Guatimala or the United Provinces of Central America in 1827-8/16

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Early Commerce, -Manufactures, -Harvest of Indigo, -Cochineal, -Tobacco, -Sugar, -Balsams, -Cotton, -Coffee, -Hides, -Productions of the different states, -Mines, -Corpus, -Tabanco, -Imports and Exports, -Ports of the north, -Roads, -River Polichic, -Ports of the South Sea, -Independencia, -Impediments to commercial prosperity.

The total absence of all tables connected with commercial statistics, renders it exceedingly difficult to furnish any regular history of the trade and commerce of Guatimala. From a memorial presented in July 1823, to the consulado by their secretary, we learn that the principal source of its early prosperity was the cultivation of cocoa, which was produced in considerable quantities, and of the very first quality. The province of Nicaragua is said to have supplied exclusively San Salvador and Comayagua, while the more easterly parts of the southern coast, covered with plantations over 180 leagues of territory, after supplying the neighbouring provinces, and the kingdoms of Peru and Mexico, furnished considerable exportations to Europe by way of Vera Cruz.

In the course of years however, partly owing to the difficulties and expense of land carriage, and partly to the excessive duties imposed by the Spanish government, the cultivation of cocoa was encouraged in Tabasco, Caracas and Guayaquil, places far more convenient for exportation. In addition to this, the repeated incursions of the buccaneers who about the beginning of the seventeenth century devastated the shores of America, not unfrequently destroying the plantations, and massacring the inhabitants, obliged the proprietors, unprovided with any means of defence, to abandon their possessions, and fly from the coast. These circumstances operated so powerfully, that by the end of the last century, the cultivation of cocoa had been neglected to such a degree, that these provinces did not produce a sufficient quantity for home consumption, but were forced to buy of their rivals.

A somewhat similar fate has befallen the plantations in which sugar was formerly cultivated, to a very considerable extent. The mills in which it was prepared now in a great measure exist no longer; and New Spain and Peru, where it was chiefly consumed, gold and silver being imported in exchange, have found other markets. As these two branches of commerce decayed, the attention of the government was turned to the cultivation of indigo, which continues at the present day to be the chief article of exportation.

From the time of the conquest, the Indians were more or less employed in manufactures, and as the kingdom soon found itself very irregularly supplied by Spain, and at the same time shut out from communication with the other nations of Europe, every encouragement was of course given to this branch of native industry.

The articles thus manufactured were strong and by no means despicable, but could only be procured at prices enormously high, while so great at times was the scarcity, that when a quantity of goods arrived from the peninsula, the stores and shops were literally besieged with purchasers, and the government in some instances were obliged to use precautions to avoid tumult.

Such a state of things naturally invited a contraband trade, and the proximity of the English settlers in Belize, afforded a convenient opportunity for obtaining goods at reasonable rates. Once commenced, all the efforts of government were unable to repress its progress; it rapidly assumed the shape of a regular trade, and was carried on systematically, chiefly by the way of the river Leanes. Still the manufactures of the country found a market, and so late as the year 1790, the productions in cotton and wool of the capital, Antigua and Quezaltenango amounted to a million of dollars annually. As the contraband trade however increased, these gradually declined, and since the trade with Belize has been thrown open, they may fairly be considered as annihilated.

To the encouragement and progress of home manufactures, the memorial above alluded to, appears to attach an undue importance: it says, “Every country has some one principal branch of industry, on which the greater part of the rest are dependent. Among us it is very visible, that the link of our prosperity has been in former ages, our manufactures of cotton, which occupy a prominent place in our internal riches, because the material is the product of our own land, and capable of considerable augmentation,- because it occupied so many hands in preparing the thread and picking the cotton, and because it was capable of extension all over the kingdom. The great mass of the people were clothed in our own cotton cloths, and the produce of the labour was scattered among all classes of the state, thus assisting in the maintenance of the other parts of the community, and giving vigour to the whole. The branch of preparing the thread alone, employed almost all our Indian women and children, the use of the wheel being altogether unknown; these now live in idleness, and owing to their indolence, misery, and want of education, know no other employment, nor can find any other mode of acquiring money.”

It would be easy to prove the fallacy of such arguments as these, were this the place to dis- cuss the great question of free trade, but it is not necessary; the memorial itself proves that there are plenty of other branches in which they might be more advantageously occupied. After recapitulating a great number of valuable gums, resins, and medicinal herbs, it tells us, all these live and die upon the soil that produces them, because there is no one willing to employ himself in collecting them and conveying them to the neighbouring towns, where their value is known, and where a good price would be given for them. With the exception of a few towns in which commerce maintains and encourages population, the sun shines only on extensive shores, arid plains, delicious valleys, and mountains, always green and verdant, which in succession produce freely an almost infinite number of nature’s treasures.

With these facts constantly before their eyes, the merchants of Guatimala persist in their opinion, that foreign commerce has ruined Central America. The memorial breathing these sentiments was read and approved by the chamber of commerce, and the doctrines it contains may be said to be held universally, without distinction of party. But however firmly they may cling to these opinions, the declaration of them is now useless. The country is deluged with British manufactures, other nations are joining in the traffic, and whatever may be the will or wishes of prejudiced men, no power on earth can now prevent their entrance, or revert back to the wretched policy of former years. The question now should rather be, how agriculture can be best promoted, and the cheap conveyance of produce to the coast be most readily facilitated.

The most important production of the republic in the present day is indigo. Its superior quality is acknowledged in Europe, and indeed by its means alone, is the very existence of Guatimala generally known. From official papers of the government it appears, that the average quantity produced, from the years 1791 to 1800, was 875,256 pounds, each year, and from 1809 to 1818, only 459,407 pounds annually- a lamentable decrease in an article so highly valued, and of such material importance to the country. The precise cause of this rapid decrease it is not easy to state, but probably it may be in part attributed to the commencement of a revolutionary spirit. The following table shows the annual produce for 20 years.

Years. Pounds. Years. Pounds.
1791 1,015,200 1809 732,570
1792 1,139,250 1810 740,820
1793 1,149,800 1811 536,475
1794 789,950 1812 450,425
1795 852,100 1813 257,300
1796 885,100 1814 422,507
1797 763,425 1815 412,781
1798 749,775 1816 376,800
1799 625,612 1817 332,200
1800 802,350 1818 332,200
Pounds, 8,752,562 Pounds, 4,594,078

This statement was officially furnished by the members of the present administration, them its correctness is vouched. Later averages were asked, in order to judge whether the revolution had in any way affected the harvests, the answer received was “In the present day there are not data, to enable us to state the exact number of pounds of indigo, which may have been annually collected from the year 1818 to the present time, -since the disorganization of the states, and the great facility afforded for sending it out of the country by ports, where there are not custom houses absolutely impede it; but it may be considered as certain, that the two last years have produced as much or more, than the highest average quantity; although none has been obtained from the state of Leon. Of the other productions of the country no better accounts can be had. The cultivation of Cochineal, which was unknown till the year 1821, has been progressively on the increase. The official papers of government, calculate the annual harvest at from 90 to 105 thousand pounds weight, but this undoubtedly is somewhat overrated ; the harvest of 1824 is estimated by well informed individuals, at 70,000 pounds, that of 1825, at 65,000 pounds, and that of 1826, at near 90,000 pounds.

Tobacco is a government monopoly, and consequently the weight produced must he known with tolerable correctness; leaving out of the calculation the immense quantities which are sown clandestinely. To such an extent is this carried on, that not one half of the consumers buy of the government, contraband being always to be met with, without the least difficulty. Official papers merely inform us, that from the province of San Salvador, there have been years when only 3000 bales, or 30,000 pounds have been received, while in other years 6 and 7000 bales, or 70,000 pounds have been collected; that Honduras produces from 8 to 10,000 bales, or 80 to 100,000 pounds, and that a new factory has just been planted in Gualan, which it is hoped will prove very advantageous on account of the facility for exportation. Tobacco is bought from the grower by the nation, at one real per pound, and on its account is re-sold for interior consumption, at six reals, and for exportation at two reals, delivered at the ports.

The following table shows the produce of sales, the expenses incurred, and the clear profit to the nation for five years.

Years. Produce of Sales. Expenses. Clear Profit.
1815 541,742 0¾ 163,012 3 378,729 5½
1816 570,776 2½ 256,743 4¼ 314,032 6
1817 510,079 2¼ 289,891 1¼ 220,188 1
1818 503,677 3¼ 309,586 0¼ 194,091 3
1819 794,041 2½ 306,635 4¼ 487,405 6¼
Amount, 2,920,316 3¼ 1,325,868 5 1,594,447 5¾
Average Amount. 584,063 265,173 318,889 4¼

Sugar is produced chiefly about Sonzonate and St. Ana. The same papers tell us, “that there have been years when more than three or four thousand quintals, or three or four hundred thousand pounds, have been exported by the port of the South Sea; but in others, nothing.”

All along the western coast, from the bay of Jiquilisco to the port of Acajutla, are to be found almost every species of the Balsam Tree, so that the coast takes its name from the quantities which grow on its borders. As much can be collected as is wished, but this branch of trade is now greatly neglected. In the papers before referred to, the article of cotton is thus noticed: “The cotton of Usulatan, and the rest of the provinces of San Salvador, is superior in quality, and was formerly collected in considerable quantities, supplying sufficient for at least half the consumption of all the old manufactories of the kingdom, beside exporting some to the provinces of Mexico; but in the present day, scarcely any is produced, owing to the quantities of manufactured cottons which have been introduced from foreign countries. It might have been shipped in considerable quantities by the Pacific; but unfortunately these ports have been ruined, by the introduction of goods by the north.”

Here again the same ignorance displays itself; in official statements. If it be true that the cotton is of so superior a quality why is it not still cultivated and exported, since at least three times the number of vessels requisite for its conveyance still come to the ports of the Pacific, notwithstanding their supposed ruin, owing to the introduction of goods by the north. The memorial before quoted, which it should be borne in mind was sanctioned and approved by the Chamber of Commerce, speaking of the ports of the north, says: “In the present day, with the exception of Omoa, these ports may be said to be abandoned.” The fact is, that the cotton of Usulatan, although of good quality, has some peculiarity about the seeds, which makes it impossible to extract the fibre by the usual machinery; but if this difficulty cannot be obviated, a better species might be sown.

Coffee is very little cultivated. What is now collected, is chiefly for the consumption of the few strangers who reside in Guatimala, as the natives of the country scarcely ever use it. Some few hides are exported by the north; but the chief population is so distant from the ports as to render any considerable trade in them impossible.

In the year 1825 a commission was appointed to inquire into the state of commerce five years previous, and five years subsequent to the revolution. The commissioners' report is in these terms: “We have no positive data upon which we can state exactly the condition of our commerce during either of these periods, owing to the confused state of every branch of the administration; but from observation, and the opinions of intelligent men, we have the honour to report, that the five years previous to the revolution were the most miserable we have known, and that from the independence to the present period, our commerce may be considered to have doubled. It is well known, that previous to the revolution, our mercantile transactions were confined to the peninsula, or we ought rather to say, to Cadiz. It is equally well known, that in exchange for goods received from thence, they would only take our indigo in return, this production being equivalent to all the goods we received. The harvest sometimes reached 1,200,000 pounds, but during the five years previous to the revolution it did not exceed 600,000 pounds, which at the low price of eight rials per pound, only amounted to 600,000 dollars, so that a million of dollars was the greatest sum our indigo ever produced in Cadiz. For this we received in return, goods to the same value, which was the utmost amount of business transacted in the kingdom of Guatimala; for although it be true, that we carried on some trade in the markets of Havanna and of Peru, yet these were in articles that cost little, and do not materially vary the general statement.

From the time that we pronounced ourselves independent, and the light of liberty shone upon our nation, as our ports were opened to all the world, our resources began to unfold themselves; agriculture received a new impulse, and commerce was greatly advanced. Since then the harvest of indigo, according to the calculation of intelligent merchants, has doubled, that of cochineal has improved in an equal degree, and the prices of each have risen in nearly the same proportion. An equal increase has taken place in the amount of goods introduced for internal consumption, so that, if before the revolution our imports and exports united, did not exceed two millions of dollars, they may now be fairly considered to have advanced to four millions.” After recapitulating the other productions of the country, the commissioners express their conviction, that the commerce of the country will go forward, increasing in the same ratio, and urge the immediate cultivation of the various fruits with which the country abounds. The internal commerce they calculate at about a million of dollars.

This report must however be considered as far too flattering. That for some years previous to the revolution the commerce of the country was retrograding, is evident from the fact, that on the 24th of April, 1819, a decree was published in the Havanna, which after stating the falling condition of the kingdom of Guatimala, and the importance of supporting that valuable possession, and fomenting its agriculture, ordains, that the indigo and other fruits and productions of these provinces, shall enter the ports of the Havanna free of all duties, and in their re-exportation enjoy the same privilege. That the cultivation of indigo received a considerable impulse from the causes stated, is equally true,- but owing to the disturbed state of the country, the harvests have not exceeded hitherto in any considerable degree, those of former years. That the quantity of goods imported has considerably increased is certain, but the overplus has been paid in coin; besides which, the markets are at the present day loaded with British manufactures. So long as civil war rages in those parts of the country where indigo is almost universally cultivated, the produce must be rather on the decrease than otherwise.

A sketch of the principal employment of the inhabitants of each state will show the slight degree of encouragement given to agriculture in the different provinces.

The inhabitants of the state of Guatimala, are employed- lst. As carriers, for which they serve all the other states, in their importations and exportations. 2d. In the production of cochineal, a little indigo, about 500 cargoes of cocoa, and some flour. 3d. In the manufacture of some coarse woollens, of which it is calculated a quantity equal in value to 200,000 dollars is furnished to the other states. Those of San Salvador are almost entirely employed in the cultivation of indigo, cotton, and sugar. Those of Honduras, in the rearing of about 40,000 head of cattle introduced annually into San Salvador and Guatimala, and in the cultivation of tobacco. Those of Nicaragua, in the growth of cocoa, and the breeding of cattle. While those of Costa Rica, scarcely raise more of any article than is requisite for the internal consumption of the province, with the exception of some mahogany and cedar, which is shipped for Peru. The manufactures of panelas, and the growth of maize, as common to all the states, need not be noticed.

A very useful table, formed in 1818, on the cultivation of cocoa in the province of Suchitepequez, exhibits clearly the proportion the Indians employed in agriculture, bear to the white and coloured population, and the way in which the lands are divided. From it an idea may be formed of the other districts. The province of Suchitepequez consists of sixteen villages, containing 503 Indian cultivators of cocoa, and 115 white and coloured, employed in the same manner; the former possess 9408 cuerdas of land, the latter 26,769; the Indians own 241,613 old trees, and 3,875 new ones; the whites and ladinos 540,808 old trees, and 322,512 new ones; the latter having besides 142,940 plants in seed. The trees of the Indians amount to 245,488, and those of the whites and ladinos to 863,320. The total number of trees in the province being 1,108,808. In the whole of the province, the Indians are, 12,190, and the Spaniards and ladinos, 3,374.

From hence we learn that the Indian population in proportion to the white and coloured, is as four to one, and the Indian cultivators of cocoa to the latter similarly employed is as five to one. While the proportion of land possessed by the whites and ladinos, is three times as great as that in the possession of Indians, and the number of trees owned by the former, is four times as great as those possessed by the latter. The civilization of the Indians, the division of the land into small lots, and their participation in equal rights and privileges, is evidently one of the steps most required for the prosperity of the country.

Up to the year 1800, Quezaltenango in the state of Guatimala, had thirty small manufactures of linen, cotton, serges and coarse cloths, which unitedly employed about 200 hands, but these have rapidly disappeared, and very few now remain. The annual fair held at this place, was till within the last few years considerable. The average sales were estimated at about 18,000 bushels of wheat,- 14,000 dollars worth of cocoa,- 50,000 dollars worth of panelas,- 12,000 of sugar,- 30,000 of woollen cloths and 5000 of cottons. This fair is now very inconsiderable.

In the environs of St. Ana, are some iron foundries, which up to the year 1800 produced annually 1500 quintals, or 150,000 pounds at the present day they do not furnish more than a third of that weight. The manufacture of gunpowder, saltpetre and playing cards, are government monopolies, the quantity does not exceed what is required for internal consumption. Coarse hats, shoes and saddlery, are manufactured in considerable quantities. Fancy articles are finished very neatly, and mats, baskets and other curiosities are cleverly executed by the Indians.

Almost every kind of artificer may probably be met with, but they are generally very idle and more than ordinarily troublesome, in the execution of what they undertake. Juarros tells us that the manufacturers of fine earthenware, can compete in their productions with the porcelain of Germany; nothing however has yet been produced in Guatimala better than a very coarse tea cup, and earthenware and porcelain of every kind is still imported from Europe.

The only remaining source of national wealth to be noticed is the mines. Humboldt in his table of the respective produce of the mines of America, has written against those of Guatimala, “nothing,” as Spain never derived from them any benefit. Since the revolution the most exaggerated statements have been sent forth respecting the mineral wealth of Guatimala, and several of the mines are now in the hands of companies who are attempting to work them. In the district of Tegucigalpa in the state of Honduras, are to be found thirteen mines, among which that of Corpus has hitherto been the most celebrated; it is said to have produced at one time gold in such abundance, as to excite suspicions of the reality of the metal, and a treasury was appointed upon the spot to receive the king's fifths, but after this appointment the golden dream vanished, and no more was heard of this immense source of wealth. The appointment is merely said to have proved unsuccessful. The neighbourhood of Olancho is also famous for the quantity of fine gold, which is said to have been collected in the sands of the river Guyape in its course through this valley. In Costa Rica mines are to be met with in abundance, but of what quality they may be, it is impossible to say. No kind of record seems to have been kept of their true state, or of what they have at any time produced.

In order to form some conception on the subject, a statement was asked from the master of the mint, showing the number of marks of gold and silver coined for fifteen years previous, and fifteen years subsequent to 1810, with any information he was able to afford, on the productions of the mines. The following is an exact copy of the document. “Statement manifesting the number of marks of Gold and Silver, coined in thirty years- the fifteen first anterior to the year 1810, and the other fifteen posterior, showing the comparative increase, during the latter epoch.

Years. Marks of Gold. Marks of Silver. Value.
1796-7 45,775 2 1 389,089 6
98-9 134 2 4 0 35,037 3 6 316,084 4
1800-1 149 2 3 3 39,879 7 2 359,284 5
2-3 """ 15,318 4 7 130,208 1¼
4-5 """ 36,218 6 3 307,859 6
6-7 """ 29,888 0 2 254,048 1¾
8-9 """ 32,727 6 7 278,186 6¼
10 """ 18,714 1 6 159,070 6¾
Total, 283 4 7 3 253,560 1 2 2,193,832 5
Years. Marks of Gold. Marks of Silver. Value.
1811-12 30,050 3 1 255,427 2
13-14 118 2 0 0 50,672 3 5 446,797 6½
15-16 76,488 2 4 650,153 5
17-18 261 3 4 0 77,979 5 7 698,382 5¾
19-20 67,408 1 6 572,969 7
21-22 62,323 2 2 529,747 7
23-24 672 0 5 0 41,103 3 0 440,781 2½
25 473 1 3 0 17,855 3 1 216,122 1½
Total, 1524 7 4 0 423,881 0 2 38,10,382 5¼
Increase during the last fifteen years.
Marks, oz. ochavos, tomines. Marks, oz.
1241 2 4 5 170,320 70 $1,616,550 ¾
Average annual increase $107,770

This statement solely refers, to the quantity of gold and silver, coined in this house during the thirty years named, and it must not be deduced from hence that this is all our mines have produced since a great quantity of these metals have been employed in works of ornament, and a still greater quantity exported, particularly since the year 1821. It is positively known, that the greater part of the merchants of the state of Honduras, and of other parts, have exported to foreign countries great quantities of gold and silver bullion, so that according to the calculation of intelligent persons, scarcely a tenth part of the metals obtained within the last six years, will have passed through the mint. On this account it is impossible to state exactly the effective produce of each year, and much less the amount exported to Europe, because the greater part has been effected clandestinely. In all the territory of this republic there are mines in abundance, but particularly in the state of Honduras, where the greater number are to be found, and where nature presents the greatest mineral wealth. In numbers 111, and 112, of the periodical called the Indicador, there is the following communication.

“'The mine called Tabanco in the state of Salvador, had been abandoned by its owners, who despaired of making it profitable on account of the great difficulty they found in removing the water, in spite of the activity with which they laboured to accomplish it. We are now assured that it has begun to yield, the water having been removed by a steam-engine; so that now not only will they gain from the mine all the advantages it may offer, but others will reap advantage from the experiment, and this branch of riches will again be opened for our country. -Without enumerating more than the above mines and those of Guayarillas, Tuzcaran, Macuelizo, La Baca, El Cuyal, and Merendon, there will be found sufficient to fill the country with treasures, if they are worked with care by a sufficient number of labourers, directed by scientific persons; and so great is the quantity of gold and silver they contain, that they may be said to be inexhaustible.'

“These observations far from being exaggerated, rather appear to me below the truth, since they do not speak of many other mines, celebrated for their richness, such as that of Corpus, which is at this time clearing of water by a steam-engine, under the direction of Mr. Moyle; that of Cedros, Sta. Lucia, Sta. Barbara, San Antonio, Las Animas, the Malacate, and the Encuentros: neither does it mention near 2000 metallic veins, of which the government of the state of Honduras was informed in the years 1825 and 1826; nor does it say anything of the great riches of the hills of Aguacate, near Cartago, from whence since the year 1822, when it was discovered, have been received 1200 marks of gold; estimating that twice as much more has been exported to foreign countries. Mr. Gourmez a mining engineer, who has visited most of the mines of Honduras, assures me, that it is easier to find mines than men to work them, so that facilitating the meanS of clearing them, and finding labourers, there is reason to believe, that within a short time, our mineral productions may rival those of the republics of Mexico and Peru.”

This document is signed by the Master of the Mint.

A more useless or deceptious appendix it was scarcely possible to have added; for although it be true, that a considerable portion of metal has been employed in works of ornament, and a still greater quantity clandestinely exported, it should be remembered, that very considerable importations have been made from Mexico, Peru, and Chile, and that a great proportion of the specie which is clandestinely sent out of the country, is not in bars but in current coin.

To quote from an old newspaper an erroneous statement, and to assert that two steam-engines are at work when it is well known that as yet only one of them has been put up, is unworthy of any person officially employed; while the story of 2000 metallic veins having been discovered in 1825 and 1826, there can be no doubt is grossly exaggerated. Yet there is no better mode of obtaining information, and under present circumstances to expect any thing approaching to satisfactory or correct statements, is quite out of the question.

The mine of Corpus has been for about two years under the direction of an English company, and a considerable number of Cornish miners, under the superintendence of Mr. Moyle, an able mining engineer, have proceeded to it. The disasters and difficulties they have experienced, are of the same character as those suffered by others engaged in similar undertakings. The greater number of the men on their arrival at the coast, fell into habits of drunkenness, and several of them died; while others were obliged to be left sick in the capital. Those who proceeded forward, immediately commenced the clearing out of the water, and the last accounts received were, that the mine appeared very rich, and the prospect flattering, but that hitherto no metal had been extracted. Provisions were very scarce, and of the worst quality, while the surrounding country was in a distracted state, owing to civil tumults.

Results rather more favourable have however, been experienced at the mine of Tabanco, under the direction of Dr. Rhy, and Mr. Bennett of Belize. A sketch of the mine and surrounding country has appeared in the Honduras Gazette, from which we learn, that the mine is situated in a very romantic part of the province of San Salvador, fourteen leagues from San Miguel, and that it is surrounded by a chain of high hills, over which a good carriage road, eighteen feet wide, has been cut in a zigzag direction, by the proprietors of the mines, for the purpose of conveying the large pieces of a steam-engine, which were too heavy to be conveyed in the usual way on mules, from La Seba (a small port on the Pacific) to the mine. A considerable space is said to be levelled near the mouth, on which is erected an engine-house, blacksmiths' forge, carpenters' shop, and a long range of buildings for the accommodation of the workmen. The engine was at that time at work, and is described as a good one, of six horse power, acting so forcibly, that, although the water in the shaft occupied a space of twelve feet by eight or nine, it cleared at the average of thirteen inches within the hour. The mine is said to have been wrought to a very considerable perpendicular depth, independent of numerous branches, or levels, as they are termed; all of which must be full of water, so that much time must necessarily be occupied before it is completely drained. The country about Tabanco is described as mountainous, the air pure, and the climate healthy; the soil is, however, very poor, and unproductive. The principal articles produced, are, sugar-cane, maize, and indigo; the latter, very inferior, and the two former, though good in their kind, in quantities quite inadequate to the consumption.

A third mine, situated in Costa Rica, is said, also, to be in the hands of the English, but no particulars respecting the owners, or account of the progress they have made, has yet reached the capital. The expense attendant on the working of mines in Guatimala, must, necessarily be immense, while the profits, at the best, are probably very doubtful. Calculations, much too sanguine, have hitherto been made, on the advantages that would accrue from the introduction of English machinery, since, in forming them, the local situation has been too frequently left out of the question. The fixing of steam engines, in countries where every thing has to be transported many hundreds of miles, on mules, over high and rugged mountains, and in parts where fuel is often scarce, is no easy task, and, even if accomplished, the advantages of it must be very problematical.

In all probability, we shall find, within a very few years, the mines again worked by the natives, although under the direction of foreigners, since the risk and expense attendant on bringing out Englishmen, is far too great to allow of its continuance. In this case, the old plans must probably be once more resorted to, since the prejudices of the natives will oppose an insuperable obstacle to the introduction of new ones. Yet still the difficulties of the undertaking will be considerable, and if; with the many advantages the Spaniards possessed, as despots of the soil, they could gain but little, our superior energy and skill is not sufficient to produce results so brilliant as have been supposed.

The Europeans of Guatimala, steadily assert that the Indians were not forced to work in the mines contrary to their inclination; but a few lines which we find in Juarros, who is at least an unexceptionable witness on this point, proves the contrary to be the fact. He says in alluding to the Alcalde-Mayor, who was appointed for the purpose of superintending the working of the mines, and receiving the king's fifths: “This officer was invested with plenary jurisdiction both in civil and criminal matters, within the boundaries of the mines, and had the power of compelling a fourth part of the Indians, within a circuit of twelve leagues, to work in them.”

With privileges such as these, it is truly surprising, that the Spaniards, while extracting wealth from Mexico and Peru, should have failed to enrich themselves from mines so flatteringly described. Probably the result of the present English speculations will solve the enigma, and prove, that the present scarcity of population, the wretched state of the roads, and other local disadvantages, increase the expenses too materially to allow of any considerable profit.

That the amount of the precious metals in circulation in the country, is considerably less than it was twenty years ago, there can be no doubt. The scarcity of produce suitable for exportation, and the duties imposed upon indigo, by the government, tend to encourage the exportation of specie, and considerable quantities both of coin and plate, are constantly shipped for Belize and Europe.

The amount of foreign goods annually imported into Guatimala may be calculated at two millions of dollars, while the quantity of produce exported does not amount to two-thirds of that sum; the overplus being probably paid in coin. Humboldt estimates the annual amount of goods introduced into Guatimala, before the revolution, at this sum, (without including the contraband trade, which at that time was considerable,) but this was certainly not the case.

From a table published in 1796, it appears, that from the years 1790, to 1794, inclusive, only nineteen vessels arrived from the peninsula, bringing with them goods of different kinds, to the amount of about five millions of dollars, and receiving in exchange 4,702,800 lbs. of indigo; 729 arrobas of zarza; 1015 jars of balsam, and 192,059 dollars; the whole being equal in value to 4,942,131 dollars, and averaging only 988,426 dollars annually.

The present importations are made almost entirely by the ports of Omoa and Yzabal. The former about 15° 23' N. lat. and 88° 56' W. long. 100 leagues from Guatimala, is the principal depot for goods from the Havana and the Peninsula, with which some trade is still carried on; and the latter for British merchandize from Belize. A few French vessels, and three or four from the United States, have recently arrived at Omoa; and, as the Dutch have appointed a Consul in Truxillo, and a Consul-General in Guatimala, it is to be presumed, that they will soon become competitors.

From Omoa, goods are forwarded by the river Motagua to Gualan, and, from thence, to the capital, by mules, while all the goods arriving at Yzabal, are transported across the mountain of Mico to Gualan; from whence they proceed by the same route. In each case, from six to nine months is consumed, before any quantity of packages can arrive. To the scarcity of mules, and want of energy on the part of the muleteers, the delay must be attributed, as, with immediate forwarding, they might reach the capital in a month or six weeks. The indigo for exportation is principally conveyed on mules from the province of San Salvador to the capital, and from thence to the northern coast by the same means, and equal, if not greater risks and delays are incurred. The ports of the South Sea, now receive only a few vessels from the neighbouring republics, and little traffic of importance is carried on in them.

Such is the deplorable state of the agriculture and commerce of Guatimala. It remains to be considered, what means are most likely to promote the one, and improve the other. The scarcity of population, the habits of the people, and the facilities that exist for gaining a subsistence without labour, are obstacles which time only can remove. Considerable emigrations from Europe, seem indispensable to the prosperity of the country, but neither the government or the people are yet liberal enough to offer any temptation to strangers, to settle upon their soil. Other and perhaps more permanent impediments will be found in the inland situation of the capital, in the expense and difficulty attendant on land carriage, and in the deserted state of all the ports.

The memorial of the Consulado, thus laments facts which can no longer be concealed; it says, “the commerce of the ports of Realejo, and Acajutla is now reduced to two or three small ships each year from Peru and New Spain. The port of Omoa is alone sufficient for the trade with the Peninsula, reduced to very few vessels; indeed all these ports with the exception of Omoa, may be said to be abandoned. Between them and the capital lie immense tracts of country, without regular roads, and totally unprotected, and the risk of forwarding produce to them for exportation is considerable. Nor is it lessened when they arrive. Without suitable stores, or warehouses, goods must remain four or perhaps six months, waiting some vessel to transport them; while the villages on the coast unhealthy and pestiferous, owing to the quantity of trees, which have been permitted for years to multiply unmolested around them, are inhabited only by the lowest order of mariners, and totally undefended. In these situations the country round does not furnish even the common necessaries of life.”

“Were the rich and fruitful lands, which lie from Comayagua to Truxillo, from the Llanos, Gualan, and Coban, to Omoa and the Golfo Dulce, and those which stretch along the extensive coast of the South Sea, filled with an industrious population, willing to cultivate the various fruits which are the natural productions of this favoured spot, blessed as it is with every variety of climate and of soil, there is not perhaps a country in the world, which would he more prosperous. or which contains within itself in a greater degree, the elements of wealth.

“Whether the transportation of the Caribs, now useless in Truxillo, to the shores of the Dulce, and the banks of the Motagua, or whether the division of the land near the coast into small lots, and ceded to Indians on condition of cultivating a certain portion with the fruit of the country, be desirable, is for others to determine. That the establishment of small settlements on the northern coast, as well as on the southern, and the cultivation of cocoa, which from its superior quality might again be transported both to Mexico and Peru, as well as to Europe, would be beneficial, is however certain.”

Such are the published opinions of the Consulado as a body, upon the deplorable catalogue of evils which afflict their country. That the extension of agriculture in Guatimala, is identified with the habilitation of the ports, and the population of its coasts, no reasonable doubt can be entertained; since from its present locality, the expenses of transportation, alone forbid competition with other countries. This inconvenience might however in some degree be lessened by changing the route which goods now take, in order to leave or arrive at the capital.

Up to the year 1796 the importations from the Peninsula were made by the Gulf, and forwarded from Yzabal to Guatimala by mules; but about this period a company was formed for opening the navigation of the river Motagua, from Gualan to Omoa, and proposals were issued containing tables, which exhibited the difference in freight. The company however from some cause or other, failed in accomplishing its object, and with the exception of a few private individuals, the road by Yzabal was invariably frequented. In September 1815, a royal order was issued for the navigation of this river, which appears to have had the desired effect. A few individuals united together, and aided by a loan of 5000 dollars from the Consulado, provided suitable vessels and established a regular communication. Since then it has been the regular channel for all exports, and for a great portion of the imports, although eight days on an average is consumed in the descent, and from fifteen to twenty-four in the ascent.

To no other cause but an unwillingness to change old roads, can he attributed the neglect of the river Polichic, which seems to offer for the northern coast, a far more convenient and easier passage, than the Motagua and Guslan.[1] By a royal order of the 30th of March 1795, the Consulado was directed to encourage the navigation of this river, but for some unknown reason no steps were taken for that purpose. The total absence of an enterprising spirit, has prevented private individuals from following at their own risk this route with goods, so that with a few solitary exceptions, it remains unfrequented.

This river rises in the mountain of Xucanab, and in its way to the Amatique Gulf is joined by the Cahabon, from whence it becomes navigable for launches, or as they are called by the natives pit-pans; and flat canoes can ascend much higher than this junction. Juarros says that in former times, the merchandise imported from Spain to Guatimala, and the returning exports were conveyed by this river; and even so lately as 1793 the organ sent from Europe, for the church of San Domingo was transported by this route to the capital. From Guatimala to Pauchisquí the place of embarkation, is a journey of about six days, consisting of 50 leagues; the road is more level than the one to Gualan, cooler during the hot months, and if it were frequented, would soon be more convenient, both with regard to provisions and lodgings. From Panchisquí to the mouth of the river, which is close to the Port of Yzabal, is a navigation of not more than twenty-four hours in the descent, or four days in the ascent. From this point to Omoa, it is easy to arrive in two or three days if the weather be favorable,- but during three or four months in the year, a more considerable delay must be calculated upon.[2] At all events a saving of four or five days would he insured,- but this is not sufficient to tempt private individuals to leave the accustomed route, unless they could be certain that launches and mules would be ready on their arrival. Were active steps taken to prepare these requisites, there can be little doubt but that it would again be frequented, and a considerable advantage accrue to the capital.

On the Pacific the only ports frequented, are Conchagua situated a few leagues from San Salvador, which possesses one of the finest harbours in the world; and Acajutla an open bay without shelter, five leagues from Sonzonate; which is used as the port of Guatimala, from which it is fifty-five leagues distant over rough and mountainous country. There is however, another point known under the name of the Bar of Istapa, from which goods might be forwarded much more rapidly and securely, were proper means used for that purpose.[3] Its importance in a commercial point of view, is thus stated by Juarros; he says, “It affords every convenience and advantage for carrying on an extensive traffic in the Pacific. Its contiguity to the city of Guatimala, would enable speculators to obtain all the productions of the country at a moderate rate, which could be conveyed by land carriage to the place of embarkation at a trifling expense, on a road that was opened and levelled in 1539, for the purpose of transporting upon carriages some of Alvarados small vessels. There is excellent anchorage well sheltered on every point, there are neither reefs nor shallows, and the entrance is perfectly safe and easy. A redoubt with four or six pieces of cannon would afford protection to the shipping; and for the construction of such a defence, there are many eligible points. With respect to ship building, the advantages are of still greater importance, as wood of the best quality is found in the neighbourhood in quantities inexhaustible. Cordage is still more plentiful, for on every part of this coast, the pita grows luxuriantly and profusely, which is much superior for the manufacture of cables and other ropes to the esparto, (genista hispanica.) Pitch and tar are both good and cheap in the valley of Jumais; and freights of valuable wood or agricultural produce, may be procured here to almost any extent.”

The attention of the government has of late been directed to this subject; the point in question, has been named the port of Independencia; and a commission has been appointed to take the necessary steps towards fitting it for the reception of vessels. It is situated according to Mr. Hamilton Moore, in lat. 14° N. and long. 92° 35' W. Like Acajutla, it is only an open road-stead and unprotected, the statement of Juarros in this respect being erroneous; but the conveniences for landing at Raudal, a fishing station on the coast, close to the bar of the River Michatoyat, are equal if not superior to the former. The advantages to be derived from the undertaking, arise chiefly from its proximity to the capital, and the ease with which goods may be transported. Distant only thirty-six leagues, the road is for the most part perfectly level, and with the exception of a short distance near to Guatimala, goods might be transported in carriages with trifling expense, little delay, and less risk of robberies. Even by mules, packages could be forwarded at the utmost in six days, and at an expense of not more than three reales an arroba (25 lb.) While by the northern ports, a lapse of six weeks and an expenditure of five times that sum, would at least be requisite. So great a difference would abundantly repay the extra freight round Cape Horn, and should the project be carried into effect, there can be little doubt but that the course of a few years will bring nearly all the foreign commerce of Guatimala, to the ports of the Pacific.

Nor would the advantage of such a change, be confined merely to the trade with the capital. Vessels leaving Europe in the month of June, and arriving at Independencia about the end of November, after leaving part of their cargo at this plaoe for Guatimala, might pass forward to Libertad and Conchagua; where goods might be landed for the states of San Salvador and Leon, and freights of indigo, or of the valuable woods of Nicaragua, all of which are on the spot, might be taken in before the approach of the stormy weather. That by this means, an immense saving both of labour and money, might be effected is certain, and it is not improbable that the experiment will be tried, before many years have elapsed.

One subject of dispute among the contending states of Guatimala, is the situation of the capital; the people of San Salvador wishing it removed to their city, as better suited for the trade of the republic.

Should this change ever take place, and it is by no means impossible, although perhaps distant, a still greater weight would be given to the motives, for encouraging foreign traffic by the Pacific, and if to this should be added the cultivation of cocoa, and other fruits near the coast, the state of the country would be materially improved. But before commerce can attain a solid basis, other changes equally important are required, among which new regulations for the recovery of debts is not one of the least. At the present day, no fixed or regular period of payment, can be said to exist. Goods are sold it is true according to their invoice, with a defined period of credit, but if at the expiration of that time, the purchaser finds himself unable to fulfil his contract, or if from avaricious or dilatory motives he does not wish to pay, he asks two, three, or more months' additional credit, which is almost invariably granted. Should he after various delays of this kind become involved in debt, and the patience of his creditors be completely worn out, he is summoned before the Consulado or chamber of commerce, and the court takes possession of his goods. After the usual forms have been passed through, notice is given to his creditors, and some kind of dividend is then made; but as to its amount in almost every case, the creditor finds himself at the mercy of his debtor.

Proceedings so dilatory, preclude that promptness and punctuality which is the very soul of business. Another impediment to commercial prosperity, will be found in that jealousy which still exists against the establishment of foreigners in the republic, a feeling which will only yield to a more correct knowledge of their true interests. To such an extent is this folly carried, that in the month of March 1827, a decree passed the legislative assembly almost unanimously, forbidding strangers to sell by retail in the capital, a law which if carried into force at the present day, would tend to the entire exclusion of every foreigner. Strong representations were made on the part of the consuls resident in the capital, and the decree did not receive the approbation of the senate. It was probably smothered by its friends, from a conviction that to carry it forward, would under existing circumstances be impolitic. The proposal however, and the unanimity with which it passed the assembly, clearly shows the current feeling upon this subject.

Whether Guatimala will ever attain to any very high pitch of prosperity as a nation, is perhaps doubtful. Its chief advantage consists in the variety of its productions, but on this the prosperity of a country never did or can depend. The lapse of many years, and the emigration from Europe of a more industrious population, would seem to be necessary, before its soil can be duly cultivated, or its agriculture in any considerable degree promoted.

  1. Omoa to Gualan by the Motagua, 15 to 20 days.
    Leagues Leagues
    Gualan to San Pablo 6 Guastatoya to Omoyta, 9
    San Pablo to Zacapa, 4 Omoyta to San José, 7
    Zacapa to Chimalapa, 10 San José to Guatimala, 7
    Chimalapa to Guatatoya, 9 52
  2. Omoa to mouth of River, 3 days.
    Ascent,3 days.
    Leagues Leagues
    Panchisquí to Chimaquín 9 Santa Rosa to Salama, 4
    Chimaquin to Tucuru, 5 Salama to La Vega, 6
    Tucuru to Taltic, 7 La Vega to Lodivoy, 5
    Taltic to Santa Rosa, 5 Lodivoy to Guatimala, 9
  3. Route to Acajutla Route to Istapa
    Leagues Leagues
    Guatimala to Los Arcos, 9 Guatimala to Amatitanm, 6
    Cuajaniquilapa, 6 San Christoval, 3
    Puente de los Esclavos, 1 Escuintla, 6
    Oratorio, 3 Mistan, 3
    Galpatagua, 6 Masagua, 1
    Rio de Paz, 5 Ipsanguasati, 4
    Aguachapa, 6 Naranjo, 2
    Apaneca, 5 Overo, 4
    Zonzonate, 9 Salinas Santa Rosa, 5
    Acajutla 5 Raudal, 2
    55 36