Difficulties Between Mexico and Guatemala/Document No. V

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A brief summary of the contents of a book published by Señor Don Matías Romero, bearing the title "Refutation of the Charges made against the Citizen Matías Romero by the Government of Guatemala."

Among the principal complaints made by the Government of Guatemala to the Government of Mexico, respecting difficulties on the frontier of Soconusco, are those referring to the conduct of Mr. Matías Romero during the first two years that he resided on that frontier. These complaints were embodied in three notes, dated April 9, 12, and 14, 1875, addressed to the Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs by the Guatemalan representative in Mexico, by order of General José Rufino Barrios, President of Guatemala, and printed as appendices to the "Memoir of the Mexican Foreign Office," bearing date December 4, 1875. Although the references made by the Mexican Minister to these complaints in the memoir in question were perfectly conclusive as to the degree of importance which should be attached thereto, Mr. Romero sought and obtained from the Foreign Office, under dates of July 31 and August 2, 1876, permission for the publication of an extended refutation of the Guatemalan charges, as an appendix to the Foreign Office memoir of that year.

This document, which was issued from the government press, consists of a quarto volume of three hundred and seventy-seven pages, of which one hundred and sixty-three are filled with Mr. Romero's refutation, and the remainder with eighty-three documents illustrative of the text.

This volume bears the title "Refutation of the Charges made against the Citizen Matías Romero by the Government of Guatemala." Mr. Romero, who is well known in the United States as the efficient Minister Plenipotentiary of Mexico during the war of intervention in that republic, was subsequently for several years Minister of Finances under Presidents Juarez and Diaz, member of the Federal Congress, and Postmaster-General, and was recently instrumental in the organization in the United States of the Mexican Southern Railway Company, under the auspices of General U. S. Grant, who accompanied him to Mexico in the spring of 1881.

Mr. Romero begins his refutation by an analysis of the charges made against him, which he divides into seventeen heads, each of which is separately considered. The volume is divided into three parts. Part I is entitled "A Statement of my Conduct in Soconusco in Respect to General Barrios and Guatemala." Part II consists of a "Reply to the Charges made by General Barrios," and Part III is devoted to a consideration of the conduct of General Barrios toward Mexico, especially in reference to the frontier question.

At the outset, Mr. Romero cites the language employed by the Chief Clerk of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Juan de Dios Arias, in the "Memoir of Foreign Affairs," bearing date December 4, 1875, and that of his predecessor, the lamented statesman, Mr. José María Lafragua, in four notes addressed to the Guatemalan minister, Mr. Uriarte, under dates of July 4 and 8 and August 11, 1875, all relating to the said charges. These communications explicitly declare that such charges are unjust; that they rest upon insufficient and erroneous data, and that they are expressed in terms unsuited to diplomatic correspondence. The Government of Guatemala was therefore formally invited to exhibit proofs of the said charges, which invitation, it is needless to remark, was not accepted.

Mr. Romero then narrates at length the circumstances attending his settlement in Soconusco. Having resigned the Mexican Ministry of Finance on June 10, 1872, just before the death of President Juarez, on account of seriously impaired health, he thought it necessary to devote himself to active agricultural labors. His attention had been previously attracted to the Department of Soconusco, whose agricultural resources and capabilities for improvement he had already been instrumental in promoting, by several fiscal measures and by the publication of a memoir devoted to that subject. During a visit which Mr. Romero made to Soconusco, in September and October, 1872, his favorable impressions were confirmed. He then made the acquaintance of General José Rufino Barrios, now President of Guatemala, making him a visit in Quezaltenango, and establishing with him relations of confidence, and even intimacy. General Barrios was highly pleased at the proposed establishment of Mr. Romero on the frontier of Soconusco, where he possessed, in Mexican territory, a hacienda called Malacate, which he offered for sale. General Barrios accompanied Mr. Romero on his return to Tapachula, the capital of Soconusco, where, at the instance of the latter, public demonstrations were made in his honor. At the request of General Barrios, Mr. Romero wrote a series of comments upon the Guatemalan project of a constitution, then under discussion.

As the result of this first visit to Soconusco, although his resources did not permit the purchase of the hacienda of Malacate, he resolved to establish himself near Tapachula, giving his chief attention to the cultivation of India-rubber. He arrived there definitively with his family in February, 1873, and in the following month made a visit to the capital of Guatemala. He found General Barrios provisionally in charge of the Presidency, to which he was formally elected two months later. The General received Mr. Romero with the greatest cordiality, expressed a desire that he should settle within the territory of Guatemala, offered him the necessary resources for the purchase of lands, and expressed a desire to become his partner in establishing a new coffee plantation on Mexican public lands adjacent to his hacienda of Malacate and to the Guatemalan frontier. The latter proposal alone was accepted by Mr. Romero, and an unsigned contract was drawn up. The confidence of General Barrios was at this time carried to the extreme of intrusting Mr. Romero with the drawing up of a decree establishing religious liberty in Guatemala in conformity with Mexican antecedents, and with the preparation of one or more editorial articles in defense of the provisional government of Barrios.

Returning by land to Soconusco, Mr. Romero visited the hacienda of Malacate to inspect the lands proposed for the coffee plantation, and then devoted himself to the formation of his own India-rubber plantation, called the Hular de Zuchiate, on lands adjacent to the sea. In August, 1873, he again visited Malacate in company with a government surveyor, and effected the denouncement and survey of a tract of public lands adequate for the contemplated coffee plantation to the north of Malacate, adjacent to the reputed frontier of Guatemala, but taking care that the lands in question should be exclusively on Mexican territory. Contracts were made with laborers resident in the vicinity for planting corn and for clearing the land destined for the coffee plantation, to which the name of "Cafetal Juarez" was given. President Barrios was duly and minutely informed by letters of all the steps taken in pursuance of his repeated requests.

In January, 1874, General Barrios visited his hacienda of Malacate and inspected, in company with Mr. Romero, the lands comprising the "Cafetal Juarez."

He then expressed the fear that a portion of those lands belonged to Guatemala, and indicated what he conceived to be the frontier between the two republics in terms differing from what had been assumed as such by Mr. Romero—namely, the course of the small river Petacalapa. As the result of his inspection of the lands. General Barrios withdrew from the proposed partnership, leaving Mr. Romero free to form the projected coffee plantation on his own account, under promise of efficacious co-operation from the Indian laborers resident within the frontier of Guatemala.

During this visit of General Barrios to Soconusco he was informed that three Guatemalan exiles, residing at Tapachula, had formed a plot to assassinate him. Through the intervention of Mr. Romero, those individuals were arrested and kept in prison for some weeks. They were afterward liberated by the local judge, against the opinion of Mr. Romero, on the ground of insufficient evidence. This circumstance highly displeased President Barrios, who habitually considered Mr. Romero responsible for everything that passed in Soconusco.

After the return of General Barrios, Mr. Romero continued his labors in the formation of the coffee plantation called "Cafetal Juarez," counting upon the good-will of Barrios, repeatedly expressed in letters bearing date February and March, 1874. Various reports reached the ears of Mr. Romero that Barrios had stated that the said plantation was in Guatemalan territory, and that the cultivation should, therefore, not be permitted; but the Guatemalan president denied in his letters the truth of these reports. On the 9th of May, however, the alcaldes of the Guatemalan town of Tajomulco proceeded to the "Cafetal Juarez" with 200 Indians, and, after reading an order from the political chief of San Márcos, Guatemala, cut down with their machetes all the young coffee-trees, and carried off prisoners to Guatemala the two men in charge of the plantation, one of whom was kept four days in the public prison of San Márcos. Mr. Romero was naturally averse to believe that this destruction had been ordered by President Barrios. He immediately informed General Barrios by letter of the outrage committed on his estate, and received a prompt reply disavowing the act, and giving assurance that orders had been sent to the Indians in question to abstain from further molestations.

The mayordomo of Mr. Romero, named Fermin Maldonado, on his return from his imprisonment in San Márcos, received information that a party of the Indians who had committed the former outrage had again assembled in a hut at Altaná, within Mexican territory. Desirous to avenge the wrongs he had suffered, he collected eight or nine laborers from the coffee plantation, and made an incursion to Altaná. The Indians fled at his approach, and he proceeded to burn down three huts and carry off four boxes of corn. He also caught one of the Indians of Guatemala, whom he sent prisoner to Tapachula, informing Mr. Romero by letter of what he had done. The huts were of the kind that may readily be constructed by three or four men in a single day, and were accordingly valued at a dollar apiece. The corn was estimated to be worth eight dollars. The total valuation of the loss was, therefore, eleven or twelve dollars, but the event figures in the charges made by General Barrios as the burning and sack of a Guatemalan town. Mr. Romero was ignorant of this act of his mayordomo, which he at once condemned on receiving information thereof. He wrote to the political chief of San Márcos offering to pay the damage incurred, and subsequently wrote in similar terms to President Barrios, disavowing all responsibility for the act of his mayordomo.

Meanwhile the Guatemalan exiles in Tapachula, three of whom had already been arrested, as before mentioned, for an alleged conspiracy against the life of General Barrios, were secretly preparing an invasion of Guatemala. The political chief of Tapachula, having received information of the fact, consulted Mr. Romero as to what should be done, and, by his advice, the leaders were arrested the same night. As there was not, however, sufficient legal evidence to justify their continued imprisonment, Mr. Romero wrote out a legal opinion to the effect that the President of Mexico should be solicited to expel them from the republic as "pernicious foreigners." This opinion, doubtless, displeased General Barrios, who desired more efficacious measures to be taken. An order was subsequently obtained from the governor of the State of Chiapas for sending the prisoners to the state capital, but Captain Tellez, in command of a company of federal troops at Tapachula, refused to surrender them. The same officer co-operated with the prisoners respecting their projected invasion of Guatemala, seizing upon all the Guatemalan Indians in the vicinity to increase the ranks of his company. On the 27th of June the prisoners were allowed to give a ball in the house of Tellez, and, having intoxicated the federal troops, they were next morning placed under the orders of the Guatemalan exiles, nominally prisoners, for a filibustering expedition against Guatemala. They crossed the frontier the same day, committing various outrages and assassinations by the way, and on the following day were completely routed, near San Márcos, by Colonel Lopez, the political chief of that place, already mentioned. Three of the leaders were killed in action; four others were taken prisoners and were executed at San Márcos two months later. An attempt was subsequently made by General Barrios to connect Mr, Romero with this incursion. The facts were, that he had used all his influence to prevent its taking place, having even had an interview with the Guatemalan exiles while prisoners, in which he endeavored to dissuade them from any step of the kind. Moreover, at the moment of the invasion, Mr. Romero was at San Márcos, Guatemala, where he had gone to see the political chief. Colonel Lopez, respecting the destruction of his coffee plantation, and he only escaped falling into the Lands of the filibusters by the accident of having taken a difterent road on his return. During this visit to San Márcos, Colonel Lopez avowed that the destruction of the "Cafetal Juarez" had been effected pursuant to orders of President Barrios, but he came to an understanding, apparently amicable, with Mr. Romero, as to the future conduct to be observed by both parties.

Since Mr. Romero could not be proved to be directly responsible for the filibustering expedition in question. General Barrios afterward undertook to hold him indirectly responsible, as having been the adviser of the sending of a Mexican federal garrison to Tapachula. It is true that, as early as September, 1871, before having visited Soconusco, Mr. Romero suggested, in an official document, the sending of such a force, and that, during the early part of his residence in Tapachula (September, 1873), he repeated the suggestion. This was, perhaps, the cause of the sending of the first installment of federal troops, consisting of but sixty men, who arrived in November, 1873. Unfortunately, through the ignorance and inaptitude of their commander. Captain Tellez, these men were, for the most part, seduced into the filibustering expedition against Guatemala, as above mentioned. The plan of sending such a force had, however, been warmly approved by General Barrios in letters to Mr. Romero. After the events above referred to, Mr. Romero solicited the sending of a more numerous federal force, under an officer of greater intelligence and confidence. In fact, a small battalion of federal infantry was sent from Acapulco, under the orders of Lieutenant-Colonel Antonio Ponce de Leon, and arrived in Tapachula early in September, 1874. That officer had instructions to repel any invasion of Mexican territory by Guatemalans—instructions, doubtless, due in part to the destruction of Mr. Romero's plantation, which had created considerable interest in Mexico, and had been the subject of two official investigations. Colonel Ponce de Leon naturally wished to become acquainted with the line generally considered as the actual frontier with Guatemala, and invited Mr. Romero to accompany him. With an escort of ten soldiers they visited, in November, 1874, the "Cafetal Juarez," and adjacent localities, taking care not to pass the reputed frontier of Guatemala. Nevertheless, this reconnaissance gave great alarm to the frontier authorities of Guatemala, and was magnified by General Barrios into an outrage against that republic.

Previous to this event, and immediately after his return from San Márcos, in July, 1874, Mr. Romero, in fulfillment of a promise made to Colonel Lopez, addressed communications to the municipalities of Tajomulco and Sibinal, the authorities of which had participated in the destruction of his property. In these documents he gave his reasons for considering the lands in question to be Mexican territory, and, without entering further upon subjects of controversy, offered to pay the damages caused by the reprisals made by Maldonado at Altaná. These documents were sent by the municipalities to Colonel Lopez, at San Márcos, and by him to General Barrios. They elicited an angry reply from Colonel Lopez, in which the tenor of these documents was treated as an offense of sedition against Guatemala, which should be dealt with by the courts, and it was insinuated that Mr. Romero was an accomplice of the recent filibustering expedition.

Meanwhile, Mr. Romero had resolved to desist from the purchase of the lands forming the coffee plantation, but his agent in Mexico had already made payment of the price to the government, and an official title had been issued to him in August, 1874, by which the Mexican Government became the guarantee that the lands were really Mexican territory.. The possession of this document gave him an unquestionable right to Mexican protection, but he nevertheless resolved not to solicit such intervention, and to leave the territorial question to be decided by a treaty of limits. Consequently, he did not make any demand for diplomatic redress, nor even address any complaint on the subject to the Mexican newspapers. From other sources, however, those papers received information on the subject, and the members of Congress from Chiapas spontaneously addressed a joint complaint on the subject to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These publications and the complaint in question were wrongly attributed by President Barrios to direct efforts on the part of Mr. Romero, and caused great indignation on his part. In revenge, he caused to be written a letter from Guatemala to the Mexican journal the "Monitor," in which the destruction of the coffee plantation was described as a very small affair, and Mr. Romero was represented as a heartless speculator in international dissensions. In reply to this letter Mr. Romero, for the first time, addressed to the "Monitor" his own version of the facts, taking care, however, not to inculpate General Barrios, to whom he sent a copy At the, same time, he complained to General Barrios by letter, of the attacks made upon him in the press and received a reply in which the President of Guatemala explicitly denied all knowledge thereof, and expressed his full confidence and esteem, as was his custom. Until February, 1875, General Barrios, in his frequent letters upon business affairs, continued to write in similar terms, so that Mr. Romero was temporarily satisfied of the loyalty of his friendship.

At the close of 1874 the Indians of Tacaná, Guatemala, destroyed the boundary-post of Pinabete, and erected another at Cuilco Viejo, eight leagues to the south. By order of Colonel Ponce de Leon it was replaced in February, 1875, the new one being destroyed. A few days later the Indians again destroyed the boundary-post. It was a second time replaced in March, and was soon afterward destroyed a third time. Although Mr. Romero had no share in the acts of the federal commander, and was absent from Tapachula at the time of the second expedition to replace the boundary-post, he was held responsible in Guatemala for all that had occurred, and even charged with having intoxicated Colonel Ponce de Leon, in order to persuade him to violate the territory of Guatemala. In point of fact Mr. Romero declined a written invitation from the said colonel to accompany him on the expedition in question, and gave an opinion against the proposed replacement of the boundary-post.

In February, 1875, there was established at Tapachula, by the efforts of Mr. Romero, a printing press, from which was issued under his direction a small weekly journal, the "Soconuscense," of which only twenty numbers were issued. No attack upon Guatemala or upon President Barrios ever appeared in its columns, where the boundary troubles were spoken of with extreme moderation. Nevertheless, the official journal of Guatemala subsequently accused Mr. Romero of having published therein a multitude of lies and calumnies intended to promote a rupture between Mexico and Guatemala. Mr. Romero's contributions to that paper were few, and were signed by his name.

In January, 1875, Mr. Romero learned that ten Guatemalan Indians, who had been working on his coffee plantation, had been carried off prisoners by the authorities of the neighboring Guatemalan village of Toquian, for the crime of having dared to work there against their orders. Mr. Romero at once started for the plantation, and on the following day Colonel Ponce de Leon, hearing of the case, set out for that plantation with eighty men of the federal troops. Mr. Romero met him on his return two days later, and persuaded him to turn back without having reached the frontier. Nevertheless, this incident was represented by order of General Barrios as a new outrage committed upon Guatemalan territory.

In April, 1875, Mr. Romero left Tapachula for Mexico, to take his seat in Congress as deputy for Soconusco. Soon after his arrival he learned that the Guatemalan Minister, Don Ramon Uriarte, had addressed to the Foreign Office three communications, by order of President Barrios, accusing him of being an incendiary, a plunderer, a filibuster, etc. As the facts upon which these charges are based have all been presented in the preceding narrative of Mr. Romero's residence in Soconusco, it is unnecessary to consider these charges in detail, as Mr. Romero does in the Second Part of his Refutation.

In the Third Part of that document, Mr. Romero, turning the tables upon his accuser, produces formidable evidence to show the despotic and unprincipled character of the ruler of Guatemala, his cruelty toward the laboring classes of Guatemala, the utter lack of guarantees on the part of the unfortunate residents of that republic, the duplicity of General Barrios as a part of his methods of government, his unbounded ambition, and especially his fixed design, long since formed, of disputing the Mexican title to Soconusco and Chiapas. In this publication, bearing date in 1876, is correctly predicted and outlined (pages 158-161) the hostile conduct recently observed by Guatemala toward Mexico in regard to the question of limits. It is very remarkable that the recent attempt on the part of Guatemala to obtain the intervention of the United States should have been indicated five years ago in this document, which must be well known to General Barrios, though the Government of the United States is hitherto probably quite ignorant of its existence. Says Mr. Romero:

"It (the Government of Guatemala) has gone so far as to imagine that, in case of a war, Guatemala might celebrate a treaty of alliance with the United States, with the object of carrying on a joint war against Mexico and dividing between them the spoils. It would not be strange, much less impossible, that, under certain circumstances, which are fortunately not probable at this time, the United States might wage against Mexico another war as unjustifiable and as disastrous as that of Texas; but whoever knows the position occupied in the world by the United States, the essential difference between the policy of their Government and that of Guatemala, the national pride of their people, and various other circumstances, which I consider it unnecessary to enumerate, will come to the conclusion that, if unfortunately the United States ever declare war upon Mexico, they will do it for motives of their own and not for those of any other nation: in their own name and not as allies of Guatemala. It is really the height of blindness to imagine that Guatemala, by stimulating the greed of the United States, could drag them so low as to convert them into an appendix to herself!"

Yet this apparently is what the Government of Guatemala attempted to do in the summer of 1881, from which attempt she did not desist, even upon the advent of the administration of President Arthur.