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Rafael Carrera

B. at Guatemala, Central America, October 24, 1814; d. there April 14, 1865

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Carrera, RAFAEL, b. at Guatemala, Central America, October 24, 1814; d. there April 14, 1865, one of the most remarkable men that Central America has produced. A mestizo, he had no opportunity to secure an education, and learned to sign his name only after he had already risen to power. The judgment usually passed upon him is most unfavorable. He is described as a cruel, bloodthirsty upstart from the lowest walks of life, opposed to liberty and progress and even to order; The last is certainly not true, since it was Carrera who, in the end, brought order into the bloody chaos in which political factions had plunged Guatemala for decades. Two factions were then opposing each other in Central America: the Centralists, who clung to Spanish colonial traditions, and the Federalists, who dreamt of a federation of the Central American States in imitation of the United States of North America. Strife had been bitter and bloody, at least since 1824, and on both sides terrible excesses were committed. The Federalists or Liberals had forcibly abolished the convents and monastic orders, driven away the clergy in general, levying contributions right and left on the Church, making forced loans to gratify the rapacity of unscrupulous and profligate office-holders under pretext of supporting the Government. To this kind of “liberty” Carrera was opposed. His opposition was intuitive, not from principle or reasoning. Like the Indians, he clung to the Church from tradition and habit. In 1829 he was an obscure drummer-boy in one of the bands that fought and pillaged for the Centralist party. General Morazan was the leader of the Liberals and captured the city of Guatemala in the same year, putting the Federalist faction in power again. Carrera abandoned the military career for the time and became a humble swineherd. But when, in 1837, the cholera made its appearance in Guatemala, the Indians, attributing its ravages to the poisoning of the water by the Federalist authorities, rose in arms against them.

The uprising was put down by force, called forth by the usual cruelties perpetrated by Indians on such occasions. Carrera’s wife was outraged by Liberals. He vowed revenge and kept his vow. On a later occasion his aged mother was also ill-treated, which still further increased his wrath. He gathered a band of followers and began a merciless warfare. Extermination of the Liberal faction was thereafter his aim. No pity had been shown to those he most loved, and he felt no compassion for those under whose orders they had been wronged. Against the trained soldiers of Morazan he could not for a long time prevail, but his incessant harassing told upon the enemy in the end and, after Morazan had recaptured the city of Guatemala in 1839, that leader found himself entrapped. In 1840 Carrera was absolute master of Guatemala. Until then he had been concerned only with war; now he faced the task of reorganization, for which he was little or not at all prepared. He reestablished the clergy, the convents, and recalled the Jesuits, thus laying the foundation of a new life. He proved himself wiser than the Centralists, who opposed all progress, more practical than the Liberals, who refused to take into account the historical development of the people and their actual condition, striving by force to impose changes for which the people were not prepared and which they could not understand.

In 1847 Carrera was, by a kind of election, made President of Guatemala, and seven years later he became dictator, that is, president for life with the right to designate his successor. In 1862 he attacked San Salvador and took its capital. Towards the end of his life he had to repress attempts at insurrection. But no outbreak could succeed; he was too firmly master of the situation, and his influence over the Indians (who form three-fourths of the population) was too powerful.


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