Guatemala, Economic Society of

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Guatemala, Economic Society of

First established in 1795, the Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País de Guatemala was inspired by similar institutions in Europe and the New World that sought to spread the "new science" of the Enlightenment. Working in conjunction with the Gazeta De Guatemala, a liberal news daily, the society sought to improve the economy of colonial Guatemala by encouraging free trade, establishing trade and technical schools, improving agricultural techniques, and challenging established economic interests. After independence, some of Guatemala's most prominent citizens, including José Cecilio del Valle, played an active role in the society. With the failure of union in Central America, the society ceased to be an advocate of free-trade liberalism but continued to work to improve Guatemala's economy under the conservative guidelines established by Rafael Carrera and his successors. It continued in operation until 1881, when Liberal President Justo Rufino Barrios disbanded it.

The society was established by royal decree in 1795, with José Antonio de Liendo y Goicoechea, Alejandro Ramírez, Jacobo Villaurrutia, and Antonio Muró among the founding members. A school was established to teach arithmetic, hydraulics, optics, geography, and civil engineering. Through the Gazeta, articles were published by such Enlightenment writers as Buffon, Descartes, Locke, and Montesquieu. The society also presented scientific, historical, and social papers, one of which led to its suppression. In 1799, the society published a paper by Muró that argued that Indians be allowed to wear Spanish-style clothing, in essence defying a long-established practice in Spanish America. In 1800 the crown ordered the suppression of the society for this and other violations of the laws as recorded in the Recopilación, the Laws of the Indies.

The Society was reestablished in 1810, at least partly to appease the growing voices of liberalism in the colony. Captain-General José Bustamante y Guerra was openly hostile to the society, and in the confusion of independence and its aftermath, it ceased to operate in 1821. In 1829 the Legislative Assembly reestablished the society, and José Cecilio del Valle was named its director. After an initial period of activity, the society again declined, then revived in 1840, this time under control of the Conservatives.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the Society worked to promote literacy, especially among the Indians; training in marketable skills, such as weaving, horticulture, and engineering; and the cultivation of cash crops such as coffee and cochineal. But its efforts were poorly organized and haphazard, and the advancement of the economy and education likely would have continued even had the society not existed. Its inability to significantly improve the education and economy of Guatemala only underscored the backward nature of the country in the late colonial, independence, and postindependence periods. Guatemala today still suffers from many of the ills first identified in the 1790s: a low literacy rate, overdependence on a single cash crop, and an Indian population that has yet to be integrated into the national political, economic, and social structures.

See alsoEnlightenment, The; Liberalism.


José Luis Reyes Monroy, Apuntes para una monografía de la Sociedad Económia de Amigos del País (1954).

Robert Jones Shafer, The Economic Societies in the Spanish World, 1763–1821 (1958).

Elisa Luque-Alcalde, La Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País de Guatemala (1962).

Ralph Lee Woodward, Jr., Class, Privilege, and Economic Development: The Consulado de Comercio of Guatemala, 1793–1871 (1966).

Additional Bibliography

Casaús Arzú, Marta, and Oscar Guillermo Peláez Almengor. Historia intelectual de Guatemala. Ciudad Universitaria: Centro de Estudios Urbanos y Regionales, Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala, 2001.

Meléndez Chaverri, Carlos. La Ilustración en el antiguo reino de Guatemala. San José: Editorial Universitaria Centroamericana, 1970.

Rubio Sánchez, Manuel. Historia de la Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País. Guatemala: Editorial Académica Centroamericana, 1981.

                                      Michael Powelson

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Guatemala, Economic Society of

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