For twenty-eight days, beginning on November 5, 1811, a handful of creoles held on to the government of San Salvador in the name of Ferdinand VII. Heading the insurrection were such future leaders of Central American independence as Manuel José de Arce and José Matías Delgado, the major religious figure at the Salvadorean capital. A complete failure from the start, the movement was unable to attract support from other localities in the intendancy or provinces of the Guatemalan kingdom. Moreover, Governor General José de Bustamante disarmed the coup by appointing a peace commission which included two prominent creoles from Guatemala City. Welcoming the opportunity to save face, the insurgents reaffirmed their loyalty to Spain; Father Delgado cooperated with the commissioners and subsequently delivered a sermon in which he regretted the uprising. He maintained, nevertheless, that the insurgents had been prompted by a sincere concern for constitutional reform—a common objective throughout the Spanish world since 1808.
Based heavily upon documents from the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, the monograph paints an excellent background to the incident. Among other things, the author reveals the extraordinary degree of self-government and influence enjoyed by colonials in Central America for one reason or another; he records the mounting friction and animosity between creoles and chapetones during the French occupation of Spain; he describes the election of representatives to the Cortes of Cádiz, underscoring the general desire among colonials for enlightened reforms; and he discusses Delgado’s ambitions to advance in the church hierarchy as well as the aspiration of San Salvador to become the seat of a bishopric, free from the control of authorities in Guatemala City—a harbinger of the contention between Salvadoreans and Guatemalans in subsequent decades.
Historians initially heralded in 1811 incident as the first step toward independence and praised its heroic leaders. But later writers have been critical, even to the point of accusing Delgado of betraying the insurgents or of charging that he played only a secondary role. Barón Castro denies these allegations categorically and argues that they stem from the failure to consider the event in its proper context—the reform movement of the times and not in the framework of eventual independence. In this respect, as well as in the characterization of General Bustamante, the book is “revisionistic.” Be that as it may, it represents commendable scholarship by a well-known demograhic expert and student of Central America’s colonial past.