Eastern Coast of Central America Commercial and Agricultural Company

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Eastern Coast of Central America Commercial and Agricultural Company

The Eastern Coast Company metamorphosed from a speculative venture calculated to restore value to worthless Mosquito Coast securities (1833) into a legitimate colonizer. Its agent, Thomas Gould, fortuitously obtained (1834), as one of several grants the state government of Mariano Gálvez made for colonization under his development program (and to confine Belize within Anglo-Spanish treaty limits), all the public lands in the vast department of Verapaz. Critics immediately voiced sharp protests against sacrifice of Guatemalan interests by cession to foreigners of virtually all remaining public lands and natural resources within the state, by concession to alien colonists of privileges denied nationals, and by risk of state territory through affording aggressively expanding Belize an opportunity to incorporate adjacent English settlements.

Deterred from occupying coastal areas by the British government's stated intent to prevent any activity that might transgress Belize boundaries (which it refused to define), the company in 1836 established New Liverpool, an inland settlement on the Cajabón River near its confluence with the Polochic that failed miserably. Two years later a reorganized company negotiated revalidation of its Verapaz charter and cession of the port and district of Santo Tomás on the Bay of Honduras. Projecting a deepwater port at Santo Tomás and an inland center on the Polochic River, it planned a huge agricultural development in Verapaz and a commercial empire embracing Central America and adjacent parts of Mexico. It introduced steamer service between Izabal and Belize and briefly on the Polochic, and provided an iron bridge for the Motagua River crossing on the road between the Polochic and the capital.

A victim of underestimated difficulties, under-capitalization, mismanagement, and perhaps sabotage by employees, the company sought to avert forfeiture of its charter by selling to Belgian speculators 1 million acres of land to be selected from its Verapaz and Santo Tomás concessions. On arrival in Guatemala, the Belgian agents found the British company in disrepute and its land sale effectively invalidated by pending abrogation of its charters. They seized the opportunity to negotiate for themselves an independent cession of the port and district of Santo Tomás. Its concessions voided (1842), the British company ceased operation.

The episode is representative of the postindependence Latin American pursuit of foreign colonization as the most viable route to rapid population growth and development; the speculative, often fraudulent, Latin American enterprises that fueled British investment "bubbles"; the early appearance in Latin America of issues that have since accompanied "development" by international corporations; and the persistence after independence of colonial boundary and sovereignty disputes.

See alsoColonialismxml .


William J. Griffith, Empires in the Wilderness: Foreign Colonization and Development in Guatemala, 1834–1844 (1965), gives fully documented coverage of the company's activity. Jorge Luis Arriola, Gálvez en la encrucijada: Ensayo crítico en torno al humanismo político de un gobernante (1961), criticizes the colonization grants and the company's operation as a threat to the integrity of Guatemala that, fortunately, failed. Pedro Pérez Valenzuela, Santo Tomás de Castilla: Apuntes para la historia de las colonizaciones en la costa atlántica (1956), includes the English and Belgian company projects but lacks essential documentation.

Additional Bibliography

Pompejano, Daniele. La crisis del antiguo régimen en Guatemala (1839–1871). Guatemala: Editorial Universitaria, Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala, 1997.

Woodward, Ralph Lee. Rafael Carrera and the Emergence of the Republic of Guatemala, 1821–1871. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993.

                                 William J. Griffith

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Eastern Coast of Central America Commercial and Agricultural Company