José Francisco Morazán

José Francisco Morazán (1792-1842) was a Central American general and statesman. He was the last president of the Central American Federation and its best-known defender.

Francisco Morazán was born presumably in or near Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Oct. 3, 1792. The environment afforded scant opportunity for education or employment; hence, Morazán was largely self-taught and his early experience limited.

After Central America won independence, Morazán aligned himself with Liberals and became their most successful military commander in armed conflicts with Conservatives. A succession of local victories in Honduras brought him to San Salvador, capital of neighboring El Salvador, in support of Liberal exiles organized to repossess the governments of the federal republic and the state of Guatemala. At the head of the Liberal forces, in April 1829 Morazán took Guatemala City, capital of the state and of the federation. He exiled Conservative functionaries and their principal collaborators, installed Liberals in both governments, and backed the program of reforms they initiated. In 1830 he was elected president of the federation and was reelected 4 years later.

Conditions, in part of his own making, limited Morazán's opportunity for constructive statesmanship. Expecting to stimulate development in the federated states, he introduced reforms alien to Central American experience, the anticlerical elements of the reforms awakening Conservative opposition. This disaffection led to many of the military threats which almost constantly menaced his regime. In addition, he had to contend with pressures from foreign governments, domestic personal rivalries, regional jealousies, a political system that many contemporaries believed was unworkable in Central America, and a perennially empty treasury that forced frequent resort to the hazardous expedient of exacting forced loans. Moreover, the appearance that office holding was reserved to a narrow circle of Morazán's relatives and intimate friends, and the questionable ethics said to characterize certain of his business transactions and personal relations, gave critics basis to question his disinterestedness and attack his probity.

Increasingly, especially during his second term, Morazán had to confront dissidents who gained control of state governments or generated popular uprisings. A particularly formidable insurrection headed by Rafael Carrera arose in Guatemala in 1837. Neither state nor federal forces could control the insurgents, who overthrew the Liberal government of Guatemala in 1838. Their success encouraged imitators elsewhere. By the end of Morazán's term imminent disintegration threatened the federation; no presidential election was held; and the incumbent's waning moral authority virtually disappeared. In a final effort to defeat Carrera and avert dissolution of the union, Morazán seized Guatemala City in March 1840. After momentary success his army was routed, and shortly thereafter he and his closest associates went into exile.

Morazán returned to Central America in 1842 to attempt to restore the federation. He landed in Costa Rica, overthrew the government of Braulio Carrillo, and was consolidating his position before moving to force the other states into a union, but he was betrayed and captured. He was executed in San José, Costa Rica, on September 15, ironically the anniversary of Central American independence.

Further Reading on José Francisco Morazán

The best work on Morazán in English is the brief biography by Robert S. Chamberlain, Francisco Morazán: Champion of Central American Federation (1950). It is a synthesis of research available only in Spanish.

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