Full text translation of the Inaugural Lecture delivered by the author
at Universidad Francisco Marroquín on January 13th, 1992.
It is said that there are three motives that encourage someone to give a lecture
with pleasure: a large audience, a special occasion, and an attractive topic.
Some would add a fourth element, namely a good fee, but since it is impolite to
mention pecuniary matters from the podium, those who write on these matters
prefer to remain silent on this issue, citing only the first three.
And to tell the truth, today these three conditions are indeed present. First,
a tightly packed audience, composed of those who begin their higher studies in
this institution, as well as those who have decided to renew their commitment
with knowledge. Secondly, the fact that our University marks its coming of
age, celebrating this year its twentieth anniversary. And third, the fact that the
topic chosen for the inaugural lecture of the 1992 session is Francisco
Marroquín himself, an individual towards whom I feel deeply devoted. Allow
me then, above all, to express how honored and pleased I feel for this very
special invitation, and how obliged I feel towards the authorities of the
University, who have arranged for audience, occasion and subject matter to
coincide so happily on this date.
I hurry to add, however, for your relief, that the purpose of my lecture
today is neither to instruct nor to propose a learned thesis of the kind that
customarily provokes flight or yawns, but to tell you a story and direct your
feelings and affections towards an exemplary man, whose greatness of spirit
would make him one of the key figures in Guatemalan history. My credentials,
all told, are not many. I am not a historian, though I am much interested in
history, and the only arguments that I could adduce in order to speak with
certain authority about Francisco Marroquín are the facts that we were both
named Francisco, that we were born in very nearby towns, and that both he (for
33 years) and I (for 29) would make of this country our second homeland.
Yet if these be not sufficient title, I do believe I understand, however, the
mechanism by which a man becomes rooted in a foreign land and comes to
love it to the point of making it his own. And it is precisely this element which
authorizes me to approach Francisco Marroquín with a feeling of sharing with
him that intimate and vital journey that allowed him to make of Guatemala, as
the Spanish saying goes, "his nature, his destiny, and his grave" (su natura, su
ventura y su sepultura).
But let us open the doors of history, and cross the ocean together, in order
to take a bird's eye view of the setting, the country and the time into which
were born the boy that, with time, would become the first bishop from
America, founder of Santiago de los Caballeros, and founding father of
A King, an Empire and a Sword
Towards the end of the 15th century, Spain was, in the European context, a
remote and distant country that in its westernmost end featured a cape with the
name of Finisterre, i.e., the end of the Earth. A few years later, however, a
Spanish chronicler wrote these words: "We have passed from being at the end
of the world to being the center of the Universe." This was not just an
expression of traditional Spanish pride, but an undeniable geographical reality.
The world had suddenly doubled, generating a political, scientific, economic,
cultural and demographic commotion of colossal proportions. The Iberian
peninsula was now almost halfway between Jerusalem and Havana, and an epic
legend of con- quests, new lands, paradises, and fabulous treasures spread
throughout the Old World.
During the first quarter of the 16th century, the years in which Machiavelli
published The Prince and Erasmus his In Praise of Folly, Cortés conquers the
Aztec empire, Alvarado subdues the territory of the Maya, Balboa discovers
the Pacific, and Juan Sebastián Elcano proves that the Earth is not flat, but
round. Influenced by books of chivalry, the conquistadors search for the
Fountain of Eternal Youth in Florida, for the legendary Eldorado in Amazonia,
for the Seven Cities of Cíbola in New Mexico, and for the mythical Queen
Calafia in a place they will name California.
Europe, on the other hand, has serious problems. Luther has rebelled
against the Pope and has sparked religious war. The young king of Spain,
Charles V, heir to the empire of the Ceasars, tries to unite Christendom in a
war that extends throughout France, Italy, Germany and the Low Countries.
But the Roman Empire and the Catholic faith also face dangers from the East.
The Turks have reached Budapest and have even set siege to Vienna. In short,
both infidel and heretic, to use the language of the time, threaten to destroy
more than a thousand years of cultural and political hegemony shared until
then by the countries of the Mediterranean basin.
In the social sphere, feudal structures have begun to collapse and a new
form of power, centered in the king rather than dispersed among lords and
nobles, consolidates in Spain. In 1521 Charles V defeats the rebellious
Castilian communities and suppresses their desire for autonomy. From then
on, all power will be in the hands of the king and his ministers. A famous
sonnet of the time, dedicated to the Emperor, reflected that ecumenical and
unifying effort in these terms: "The time is near, oh Lord, or is already here, /
that glorious age promised by heaven ... / which announces to the world for
greater joy, / one king, one empire, and one sword ."
In a little over 25 years, a remote and small country (only 9 million people,
the current population of Guatemala), has be- come the most powerful nation
in the world. Sevilla is now the capital of Europe and of the Indies. A flow of
glittering wealth reaches Europe from overseas. The Spaniard of that century
acquires, unexpectedly, a universal conscience, and the Peninsula's youth
abandon villages and townships, with sword and cross in hand, in a quest for
gold and glory, singing songs like this one: "Mi pueblo, mi natura, / España,
mi ventura, / y el mundo, mi sepultura."
A Different Humanism
Immersed in this milieu, a young man grows up named Francisco
Marroquín, born in the year 1499 in the province of Santander, in northern
Spain, of noble and landed family. After completing his ecclesiastical studies
and taking priestly vows, Marroquín studied at the University of Huesca,
where he graduated with the degree of licenciado in theology and philosophy.
Some years later, he was appointed professor at the University of Osma, where
he met García de Loaísa, bishop of that city, confessor and personal advisor to
the Emperor, and president of the Consejo de Indias. Marroquín soon attracted
the attention of the bishop, who invited him to join his group of advisers
and preachers, which also included the Fran-ciscan Juan de Zumárraga, with
whom Marroquín soon formed a deep friendship.
At the early age of 27, then, the young scholar finds himself in an
exceptional position that will enable him to influence the events of this time.
Marroquín will travel in those years to Burgos, Toledo, Madrid and Aranjuez,
accompanying Loaísa and Zumárraga in their visits to the Emperor. He will
also be present at the capitulaciones or negotiations that two famous
conquistadors, Hernán Cortés and Pedro de Alvarado, hold with Charles V.
Everything seems to indicate that the Court will be the stage for the young
man's future career. But his values and his calling point in another direction.
Marroquín, like Zumárraga and many other humanists of their time, belongs to
a reno-vating movement forged in the Spanish universities, where a strange
idea, an unusual thought for their time, has arisen that questions the right of the
conquistadors to wage war on the Indians, as well as their right to enslave the
conquered peoples. All men, affirm the followers of this school of thought, are
equal before God and under the law, and no society can call itself just unless it
is based on the free exercise of human will.
The humanists of Salamanca, Valladolid, and Alcalá de Henares have
created for the Emperor a problem of cons- cience. Injustice prevails in the
Indies, they state. And they demand for the natives liberty, equality and
fraternity, centuries before the French revolutionaries. But in contrast to
European humanism, which developed in the form of abstract reflections,
Spanish humanism will be put to practice in a land plagued with thorns and
blood, the New World, and on a humiliated and offended man, the American
Indian. The ultimate end of these humanists and theologians is to bring to this
concrete man the Christian faith, law, justice, and that which at the time was
known in Spain as "derecho de gentes," a legal principle inherited from the
Roman Law, which recognized, in all men, equal prerogatives and attributes.
These ideas, acquired during his university stage, will mark the life and the
work of Francisco Marroquín. Every intellectual movement, however, tends to
march ahead of history, and the clash between the one and the other tends to
create conflicts that, in turn, beget realities not always in tune with the ideal
from which they were conceived. The drama that this young man will soon
experience will be that of carrying to practice humanistic and humanitarian
ideas in a world where deeds collide with the law, liberty collides with slavery,
equality collides with injustice, and fraternity collides with rejection.
A Missionary's Fervor
In 1527, Juan de Zumárraga, who has been ordered to Mexico as a member
of the Audiencia, invites Marroquín to travel with him to the New World.
Zumárraga, aged 53, who later became bishop of Mexico, founded their
University and sponsored the first printing press on this continent, belonged to
this Pleiades of humanists that I have referred to. For him, Christianity is not
supposed to remain hidden among the theologians, since faith "is better shown
in good living than in good arguments." And he wanted Marroquín at his side
in the task of imparting justice in the Audiencia of New Spain, the name by
which Mexico was then known, because he had seen in the young man an
inclination to act rather than to speculate about the sex of the angels or the
number of them that fit on the head of a pin.
For Marroquín, however, it is not easy to leave Spain, nor to leave his
position of adviser to the president of the Consejo de Indias, the highest royal
authority in the administration of the overseas territories. His future looks to be
both comfortable and brilliant. He has lost nothing in America. Nonetheless,
Marroquín accepts the challenge. And the motive seems to us today quite
transparent. For this young scholar, the propagation of the faith is much more
important than his own ecclesiastical career.
However, to better understand his decision, it is necessary to return for
some instants to our own time, so abundant in idealisms, and remember, for
example, what Marxist internationalism has meant over the last 75 years. Only
yesterday, millions of young people embraced this cause with the purpose of
uniting with the workers of the world and carrying social revolution to all
corners of the globe. Well, then, once we make the necessary qualifications and
distinctions, the fervor of the Spanish missionaries of the 16th century does not
differ much from that of many young people in our own days. Uniting all men
under the sign of the Christian faith was an exciting and generous ideal that,
for the missionaries, softened the blow of having to give up their nature and
their own happiness in order to make the world their grave.
Such are, in my judgment, the motives that induce Marroquín to leave
Spain in the year 1527, and travel with Zumárraga to Mexico. The Franciscan's
influence on the young man will always be a close and decisive one, although
not from nearby, since shortly after arriving in the capital of New Spain, an
event took place that would alter Marroquín's destiny. Pedro de Alvarado is
also in Mexico, where his life path crosses that of Zumárraga's young assistant.
How that cruel, ambitious and arrogant soldier managed to persuade
Marroquín to leave the Mexican Audiencia in order to become a mere priest in
the city of Santiago, in the valley of Almolonga (today Ciudad Vieja), is
something that cannot be explained but for two reasons. One, Alvarado's
attractive personality and way with words-the chronicler Gómara described
him as an "outspoken, witty, and very talkative man." The other reason has to
do with Marroquín's character and vocation. Once again, full of faith and
ideals, he found himself having to choose between remaining in the security of
a position of importance, as ecclesiastical judge under the orders of Zumárraga,
or descending to the position of mere priest in an unknown and isolated
territory. And to judge from his decision to follow Alvarado to Guatemala we
can only conclude that his sense of mission prevailed over the advan- tages and
possibilities that a brilliant ecclesiastical career might have offered.
Guatemala, his Nature
To Marroquín, Guatemala must have seemed an ideal place to put in
practice his humanistic ideas and build a new society and a new man. And if
we stay clear of contemporary prejudices, born of worn out ideologies-like
statements to the effect that Christianity was an instrument of Spanish
domination-and if we think of Christian humanism as an ideal of liberty,
justice and harmony between men of good will, we will come closer to
understanding the yearnings that inspired the young priest.
Little could he foresee the monumental task that awaited him, nor that two
dissimilar personalities, Alvarado and him- self, would for almost fourteen
years play the leading roles in a conflict between caudillismo and civil
organization, between liberty and slavery, between justice and iniquity,
between feu- dalism and the Modern Age. Alvarado embodied the medieval
tradition, that is, the exercise of unrestricted power, like any other feudal lord,
with an authority above that of Cabildos and royal officials. Marroquín, on the
other hand, represented the modern mentality that centers the laws, legal
violence and jus- tice in the State.
History does not register open confrontations between these two men,
perhaps because, in the words of Fuentes y Guzmán, "the meekness of the
bishop seasoned everything." Marroquín was a wise and discreet man who
knew when to yield and when to stand firm, a talent exhibited by everyone who
knows that confrontation is often useless. Old Cuauhctemallán, whose borders
and boundaries had not yet been fixed, would be a witness to this conflict. But
I am quite sure that, deep down, that inexperienced youth must have thougth of
Alvarado that which the French poet Louis Aragon would write centuries later
about tyrants: "Oh, you that manufacture deaths / you will not always be the
This modern and contemporary attitude of seeking compromise without
yielding on principle would be adopted by Marroquín in order to face the
transition between the feudal and vio- lent world of Alvarado and the modern
ideas of which he was harbinger. Thus, on April 18, 1530, both leave for
Guatemala, and a month and a half later, they arrive in Santiago, today Ciudad
Vieja, on the skirts of Agua Volcano.
Founded scarcely two years before, November 22, 1527, Santiago de los
Caballeros is still an unfinished city. Nor is Guatemala a country in today's
terms, but rather a group of small divided territories that Alvarado, after a
bloody war, is trying to consolidate into a geographical and political unit. The
Old Age in America is dying, giving way to a New Age, whose identity will be
defined by the difficult symbiosis of two cultures and two different races.
The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano has said that "America was not
discovered in 1492, because those who invaded her could not or would not see
her." And it is true that, in many cases, this assertion is valid. But not in the
case of our young scholar, nor in that of many others like him. Marroquín will
soon discover that this place is very close to his nature, since his native land,
Santander, is also a rough, moun- tainous, and wooded region. Thus, the
telluric factor would become for him more of a bond than an obstacle.
Marroquín, then, not only saw Guatemala from the first day; he also felt her
and loved her to his dying moment. And for 33 years, the natural beauty of this
land would go on penetrating his spirit, creating within him that sense of
rootedness that territory tends to infuse in men.
Clashing with Reality
But if the beauty of the place and its mild and healthy climate attracted him,
the same could not be said of the terrible human drama unfolding before his
very eyes. Santiago de los Caballeros is a place without God, without King,
and without law. The servitude of the Indian, through the system of the
encomienda, as well as slavery, in its most iniquitous forms, dominate the life
of the territory. Law and justice are practically non-existent. To say nothing of
Christianity, which, in that vile environment, is a mockery of faith itself. And
as if this were not enough, the Indians not subject to menial work must pay the
encomenderos a heavy tribute for being educated in the Christian doctrine.
This is the world to which arrives a young academic that has passed a good
part of his life participating in an intellectual debate quite unrelated to the
reality that is lived in the Indies. And it is not hard to imagine the shock and
pain of the just man upon facing such a scene. Guatemala was almost a military
camp, governed by an arbitrary captain, where one could still smell the odor of
gunpowder and blood. Alvarado, an old-style caudillo, was no different in his
methods from other, modern-style caudillos, and his ideas of political unity and
coexistence included oppression and tyranny as deterrents. In such a situation,
what sense did it make to speak of liberty where lordship was the right of the
victor and servitude the duty of the van- quished? How to infuse the principles
of equality and fraternity in a world where rejection of the other race was
common practice? And what shall we say of justice, where abuses and crimes
were committed with utmost impunity? What could an inexperienced youth
like Marroquín do, facing a troop of men hardened by ambition and war?
In view of our own present conditions, which are in no small measure a
transcript of the past, one might say very little. Fortunately, Marroquín was
not a preacher nor a theologian of the cell. Thus, he concentrates more on what
he can do than on what, according to others, should be done. For him, the
moral sermon is not enough. Instead, it is necessary to act at once to gain wider
areas of liberty and justice for the Indians. And so, with a realism somewhat
inappropriate for his age, Marroquín begins to slowly perforate the walls of a
community closed to the laws and to mercy.
A few days after his arrival, Marroquín swears before the Cabildo to the
duties of his office, which carries a yearly salary of 150 pesos-a salary which
he will never collect because the Cabildo does not have the wherewithal to pay
it. The fact is that in Santiago not only are liberty and justice scarce, but so are
essential goods such as bread, oil, and clothing. But Marroquín does not lose
heart. Infused with missionary zeal, he visits, one by one, the villages and
encomiendas of his pro- vince, with a little traveling bag, two shirts, a breviary,
and an Indian to serve as his guide along unfamiliar roads.
Very few concern themselves with the comings and goings of that lone
clergyman, who eats only toasted corn, three times a day, seasoned
occasionally with chichicaste roots. Marro- quín, however, is not only
spreading the Gospel. He is also making a survey, as we would say nowadays.
In each place he visits, he records the number of subjected Indians, as well as
the tributes they pay. Only he knows the purpose of that sur- vey, which he will
one day use as a weapon of liberation.
First Bishop from America
The harshness and fatigue of those first years, however, will not show in
any of his letters. Nor will they show regret. On the contrary, everything
Marroquín does is illuminated by the perspective of a new society and a new
man. These are years in which the young scholar perceives that nascent
society, where everything that needs to be done is good, and everything he
builds and raises is marked by the sign of permanence.
But legal and moral progress is slow, and cruelty and injustices are
unceasing. Guatemala is still a hell, but the presence of Marrroquín has begun
to create new attitudes and new moral imperatives among encomenderos and
soldiers. His efforts will be rewarded two years later, when the Emperor
Charles V requests Pope Paul III to appoint Marroquín, "a learned and worthy
person," Bishop of Santiago. At the early age of 32, he becomes, not only the
youngest bishop in the Indies, but the first prelate consecrated in America.
Such an honor, in a man of his age, might have gone to his head, might
have made him try to further his ecclesiastical career, or seek another place
where his talents might be more appreciated. But Marroquín was no migrating
bird. Now, with more power and influence than ever, he is more than willing to
expend his energies for the good of his diocese. Marroquín wants to make
Guatemala his homeland, since, for him, home- land is not only the land where
one's parents were born, but also the land where one's children are born. And
they will all be his children: Indian, mestizo, and white. Guatemala will be a
land for creation and procreation, a land from which will sprout liberty and
justice, a land to endow, in short, with the human dignity that it deserves.
Beyond the selfishness and greed of conquistadors, offi- cials and colonists,
who only see in Guatemala a place to plunder and seek fortune, Marroquín has
seen a new society. And his letters to the Emperor confirm this purpose. But
this is also confirmed by an anecdote, whose place in history is often as
important (if not more so) than the big events. One day, when Marroquín was
busy planning the new cathedral, Alvarado approached him to criticize what, in
his judgment, was an excessively large temple. "Why, and for how many
people-said Alvarado-does your Excellency want so big a Church?" To
which Marroquín, with prophetic vision, replied: "One day, Sire, it will not be
big enough, though neither you nor I will see it."
The bishop's dream would suffer, however, countless frustrations,
especially once he realized that Alvarado's plans differed from his own, and
that Santiago was for the soldier from Extremadura merely a center for military
operations: a place from which to plan, equip and supply new explorations.
Thus, in January of 1534, Alvarado begins to arm a fleet in the harbor of Iztapa
with the purpose of traveling to Peru, from which he has received news that an
empire full of fabulous treasures, the Empire of the Incas, has been discovered.
Marroquín's disappointment upon learning of Alvarado's lack of interest in
peopling the country could not be greater. According to estimates by the
historian García Peláez, the citizens of Santiago in those days numbered 650.
Of those, Alvarado carried off to Peru 450. If to this we add 2,000 auxiliary
Indians, we can understand the depressive effect caused by such a population
Marroquín takes then his pen and writes a letter to the Audiencia of
Mexico, the first that we know of, where he states the need that the province
has of a stable governor, "one that will bring his wife here, one willing to settle
in this land, knowing that he will not leave here for the rest of his life." In the
hardness of this phrase we can glimpse the spirit and the political thought of
Marroquín, as well as his rejection of those who "plan to leave tomorrow and
so treat this land like some- thing that will not last them long."
This would not be the last time that the young bishop would express
himself in that manner. All through his life, the bishop would criticize soldiers,
officials, fortune seekers, even members of religious orders, for their
indifference to the land. "It would be a very good thing-he wrote in another
letter- for those of us in these parts to lose all hope of returning to live and
die in Castile," since where the land has been gene-rous to man, "it is only fair
that [he] live and die [there]." For Marroquín, it is indispensable that the
people become "planted," in the botanical sense of the term, that they toss roots
here and bear fruit, and make of this land their nature and their grave.
Guatemala could not be a provisional camp-a frontier territory from which to
set out on new projects and conquests-but a permanent homeland.
But if the instability of the Spanish population disturbed him, he was
concerned even more about the Indians. In the 16th century, not only was
Guatemala a lightly populated territory (some 800,000 people in all of Central
America), but war, slavery and new diseases were decimating and dispersing
the indigenous population even further. Thus, for Marroquín, the only possible
civilizing policy is to abolish slavery and cease all manner of aggressions
against the natives, on the one hand, and to gather the Indians in towns in order
to protect their lives and achieve better treatment for them. "Since they are
men-he wrote to the Emperor-it is fair that they live together and in
company, which will greatly benefit their souls and bodies."
Marroquín has seen in cultural and physical cross-breeding the future of
Guatemala, a path-breaking idea, like so many others of his. Thus, he proposed
the Crown to force the Spaniards to marry Indian women, because "from that
fruit- he says-God and Your Majesty will both be served and the natives
will be better treated." In others words, if the laws of God and men do not
suffice against the abuses of soldiers and colonists, then the laws of blood will
have to contain them.
But Marroquín is not satisfied with giving ideas, he also puts them in
practice. A good example is the case of some land granted by the Cabildo to
the diocese and located near Santiago, on the skirts of the volcano. Marroquín
will donate those lands in order to found the first town, the first reducción, as
they were called then, or "pilot project," as we might say nowadays. That
town, baptized by him with the name San Juan de Guatemala-a very apt
name, no doubt, since it was a forerunner-is today called San Juan del
Obispo, in memory of its benefactor and founder. A half-century after its
foundation, according to the chronicler Vázquez, the town already had 700
Indian converts, a Franciscan convent, and cultivated land planted with corn
and many fruit trees.
Marroquín's evangelizing, humanizing and civilizing efforts thus
materialized in concrete deeds through a policy of defend- ing the humble with
vigor and confronting the powerful with intelligence. The bishop is 35 years
old, but his authority is now beyond question. And, of course, he never rests
for a moment. Marroquín obtains economic support from wherever and
however he can, he organizes the diocese, brings Domi- nicans, Franciscans,
Mercedarians, builds schools and chapels, bearing in mind the civilizing role
performed for centuries by the medieval monasteries in Europe. Soon, his
personal battle against slavery will be crowned by success.
In 1535, a defeated Alvarado returns from Peru. Not only was the
expedition a failure, but the conquistador must now face trial for having
penetrated into territories not authorized by the Emperor, and for taking
Guatemalan Indians on the adventure, many of whom perished in the hellish
climb to the Andes. The Audiencia of Mexico has dismissed him from the
governorship of the province and has sent to Guatemala a "judge of
grievances." To avoid trial, Alvarado escapes to Honduras, where he has been
asked to fight rebellious Indians, and from there to Spain.
These events will be of great importance for Guatemala. The new judge,
Alonso de Maldonado, also brings the title of provisional governor. A lawyer
replaces a military man in power. As a result, Guatemala will enter a period
marked by justice and law, and reforms which Alvarado had refused to carry
out, in spite of royal admonitions and orders, will finally be enacted.
The basic instrument for this change will be the survey that, quietly and by
himself, Marroquín had carried out in the years devoted to traveling the length
and width of the province. This document, which Marroquín called matrícula
("registration"), will be the basis for a drastic "fiscal reform," if I am allowed
an anachronism, only the other way around of how we would understand the
term today. The content of the matrícula, as we have pointed out, was a
detailed description of the territory, with the number of inhabitants, their
economic and social conditions, as well as the amount of tribute, in gold,
specie, or slaves, that the Indians paid to the conquistadors. The "reform"
would consist of liberating the Indians from oppression, servitude and plunder,
and a drastic reduction of the burden of tribute paid to the conquistadors.
Also, the Indians were no longer slaves of the encomenderos and became
vassals of the Emperor, which made them equal, in theory, to the peasants of
The impulse that these two scholars gave to liberty, justice and coexistence
is an example of what two men of good will can do for a society in conflict.
The best proof of their success are the words that an Indian chronicler would
write in the "Annals of the Cakchiqueles": "On the 16th day of May, 1536,
arrived the lord president Mantunalo, who came to alleviate the sufferings of
the people. The washing of gold quickly ceased and the tribute of boys and
girls was suspended. Deaths by fire and hanging also quickly ceased, as well
as plunder on roads on the part of the Castilians. Soon the roads would again
be trodden by people, as they were before the tribute began."
The Indian chronicler repeats again and again the word quickly, as if he
wanted to stress the speed with which the reforms were carried out. And from
this we can only deduce that those changes were suggested by Marroquín in
the "registration" that he delivered to Maldonado, who, without the bishop's
groundwork, would not have been able to make the appraisals of the tribute or
carry out the changes so quickly. In this way, twelve years after the conquest,
a scorned and de- feated people found balsam for their pains thanks to the untiring
labor of their patron and defender.
The Return of Alvarado
But no reform, economic or political, is ever without per- sonal or social
cost. In Marroquín's absence, colonists and en- comenderos will raise their
voices against the bishop, whom they will attack mercilessly, insulting him,
slandering him, and showering upon him all manner of abuse. For them, it is
not Maldonado, the new governor, who is to blame for their being deprived of
the income which the tribute from the Indians procured them. It is the bishop
who is to blame.
Marroquín, who has left for Mexico, where he will be consecrated as
bishop by Zumárraga, will not learn, until much later, of the "ugly and
shameless words" that have been said about him on account of the "great
reduction" of income suffered by the colonists due to the reform of the tribute.
Then, in spite of his sweet and conciliatory nature, he takes his pen in anger
and writes: "May God be my witness that I do not lie nor would I want to lie,
and that in all the appraisals that have been made up to now, most did not
deserve to give to their owners not even water ... And on my consecration and
salvation I declare that I do reckon to have gone against the natives, in favor
of the encomenderos and in each appraisal, by more than one fourth part ...
That is the reason that this town complains against me, since, if we remember
the past and all of them are so rich, what has been the cause, but my remaining
silent like a unworthy prelate, pastor and protector, watching how the wolves
ate my flock, while I remained idle and held my tongue?"
Marroquín thus made known to the Cabildo of Santiago the anger
accumulated during nine years of impotence. And he denounces the insatiable
greed and lack of sensibility and Christian spirit of those who live at the
expense of the Indians. But now he feels safe. Santiago is governed by a man,
Alonso de Maldonado, who imparts justice squarely and enforces the law at
This opening stage, unfortunately, would not last long. In 1539, Alvarado
returns from Spain. The conquistador brings royal privileges and concessions
that not only grant immunity from the pending trial, but also an order that
replaces Mal- donado as governor. His superb contacts in the Spanish Court,
added to his diplomatic abilities, which he knows how to use when it suits him,
have allowed him to avoid Maldonado's actions. Don Pedro has also married
Beatriz de la Cueva, sister of his previous wife and both of them nieces of Don
Francisco de los Cobos, private secretary to the Emperor. Along with the
expedition comes a group of single ladies, who come seeking husbands among
the colonists and conquistadors of Santiago.
To Marroquín, the fact that Alvarado returned not only with his own wife,
but also with match-making inclinations, must have seemed like a miracle. But
this change of attitude was only apparent. Alvarado is not at heart a colonizer,
but an ambitious and restless soldier who has conceived the project, approved
by Charles V, of organizing a new expedition, this time to the Spice Islands.
Alvarado wants to cross the Pacific, reach the Orient, and open a new route to
the species of India and China. Once more, he will embark on a project similar
to the one that took him to Peru, subtracting from Guatemala all manner of
economic and human resources with the heavy-handed arbitrariness that is his
Annoyed by this obnoxious man that "neither looks at the land nor cares
for it," Marroquín writes to Charles V, des- cribing the tensions to which the
colony is again subjected to on account of the governor. Alvarado's charm and
way with words no longer fool him. Uneasiness between Indians and Spaniards
is again manifest. With a governor like this, con- cludes the bishop, it is
impossible to populate, civilize, or evangelize.
But every effort to retain the Adelantado is useless. In September of 1540,
Alvarado departs for Mexico, leaving an exhausted city of Santiago. It will also
be his last adventure. A few months later, on July 4, 1451, he dies crushed by a
horse, at the age of 56, while preparing in New Galicia (today state of Jalisco)
for his departure to the Orient.
From there on, events follow in quick succession. The news reaches
Guatemala in September, and after the solemn funeral ceremonies, the Cabildo
appoints as governor Alvarado's wi- dow, Doña Beatriz de la Cueva.
That same night, September 9, a torrential rain begins. A flood of almost
Biblical proportions falls upon the valley of Almolonga. Two days later,
September 11, 1541, at two o'clock in the morning, a strong tremor breaks
open a dike formed in one of the volcano's folds. The pent-up water becomes
an irresistible avalanche of mud, sand, rocks and tree trunks that buries the city
of Santiago almost completely.
The scene the following morning in that incipient city was one of almost
total desolation. The governor had died, along with her ladies. Hundreds of
Spaniards and Indians lay buried under the mud. The survivors extracted
bodies from the silt and prayed and cried for their loved ones. On the third day,
however, Marroquín gave orders to suspend the mourning and the funeral rites.
It was time to tend to the wounded, provide shelter for the survivors, widows
and orphans, rebuild the city and, if necessary, move it to some other place. At
once, the bishop starts to work, like any other anguished survivor, scraping and
digging in the thick mire.
Thus, from the ruins of Santiago arose the leader that the city needed in
those crucial moments. But not by chance. At the age of 41, Marroquín was
already the man everyone trusted. They knew from experience that the bishop
would not accept defeat and that his fighting and pioneering spirit was capable
of transforming an Apocalypse into a Genesis.
A week later, the colonists gather in the church. A governor has to be
appointed. By common consent, they elect Fran- cisco Marroquín and
Francisco de la Cueva. And though the bishop at first refuses the appointment,
in the end he accepts since, according to the words he wrote to the Emperor, "I
looked upon that republic as the father that I have always been to her."
The destruction of Santiago de Guatemala, today Ciudad Vieja, coupled
with the death of Alvarado, would give way to a new stage in the life of
Guatemala, marked by the sign of political and social renovation. The years
that follow are a time of transition in which caudillismo will be replaced by
new laws and institutions, such as the New Laws of Barcelona, by which
Charles V abolished the slavery of the Indians, or the Audiencia de los
Confines, the first court of justice in Central America.
In this controversial and evocative year of 1992, a year full of sensibilities
and historic frictions, a year in which our generation makes a special effort to
understand what 1492 meant for human history, it is also necessary to
remember another important date. That date is the year 1542, when the
conquistadors, adelantados and military rulers of America begin to submit to
royal authority. The days of personal caudillismo were over, though its
footprints would remain for many years, under the guise of diverse forms of
vassalage. But the brief Middle Ages experienced by the American continent
were ending thanks to the New Laws. The political, economic and social order
was renovating. And in Guatemala it was Marroquín who marked the direction
and character of that new historic stage.
Guatemala, his Destiny
On September 17, 1541, Marroquín and De la Cueva order the removal of
the city to the valley of Panchoy and, a few months later, construction began
on what we today know as Antigua Guatemala, a city whose 450th anniversary
we cele- brate this year. No one could imagine, however, that this would turn
out to be a Roman task. But before everyone's eyes a city began to rise that
would carry the seal of the bishop, that untiring man who, after making
Guatemala his "natura," would now make of her his destiny, as father and
founder of a splendrous city, Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, which
would become the third largest and richest city in America.
For 22 years, the mark of Francisco Marroquín will remain in each house,
on each street, on each stone of the new Santiago. The bishop would participate
in the planning and layout of the city until, a little later, he left the government
in the hands of the civil authorities. But his generous spirit would be reflected
in many public works, the fruits of his inexhaustible civilizing spirit, such as
hospitals, schools, and an orphanage. Marroquín materialized thusly his early
ideal of transforming Guatemala into a territorial and political unit based not
on conflict, but on the coexistence of two different cultures and races.
The task was not always easy. In a moment of fatigue, Marroquín writes to
the Emperor: "The work so taxes spirit and body that we are all of us quite
discouraged." In spite of everything, Marroquín will build the cathedral, will
bring to Guatemala the Audiencia de los Confines, and will donate the lands
destined for the Episcopal Palace for the construction of the new Court of
Justice (today Palace of the Captaincy- General).
These will be two arduous and laborious decades, but also vastly fruitful
ones, although, as usual, greed and strife, never absent, would force Marroquín
to resort to all his stores of patience and tolerance in his dealings with
colonists, officials and clergy. The hardships of those years are reflected in the
following comment to Prince Philip: "I have always sought- says
Marroquín-peace and quiet for this republic, and I have sometimes looked the
other way, so as not to grip so hard that it might burst." But he could not avoid
opposing his ideal of rightness, liberty and justice to abuses and despotism, as
would happen to him, years later, with Cerrato, a new governor, who, angered
by Marroquín's opposition, entered the cathedral and shot the bishop at pointblank,
luckily without serious conse- quences.
On August 1, 1548, the bishop expressed in his correspondence one of his
dearest dreams: to establish a University in the new city of Santiago. In
successive letters to the Emperor, he reiterated the need for help in order to
carry out such a great project. But he would have neither the time nor the
resources. Even so, donated at his death the sum of 20,000 pesos and some
land in Jocotenango, in order to found and endow chairs for the University of
his dreams, an endowment that, in time, would help to create the University of
San Carlos Borromeo.
In the letter we have mentioned, Marroquín requests the Emperor to send a
good grammarian, a good artist, a good theologian, and a good chronicler.
These could be obtained easily, he says, from the universities of Alcalá or
Salamanca. And he immediately requests the Emperor "to establish an
institution for higher learning in the city of Santiago de Guatemala, which is of
all these provinces, the greatest and most abundant and the one best suited for
These are truly prophetic words, and on the twentieth anniversary of the
foundation of our University they acquire a special meaning, because I believe
that the bishop's ideals of liberty and justice tie-in directly with those of the
Guatemalans that, in our century, made possible the dream of Marroquín and,
very appropriately, baptized this University with his name.
Guatemala, his Grave
At this point, it might seem superfluous to praise Francisco Marroquín.
Nevertheless, I am obliged to point out that those who knew him, in life as well
as through his works, had nothing but words of praise for him.
Fray Tomás de la Torre, superior of the Dominicans in Chiapas, says that
he was a man of "great humility and charity." The Franciscan chronicler
Francisco Vázquez states that Marroquín was the "author of every good thing
that this city enjoys, a true father and devoted pastor." The Dominican
Ximénez describes him as "a most singular man, guided by the Lord in order
to compensate Guatemala and its provinces for the many misfortunes visited
upon them." Fuentes y Guzmán calls him "an exemplary man of clear
memory." His modern biographer, Father Carmelo Saénz de Santa María, says
that he was "the founding father of the Guatemalan nationality." As for
myself, I think that bishop Marroquín was, above all, the spirit of coexistence,
through which he wanted to make of Guatemala a homeland for all: Indians,
ladinos and Spaniards. But besides being the founder, teacher, pastor and first
eminent person of Guatemla, Marroquín would be the embodiment of that
Hispanic humanism that wanted to make of Christianity its mission, of the law,
its armor, of justice, its sword, and of liberty, its flag.
Marroquín never returned to Spain. He would live here the last 33 years of
his life, years in which he contributed to the philology, ethnology and culture
of Guatemala, creating path-breaking institutions of unquestionable value. No
one finishes a work like his totally satisfied. That is why, towards the end of
his life, Marroquín confessed to feeling tired from such a long journey. "I am
old and poor," he says in a letter. And, thinking that his mission has not been
completed, he adds with his habitual modesty: "I have only done what I could."
Finally, April 18, 1563, on Holy Friday, Marroquín died in Santiago de los
Caballeros de Guatemala at the age of 64. He went to his grave, says Milla y
Vidaurre, "accompanied by the blessings and the tears of the Indians who
loved him and revered him like a father." His body was buried in the cathedral,
though the gravestone was lost as a result of the earthquakes of 1773. To this
day we do not know where the remains of the bishop rest. Of one thing I am
sure, however. Wherever they are, and borrowing the words of Quevedo, "dust
they will be, but loving dust," dust that today fertilizes the land that he loved so
dearly. But though we cannot carry flowers to his grave, thousands of
Guatemalans remember him every day, in the surname that many adopted after
his death, in this country's hall of fame, in institutions, schools and, above all,
in this dear University that carries his name with legitimate pride.
No nation can show greater gratitude toward that great humanist who was able to
make of Guatemala "su natura, su ventura, y su sepultura."