Updated: Dec 19, 2021
THE SAN JUAN, TELA MASSACRE AND BIRTH OF HOPKINS
Garifuna Capsule No 72:
A day like today, but in 1937 in the Garifuna community of San Juan [Durugubuti], an unprecedented event took place in the political history of Honduras. Approximately a dozen Garinagu who sympathized with the Liberal Party, were executed in this region. They were under the command of Tomás “Caquita” Martínez along with a confident of President Tiburcio Carías Andino, who happened to be his bodyguard, and with the help of the local authorities among them , Pascual Valerio [the commandant], Florentino García [Waikara Free], Casimiro Reyes, Luciano Cayetano, Cipriano Estrada, Aniceto Castillo [Banyé] and Emérito Estrada2.
This crime took place at 9:00 am on 12 March, 1937 in front of the community’s Catholic church and it was christened with the name “The Massacre of San Juan” even though a local Honduran poet renamed it with the nickname “El Día De Las Fotos” [Day of The Portraits].
GENESIS OF A TRAGEDY
The Carias [Cariista] dictatorship was just beginning. Tiburcio Carías Andino had been elected constitutionally as president of the young Honduran Republic for a period of 4 years (1933-1937), according to article 110 of the political constitution of 1924. Therefore, in 1936, it was time to celebrate new elections in order for the newly elected president to take office in the month of February of the following year. However, calling for new elections, it meant for Carias, to give up his throne to the Liberal Party. The consequences of this turn of events happening would bring drastic changes which meant to modify the “class system” that prevailed. It meant to elect a Capitalist that was committed to the people. Such possibility was objected by the big players at the time made up of the banana republic monopolies who opposed a formal democracy professed by the Liberals and alleged enemies of the Liberal leader at that moment, Ángel Zúñiga Huete, whom they criticized for his arrogance and pointed remarks.
The banana companies and the land owners accorded then not to call for elections and to prolong even more Carias’ period as president of the Honduran government. This move would preserve the scheme of the dominant forces of the moment. The premise of this move was to maintain peace obtained supposedly by the Carias regime, but in reality, it was the product of the understanding convened by the rivalry largely kept among the banana republic monopolies
Once the decision was taken, Carías set aside the established norms and called for a National Constituent Assembly with the idea to reform the Carta Magna, proclaiming on 28 March 1936 a new Constitution of the Republic. According to the new constitutional law, Death Penalty was instituted and the new period for the presidency went from 4 to 6 years3.
Carias’ legislators, vested to comply with the newly established plan, devised a chapter that delineated an adhoc [solution designed for a specific problem] called “De la Observancia” [the watchful eye]. This chapter highlighted article 202, which literally reads: “The Constitutional Presidency and Vice Presidency of the Republic headed respectively by Doctor and General Tiburcio Carias Andino and Engineer and General Abrahm Williams Calderon, will effectively leave office on 1 January 1943; thereby, articles 116, 117, and 118 will be suspended until the above mentioned date of this Constitution”. In order to mitigate organized protests which had already started in the previous presidency by the people, President Carias ordered massive and expansive repression. In fact, some of his party members and friends had to go into exile because they protested against slight disagreements caused by his organized dictatorship. A clear example was Venancio Callejas [one of the 3 delegates who opposed altering the Constitution in 1936], he was a national leader of the National Party and a Carias supporter from 1933-19364.
Members of the Liberal Party and other anti-Carias protesters abruptly reacted to these changes by rebelling against Carias and organizing revolution movements around the country. Among some of the rebels was General Justo Umaña, “the only man with the necessary courage and determination to scare General Carías” 5. Justo Umaña functioned as the Major of the Plaza in La Esperanza, Intibucá, one of the 18 Departments of the Republic in the preceding government. He participated in the revolt known as “uprising of the Plaza Majors”, a movement whose objective was to impede the official swearing of the newly popularly elected president Carias in 1932 whose runner up was José Zuniga Huete member of the Liberal Party6. Immediately after this popular upsiring, Umaña went into exile.
Garinagu who had affiliated and supported side by side with the Liberal Party from its beginnings in the decade of the 1930s, “were accused of being responsible for secretly bringing into the country, the exiled Justo Umaña.; the news came in 1937 that Garifuna leaders from San Juan, Tela were accomplices7. “ Justo Umaña had migrated to Belize and Mexico, then came back and landed in a boat nearby Tela [towards the end of that year]. Before his arrival to the San Juan village, he was in El Porvenir and San Francisco, close to Ceiba, inciting people to revolt; then he commissioned one of his men who lived in Tela, who was only known by his last name Bonilla, to persuade Garinagu who were willing to come together and travel to El Progreso and Tegucigalpa, the capital, to fight against the soldiers commanded by General Carías. This event gave Garifuna leader Pedro Martínez a motive to become an active member and to expedite his participation along with other Garinagu who volunteer as guides for the transportation into the country of weapons and soldiers coming from Pavisco, Mexico, in order to fuel the revolt led by General Umaña3.
Unfortunately, there was a list with the names of all the insurgents, one of them being Florentino García, a despicable traitor to the cause. This list was delivered to General Eduardo Rosales, Mayor of Tela, who warned them that if they did not desist and dropped plans to revolt, he would immediately notify the authorities in Tegucigalpa. By now, the revolutionaries had been in hiding in a secret place near San Juan known as Sálvame, located by Puerto Arturo’s side; the other component of the guerrilla, was stationed in Cola de Mico, Tornabé, wherefrom they would come down in the middle of the night anytime into San Juan looking for food which was made available by the villagers8.
Tela authorities realized the trouble brewing in San Juan and they ordered the capture of Pedro Martinez. Pedro Martinez was released almost immediately after popular demand by the people opposite to what happened to Modesto Trigueño, another Garifuna who was incarcerated. In February 1937, once the patriotic group was organized ready to fight the regime, Justo Umaña and his contingent attacked El Progreso, Yoro Plaza9. The following is the list of those who participated in the attack: Román Martínez, Antolín Martínez [both Pedro Martínez’s sons], Álvaro Castillo, Jerónimo “Chombo” Arzú and others. In the meantime, a group of fighting Garinagu were in El Progreso and another group was infiltrating the country bringing weapons from Belize. The weapons disembarked by night time along the Tornabé and Miami sandbars [known before as Barra Vieja], wherefrom the insurgents transported the weapons to El Progreso on mules’ backs taking a shortcut which led to Toyos, or by a place kwnon as El Retiro, in Atlántida, passing through Morazán and Negrito, until reaching their destination10.
In February 1937, the infamous incendiary bombs were used against Garinagu for the very first time in San Juan close to a hill in El Progreso11. General Umaña’s forces were defeated by the Carias militia and where Garinagu such as Chombo Arzú and one of the sons of Pedro Martínez died on the scene. Defeated in the scuffle, the general ran to Guatemala, where he was killed by the chief of the secret police of that nation on 3 August of the same year12.
GARIFUNA PRESENCE IN SAN JUAN DURUGUBUTI
According to research, this beautiful place becomes a Garifuna community around 1889. Evidence of the presence of Garinagu in San Juan Tela is found in an official communique when 20 April 1891, the Municipality of Tela orders the community aids located in the San Juan River, West of Tela, to create sanitary teams in order to fight back the smallpox outbreak in the area. This is where a Garifuna man by the name of Guadalupe Reyes took part in the Sanitary Committee of the locality2. This community was founded by Dionisio Lorenzana3 with the name of Durugubuti Baibai. Immediately after, Marcelino Gamboa, Timoteo Lino, Claro Lamberth, and Alberto Martínez arrived and settled there. On 21 Februry 1891, Eleuteria Castillo was born making her the first daughter of the community and firstborn in the town.
The town adopts the name San Juan due to the heavy Catholic influence and in honor of the patron Saint John the Baptist. San Juan Durugubuti happens to be the martyr community of the Garinagu due to the horrific massacre that took place there. It was an unprecedented political event in the country of Honduras where a dozen Garinagu who were affiliated to the Liberal Party, were executed by a firing squad5.
Those who escaped this genocide, were lucky to have sought refuge in the country of Belize. This last migration would bring along the formation of a new settlement which was named New Town and it would later adopt the name of Hopkis7. Back in San Juan, and in 1993, community leaders started to proceed to take legal ownership of their land by registering them under land titles. This was a move led by Wilfredo Guerrero Bernárdez who served as a board council [Fiscal de Patronato], and conjointly negotiated through the local Community Development Center (CEDEC) under the executive direction of Salvador Suazo and the legal representation of attorney at law Francisco Álvarez Sambulá. The community obtained their titles of ownership of their land under full domain on 6 June 2000, officially endorsed by National Agrarian Institute (INA). The title obtained includes three hundred and twenty eight hectares (328.31 ) of superficial extension.
This article was written by Honduran Professor Salvador Suazo. It was translated from Spanish into English by Rony Figueroa on March 26, 2014. This material was translated for the purpose of educating only. It is strictly forbidden to use and reproduce this material with the intent of financial gain.
1 Coelho, Ruy Galvao: Los Negros Caribes de Honduras 1995:48.
2 López García, Víctor Virgilio: La Bahía del Puerto del Sol y La Masacre de los Garífunas de San Juan, Editorial Guaymuras, 1994: 33.
3 Longino Becerra: Evolución Histórica de Honduras; Litografia Lopez, Tegucigalpa, Honduras 1995:156.
4 Idem Longino Becerra: : Evolución Histórica de Honduras; Litografia Lopez, Tegucigalpa, Honduras 1995:156.
5 Medardo Mejía: Historia de Honduras Tomo VI, Editorial Universitaria, Tegucigalpa, Honduras; 1990:402.
6 Idem Medardo Mejía: Historia de Honduras Tomo VI, Editorial Universitaria, Tegucigalpa, Honduras; 1990:400.
7 Idem Coelho, Ruy Galvao: Los Negros Caribes de Honduras 1995:48.
8 Idem López García, Víctor Virgilio: La Bahía del Puerto del Sol y La Masacre de los Garífunas de San Juan, .. 1994: 51-5233.
9 MedardoMejía: Historia de Honduras Tomo VI, Editorial Universitaria, Tegucigalpa, Honduras; 1990:402.
10 Ibidem López García, Víctor Virgilio: La Bahía del Puerto del Sol y La Masacre de los Garífunas de San Juan, .. 1994: 52-53.
11 Op. cit. López García, Víctor Virgilio: La Bahía del Puerto del Sol y La Masacre de los Garífunas de San Juan, ..1994: 53.
12 Idem Medardo Mejía: Historia de Honduras Tomo VI, Editorial Universitaria, Tegucigalpa, Honduras; 1990:402.
1 Investigación realizada por líderes de San Juan en el año de 1985 de la cual obtuve copia en 1992 gracias a la deferencia de don Santos Diego Valerio.
2 Op.cit Elvir: La Villa de Triunfo de la Cruz en la Historia, 2000:94-95.
3 Según Inés Lino que nació el 21 de enero de 1900 y llegó a San Juan en el año 1907.
4 Investigación de líderes de San Juan en el año de 1985.