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Phantoms of modernity: the 1894 anarchist furor in the making of modern Guatemala City


Following a spate of anarchist bombings and assassinations in Europe, the gente decente of Guatemala City began to describe local events using the language of anarchism. The 1894 anarchist furor spoke to two tendencies that had shaped Guatemala City since the 1870s. The first was the cosmopolitan desire of the gente decente. Facilitated by cosmopolitan bridge figures, trends and fashions from Europe and especially Paris shaped the cultural lexicon of Guatemala City's elite. Secondly, the anarchist furor reflected the misgivings of the gente decente toward urban disorder and malcontents as they conflated anarchism and anarchy.

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1 ‘Alcance al número 48’, El Guatemalteco, 12 Jul. 1894, 1.

2 Gente decente describes residents of the capital who shared a common bourgeois culture. These people included merchants, the urban oligarchy, state officials and middle-class professionals like lawyers and doctors. While they often engaged in personal and professional feuding, they shared faith in progress. See French, W.E., A Peaceful and Working People: Manners, Morals, and Class Formation in Northern Mexico (Albuquerque, 1996). In Guatemala City during the late nineteenth century, the boundaries that distinguished the bourgeoisie, press and state were often obscured. Newspaper editors were often public officials who held other financial interests in the city. Editor of Diario de Centro-América in 1894, for example, was Francisco Lainfiesta who owned a printing house, had been a presidential candidate and served as a high-ranking civil servant. The bourgeoisie will be used here to refer to individuals involved in the circulation of commodities and capital, whether owners of merchant houses, financial institutions or businesses. The state will refer primarily to the national government and its officials. It will be distinguished from the Municipality. The press consists of the editors and journalists of official, semi-official and independent print publications.

3 See Memoria de Policía, 1894 (Guatemala, 1895) for example. The only work about anarchism in Guatemala City comes from Arriola, A. Taracena, ‘Presencia anarquista en Guatemala entre 1920 y 1932’, Mesoamérica, 15 (1988), 123 . Taracena speculates that there must have been anarchists in Guatemala City since the late nineteenth century. No evidence is produced, however. It appears likely, then, that if anarchists existed in the 1890s, they were few in numbers and marginalized.

4 The idea of cosmopolitan desire comes from Siskind, M., Cosmopolitan Desires: Global Modernity and World Literature in Latin America (Evanston, 2014).

5 In a similar regard, T.J.J. Lears has written about the ambivalence of men-of-letters in the Progressive Era United States and how they reconciled themselves to the changes of modernization by romanticizing anti-modern cultural practices. See No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880–1920 (New York, 1981).

6 For example, see Morelet, A., Travels in Central America (New York, 1871).

7 For histories of Guatemala City, see Gellert, G., Ciudad de Guatemala: factores determinantes en su desarrollo urbano (Guatemala, 1995); Almengor, O. Peláez, El pequeño Paris (Guatemala, 2008); Carey, D. Jr, I Ask for Justice: Maya Women, Dictators, and Crime in Guatemala, 1898–1944 (Austin, 2013); and Way, J.T., The Mayan in the Mall: Globalization, Development, and the Making of Modern Guatemala (Durham, NC, 2012). For an account of more recent conditions in Guatemala City, see O'Neill, K.L. and Thomas, K. (eds.), Securing the City: Neoliberalism, Space, and Insecurity in Postwar Guatemala (Durham, NC, 2011); and Levenson, D., Adíos Niño: The Gangs of Guatemala City and the Politics of Death (Durham, NC, 2013).

8 Histories of anarchists in Latin America have considered their organizing and responses of the state whether through persecution or by depriving organizers of finances for their presses. See Shaffer, K.R., ‘Havana hub: Cuban anarchism, radical media, and the trans-Caribbean anarchist network, 1902–1925’, Caribbean Studies, 37 (2009), 4581 ; and Simon, S.F.’s classic ‘Anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism in South America’, Hispanic American Historical Review, 26 (1946), 3859 .

9 Craib, R.B., ‘Students, anarchists and categories of persecution in Chile, 1920’, A Contracorriente, 8 (2010), 2260 .

10 Similar to what William French calls the población flotante. French, A Peaceful and Working People, 3.

11 Urban historians in Latin America have said plenty about crime and how urban elites conceived of the urban poor of their cities. Pablo Piccato's City of Suspects examines the criminalization of the Mexican urban poor in the interests of progress. James Garza's work analyses how city officials during the Porfiriato invented a criminal underbelly that reinforced their class positions and urbane predilections. More recent historiographical trends in regional urban history continue to discuss criminality but within the context of material culture. To this end, Steven Bunker looks at the modernization of crime and its gendered dynamics. See Piccato, P., City of Suspects: Crime in Mexico City, 1900–1931 (Durham, NC, 2001); Garza, J., The Imagined Underworld: Sex, Crime, and Vice in Porfirian Mexico City (Lincoln, NB, 2007); and Bunker, S., Creating Mexican Consumer Culture in the Age of Porfirio Díaz (Albuquerque, 2012).

12 Siskind, Cosmopolitan Desires, 8.

13 I borrow the idea of ‘bridge figures’ from Robcis, C., The Law of Kinship: Anthropology, Psychoanalysis, and the Family in France (Ithaca, 2013), 6 .

14 By the 1890s, the population had risen to 72,000. Censo General de la República de Guatemala (Guatemala, 1894), 12.

15 Morelet, Travels, 406.

16 Beckman, E., Capital Fictions: The Literature of Latin America's Export Age (Minneapolis, 2013).

17 Bulmer-Thomas, V., The Economic History of Latin America since Independence, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 2003), 58 .

18 Ejidos refer to community lands. Memoria de la Municipalidad de Guatemala, 1876 (Guatemala, 1877), 16.

19 Ibid ., 15–16.

20 Ibid ., 7–8.

21 Marx, K. and Engels, F., The Communist Manifesto (London, 1967), 84 .

22 Contract Number Four from 28 May 1892. Memoria de Fomento, 1893 (Guatemala, 1893), 9–11.

23 Archivo General de Centro América (AGCA), signatura B, legajo 14847, expiente 311.

24 See AGCA, sig. B, leg. 21613, exp. 144 and sig. B, leg. 21613, exp. 145.

25 ‘La Ciudad de París’, Diario de Centro-América, 15 Feb. 1894, 1–2.

26 ‘El Portal Pedro de Aycinena’, La República, 16 Mar. 1894, 2.

27 See Benjamin, W., The Arcades Project (Cambridge, 2002); Buck-Morss, S., The Dialectic of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (Cambridge, 1991); and Williams, R.H., Dream Worlds: Mass Consumption in Late Nineteenth-Century France (Berkeley, 1982).

28 Benjamin, W., ‘Paris, capital of the nineteenth century’, Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (New York, 1978).

29 Tenorio-Trillo, M., Mexico at the World's Fair (Berkeley, 1996).

30 Memoria de Fomento, 1890 (Guatemala, 1890), 10–11.

31 Ibid ., 10–11.

32 Barco, F.L. Morales, Cantón de la Exposición: Zona 4 (Guatemala, 2006).

33 Recopilación de las leyes, 1892–93, vol. XI (Guatemala, 1894), 86.

34 AGCA, sig. B, leg. 28871, exp. 1802, fol. 3.

35 ‘Ensanche y embellecimiento de la capital’, La Nueva Era, 7 May 1894, 1.

36 For an examination of the urban renovation of Paris, see Harvey, D., Paris, Capital of Modernity (New York, 2006).

37 AGCA, sig. B, leg. 14793, exp. 222.

38 El Progreso Nacional, 19. The date of this issue is unclear because the cover page was missing; however, based on the page number in the newspaper collection, it was from the summer of 1894.

39 Merriman, J.M., The Dynamite Club: How a Bombing in Fin-de-siècle Paris Ignited the Age of Modern Terror (New York, 2009).

40 ‘Sadi Carnot asesinado’, La Nueva Era, 26 Jun. 1894, 1; ‘Francisco Sadi Carnot’, La República, 27 Jun. 1894, 1; Diario de Centro-América, 26 Jun. 1894, 1.

41 A.M., ‘Decapitación de Vaillant’, Diario de Centro-América, 9 Feb. 1894, 1; ‘El testamento del anarquista Vaillant’, Diario de Centro-América, 9 Mar. 1894, 1; ‘El asesino Santo condenado á muerte’, La Nueva Era, 7 Aug. 1894, 1; and ‘Ejecución del asesino del Presidente de Francia’, La República, 17 Aug. 1894, 1.

42 V. Acosta, ‘Anarquía’, Diario de Centro-América, 10 Mar. 1894, 1.

43 ‘Consecuencias de la Anarquía’, La Nueva Era, 23 Jun. 1896, 1.

44 The article was carried from the London weekly Tit-Bits. ‘Anarquistas microbiológicos’, Diario de Centro-América, 7 Aug. 1894, 1–2.

45 F. Torres, ‘Carnot y los anarquistas’, El Ferrocarril, 28 Jun. 1894, 1.

46 ‘El asesino Santo condenado á muerte’, La Nueva Era, 7 Aug. 1894, 1.

47 The most thorough biography of the Guatemalan is Espínosa, E. Torres’s Enrique Gómez Carrillo: El cronista errante (Guatemala, 2007). Also see Rama, J., Divergent Modernities: Culture and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Latin America (Durham, NC, 2001); and Siskind, Cosmopolitan Desires.

48 Carrillo, E. Gómez, Almas y cerebros: historias sentimentales, intimidates parisienses, etc. (Paris, 1898).

49 Siskind, Cosmopolitan Desires, 154.

50 E. Gómez Carrillo, ‘Crónicas Parisienses’, Diario de Centro-América, 7 Feb. 1894, 1.

51 Ibid ., 13 Apr. 1894, 1.

52 Ibid ., 1 Dec. 1894, 1.

53 Ibid ., 7 Feb. 1894, 1.

54 ‘¡Los Anarquistas!’ La República, 10 May 1894, 2.

55 ‘Los cigarros explosivas’, La República, 30 May 1894, 1.

56 ‘Anarquistas’, Diario de Centro-América, 21 Jul. 1894, 2.

57 La República, 5 Jul. 1894, 2. As will become clear, Herrera was tied to the anarchist furor in other ways.

58 ‘Revolución!’ La Nueva Era, 19 Jul. 1894, 2.

59 Colección Valenzuela, Biblioteca Nacional de Guatemala, [Hojas Sueltas no. 1988, year 1895–96], ‘Sensible Suceso’, Jul. 1894.

60 ‘Asalto en despoblado’, La Nueva Era, 14 Jul. 1894, 1.

61 See ‘Sensible Suceso’ and ‘Anarquismo’, Diario de Centro-América, 14 Jul. 1894, 1.

62 See ‘Definición del anarquismo’, La República, 21 Jun. 1894, 2; and ‘Lo que es el anarquismo’, Diario de Centro-América, 27 Oct. 1894, 1.

63 ‘El anarquismo y la libertad’, Diario de Centro-América, 22 Feb. 1894, 1.

64 Larrave, M. López, Breve historia del movimiento sindical guatemalteco (Guatemala, 1979), 9 .

65 Secretaria de Gobernación y Justicia, ‘Estatutos de la Sociedad de Artesanos “El Porvenir de los Obreros”’ (Guatemala, 1894).

66 See ‘Sociedad “El Porvenir de los Obreros”’, Jan. 1897, Colección Valenzuela, Biblioteca Nacional de Guatemala [Hojas Sueltas no. 1989, year 1897], 1 and ‘La Exposición’, El Porvenir de los Obreros, 15 Mar. 1897, 1–2.

67 Bernardo Argueta had also been a founding member of the Future of the Workers. See Arriola, A. Taracena and Monteflores, O.L., Diccionarios biográfico del movimiento obrero urbano de Guatemala, 1877–1944 (Guatemala, 2104), 58–9.

68 See issue one for example. La Voz del Obrero, 30 Jun. 1894, 1–4.

69 Memoria de Gobernación y Justicia, 1888 (Guatemala, 1888), 42.

70 Palace of Executive Power, 24 Sep. 1888, Recopilación de las leyes, 1888, vol. VII (Guatemala, 1888), 237–8.

71 See McCreery, D., Rural Guatemala: 1760–1940 (Stanford, 1994); and McCreery, D., The Sweat of their Brow: A History of Work in Latin America (Armonk, NY, 2000).

72 Jáuregui, A. Batres, Indios: su historia y su civilización (Guatemala, 1894).

73 See Decreto Num. 471, and Decreto Num. 486, Recopilación de las leyes, 1893–94, vol. XII (Guatemala, 1895), 198–200 and 660–8.

74 ‘¿Fué de veras?’, La República, 3 Jul. 1894, 1.

75 ‘Ociosidad y Vagancia’, El Ferrocarril, 17 Aug. 1894, 1.

76 See El Ferrocarril, 19 Sep. 1894, 2; and ‘Vagos’, El Ferrocarril, 28 Mar. 1894, 3.

77 F.J. Torres, ‘La embriaguez’, Diario de Centro-América, 6 Apr. 1894, 2.

78 The Guatemalan capital was relocated in the eighteenth century from what is now Antigua Guatemala to its current location following a series of earthquakes. As part of the transfer of the capital city, several indigenous towns that surrounded the old capital were also transplanted to provide labour for the new capital. Some of the communities that surrounded the new capital shared names with towns that continue to exist outside Antigua Guatemala like Jocotenango and Ciudad Vieja.

79 Memoria de Fomento, 1988 (Guatemala, 1988), 36–7.

80 Memoria de Gobernación y Justicia, 1893 (Guatemala, 1893), 17–18.

81 See, for example, La República, 19 Jul. 1894, 1.

82 AGCA, sig. B, leg. 28869, exp. 1143, fol. 1.

83 AGCA, sig. B, leg. 28869, exp. 1137–9.

84 Catón, ‘Criminalidad’, La Nueva Era, 20 Aug. 1894, 1.

85 ‘Tentativa de robo’, Diario de Centro-América, 5 Jul. 1894, 1.

86 El Libro Azul de Guatemala (Guatemala, 1915), 329.

87 AGCA, Criminal, Indice 31, 1894, 65H, exp. 52.

88 ‘Un gran incendio’, Diario de Centro-América, 30 Mar. 1894, 1.

89 He also used headlines that read ‘Horrific fire’ to draw the attention of viewers to his ads. See ‘Horroroso incendio’, Diario de Centro-América, 1 May 1894, 2.

90 AGCA, Criminal, Indice 31, 1894, 65E, exp. 2329.

91 ‘Horroroso incendio’, La República, 30 Mar. 1894, 1; ‘Un gran incendio’, Diario de Centro-América, 30 Mar. 1894, 1.

92 ‘Lo que se proponen los anarquistas’, La República, 25 Jan. 1894, 2.

93 Memoria de la Municipalidad. 1894 (Guatemala, 1895), 20–2.

94 ‘Anarquismo sui generis’, La República, 27 Jan. 1894, 1.

95 ‘¿Anarquismo?’, La República, 14 Mar. 1894, 1.

96 La República, 6 Jul. 1894, 1.

97 El Ferrocarril, 4 Jul. 1894, 1.

98 AGCA, sig. B, leg. 28872, exp. 1991, fol. 1.

99 El Ferrocarril, 7 Jul. 1894, 1

100 At various times historically both during the colonial era and after independence from Spain, Central America had existed as a single administrative unit. After the formal dissolution of the Federal Republic of Central America in 1841, various movements formed to reunite the isthmus. The Unionist Movement and, later, the Unionist Party exercised great influence in different parts of Central America, especially Guatemala by the early twentieth century.

101 Mendieta, S., La enfermedad de Centro-América, vol. II: Diagnóstico y orígenes de la dolencia (Mallorca, 1972), 304–6.

102 El Ferrocarril, 11 Jul. 1894, 3.

103 La Nueva Era, 6 Jul. 1894, 1.

104 It was then republished in El Ferrocarril, 12 Jul. 1894, 4.

105 Cirilo Flores was a Guatemalan politician who was assassinated by religious zealots in the 1820s.

106 ‘El diario ofical’ [sic], Diario de Centro-América, 12 Jul. 1894, 1.

107 ‘Esperanzas’, Diario de Centro-América, 9 Aug. 1894, 1.

108 ‘Cargos Graves’, La República, 12 Jul. 1894, 1.

109 ‘El Instituto Nacional Central’, La Voz del Obrero, 22 Jul. 1894, 2–3.

110 ‘¿Quare causan mieditis’, La Voz del Obrero, 22 Jul. 1894, 3.

111 ‘Francia de luto’, La República, 26 Jun. 1894, 1.

* The author thanks Jim Handy, Kelly Butler, Kurt Korneski, Robbie Scott, Alejandra Marisol González Ramírez, Robert Lewis and the anonymous reviewers for their assistance and constructive feedback.

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