Minister: “I must therefore declare distinctly and categorically that I cannot admit the intervention of a foreign Agent in an affair in which…I cannot consider him to be in any manner authorized to interfere.” The State Department apparently was of the same opinion; consequently the matter was dropped.

Of more importance as a source of friction between the United States and Guatemala during this decade was the Walker episode…

I had gathered from a number of sources that in the late 1800s, Guatemala was indebted to British banks. It is entirely new to me that the British helped bankroll the Central American Federation.

I swallow this section of Beck’s report hook, line, and sinker.

The Guatemala that has a problem with us is actually United Fruit (UF) Guatemala(big business, the ultra-right). This big business Guatemala is not only UF American (not Jimmy Carter’s America), it is Nazi German, and it is firm allies of the aggressive right-wing Jews too. And it is becoming aggressive Jewish. Ultra-right Guatemala will get informed about their antiquated selves when they go to the ICJ.

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Deshawn Swasey

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