PERCY F. MARTIN, F.R.G.S.
"THROUGH FIVE REPUBLICS OF SOUTH AMERICA," "MEXICO OF THE TWENTIETH
CENTURY," "PERU OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY," ETC.
LONGMANS, GREEN & CO.,
LONDON: EDWARD ARNOLD
[All rights reserved]
"And so I penned It down, until at last it came to be, For length and breadth, the bigness which you see."
Bunyan: Apology for his Book.
While it is quite reasonable to hope for a consistent improvement among the Central American nations, and as easy to discern the extent of amelioration which has already occurred, it is necessary to bear in mind some of the causes which have hitherto conduced to the turbulence and the tragedies which have characterized government by some of these smaller Latin Republics.
Many writers, who can know but little of the Spanish race, have attributed the early failures of the States which broke away from the Motherland, not only to lack of stability, but to a radical psychological defect in the national character. This is a decided mistake, for the Spanish people, both in their individual and in their collective character, are fully as capable of exercising the rights, and of enjoying rationally the benefits, of self-government as any other nation of the world. The patriots and heroes who distinguished themselves in the early days of these young Republics, while themselves descendants of the Spaniards, generally speaking, and having only in a few cases Indian blood in their veins, had to combat against all the ambition and avarice, all the pride and prejudices, of the Church-ridden land which had set its grip upon New Spain, and meant, if possible, to keep it there. But it was not possible, and in a few decades was witnessed their complete expulsion as rulers from the countries which had been won by the flower of Spain's soldiery, and lost by the exercise of Spain's oppression and greed.
While the early history of the Latin-American Republics contains much to distress, and even to depress, the reader, it is impossible to avoid paying a tribute to the band of gallant men who fought so desperately in the cause of freedom, and eventually won it. It is not just to say, as so many historians have said, that the highest incentives of these men to action were the favours of artificial and hereditary greatness, with the accumulation, by whatsoever means, of that wealth by which such favours might be purchased. Undoubtedly some mercenary motives were at work, as they usually are in political upheavals of this nature. Does anyone imagine, for instance, during the disturbances which occurred in Mexico early in the present year, and which were personally assisted by United States citizens, that low mercenary motives were lacking? Does anyone imagine that the numerous North American filibusters who took part in the fighting, first on the Texas borders, and then in Mexico itself, had any idea of assisting a persecuted people to free themselves from the yoke of a tyrant? Or was it not the glamour of golden lucre to be paid to them, and the promise of the much-coveted land across the Rio Grande del Norte, that impelled these young Yankees to throw in their lot with the rebels, trusting to their own complacent Government at Washington to see them through—as it actually did—any trouble which might happen to them if they proved to be upon the losing side?
It would perhaps be equally correct to describe the early Spanish conquerors as greedy adventurers, since they never had any ideas of benefiting the countries or the people whom they afflicted so sorely. It is true that they encountered fearful dangers, displayed unheard-of bravery, overturned empires, and traversed with bloody steps an entire continent; but it was to aggrandize the Crown of Spain and to fill their own empty pockets with golden spoil, which, once secured, witnessed the fulfilment of their ambitions.
It was, moreover, from this veritable horde of greedy tyrants that in later days the peoples of these nations sought to obtain, and finally did obtain, their freedom; their experiences of the Spanish Viceroys, with their courts more brilliant and more corrupt than that at Madrid itself; the persecutions of the Church, which has left a record in Latin-America more bloody and more barbarous than even in Europe; the deafness shown by the Spanish Crown whenever an appeal for consideration or clemency was addressed to it—all these things conduced to that upheaval which has taken over one hundred years to consummate and fructify.
It was, then, against all this that the people of Central America were called upon to fight. Can anyone be surprised at the demoralization which occurred in their own ranks when their efforts to secure their freedom from Spain were once crowned with success? History shows many other such instances; indeed, bad as is the record of the earliest days of Latin-American self-government, it by no means stands without parallel. The objects—beyond a desire to be free from the brutal tyranny of the Spanish Viceroys—of the Latin-American revolutionists were never very clearly defined or well understood. Neither was any preconceived or organized plan ever made or carried out in connection with the French Revolution.
Some historians are of opinion that the revolutionists of Central America originally contemplated the establishment of an independent Kingdom or Monarchy which should comprise the ancient Vice-Royalty, or, as it was called, the "Kingdom of Guatemala." But there is little evidence that any such notion was generally popular. Among the body of office-seekers and hangers-on of royal Courts it may, of course, have been regarded with favour. But the Provisional Junta, which was convoked immediately after the separation from Spain, showed a great majority of Liberals, who, in spite of the pressure brought to bear upon them, and the personal danger in which they stood, proceeded boldly to administer the oath of absolute independence, and to convoke an assembly of patriots which should organize the country on the basis of Republican institutions. The effort which was made later on through French machinations to establish a monarchy in Mexico failed dismally, as had the previous efforts put forward by the Mexicans themselves, when Iturbide was made—or, to be more correct, made himself—Emperor for a very brief period.
The people of Central America were but few in number, and were widely distributed over the face of the country. It took several weeks to get into communication with some of the outlying districts, and the diffusion of the newly-created voters prevented them from becoming in any way a united people, or even cognizant of what was being done in their name. In fact, while anxiously awaiting the intelligence that their Junta was about to issue the long-looked-for Republican Charter, the people of Salvador received the startling and disastrous news that their country was to be incorporated into the Mexican Empire. They had been basely betrayed, and it is small wonder that they stood aghast at the colossal nature of that betrayal.
Terrible indeed was the position for the newly-arisen Republic of Salvador. The men whom they had sent to attend the Junta at Guatemala City were met and overawed by armed bands; their deliberations were