Río Dulce and Golfo Dulce (Lago de Izabal) were the artery of Guatemalan colonial commerce. Merchandise was unloaded at Puerto Caballos and stored upriver at the Golfo. Santo Tomás was then the port for 38 years. Unloading was back at Puerto Caballos until grasped by Omoa, Honduras, in 1779. To control Golfo Dulce, a round tower was built at its eastern end in 1596, but pirates crippled it the same year. The tower was rebuilt and reinforced in 1646 (Castillo de San Felipe), but it was burned by pirates in 1684, Another fort was erected in 1689, but the transfer of unloading to Omoa made it fade into ruin. At Santo Tomás, an artillery platform was built in 1607 (Fort San Francisco). To attract tourists, Guatemala restored San Felipe beginning in 1955.
This is the latest monograph in a series about the Caribbean fortifications in the Captaincy General of Guatemala. The subject literature consists of José Antonio Calderón Quijano, “El Fuerte de San Fernando de Omoa,” Revista de Indias, IX-XI (1942); “Un incidente militar en los establecimientos ingleses de Río Tinto (Honduras),” Anuario de Estudios Americanos, II (Sevilla, 1945), dealing with Fort Inmaculada Concepción; and Las fortificaciones de Nueva España (Sevilla, 1953), which includes Fort San Felipe de Bacalar, Yucatán; Juan Manuel Zapatero, “Del Castillo de San Fernando de Omoa, Antigua Audiencia de Guatemala,” Revista de Indias, LII-LIII (1953); Roberto Trigueros studied another Fort Inmaculada Concepción in “Las defensas estratégicas del Río San Juan de Nicaragua,” Anuario de Estudios Americanos, XI (Sevilla, 1954); and Isabel García Bruña’s investigations on Fort San Fernando de Matina, Costa Rica. Forts at Trujillo and on Utila, Roatán, and Guanaja islands, all in Honduras, still wait for historical scrutiny. Some of these installations were systems of interconnected forts performing complex defensive missions.
Miss Rodríguez has written a very good general account of the Guatemalan forts and their military organization, arms, and administration, coordinating all these aspects very well. Students seeking an introduction to the subject will need this volume. Specialists, however, will find it of limited value. So shadowy is Fort San Francisco that its story has not really been told. Fort San Felipe fails to show fully its gradual construction through the years, despite the presence of some contemporary drawings and reports (Appendix II). The Ferrus drawings show that a lot of construction has not been accounted for. The 26 legajos in the Archivo General de Indias should have yielded more Ocampo-style reports to support a more sustained unfolding of the construction of the Guatemalan forts. This book nevertheless holds its place until a more advanced work appears.