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					Notes for Seminar in Week 5 Indians and the Nation-State in Guatemala (1780-1873)

Rafael Carrera, 1814-1865

Notes for Seminar in Week 5 Indians and the Nation-State in Guatemala (1780-1873)

Indians and the Nation-State in Guatemala (1780-1873)

“Empowered by Carrera’s victory and ready to defend the caudillo, the
indigenous peoples of the western highlands represented a formidable force
in the internal balance of power in Guatemala politics. Carrera, as the final
arbiter of the indigenous peoples, linked the remote communities to the
growing nation.” Douglas Sullivan Gonzalez, Piety, Power and Politics, p.58

Seminar questions:

Why were the Liberal reforms considered by so many rural Guatemalans as
inimical to their interests ? (Grandin, Carmack)

Who was Rafael Carrera ? To what extent did he represent Indian interests ?
(Sullivan Gonzalez, Grandin, Carmack, Miceli, Lynch)

How did the Indian elites of Western Highlands succeed in holding on to
their privileged status after Independence ? (Grandin on Quetzaltenango &
Carmack on Momostenango)

Can it be said that Indians shaped Guatemalan politics between 1820 and
1865 ? (Carol Smith, Grandin, Carmack, McCreery)

Notes for Seminar in Week 5 Indians and the Nation-State in Guatemala (1780-1873)


Good 19th and 20th C Overview:

Carol Smith, “Local History in Global Context: Social and Economic Transitions in
Western Guatemala” Comparative Studies of Society and History 1984, 193-228, in
Library e-journals.

John M Watanabe, "Culture History in National Contexts: 19th Century Maya under
Mexican and Guatemalan Rule" In Watanabe and Fischer, Pluralising Ethnography
(Collect copies from outside H338)
David McCreery, Rural Guatemala, 1750-1940 1994 First Part
Carol Smith, “Introduction: Social relations in Guatemala over Time and Space”, in Carol
Smith, ed., Guatemalan Indians and the State, 1540-1988 (1990)
Ralph Lee Woodward, “Changes in 19th C Guatemala Politics and its Indian Policies”, in
Carol Smith, ed., Guatemalan Indians and the State, 1540-1988 (1990)
George Lovell, “Surviving Conquest: the Maya in Historical Perspective”, Latin America
Research Review 1989, Vol. 23: 27– 48
Richard N. Adams, "The Conquest Tradition of Mesoamerica," The Americas 46,2
(1989), pp. 119-136

Totonicapan revolt of 1820 and popular unrest during the Wars of Independence

David McCreery, “Atanasio Tzul, Lucas Aguilar and the Indian Kingdom of
Totonicápan”, in Judith Ewell and William Beezley, ed., The Human Condition in Latin
America, pp.39-58

Victoria Bricker, “The Indian King in Totonicapan (1820)” in Victoria Bricker, Indian
Christ Indian King: The Historic Substrate of Maya Myth and Ritual

Greg Grandin, The Blood of Guatemala Ch 2 “Defending the Pueblo: Popular Protests
and Elite Politics, 1786-1826” 54-81.
Robert M Laughlin, Beware the Great Horned Serpent ! Chiapas Under the Threat of
Napoleon Texas 2003
For Spanish readers: J Daniel Contreras, “Una Rebelión Indígena en el Partido de
Totonicapan en 1820” (in my possession)


Notes for Seminar in Week 5 Indians and the Nation-State in Guatemala (1780-1873)

For Church-state relations and Indian villages under Carrera: Douglas Sullivan Gonzalez,
Piety, Power and Politics Religion and Nation Formation in Guatemala 1821-1871
Chs.1,3 &4,

Accounts of Carrera:
E Bradford Burns, The Poverty of Progress Ch. On Carrera
John Lynch, Caudillos in Spanish America Ch.9 “Rafael Carrera”
Ralph Lee Woodward, Rafael Carrera of Guatemala
Keith Miceli, “Rafael Carrera: Defender and Promoter of Peasant Interests in
Guatemala”, The Americas 31,1974, 72-95.
Jim Handy, Gift of the Devil A History of Guatemala (1984) Ch.2, “Revolt from the
Mountains”, 35-56.
Contemporary description of Carrera’s coming to power: J L Stephens, Incidents of
Travel in Central America, Chiapas and the Yucatan

Local level impact (in Momostenango and Quetzaltenango):
Greg Grandin, The Blood of Guatemala, Chs.1-4 (Quetzaltenango) (5 copies in the
Robert M Carmack, Rebels of Highland Guatemala The Quiche-Mayas of
Momostenango, (Norman, 1995) (see pp.101-122, 125-146, for an account of
Momostenango over the 18th C and in the early Republican period)
Robert M Carmack, “Spanish Indian relations in Highland Guatemala, 1800-1940” in
Murdo Macleod, ed., Spaniards and Indians in South-eastern Mesoamerica eds. Murdo
MacLeod and Robert Wasserstrom, Nebraska, 1983.
Robert Carmack, “State and Community in 19th C Guatemala: the Momostenango Case”
Carol Smith ed., Guatemala Indians and the State: 1540-1988

The objective of this seminar is explore how Indian communities responded
to the momentous political changes of the late colonial and early republican
periods, until the death of Rafael Carrera in 1865. Carrera emerged in the
later 1830s as part of a hemispheric Conservative reaction to early
republican Liberal reforms. The peasant uprising he led in 1837 sparked a
civil war which by 1841 had resulted in the disintegration of the United
Provinces of Central America established in 1824. Carrera ruled for two
terms, 1844-1848 and 1852-1865, coming to power on both occasions on the

Notes for Seminar in Week 5 Indians and the Nation-State in Guatemala (1780-1873)

back of peasant unrest. Although a Ladino (mixed Indian/Spanish) from the
Eastern Highlands, Carrera attracted support from the Maya elites of the
Indian communities of the Western Highlands. This is perhaps the best
example of Indians shaping national politics in the early republican period.
This was possible because Maya “principales” succeeded in maintaining
their status as spokesmen for their towns and leaders of their communities
(unlike Peru where after the Tupac Amaru revolt native curacas lost their
privileges and manifestations of Quechua cultural revival were suppressed).

Useful to divide Guatemala into three regions:

    i)     Western highlands (our principal area of interest): largely Indian
    ii)    Central region around Guatemala city
    iii)   Eastern highlands, more “ladino” (mestizo/mixed): Carrera came
           from this area

Any successful national leaders had to learn to balance pressures from these
three regions. Carrera was ousted in 1848 by the revolt of the “Lucíos” in
the Montaña region of the Eastern Highlands after having neglected his
popular following of the 1837 rebellion.

Population of Guatemala c 1800:

480,000 Indians

150,000 Ladinos

100,000 Españoles (Whites)

Notes for Seminar in Week 5 Indians and the Nation-State in Guatemala (1780-1873)

Colonial period

Conquest of Guatemala under Pedro de Alvarado was particularly violent
due to vigorous Indian resistance. This was followed by a “religious
conquest” laying the basis for three centuries of quite peaceful inter-ethnic
relations, helped by the fact that principal ethnic groups lived apt from each


With no silver or gold and with most of the Spanish and Indian population
living on the Pacific side of Central America, Guatemala was distant from
the Atlantic market. Main export commodities were low volume and high
value cochineal and indigo dyes, the former produced by Indians on
community lands, hence bringing some wealth to Indian commercial
intermediaries. Indigo grew from the late 18th C and cochineal prospered
during the Carrera years. Coffee was delayed due to Indian resistance until
the 1870s with the return of Liberals power under José Rufino Barrios.

The Church

The RC Church was the dominant institution of colonial society (550
parishes, 1.720 confraternities in 1820), custodian of the indigenous
population, with religious orders and secular Church owning 914 arable and
pastoral haciendas and 910 sugar mills at Independence in 1821.

Notes for Seminar in Week 5 Indians and the Nation-State in Guatemala (1780-1873)

After 1824 this powerful and wealthy Church was targeted by Liberals who
coveted Church revenues, sought to free Church land from mortmain, and to
reduce Church control over the Indian population. As in Mexico, Indians
often disliked Spanish/Creole priests but cherished control over their
syncretic version of Catholicism through confraternities and lay
brotherhoods. Several priests joined Carrera in the 1837 revolt. Once in
power Carrera censured the Church for not re-staffing parishes, for the
failure of the Archbishop to return from exile and for the reduction of
festival days. Hence Carrera defended folk religion rather than elite religion.
He prevented the return of the Jesuits, The Church hoped to harness Carrera
when he came to power after the civil war of the late 1830s. But he failed to
return Church properties and interfered in Church appointments. In “State
Power” McCreery argues in that Church continued to loose its influence
within Indian communities during this period due to declining revenues.
Church sponsored cofradias also declined. However, McCreery argues,
“This situation freed up both cabildo (town government) and the cofradías
(now operated by Indian laymen rather than Creole/ladino clergy) to become
more genuinely indigenous institutions”.

Carrera also neglected Indian interests once in power and, after being ousted
by a peasant revolt in the Eastern Highlands in 1848, he had to renew his
ties with the principales of the Western Highlands before returning to power
in 1852 when he received critical support from Momostenango’s Indian

Notes for Seminar in Week 5 Indians and the Nation-State in Guatemala (1780-1873)

1700-1870 period has been interpreted differently:

Oliver La Farge sees “the years from the late 1830s through to the 1860s as
something a golden age in the Guatemala highlands for community
autonomy and freedom from outside intervention.” (David McCreery,
“State Power…”, p.101)

By contrast, Fernando Cámara Barbachano, on the basis of evidence from
Momostenango, sees the 1711-1870 period as a “single phase” in which the
prior native dominated socio-cultural equilibrium was broken, through
mestizaje (race mixture), civil and religious reforms, capitalist development,
a general increase in the population of mestizos and creoles, and intensifying
demands on Indians… (Carmack, “Spanish Indian Relations”, p.244)

In Rural Guatemala Pt I David McCreery sees this a period marked less by
ethnic tension, more by conflict between Indian pueblos over land and
boundaries, each town keeping between three and five disputes going with
their neighbours…

Greg Grandin in Blood of Guatemala shows the Quiche elite of
Quetzaltenango as an important player in regional politics and a key ally to
Carrera in combating the secessionist projects of Quetzaltenango’s Liberal
Ladinos who in 1838 attempted independent statehood as the “Estado de los
Altos”. He also argues that later in the 19th century the local Quiche
intellectuals of Quetztaltenango developed their own version of national
identity and a Quiche path to progress and modernity (we look at this later)

Notes for Seminar in Week 5 Indians and the Nation-State in Guatemala (1780-1873)

Continuity of Bourbon and Liberal reforms:

18th C Bourbon and post independence Liberal discourse on Indians: the
state claimed to be freeing Indians from oppressive elders, caciques and
priests who kept them in infancy, impoverished Indian communities through
high parish fees and costly religious festivals and isolated them from the
wider society.

Carmack and Grandin show how indigenous principales (elites) in
Quetzaltenango and Momostenango, challenged by the Bourbon state, by
Ladino elites and by Indian commoners, succeeded in holding on to their
privileges and influence during the late colonial and early republican


1808 French invasion

March 26 1810: Indian tribute abolished (2 pesos p.a. for each adult Indian)

March 19 1812: promulgation of the Constitution: Article 18, benefits of
citizenship applied to born in Spanish dominions (except those born of
African ancestry), Article 339, outlawed colonial tribute system.

Notes for Seminar in Week 5 Indians and the Nation-State in Guatemala (1780-1873)

Cortes of Cádiz decreed that Constitution be read out publically in every
town of the Empire, called for public celebrations and a mass and ordered
the translation of the Constitution into Indian languages

7 August 1812 Constitution published in Tzotzil.

Totonicapan rebellion 1818-1820:

In 1814 Ferdinand VII of Spain suspended the constitution, restored
absolutism, and re-imposed Indian tribute. In 1818 Indians revolted in
Totonicapan and Momostenango against efforts to collect tribute arrears.
They revolted again in 1820 upon hearing of the restoration of the
Constitution of 1812 and in the face of the delay in publishing Constitution
(which arrived in Guatemala on 7 May 1820 and was published only on 9
July). Spanish officials were driven out, Atanasio Tzul King was crowned
King with Lucas Aguilar was declared President of pueblos of Totonicapan

In 1821 Central America’s Creoles voted to join the First Mexican Empire
established by Agustín de Iturbide.

In 1824 Central America’s Liberals joined Mexico’s federalist revolution
and formed the United Provinces of Central America

First Liberal era, 1825-1838

Guatemala and Central America experienced a radical Liberal programme
designed to modernise the region, open it to the Atlantic economy and to

Notes for Seminar in Week 5 Indians and the Nation-State in Guatemala (1780-1873)

European immigration, to secularise the country and reduce power and
wealth of the RC Church and to induce the Indian population to become a
useful and productive part of society

Chief Liberal reformer, José Felipe Mariano Gálvez (1794-1862), a jurist,
served two consecutive terms from August 28, 1831 to March 3, 1838.

John Lynch on the Galvez project: “to liquidate the colonial regime, forcibly
to assimilate the Indians, and to impose a programme of modernisation on

Chief Liberal reforms:

Indian tribute replaced by a “contribución directa” (unpopular with Indians
who often refused to pay).

Dual municipal councils (Indian and non-Indian) were replaced by single
councils on which Ladinos might be dominant.

Anti-clerical legislation of Barrundía and Gálvez era between 1829and 1837
(disentailment & secularisation of education) antagonised and weakened the
RC Church. Many priest joined Carrera’s revolt in 1838.

Banning of burials in churches and opening of municipal cemeteries
provoked a rash of “cemetery riots” during the 1830s (Sullivan González)

Colonization grants given to European companies in areas of indigenous
population such as Verapaz

Notes for Seminar in Week 5 Indians and the Nation-State in Guatemala (1780-1873)

“Livingstone Codes” of Louisiana, and trial by jury, replaced colonial laws
and ignored Indian tradition of judicial autonomy.

Lancastrian system of education to increase Indian literacy, train them as
citizens and assimilate them into the mainstream of Guatemala society.

The end of the Liberal era and the rise of Carrera: the Conservative period
(read Lynch’s chapter on Carrera in Caudillos for an excellent overview)

Between 1837 and 1849 Guatemala endured two periods of civil war
propelled by “caste wars” in the Eastern Highlands: 1837-1841 and 1847-
1850. In 1837-1841 Carrera succeeded in mobilising a peasant army in the
East and in helping Conservatives return to power. In 1847-1850 he
succeeded in returning to power by harnessing Indian military support from
the Western Highlands.

Opposition to Galvez programme grew in Eastern Highlands where Ladino
and Indian peasantry resented attacks on the Church and concessions granted
to “Protestant” foreigners. Rise of Rafael Carrera coincided with the cholera
epidemic in 1836-37, a peasant rebellion in Mita in 1837-38 and the return
of Conservatives to power in Guatemala after the civil war of 1838-1841
which destroyed the United Provinces of Central America.

Once in power, Conservatives:

Notes for Seminar in Week 5 Indians and the Nation-State in Guatemala (1780-1873)

- restored Laws of the Indies, the position of “Corregidor” (governor), the
colonial office of “residencia” (to check on quality of corregidores) and
allowed dual councils in Western Highlands,

- Carrera became “Protector of the Indians”

- invited bishops to return and used parish clergy to inculcate loyalty and
patriotism (see Sullivan Gonzalez for the development of nationalist, more
Indian friendly discourse evident in sermons).

- communal treasuries (cajas de comunidad) restored (they had been
abolished under the Bourbons)

“Throughout the highlands, principales took advantage of Carrera’s support
not only to resist ladino pretensions, but to reassert their authority within
their communities.” Grandin, The Blood of Guatemala, p,104

Momostenango case (Robert Carmack)

Late 18thC: in spite of growth of Creole haciendas on the margins of
Momostenango, Creole/ladino encroachment was kept in check by a small
native mercantile class that for much of the ensuing (19th) century was
“capable of integrating Momostenango’s community as a whole in
opposition to the state, establishing political alliances with other


Notes for Seminar in Week 5 Indians and the Nation-State in Guatemala (1780-1873)

Momostecans joined Atanasio Tzul movement in 1818-20 and these rebel
leaders remained in power throughout the Liberal Period (1825-1837) and
“rejected all attempts to impose land reform, elections or contributions.”

In 1821 Momostecans were in “uncontrollable revolt” ….gave their loyalty
to Mexican emperor Agustin Iturbide rather than to Central American

No direct support for Carrera’s ascent to power but once in power
Momostecans “personalised” relations with Carrera, addressing him in
petitions as “Lord General, Chief of State”

In 1849 Momostenango Indians organised a rebel army which helped
Carrera’s return to power

Quetzaltenango case

Grandin in The Blood of Guatemala explores how over two centuries the
“Quiche elite subjectively experienced and tried to control the larger process
of state formation and capitalist accumulation.”

Basis of power of Quiche elite:

     - Entrepreneurship: grew wheat on community land, grazed sheep,
        produced textiles and controlled share of long distance trade by
        controlling mule trade.
     - Patriarchy: control over women and children’s labour and production

Notes for Seminar in Week 5 Indians and the Nation-State in Guatemala (1780-1873)

     - Patrons of confraternities which provided a source of credit for their
     - Controlled community labour and tribute

Grandin: “Principales had to walk a fine line between the Spanish world,
which granted them political power, and the Kiché world which allowed
them to exercise it”

Quiche elite lost power during the late 18th Century in the face of mestizaje,
urban growth and the reduction of their privileges. Indian commoners grew
less obedient and inclined to associate with poor Ladinos. Hence Quiché
elite grew to depend more on good relations with Creole elite to maintain
their status and influence.

1816 “Riot”: nine days of disorders in Quetzaltenango’s barrios as 600
commoners demanded end of tribute.

Yet Quetzaltenango’s Quiches did not join their counterparts in Totonicapan
and Momostenango in rebellion in 1818-20.

1821 Quiche elders ignored decree to establish a single council.
Quetzaltenango retained de facto two councils – one for Ladinos and the
other for Quiches - throughout the Liberal period.

1826 Quiche elders succeeded in blocking Creole attempts to survey and
divide common lands.

Notes for Seminar in Week 5 Indians and the Nation-State in Guatemala (1780-1873)

1849 Quiche principales helped Carrera defeat the secessionist “Estado de
los Altos” established by Quetzaltenango’s Liberals in 1840.

1840 Quiche principales re-established their own cabildo, control of justice
(whipping posts were restored !) and the communal treasury (caja de

Grandin, p.107: “Carrera’s victory halted the ladinoisation of
Quetzaltenango” (many Ladinos fled to Mexico)


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