The Money Masters

By Diana Pastor

I’ve made a bet with friends and acquaintances for some time and it has always been foolproof. I offer to give them a Q50.00 note if they can tell me who the person whose face it is that appears on the note. No one has ever been successful. Who is this mystery man and the others that appear on our money?

On the Q1.00 note (which, according to the Bank of Guatemala will not be around for much longer as the production of these notes will stop in 2017), is José María Orellana. He was the president of this country between 1921 and 1926. During his rule, the quetzal was created as the country’s official currency. It is believed that he was poisoned by his enemies when resting in a hotel room in Antigua Guatemala and so he was unable to finish his term as president.

Q.5.00 notes portray the face of one of the most polemic presidents of Guatemalan history: Justo Rufino Barrios. He was a precursor to the Liberal Reform, which promoted freedom of the press and of religion, the abolition of the religious orders and the imposition of a secular education. But thanks to him, Guatemala lost part of its territory when it was annexed by Mexico, and under his rule the torturous treatment of the country’s indigenous populations and the expropriation of their lands continued unabated.

Miguel García Granados, who appears on the Q10 banknotes, was an important president in the 19th Century. Interestingly, his daughter, Mary, served as the inspiration for one of Guatemala’s most famous poems, which is about the story of impossible love between a poet and his muse. The poet, José Martí, was a Cuban writer. The title of the poem is “La Nina de Guatemala.”

Mariano Gálvez, after whom a University in Guatemala was named, is the face on Q20.00 bills. Many of the actions of this president were criticized for being too abrupt, such as allowing divorce or trial by jury. His was accused by his enemies of being responsible for an outbreak of cholera in the country, who claimed that he had poisoned the rivers, finally leading to him being overthrown in a coup d´etat.

And so, who is the man of the notes of my foolproof bet? Well, it´s Carlos Zachrisson, an important finance minister and promoter of various monetary reforms. He was responsible for the conversion of the quetzal to the dollar. He was never a president, also like the man who is on Q100.00 bills, Francisco Marroquín, a pious Spanish bishop known for his dedication to Guatemala´s indigenous peoples and for his efforts to free them from oppression, slavery and the continued plundering and abuses that they were victims of.

Sadly, we now no longer have the Q0.50 note which portrayed Guatemala´s famous indigenous leader, Tecun Uman, who fought against the Spanish in a heroic battle to defend their lands, right here in Quetzaltenango.


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