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Justo Rufino Barrios

BARRIOS, Justo Rufino Central American statesman, born in San Lorenzo, department of San Marcos, Guatemala, 17 July 1835; died in Chalchuapa, 2 April 1885. He was educated for the bar, being graduated in 1862; but during the revolutionary movements of 1867he gathered a band of mountaineers at Los Altos, near Quezalte-nango. Beginning in a small way, taking one town and another, though defeated several times and driven across the frontier into Mexico or forced to hide in his native mountains, he always came back with redoubled energy. In May 1871, General Miguel Garcia Granados joined him against the government of Vicente Cerna, and on 3 July they issued the "Plan de Patzicia." After the encounters in Tacana, Retalhulen, Chiche, Tierra Blanca, Cochin, and San Lucas, in which he showed great courage and military ability, Barrios entered the capital and put an end to the regime established by Carrera in 1840, called "the thirty years." General Garcia Granados filled the presidential office, and Barrios remained as chief of the army at Los Altos. But a revolution against the new government soon broke out, and Barrios defeated the insurgents in the battles of Cerro Gordo and Santa Rosa. On 11 December 1872, began another revolution headed by General Jose Maria Medina, president of Honduras, who intended to reinstate the reactionary party. The governments of Salvador and Guatemala effected a union, and General Garcia Granados left the capital, taking command of the army. Barrios was left in charge of the presidency, and at once decreed the freedom of the press (8 June) and the suppression of religious orders, after which Garcia Granados resumed his functions as president and Barrios continued his as chief of the army. A new revolution broke out in the east and was quelled by Barrios, who captured Melgar, Fuente, and other leading insurgents. On 8 May of that year the constituent assembly, instituted by Garcia Granados, proclaimed that Barrios was elected president for the first constitutional term. He entered office, 4 June 1873, and a month later there was another insurrection headed by Enrique Palacios, accompanied by other revolutionary movements in the mountain region; but in four weeks peace was reestablished, which lasted till 1876, when President Gonzalez, of Salvador, and President Leiva, of Honduras, co6perated with the reactionary party of Guatemala against Barrios. Gonzalez was deposed, and his successor, Andres Valle, in a conference held at Chingo, agreed to leave the questions at issue to be arranged by Dr. Marco Aurelio Soto with the aid of Salvador and Guatemala. Owing to the influence of Gonzalez the agreement was not fulfilled. Barrios went in person to attack Salvador, and after the battles of Platanar, Chalchuapa, Apanica, and Pasaquina, the Salvadorians, having resisted for two months without success, capitulated. In 1876 the national assembly approved the acts of Barrios. An attempt was made to assassinate him in 1877 while he was visiting at San Pedro Jacopilas, near the Mexican frontier. The conspirators called themselves the "society of death," and their purpose was to kill Barrios and several of his ministers, and even women and children; but the whole plot was discovered, 1 November 1877, and the chief instigators were shot. Another assembly met in Guatemala in 1879 and decreed (11 December) the first constitution of the republic, a very liberal one, which was put in operation 1 March 1880, and General Barrios was reelected for six years; but he declined, saying that power should not be too long in the hands of one man, that Guatemala needed new rulers not so tired as he was of public life and who could completely establish republican principles. The assembly, however, would not accept his refusal, and he was inaugurated. The boundary question with Mexico was again brought forward, and Barrios proposed the intervention of the United States in 1881. On seeing that Gonzalez, president of Mexico, insisted upon agitating the subject, Mr. Romero, Mexican minister at Washington, agreed to that proposal, leaving the final determination of limits between Mexico and Guatemala to the president of the United States. The negotiations were far advanced, conducted by Secretary Frelinghuysen and Ministers Romero and Montufar, when General Barrios came specially authorized by the assembly of Guatemala to settle the" question at issue; but some misunderstanding, chiefly between Barrios and Montufar, brought the negotiations to an end here, and the question was arranged in accordance with the original conditions, by which Guatemala ceded the Chiapas and Soconusco districts to Mexico. After traveling through the United States and in Europe, Barrios returned to Guatemala, and on 13 April 1884, there was another attempt to kill him, a bomb being exploded near him. On 28 February 1885, with the assent of the national assembly, his ministers, President Zaldivar, of Salvador, and President Bogran, of Honduras, General Barrios published his proclamation intended to effect the union of all the Central American nations in one republic, and on 6 March issued a decree with directions as to the way of effecting said union. The people and the army congratulated General Barrios and offered him their support, and the proclamation of the union produced universal joy. One week afterward confusion began, and troops were sent against Salvador; Barrios himself went to the front, but for several days no hostilities occurred. Salvador and Honduras had agreed to the union months before, while Costa Rica and Nicaragua held back from dread of Barrios. But Zaldivar, president of Salvador, now receded from his promises and revealed himself as the foe of Barrios and the union. Barrios did not begin the war until Zaldivar, made bold by the help he fancied Mexico would give him, ordered his troops to cross the frontier and attack the Guatemalan forces. Zaldivar was deceived as to assistance from the Mexicans. They protested against Barrios's tyrannical action in attempting to annex the other Central American states to Guatemala, but did nothing. When Barrios heard that General Diaz was opposed to a Central American union he said: "I want for my country the union that gives strength and leads to progress and prosperity. I made a revolution in 1871 to deliver my country from misery, oppression, and ignorance, and wish now to consummate the work of the immortal Morazan. I did not expect Diaz, who imbrued with blood the Mexican soil, to find fault with me as a revolutionist when I try to effect, peacefully if possible, the union of these small countries." The Salvador troops were speedily repelled, and Barrios entered the enemy's country and proceeded to attack Santa Ana, by that time garrisoned by about 7,000 men and defended by earthworks. The actual fighting began on 30 March the day when the Salvador troops crossed the frontier; but by 2 April Barrios had taken the fortress, and all Zaldivar's troops had fled into the interior. There was nothing now to prevent the Guatemalan troops from overrunning the whole of Salvador, and Honduras was already dispatching a force to join them. As they approached the village a timid officer was afraid to lead his regiment in first, dreading an ambuscade. Barrios accordingly put himself at their head and was the first to enter the streets. The main body of the garrison had fled, but some sharp-shooters were left in the Church-tower and on the roofs of the houses. A bullet from one of these struck Barrios down, and at the same moment his son was killed by his side. This happened at Chalchuapa between nine and ten in the morning. When the foremost Guatemalan troops saw Barrios fall they were seized with panic and fled, meeting the rest of the advancing army and throwing them too into confusion ; and though the officers fired among them to compel them to turn and advance again, the panic spread, and soon the whole army was in disordered flight and the greater part of it scattered. The day his body was brought into Guatemala all the road for miles out was lined with people, mostly of the lower classes, weeping and sorrowful. His widow left Guatemala directly after the funeral for New York, where Barrios owned a fine house in Fifth avenue. He had been for some time putting his money into American securities and mortgaging all his property in the country. His son, by a special act of congress, is a cadet at the U.S. military academy. No doubt some of Barrios's measures were harsh and at times even cruel, but they attained their end as no other measures could. His cruelties have been enormously exaggerated and the wildest tales have been invented about him; and in those cases where cruelty can be clearly proved it can generally be traced rather to his lieutenants than directly to himself. Still, he probably did not care to examine too closely into the manner in which his orders were carried out by his subordinates so long as his end was gained. He took the keenest interest in all that concerned his army, and his troops were better dressed, better equipped, and better disciplined than is usually the case in Spanish-American states. There were many barracks in the capital, most of them in the immediate neighborhood of his palace, and there were usually from three to four thousand troops in the city. He organized a system of militia throughout the country, so that every man was drilled except the pure Indians, and these local militia were called out once or twice a month for exercise and drill on Sunday mornings. By this means he had a force of from 20,000 to 30,000 men ready. He made the city of Guatemala one of the cleanest, pleasantest, and most habitable cities in Spanish America, and furnished it with a good and efficient police, bringing an inspector from New York to organize it. He sent men to the United States to study post-office and telegraph management, and reorganized those services thoroughly with the experience thus gained. Before Barrios's time there was no telegraph in Guatemala. He built the first railway in the country, and also began the northern railroad to establish communication with the Atlantic coast. In order to make this enterprise national he decreed that every Guatemalan earning over $8 a month must be a stockholder. He built safe bridges, made and improved many of the chief roads, and did innumerable things of the kind. He spoke no language but Spanish, but he fully appreciated the value of various kinds of knowledge in others. He took great interest in the Colleges and schools, and did much for education all over the country. One of his latest decrees was to the effect that no one should be admitted to practice as a lawyer or a doctor who had not passed a sufficient examination in English and French. He owned estates all over the country, cattle haciendas, coffee plantations, houses, and every sort of property worth having, and was proud of their condition, trying to set an example of proper cultivation and management to other people. He established the institutes of Quezaltenango and Chiquimula and a normal school department in that of the capital, founded the industrial and agriculture schools, built street railways in the city of Guatemala, a penitentiary in the capital and another in Quezal-tenango according to the modern system, and made many improvements in the national theatre and other public buildings. Personally he was a man of simple tastes and habits, rising early, dining simply, and living in most respects like a soldier. His extravagances were in horses and estates. He was of mixed Spanish and Indian blood, and the Indian rather predominated in his countenance. He was short, with dark complexion.

Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM

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