Caribbean Sea, Haiti, Island Nations

Haiti – The Tigress of Haiti

Haiti bicentennial banknote, 1804-2004, featuring Santite Belair on the front.

“Long live Liberty, Down with Slavery”, were the last words of Suzanne Belair.

Well, did a contemporary Haitian leader name her The Tigress.

 

Detail from front of Haiti bicentennial banknote
Detail from front of Haiti bicentennial banknote.

Not quietly uttered, not in hushed tones, but shouted in the face of the French firing squad.  Sanite Belair faced the squad and refused a blindfold.

The witnessing townspeople, who the French hoped would be intimidated into submission at the sight of this woman’s execution, instead were fired up and continued the resistance.

Suzanne died in late 1802, and the French soon abandoned the Western Hemisphere entirely.

Suzanne was born around 1781.  She was born a free black woman, which afforded her a status better than the black slaves and worse than free whites.  But she despised slavery, joined the cause and married brigade commander Charles Belair, the nephew of the great Haitian freedom fighter Touissant  Louverture.  Together they instigated the uprising at L’Artibonite, which became one of the great battles of the Haitian Independence War.

Back side of Haiti bicentennial banknote, 1804-2004.
Central America, Honduras, North America

Honduras – Lempira, The Lord of the High Places

Three thousand years ago, a people, known as the Lenca, traveled from the great continent known as South America northward, along the narrow isthmus between the two great oceans, through the rainforests of Central America, and settled finally in the highlands of the region we now call Honduras.  When the Spaniards sought conquest in the 1500s, a leader rose up among them, to defend them, and to preserve their culture.  His presence, 500 years ago, resonates to this day.  He is remembered in Honduras on this banknote, in the stories told among the Lenca, and in this post.

Spaniards first landed on the Yucatan in 1517.  So novel was their appearance, their ships and their horses, the news of their arrival would travel swiftly the 300 miles to the Honduran homeland of the Lenca.  Lempira was a young man when this news arrived, perhaps 18 or 20 years old.  No longer associating with the children of the community, he would travel with the men, but listen as a young man, to the wisdom of his elders.  The first reports were that the visitors were very few in number and they were respectful, bringing strange gifts.  The elders were curious, but unconcerned.  Four years later, in the Summer of 1521, like an arrow shot, the news would travel that the capital city of the mighty Aztecs, had fallen to the newcomers.  The elders, perhaps, looked at one another in silence, with deepening lines of concern on their faces, while the young men watched and listened in silence.  Lempira would be in his early to middle 20s, and restless.

Detail from back of Un Lempira banknote of Honduras

With creeping slowness, due in part to a confused administration, the conquistadors presence grew in central America.  Like an advance messenger of doom, European diseases would reach through the jungle to a tribe, weakening them; and then sometime later, horsed and armored conquistadors would arrive, and defeat would inevitably follow.  In 1533, a Spanish conquistador received royal decree to enter the region of Honduras.  Lempira would be about 33 years old.  He’d be sitting with the elders.

Detail from back of Un Lempira banknote of Honduras

It is likely that, around this time, the great meeting was held with the leaders of 200 villages.  Some say it was called by Lempira; perhaps, but it was certainly concluded by Lempira.  He stood up before the 200 with a question, a promise and an offer.  He first asked how it was possible that so many bold men could be subdued by so few foreigners in their own land.  During the murmuring of obvious dangers, he spoke a second time.  He promised them that he, Lempira, would face the greatest dangers.  With this, the unspoken question before the 200 shifted.  It was no longer what should they do, but whether or not they would join Lempira, because it was obvious that he was going to fight.  Lempira spoke one more time.  He offered to lead as many of them as were willing to fight, because he, Lempira, certainly intended to fight.  If he was not a leader going into this meeting, he was the leader coming out of it.  The 200 villages united behind him and an army of 30,000 joined him.

Map of Western Honduras, showing the region of the Lenca, and the mighty fortress, Penol de Cerquin

For a decade, Lempira had been watching and listening, learning the ways of the Spaniards.  Though their numbers were few, with their muskets, their armor and their horses, they were undefeatable in open battle.  Lempira would change the terms of the battle.  He would let the strength of the land fight for the Lenca.  He would have the knowledge of his people fight for them.  He designated five rocky hill tops, surrounded by forests, as key defensive positions for the nation; Cerquin Rock, Congolon Peak, Coyocutena hill, El Broquel, and Gualasapa hill.  He extended these high places with terraces and retaining walls, and built storerooms with defensible accesses.  When he had filled the strongholds with ample supplies and gathered his warriors, he would be ready.  In the mid 1530s, the Spaniards began to pass back and forth through Lencan territory, but Lempira left them alone, and they began to think Honduras was conquered.

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It is said, that Lempira had said, that the killing of three Spaniards would be the sign.  In 1537, three Spaniards passing near the Peñol de Cerquín were attacked and killed.  This attack greatly disturbed the Spanish Governor at the time, Montejo, for he had begun to consider the area pacified.  He therefore sent an attack force to the region.  And Lempira declared war.

 

The following is selected from Wikipedia:

Lempira sent messages to the native auxiliaries of the Spanish, exhorting them to abandon their foreign overlords and join his forces, but they refused.   It was only with the declaration of war that the Spanish became aware of the threat presented by Lempira and his alliance. Although the immediate threat was limited to the region close to the Peñol de Cerquín, the Spanish realised that the rebellion at such a strong fortress was a powerful symbol of native independence throughout Higueras. Montejo immediately dispatched Cáceres against Lempira with 80 well-armed Spanish soldiers, accompanied by Mexican and Guatemalan Indian auxiliaries.  Montejo sent messengers requesting assistance from Santiago de Guatemala and San Salvador.

Siege at the Peñol de Cerquín

On 1 November 1537, Cáceres arrived at the Peñol de Cerquín. He immediately sent envoys to Lempira, requesting his submission; Lempira executed the envoys and declared his defiance. In response, Cáceres launched a direct assault against the fortress but found it impregnable. No roads climbed the mountain, and sheer wall prevented attempts to climb it. Well-engineered defences manned by large numbers of gathered warriors prevented the Spanish from storming the approaches, and horses were useless on the steep terrain. Cáceres had no choice except to lay close siege to the Peñol. He divided his men equally amongst the eight approaches to the fortress, and fierce fighting ensued, in which five Spaniards were killed and many were injured, including Cáceres. The siege held firm, but was unable to gain any ground.

General uprising

While Cáceres was engaged in what would evidently be a lengthy siege, Montejo sent a column of Spanish soldiers into the area around Gracias a Dios; he sent a second column, with 20 Spaniards accompanied by native auxiliaries, south to the Valley of Xocorro. Montejo led a third column in person, taking 23 Spanish soldiers to Comayagua. He also sent a message ahead, for Santa María de Comayagua to send support to Cáceres at the Peñol, and fourteen soldiers marched from there to join the siege.  The Xocorro column was forced to return to Santa María de Comayagua after falling afoul of the Spanish authorities in San Miguel, who claimed they were infringing upon their jurisdiction.

About two months into the siege of the Peñol de Cerquín, the majority of Spanish soldiers in Honduras were concentrated around the fortress. Small groups were scattered elsewhere, and both Gracias a Dios and Santa María de Comayagua were dangerously vulnerable, with almost no soldiers left there. Seeing the vulnerability of the Spanish positions across the greater province, Lempira declared a general uprising. The whole region south of the Peñol rose up, as well as neighbouring parts of El Salvador around San Salvador and San Miguel, where they caused serious damage to the Spanish. The Comayagaua Valley joined the revolt, as did the mountain regions around San Pedro, and outlying areas around Trujillo.

The column of sixteen Spaniards retreating from Xocorro were ambushed at Guaxeregui and killed to a man. The only survivor of the expedition was a seriously wounded African slave. The reinforcements sent from Comayagua to the Peñol were also attacked in Cares, and had to fight their way through to join the Spanish at the Peñol, suffering considerable hardship. The citizens of Santa María de Comayagua appealed to Montejo for help, and he sent a dozen mixed cavalry and infantry, who managed to break through the hostile natives encircling the settlement, and reinforce the town,  where they were cut off from further Spanish assistance.  Montejo was left with only eleven soldiers, and returned to Gracias a Dios to protect the colonists there, who included women and children. The Indians killed isolated Spaniards wherever they could find them. The natives, seeing the success of their fortress at Cerquín, started construction of a similar fortress near Gracias a Dios, and gathered a great quantity of supplies in storehouses there. Montejo urgently needed to halt their progress, but was unable to attack directly. Instead, he sent an African servant who managed to set the storehouses ablaze. The dismayed Indians of that district then sued for peace.  A local Indian ruler called Mota plotted to attack Gracias a Dios, but the plan was betrayed to Monetejo. In a lighning raid, Mota was seized and taken back to Gracias as a prisoner, only to escape and resume his plans for an assault. Montejo eventually discovered his hiding place and launched another rapid raid, and kept him hostage in Gracias under close guard as guarantor of his people, thus defusing the immediate threat against Gracias a Dios.  

The natives launched a furious mass assault against Santa María de Comayagua. The depleted garrison fought its way out under cover of night and set out on a desperate march to Gracias a Dios, leaving the town to be sacked – not even the livestock were spared. All across the province the Spanish were short of soldiers, arms and supplies, except at the Peñol de Cerquín, which remained the focus of Spanish attention.  In a very short period of time, Spanish control had collapsed across Honduras; only two small Spanish pockets remained – at Gracias and San Pedro. Montejo sent Gonzalo de Alvarado to San Salvador to seek assistance, which was readily supplied in the form of 100 Indian auxiliaries, 1000 Indian carriers, livestock, arquebuses, crossbows, gunpowder, ammunition, shields, spears, armour and iron.   Further supplies were forthcoming from San Miguel, but similar requests sent to Guatemala were largely rebuffed, as a response to Montejo’s policies which were perceived as undermining the rights of Guatemalan colonists.  

Death of Lempira and the fall of the Peñol de Cerquín, 1538  

The siege at the Peñol de Cerquín dragged on for months, with constant fighting. The Spanish there numbered about a hundred, plus auxiliaries, but were unable to maintain supply lines through the surrounding hostile territory, and were often short of food. The seasonal rains that arrived in spring 1538 only added to their hardship.   The supplies from El Salvador finally arrived, and Cáceres slowly gained territory around the Peñol. After six months, Cáceres invited Lempira to a parley. Lempira arrived, dressed in full regalia, cotton armour, and plumed headdress, accompanied by a retinue of nobles. Cáceres sent a mounted soldier to request his surrender, and when Lempira refused, a carefully hidden arquebusier shot him through the head. This was a signal for an all-out surprise attack by the Spanish.  The Indians responded with complete panic at the death of their leader, and the Spanish onslaught swiftly took the fortress without any Spanish loss of life, although some were wounded.  A portion of the indigenous garrison retreated to nearby mountains, but most of the Indians surrendered without further resistance, including a great many women, children and elderly. Cáceres followed Montejo’s instructions in dealing with the defeated natives with moderation. He followed native custom and sent gifts of textiles and fowls to the native leaders, as a symbol of peace, accompanied by a spear as a promise of war should they refuse to submit. After a council, the Indian leaders accepted peace, and the region passed immediately under Spanish control. Cáceres released all his prisoners to return to their villages, a move that surprised the natives, who had expected harsh punitive measures. The fall of Lempira’s stronghold was followed by the speedy capitulation of a wide area of Honduras, and came at a critical juncture for the Spanish, when they had been at the point of losing the province.

 

 

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Today, the Spanish are not remembered well, but the Lenca culture continues.  The people live as the largest indigenous community in Honduras, maintaining, in many details, their pre-Columbus way of life; and Lempira is revered among them.  Every hour of every day, Hondurans exchange value for value in commerece, labor for products, products for labor, and the medium of exchange is the Lempira.  His name means, in the Lenca tongue, the lord of the high places.

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As said by Honduran historian Mario Felipe Martinez Castillo, Virtually in the main square of every town or city Honduran we find a statue in his honor. In this case, in the main square of the town of Gracias, Lempira Department.  This photo and further information about Lempira by Mr. Castillo is from this website.

And, we might add, on every banknote we find this might man honored.  All of these banknotes, with all of these famous people, events and scenes from Honduras, have this in common; Everyone’s value is based upon Lempira.  

 

Front
Back

Un Lempira

 

 

 

 

Front
Back

Dos Lempiras

 

 

 

 

Front
Back

Cinco Lempiras

 

 

 

 

Front
Back

Diez Lempiras

 

 

 

 

Front
Back

Veinte Lempiras

 

 

 

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Caribbean Sea, Haiti, Island Nations

Haiti – The Slave Who Defeated Napoleon

Haiti banknote, featuring Toussaint Louverture, hero of the Haitian Revolution

Toussaint Louverture is a hero of Haiti’s independence.  He’s been called “the Slave who Defeated Napoleon”, in a fine article here.

Haiti was second state in the Americas to gain independence.  Haiti’s revolution against France began in 1791, just 8 years after the end of its northern neighbor’s war for independence.

The Haitian Revolution was essentially a slave revolt.  It consisted of a series of conflicts, from 1791 through 1804.  It consisted of shifting alliances of Haitian slaves, and conflicts with colonists and French and British troops.  During its course, slavery was abolished; and, in 1804, national independence was secured.   It has been considered the most successful slave revolt in history, and the only one leading to the founding of an independent state.

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Haiti’s present day population is, almost entirely, descended from African slaves.  The indigenous population was reduced to about 30,000 souls, within 2 decades following the island’s 1492 sighting by Columbus, due to European diseases, and, the brutal working conditions imposed by the Spaniards in their rapid exploitation of the island’s gold resources.  By the end of the 1500s, during which French pirates began to firmly entrench themselves in the territory, the indigenous peoples had virtually vanished.

As permanent settlements and plantations began to develop on the island, colonial landowners began importing slaves from Africa.  In the mid 1600s, the French West Indies Corporation took control of the area, and in 1697, the region was formally ceded to France from Spain.  As the sugar industry flourished, so did the slave importation industry, or, it should be said, as the slave industry flourished, so did the sugar industry.  There were about 5,000 slaves by the end of the 1600s.  By the end of the 1700s, when the revolution began, there were about 500,000 slaves. 

The colony’s population and economic output grew rapidly during the 1700s.  It became France’s most prosperous New World possession, exporting sugar and smaller amounts of coffee, cacao, indigo, and cotton. By the 1780s nearly two-thirds of France’s foreign investments were based on Saint-Domingue, Franc’s name for the island, and the number of stopovers by oceangoing vessels sometimes exceeded 700 per year.  In 1789, the year the French Revolution began, the Haitian Revolution began two years later.

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detail from banknote

Toussaint began as a slave, was partially educated by his godfather, and then self educated in the Greek philosophers, Machiavelli, and especially the writings of the French Enlightenment.  The French Revolution, with its calls for liberty and equality, influenced Toussaint.  He was a renowned horseman and became a leader in the Haitian battles.  By 1793, he had adopted the surname Louverture, from the French word meaning “opening” or “the one who opened the way”.  A standard explanation is that it refers to his ability to create openings in battle, and it is sometimes attributed to French commissioner Polverel’s exclamation: “That man makes an opening everywhere”.

On 29 August 1793 he made his famous declaration of Camp Turel to the blacks of St Domingue:
Brothers and friends, I am Toussaint Louverture; perhaps my name has made itself known to you. I have undertaken vengeance. I want Liberty and Equality to reign in St Domingue. I am working to make that happen. Unite yourselves to us, brothers and fight with us for the same cause.

Motto: In Union is Strength, detail from back of banknote

Your very humble and obedient servant, Toussaint Louverture,

 

detail from back of banknote, Phrygian Cap – symbol of liberty, mounted above a Royal Palm.

He gave nominal allegiance to France while pursuing his own political and military designs, initially seeking better lives for slaves, but soon afterwards seeking full abolition and independence.  As the French revolution raged on, slavery was abolished by French decree, but was resisted by the French island colonists.  Continuing revolts were led by Tourissant and, in May 1801, he had had become “governor-general for life.” With the conclusion of the French Revolution, Napoléon Bonaparte came to power and attempted to regain control over the colony including the reinstitution of slavery.   Toussaint continued the resistance, and, by 1803, Napoleon, preoccupied with Europe, was ready to surrender Haiti.  Napoleon and Toussaint agreed to terms of peace; Napoleon agreeing to recognize Haitian independence and Toussaint agreeing to retire from public life.  But Napoleon betrayed him, captured him and had him executed in exile in 1803.  Others continued the struggle, and Haiti achieved independence the following year, 1804.

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From Wikipedia, more here:

“On August 29, 1954, the Haitian ambassador to France, Léon Thébaud, inaugurated a stone cross memorial for Toussaint Louverture at the foot of the fort. Years afterward, the French government ceremoniously presented a shovelful of soil from the grounds of Fort-de-Joux to the Haitian government as a symbolic transfer of Toussaint Louverture’s remains. An inscription in his memory, installed in 1998, can be found on the wall of the Panthéon in Paris, inscribed with the following description:

Combattant de la liberté, artisan de l’abolition de l’esclavage, héros haïtien mort déporté au Fort-de-Joux en 1803.
(Combatant for liberty, artisan of the abolition of slavery, Haitian hero died in deportation at Fort-de-Joux in 1803.)

Toussaint Louverture influenced John Brown to invade Harpers Ferry. John Brown and his band captured citizens, and for a small time the federal armory and arsenal. Brown’s goal was that the local slave population would join the raid. But things did not go as planned. He was eventually captured and put on trial, and was hanged on December 2, 1859. Brown and his band of brothers shows the devotion to the violent tactics of the Haitian Revolution. During the 19th century African Americans used Toussaint Louverture as an example of how to reach freedom.”

A interesting graphic, illustrating the magnitude of the slavery of the era, can be found illustrated here, an interactive designed and built by Andrew Kahn, and published in Slate Magazine.

 

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Asia, Mainland Southeast Asia - Indochina, Southeast Asia, Vietnam

Vietnam – The Ghost of Ho Chi Minh

“…we request of the United States as guardians and champions of World Justice to take a decisive step in support of our independence…. our goal is full independence and full cooperation with the UNITED STATES. We will do our best to make this independence and cooperation profitable to the whole world.”  So closed Ho Chi Minh’s letter to U.S. President Harry S. Truman upon the conclusion of WWII.  It was not his first respectful correspondence with a US president.

Ho Chi Minh, detail from front of 1988 banknote, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh’s father traveled throughout the countryside as a teacher in the late 1800s when his homeland, Vietnam, was a colony of France.  He saw the poor and the very poor, and the contrasting comfortable lives of the French elite infuriated him.  He began to question the right of France to rule Vietnam and became a passionate nationalist.  By the time his son, Ho, born in 1890, was a teenager, he too was adopting his father’s view that Vietnam had a right to independently govern itself.

As the 19th century gave way to the 20th century, much of the colonial world was enamored with the marvelous rise of the United States.  For much of the 19th century, the United States had been isolationist in its foreign policy and protectionist in its economic policy.  Anti-colonialists easily associated Europe with imperialism, without education in the writings of Lenin and others of the time.  As stated by Raymond Aron, French philosopher, political scientist, and journalist, the daily experience of colonies consisted of “the exploitation of raw materials without any attempt to create local industry; the destruction of native crafts and the stunted growth of industrial development that resulted from the influx of European goods; high interest rates on loans; ownership of major businesses by foreign capitalists’.  But America was different. Here was a nation that had been a colony like themselves but had gained independence.  Here was a nation that was enjoying fantastic growth among the world of nations!  Here was a nation that was anti-imperial, the opposite of the colonializing countries of Europe!  Why cannot this be the same for us?

Ho became educated and well-traveled, visiting The United States and Europe and socializing with other anti-colonials.  All the while he nurtured his desire for an independent Vietnam.

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Woodrow Wilson, an academic who had served but 2 years in politics, as Governor of New York, was elected President of the United States in 1912.  World War I commenced in Europe in 1914 while he was in office, and he pursued a strict policy of neutrality while nevertheless preparing America for the possibility of war, instituting the draft, and building up the US war making machinery.  His 2nd presidential campaign in 1916, on the slogan “He kept us out of war”, was successful by a slim majority.  The first year of his second term as President, he brought the United States into the war with the slogan “to make the world safe for democracy”.

Wilson closed his address to Congress seeking the declaration of war, “Our object…is to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power….We are glad…to fight…for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German peoples included: for the right of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience. The world must be made safe for democracy….We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make.”

So reluctant was America for war, so unentangled was America in the politics of Europe and its colonizing history, so remarkable was America’s rise to prominence after its own colonial past, America became the beacon to all the world of colonies as to what could be.  Wilson increased and refined his rhetorical annunciations, towards the rights of self-determination for all peoples, during, and through the end of the war.  And by the time of the Paris Peace Conference, for which he proposed “A League of Nations”, passions were inflamed for independence worldwide.  Woodrow Wilson had become the rock star of the era, an icon to independence minded peoples worldwide.

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Ho Chi Minh was in Paris at the time of the Peace accords.  Colonials everywhere were aflame with passion for liberation from the colonizers.  On behalf of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh crafted an appeal for support for independence, to president Wilson.  The story is told that he rented a new suit and prepared assiduously for an audience with recitations from the American declaration of independence.  In what has been termed by historians as a lost “Wilsonian Moment”, Ho Chi Minh was ignored, and so was his country.  His frail appearance and demeanor may have led many to mis-appreciate and underestimate him.

And so were many other petitioners ignored in that conference, which mainly addressed Europe’s problems.  A disillusioned Ho Chi Minh, as well as others, began to seek out relationships with advocates of Leninism.  It is thought by many that such overtures were less out of genuine interest in communism, than in seeking the support of other powerful nations for their own independence movements.  Ho Chi Minh fell in with the communists in France, not because of an attraction to communism, but because of a passion for patriotism. He knew he needed help for his country and he was determined to get it.

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Decades later, upon the close of WWII, Ho Chi Minh wrote Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence.  It included many of the ideals in America’s own declaration, one and three-quarter’s centuries before.  Five months after that war, Ho wrote to President Truman the words at the beginning of this post, while France was scrambling to reassert their colonial domination over Vietnam.

Ho’s entreaty was, once again, ignored by a US president.  France began to fight the Vietnamese in earnest to reassert their control over that little land on the other side of the globe.  The Vietnamese Army fought the French.  Mostly armed with machetes and muskets against France’s WW2 armaments, smoking out French positions with straw bundled with chili pepper, and using suicide weapons against French artillery, they waged war their for independence.

Ho Chi Minh, detail from front of 1988 banknote, Vietnam

After fighting the French for several years, Ho decided to negotiate a truce. According to journalist Bernard Fall, the meeting with French negotiators took place at a mud hut with a thatched roof.  No doubt, Ho Chi Minh conducted the meeting in perfect French.  As reported in Wikipedia here, “Inside they found a long table with chairs and were surprised to discover in one corner of the room a silver ice bucket containing ice and a bottle of good Champagne which should have indicated that Ho expected the negotiations to succeed. One demand by the French was the return to French custody of a number of Japanese military officers (who had been helping the Vietnamese armed forces by training them in the use of weapons of Japanese origin), in order for them to stand trial for war crimes committed during World War II. Ho replied that the Japanese officers were allies and friends whom he could not betray. Then he walked out, to seven more years of war.”

A few years later, the US took over the war against Vietnam.  Following the Joe McCarthy era, but still propelled by fear of communism, and supported a tidy “domino theory”, the US sent hundreds of thousands of troops into that war, losing more than fifty thousand dead, before retreating in defeat in the 1970s.

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Ho Chi Minh died in 1969.  As the North Vietnamese marched south in 1975, uniting Vietnam, the spirit of Ho Chi Minh marched with them.  He was free from the shackles of this mortal body, and his people were free from the shackles of colonialism.

 

Front, 1988, 500 dong, Vietnam, featuring Ho Chi Minh
Back, 1988, 500 dong, featuring scenes from Port Haiphong.

This 1988 banknote features Ho Chi Minh.  Indeed all Vietnamese banknotes, through at least the 2003 issue, feature Ho Chi Minh, the father of Vietnamese independence.

 

 

 

The text of Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence can be read here, and will be seen to closely follow that by America 150 years earlier. Read September 2, 1945 in the square in Hanoi, it announced to the world Vietnam’s independence.

The February 16, 1946 letter to president Truman can be read here and the follow up urgent telegram to Harry Truman on February 28 1946 can be seen here.

 

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Central America, Honduras, North America

Honduras – The Republic of Central America

 

The Battle of Trinity Valley, conceived and commanded by General Francisco Morazan, which turned the tide for Honduras.

 

General José Francisco Morazán Quezada (1792 – 15 September 1842) President of Honduras (1827-1830), President of Central American Federation (1830-1834); (1835-1838)

Franciso Morazon’s fortune changed in a single day, and with that, the future of Honduras and the Republic of Central America.  Perhaps the greatest and most far-sighted leader of the short-lived Republic, Morazán rose to prominence on November 11, 1827.  It was Thursday morning, and the sun rose upon Trinity Valley, near Ojojona, in the heart of the south-central region of Honduras which would soon bear his name.

The year was 1827, and it began in national consternation.  Dictatorial decrees announced by Federal President Manuel José Arce were felt throughout Central America and were leading to the overthrow of the government of Honduras.  To that end, General Justin Milla was given command of the 2nd battalion of Federal troops and crossed the border into Honduras.

On January 19, 1827 lieutenant general Milla invaded the village of “Los Llanos” of Santa Rosa, which he took with little resistance. On April 4, 1827 General Milla attacked the capital city of Comayagua, where Francisco Morazán was leading some of the defenders. Milla relentlessly assaulted the Honduran troops with heavy fire, was soon victorious, and set fire to the capital.  On May 9, the President of Honduras was taken prisoner.  On May 10, the government capitulated.

In the summer of that same year, Morazán was captured and imprisoned in Ojojona for 23 days until he escaped.  He was a young man and only recently experienced as a captain, under orders, in battle.  Having been in battles won and battles loss, he learned how men moved and how men fought.  His active mind utilized those 23 days to survey the valley, creekbeds, commanding hilltops and routes of approach in that region.  Having escaped prison, he knew his enemy’s desire would bring him to Morazán; and he would be ready.

He traveled to nearby leaders of the resistance, and, in evidence of their faith in this young man, they he entrusted an additional 135 fighters and arms to Morazán.

Map of Honduras showing Tegucigalpa, the Ojojona territory, and La Trinidad.

General Justo Milla by this time was hunting the rebels throughout the territory.  Having heard that Morazán was in southern Honduras, Milla rapidly closed in, moving his troops to Tegucigalpa where he established his headquarters, and sought for battle.  Morazán, knowing Milla’s movements, moved northward to Sabanagrande, 25 miles south of Milla’s army in Tegucigalpa, with his old haunt, Ojono and the valley of the Trinity, between them, just 3 miles north.

On the eve of the inevitable battle, Morazan drew up a battle strategy and presented it to his commander, General Diaz.  So impressed was the General with the plan that, he not only adopted it, but he entrusted command of the battle to Francisco Morazan.  Francisco was determined that he would not fail.

The Plan of Battle, Red A is Pacheco, Red B is Diaz, Red C is Morazán. Blue is General Justin Milla.

The plan divided their troops into three assault teams of 150 men each, with three smaller teams held in reserve.  The first team would be led by colonel Diaz, would face Milla’s full army in the streets.  The second, under General Morazán, would circle unseen northeastward around the hill caraengo to meet the flank of the enemy.  The third, under colonel Pacheco, would crawl up the creekbed in concealment until they reached a path, known to Morazán, that led across to the Valley of the Trinity.  There they would descend upon the enemy’s rear.  The plan was well received by all.   Command in hand, Morazán issued the final orders.  Wednesday night, under cover of darkness, they moved into position, and waited for the day.

Thursday morning at dawn the enemy, marching southward, began its descent into the fateful valley, precisely along Morazán’s anticipated route.  At 9am Milla’s army of 1000 was confronted by Diaz’s army of 150 in the streets below them.

We might imagine the confidence of Milla and his men, as they descended into the valley of the trinity to the town below to confront their enemy once again.  By this time, they had many victories behind them.  And we might imagine the disdain Milla felt as he looked upon the small force arrayed in the streets below him.

As he approached he would discern his opposition was only about an eighth of his size.  He might have let out a laugh and joked a little with his officers.  But too, he may have wondered for a moment why they didn’t flee.  But pehaps by this time he had given up wondering anymore why these people would continue to resist him.  But Diaz didn’t flee, nor did he fire, but waited, for so were his orders, and his confidence was elsewhere.  He relied not upon size of his army, but the passion of his cause, and the plan and strategy of their leader.

At last, General Milla gave the orders to fire, and the battle began.  He would be confident, and perhaps relocate to a position to give him a good view of the battle as it unfolded as he expected.  With the first gunshots ringing in the air, he might have been surprised, or at least, impressed, by the valiance of the defense.  Why didn’t they disperse?  Why didn’t they run?  But the first sound of gunshot, terrifying to any man in battle, was nevertheless a welcomed sound to Diaz’s men; for it was the strategic signal, a signal given by none other then the enemy, for Morazán’s troops to commence their final maneuvers to address their enemy’s right flank.

With those first shots singing in the morning air, we might imagine Morazan’s words to his 150 crouched beyond the hill, just within sight of their enemy’s unguarded flank.  “Gentlemen.  This is Your moment.  This is Our battle.  We have a Plan.  Our brothers are relying upon us.  Our wives and children our relying upon us.  Our country and our commonwealth is relying upon us.  The future is Yours!  To the Battle!”  Following Morazán’s valiant lead, and driven by his determination, the 150 devoured the final yards along their appointed path and assaulted the flank of the enemy.

The flank was unguarded, and Morazán’s 150 were upon their enemy before they knew it.  Gunshots rang out at that deadly range; and the enemy fell.  Milla would be startled hearing unexpected battle on his left flank.   Who were these defenders?  What was inspiring their defense?  Could they not see they were outnumbered?  Don’t they know who we are?  Wheeling to his left, it’s possible that his arrogance would support his initial confidence; but he’d curse the necessity of redistributing his troops in the midst of the battle to meet this surprise on his flank, and his army would question his leadership.

Diaz in the streets below would first see the smoke ascending from new gunfire on the right flank of his enemy; and he’d know his brothers had engaged the battle.  Next he’d hear the new gunshots from afar, and notice the enemy before him, looking round about in fear.  Then he’d observe the rippling disarray in their formations as Milla barked out new orders and Milla’s troops realigned to face the new threat.   Diaz moved his 150 confidently up the street, pressing the battle into the valley of the trinity.

The fighting was furious.  Milla was rushing to and fro, redirecting his troops, and barking orders to his surprised host.  Morazán’s 150 violently pressed their advantage upon the collapsing flank; and Diaz relentlessly pressed the front line of battle up into the valley.

And just as Milla’s army was finding its hasty defensive positions in this unexpected two front war, suddenly, gunshots erupted to their rear.  Pacheco’s 150 arrived on the scene.

We can imagine the scene before Pacheco as his men completed their path to the valley.  The enemy was below them, his brethren beyond them and to the left of them, and his enemy was fully engaged in that two front battle and completely unprotected in their rear.  With a mighty shout and 150 guns blazing they descended into that valley, the Valley of the Trinity.

For five hours that battle raged.  For five hours Milla’s army defended their precarious positions with dwindling numbers.  For five hours,  Morazan, Pacheo and Diaz pressed their victorious strategy, until the enemy broke, and died, in that valley of death.

By 3:00 that afternoon, it was over.  Milla and few of his officers survived and fled the scene of battle, leaving behind troves of munitions, supplies and official documents.  Justin Milla was completely defeated.  Morazán’s plan succeeded beyond conception, achieving the destruction of the enemy, and the restoration of respect for the State of Honduras and the victory of the Patriots against tyranny.

Statue of General Francisco Morazán, near the scene of the Battle of Trinidad

General Morazán went on to Tegucigalpa and took it on November 12th.  On the 26th of the same month, he reached the capital Comayagua, made a triumphal entrance, and was proclaimed the head of State of Honduras.  

 

For more stories from Central America on this website, click here.

 

 

 

 

Eastern Europe, Europe, Ukraine

Ukraine – The Age of the Cossacks, 17th Century

The Cossacks in Ukrainian history are remembered in the two Ukrainian banknotes on this page.

Portrait of Bohdan Khmelnytsky (1595 – 1657), Hetman of Ukrainian Cossacks . Coat of arms of Bogdan Khmelnitsky. Tryzub, the national coat of arms of Ukraine. Stylised grivna from the times of Kievan Rus’ as registration device.
Front: Portrait of Ivan Mazepa (1639 – 1709), Hetman of Ukrainian Cossacks . Coat of arms of Ivan Mazepa. Tryzub, the national coat of arms of Ukraine. Stylised grivna from the times of Kievan Rus’ as registration device. Signature: Sergiy G. Arbuzov (Golova – Governor, Dec. 2010 – Dec. 2012).

The Ukrainian steppes were dominated by two countries in 16th through 19th century European History.  But between these two, for a hundred years, the Cossacks stood up and made a bid for independence.

 

17th century – Extent of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, extending from Baltic Sea almost to Black Sea, overlaid of contemporary political map.

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, spanning from the Baltic Sea in the North, to the Black Sea in the South, was one of the largest countries of 16th and 17th century Europe.  It controlled over 400, 000 square miles, and almost all of the territory of present day Ukraine.

19th century – extent of Russian Empire in 1880 (shaded area) overlaid over contemporary political map. Ukraine is outlined.

The 18th and 19th century Russian Empire grew to be the third largest empire in history.  It also controlled essentially all the territory of modern Ukraine.

The 17th century declaration of an independent state on Ukrainian territory by the Cossacks, marked the beginning of the end of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  And the 17th century signing of the Pereiaslav Treaty of 1654 marked the end of Ukrainian independence, and the beginning of the subsummation of Ukrainian territory under the growing empire of Russia.

But, for a hundred years, the Cossacks formed Ukrainian history.  This is celebrated in the banknotes on this page.

Bohdan Khmelnytsky

Bohdan Khmelnytsky, detail from front of banknote.

Bohdan Khmelnytsky owned a modest estate in Subotiv, and lived there with his wife and children.  A powerful local magnate tried to seize his estate and Khmelnytsky resisted, writing numerous letters to various representatives of the Polish crown, who could, or would do nothing.    The magnate invaded his estate twice causing significant property damage, and, badly beating his son.  Finally Bohdan Khmelnytsky was evicted from his own land.

Although the crown showed little interest, Bohdan Khmelnytsky found great interest among his fellow Cossacks.  Traveling from one Cossack regiment to another, he found simmering unrest and great support. They had been restless for years, and Bohdan was to prove to be a gifted leader.

In a short time, unrest led to uprising, and uprising led to battles, and battles led to victories, and victories led to a decree of independence from the Polish crown.

Before I was fighting for the insults and injustice caused to me, now I will fight for our Orthodox faith. And all people will help me in that all the way to Lublin and Krakow, and I won’t back off from the people as they are our right hand.” – Khmelnytsky

From Wikipedia:

“At Christmas in 1648, Khmelnytsky made a triumphant entry into Kiev, where he was hailed as “the Moses, saviour, redeemer, and liberator of the people from Polish captivity… the illustrious ruler of Rus.” [citation needed] The Patriarch of Jerusalem Paiseus, who was visiting Kiev at this time, referred to Khmelnytsky as the Prince of Rus, the head of an independent Ukrainian state, according to contemporaries….
“After the period of initial military successes, the state-building process began. His leadership was demonstrated in all areas of state-building: military, administration, finance, economics and culture. Khmelnytsky made the Zaporozhian (Cossack) Host the supreme power in the new Ukrainian state and unified all the spheres of Ukrainian society under his authority. Khmelnytsky built a new government system and developed military and civilian administration.”

But he feared that the new state’s military strength was not enough to secure their position.  Seeking an ally, Khmelnytsky reached out to the Ottoman’s unsuccessfully, and then, reluctantly, to the growing Russian state.   The subsequent treaty with the Tsar in 1654 would be much disputed ever after. The Treaty of Pereyaslav would subsequently be interpreted by many as a military alliance, but by Russia, as a suzerainty, a complete incorporation of Ukraine into the Empire of Russia.

Left Bank, Right Bank Ukraine, and “The Ruin”

Right Bank Ukraine 17th century. (Image from Wikipedia)
Left Bank Ukraine, 17th century. (Image from Wikipedia)

Khmelnytsky, charismatic and influential leader though he was, established no rules of succession.  Upon his death the region fell into civil strife which lasted for thirty years until the rise of Ivan Mazepa.  This time period is called “The Ruin” in Ukrainian history.  It was during this time that Ukraine became to be known as Left Bank Ukraine and Right Bank Ukraine, in reference the Dnieper River as one looked downstream towards the Black Sea.

Ivan Mazepa

Portrait of Ivan Mazepa (1639 – 1709)

Ivan Mazepa, a Zaporozhian Cossack, arose to lead the Cossacks thirty years after the death of Khmelnytsky.  During the intervening period, known as “The Ruin”, many of the advances under Khmelnytsky were dismantled.  Mazepa, one of Europe’s largest landowners, Built churches throughout Ukraine, founded printing houses and schools, and expanded the primary educational institution of Ukraine to nourish 2000 students, the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.

In the later years of his rule, Russia increasing sent the Cossacks to far off fields of battle, leaving their Ukrainian homeland unprotected.  Mazepa considered this a breach in the treaty with Russia.  When the Tsar of Russia refused to send defensive support when the Polish king threatened to attack the Cossacks homeland, Mazepa made his fateful decision.   Mazepa effectively switch sides and allied with the Poles who were marching with the Swedes towards Ukraine.  He was hoping to bring Ukraine under control of Sweden, which, in a separate treaty, had promised independence to Ukraine.  Russia won the battle against Poland and Swededn the following year effectively destroying Mazepa’s hopes.   Ukraine was under the control of Russia.

 

 

 

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Bohdan Khmelnytsky changed his world, and altered the course of history; and much controversy surrounds his memory.
In much of Ukraine he is celebrated is a national hero. His statue is in Kiev and a city and a region are named after him. But he is also criticized for the treaty with Russia which some consider disastrous for the history of Ukraine.
Khmelnytsky is a celebrated as a hero in Russia, as he was in the Soviet Union. Russian history stress their interpretation of the treaty as expressing Khmelnytsky’s desire to reunify Ukraine with Russia.
Poland views Bohdan Khmelnytsky in a very poor light, as his rebellion proved to mark the end of their golden age.
The Khmelnytsky uprising is viewd by Israel as one of the most traumatic events in Jewish history. History has it that he used Jews as scapegoats and sought to eradicate Jews from the Ukraine. Khmelnytsky’s rebels associated with him murdered tens of thousands of Jews between 1648 and 1656.

Ivan Mazepa is regarded as a traitor in Soviet and Russian history.  Among Ukrainian’s the remembrance is mixed.  During Perestroika, many documents came to light that portrayed Mazepa differently. Since Ukraine’s recent 1991 independence, Mazepa has been proclaimed a national hero. He is considered the first Cossack leader to take a stand against the Tsar who had failed to abide by the Treaty of Pereyaslav. This view however is disputed by pro-Russian Ukrainians; and Ukraine has been repeatedly condemned by Russia Ukraine for its celebration of Ivan Mazepa.

 

Eastern Europe, Europe, Ukraine

Ukraine – Vladimir the Great, 10th Century

Vladimir Putin will never give up Ukraine, for, you see, among other reasons, his namesake is Ukrainian.

Below is the story of Vladimir the Great, followed by a brief history of the present.

Vladimir The Great
Yaroslav The Wise

Vladimir, afterwards known as “The Great”, and his son Yaroslav, afterwards known as “The Wise”, brought the kingdom of Kiev-Rus to its zenith in the 10th and 11th centuries.   The modern states, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus all draw upon them for their heritage.

 

Vladimir the Great

Historians consider the Kievan state to have been founded around 880. A hundred years later, Vladimir, upon the death of his father and a subsequent fratricidal war, fled the region, to his kinsmen in Norway. Returning in 978 with as many Norse soldiers as he could muster, he quickly captured Kiev, (present day capital of Ukraine), and expanded his dominion throughout the region. Within a few years, Vladimir consolidated the regions of eastern Europe from Kiev to the Baltic Sea, including present day Ukraine, Belarus, and a portion of Russia. During his reign and that of his son, Yaroslav, the kingdom known as Kiev-Rus reached its zenith.

A little later, Vladimir, having know great military success, and his dominion at peace around him, grew troubled in his thoughts and his mind pondered. Sensing the inferiority of his pagan shrines to the religions flourishing in the world, he sent emissaries to all parts to learn of the great religions that he may determine the best. Of Islam, upon learning that alcoholic drinks were forbidden said, “Drinking is the joy of all Rus. We cannot exist without that pleasure.” Upon questioning the ambassadors from the Jews, and learning of their loss of their home city Jerusalem, he concluded that they had been abandoned by God. His emmisaries visiter the Christian church of Germany and were unimpressed. But upon visiting the Byzantine church in Constantinople, and witnessing the majesty of their ceremonies during the festival, his emissaries reported back, “We know longer knew whether we were in Heaven or on Earth.”

His decision made, he was baptized, wed the daughter of royalty, returned to his land, destroyed the pagan landmarks, and commanded his people to follow Christian faith. Thus, was the Russian Orthodox Church born.

Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev

Yaroslav encountered family battles too following the death of his father in 1015, but by 1019, he had became the grand prince of Kiev, and by 1036 uncontested ruller of Kievan-Rus.  Culture expanded in his days.  He built Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev and Saint Sophia Cathedral in Novogrod.  He was a great patron of learning and books, also promulgated the first east Slavic law code, the Rus Justice, which was further advanced by his sons upon his death in 1054.

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In 2016, Vladimir Putin presented a statue honoring his namesake.  The statue was erected in Moscow where Putin declared him a “unifier and defender of Russian lands.”

As one contemporary has noted, “Russia without Ukraine is a country; Russia with Ukraine is an empire.”  Putin will never give up on Ukraine.

 

Portrait of Volodymyr the Great (c. 958 – 1015), the Grand Prince of Kyiv (Kiev), also known as Vladimir Sviatoslavich the Great, the Prince of Novgorod. Orthodox saints and acolyte during church ceremony. Tryzub, the national coat of arms of Ukraine. Stylised grivna from the times of Kievan Rus as registration device.
Diorama of Volodymyr’s Burg in Kyiv (Detynets; Citadel) with the Church of the Tithes or Church of the Dormition of the Virgin (built by the order of Volodymyr the Great) in the front. Artistic composition depicting a battle axe, a fullered arming sword, a cross, a flail and an eagle as elements of design from the times of Volodymyr the Great. Logo emblem of the National Bank of Ukraine.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Portrait of Yaroslav The Wise (c. 978 – 1054), the Grand Prince of Kyiv (Kiev), also known as Yaroslav I, Grand Prince of Kievan Rus’. Silver coin of Yaroslav Mudriy . Tryzub, the national coat of arms of Ukraine. Stylised grivna from the times of Kievan Rus as registration device.
Diorama of the original Holy Saint Sophia’s Cathedral (Sobor Svyatoi Sofii) in Kiev where Yaroslav the Wise was buried. Artistic composition depicting two different battle axes, a ceremonial bowl and the legal code of Kievan Rus’ “Pravda Rus’ka” as elements of design from the times of Yaroslav The Wise. Logo emblem of the National Bank of Ukraine