Molina, Pedro (1777–1854)

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Molina, Pedro (1777–1854)

Pedro Molina (b. 29 April 1777; d. 21 September 1854), Guatemalan scholar, revolutionary, and statesman. Born in Guatemala City of illegitimate parentage, Molina studied humanities at an early age under the tutelage of one of the great Guatemalan scholars of the late eighteenth century, Fray Antonio de Liendo y Goicoechea (1735–1814). Never abandoning the Enlightenment ideas of his teacher, he later studied medicine and surgery, and received his degree on 11 June 1798. In the first decade of the nineteenth century, Molina served as a surgeon in Nicaragua. He returned to his native Guatemala in 1811 to assume the chair of professor of medicine at the University of San Carlos. In 1819, the colonial government awarded him the degree of doctor and the office of protomédico, or chief surgeon general, of the province of Guatemala.

In the years prior to independence from Spain, Molina became increasingly involved in politics. He eventually came to lead an unlikely alliance of conservative oligarchs and middle-class elements. Born out of opposition to the captain-general, José de Bustamante y Guerra, this political faction later became the most radical one of the era, actively urging independence. Molina had no close ties to the oligarchy but was an ardent and capable representative of the creole professional classes. The elite, especially the influential Aycinena family, supported Molina, only because the return to power of the Spanish liberals threatened its position of prestige and monopoly. Both factions of the coalition, the professionals and the aristocrats, viewed the opposition to their political dreams as a conspiracy of peninsulars.

The voice of this nascent political party, known derisively by its opponents as the cacos, or thieves, was the newspaper El Editor Constitucional, edited by Molina, who also wrote the column on physical and moral education. On the eve of independence (14 September 1821), Molina, a talented political activist and rabble-rouser, and the aristocratic Mariano Aycinena (1789–1855) worked through the night to ensure that a mob would gather at the palace the next morning. Molina scattered his supporters throughout Guatemala City to stir up the masses to clamor for independence. After independence, however, the elite broke its alliance with Molina and the radical liberals and formed a truly conservative party.

Molina nonetheless continued to play an active role in politics and government. In 1825, as plenipotentiary to Bogotá, he signed the first treaty concluded by the newly created United Provinces of Central America, ensuring a defensive alliance with Colombia. In 1826 he served in another diplomatic post as one of the representatives of the Central American republic to the Panama Conference called by Simón Bolívar. After the bloody civil war between conservatives and liberals from 1826 to 1829, Molina was elected chief of the state of Guatemala and almost immediately clashed with the federal government, under the leadership of Francisco Morazán, over the question of reconstituting Guatemala City as a federal district and over Molina's project to reform the confederation. Molina favored the model of the Swiss republic, abolishing the expensive machinery of a federal government that was often in conflict with the different states. He called for a federal congress that would wield power in only foreign affairs.

The provinces showed little interest in these proposals, and many powerful men who either held or aspired to hold federal offices, the most prominent being Morazán, actively opposed the latter. In retribution, Molina was suspended as chief of state on false charges and actually brought to trial. Although he was acquitted, he was never allowed to return to his post. The failure of the reform scheme and Molina's inability to counter successfully his political enemies dealt a terrible blow to his political career.

Although less influential during the last two decades of his life than he had been, Molina remained an important political force. He supported the radical liberal administration of Guatemalan chief of state Mariano Gálvez until Gálvez formed a coalition with conservatives in an effort to avert a popular insurgency. Thereafter, until the end of his life, Molina wrote political commentary, often under the pseudonym Liberato Cauto.

See alsoGuatemala .


Antonio Cacua Prada, Pedro Molina: Patricio centroamericano (1978).

José Joaquín Pardo Gallardo, ed., Bibliografía del doctor Pedro Molina (1954).

Rubén Leyton Rodríguez, Doctor Pedro Molina o Centro América y su prócer (1965).

Pedro Molina, Escritos del doctor Pedro Molina conteniendo la reproducción integra de los escritos del primer semestre del periódico "El Editor Constitucional" y "El Genio de la Libertad" … Guatemala, 3 vols. (1969).

Additional Bibliography

Salazar, Ramón A. Biografía del doctor Pedro Molina. Guatemala: CENALTEX, Ministerio de Educación, 1985.

                                                Michael F. Fry

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Molina, Pedro (1777–1854)

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