Universal and International Exhibition of Paris 1900

The balance sheet of a century

April 15, 1900-November 12, 1900

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Guatemala at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1900

The Guatemalan government, because of the economic crisis affecting the country, had decided at first not to participate in the Exhibition.
Nevertheless, the Guatemalan farmers, whose coffees had until then been sent to Hamburg where they were sold under a different designation of origin, resolved to make their excellent products known by exhibiting them in Paris and setting up a tasting.

In charge of collecting the necessary samples, Mr. Mangel set up a farmers' union chaired by Mr. Salvador Herrera, which obtained the support of the government.

The Ministry, in view of the favour with which the public and the press had received this project, resolved to complete it by adding an exhibition of all the agricultural and mining products that constitute the wealth of Guatemala.

Mr. René Guérin, chemist, director of the central laboratory of Guatemala for many years, was entrusted by the Minister of Public Works with the task of gathering and classifying all the products of commercial and industrial interest, and was given the title of government delegate to the Exhibition and president of the organising committee, which included Mr. Dario Gonzalès, professor at the Faculty of Agriculture, and Mr. Georges Garcia Salas, agronomist engineer at the Directorate of Agriculture. In less than two and a half months, he managed to gather, classify and pack all the collections.

At the same time, Mr. Mangel, after having assembled the main samples of the country's coffees and cocoas, left for Paris.

Under the new conditions, it was essential to obtain official admission from France. However, the deadlines had passed and the land was occupied. It took all the efforts of Mr. Fernando Cruz, the Guatemalan Minister in Paris, and the graciousness of the French General Commission, for Guatemala to obtain the official authorisation and the necessary site.

A pavilion was quickly erected at the Champ-de-Mars, avenue de Suffren. Mr. René Guérin, in his capacity as Commissioner General, proceeded without delay to install the products.

The scientific catalogue, in which Mr. Guérin wrote a botanical, agricultural and industrial study of the products exhibited, expressed the aim as follows:

"In the midst of so much wealth accumulated on all sides in the palaces of the Universal Exhibition in Paris, the exhibition of Guatemala will undoubtedly appear quite modest.

"Guatemala, an essentially agricultural country, had no other desire, in participating in the great manifestation of labour at the end of the century, than to show what it produces today and above all what it will be able to produce in the future, as well as the industrial transformations of which its products are susceptible. It is for this purpose that, alongside collections of cultivated or forest agricultural products and mineral substances extracted from its soil, one will find all the information and documents concerning the country.

"By the number of products exhibited, a relatively large number compared to the size of the territory of the Republic and its population, the Government of Guatemala would like to convince the visitor that there is no doubt that, due to the essentially favourable geographical and climatic conditions, the country offers an immense field, open to all those who, driven by the desire for work, will want to increase the existing wealth tenfold or create new ones.

Mr. Guérin's initiative was rewarded, as the Guatemalan pavilion was very well visited. It was worthy in every respect.

The organised products presented 240 samples of wood for cabinet making and construction. There were species admirable for their beauty and variety of shades, from very light wood to hard and heavy wood. Many of them are completely unknown and do not even have a scientific name. Suitable for all uses, these products have been justly rewarded with a great prize.

The medicinal plants offered an important collection: all were classified, 123 in number, in herbarium, in watercolour, or in dried state. Very interesting in terms of number and quality, this section received a grand prize and a gold medal.

A showcase contained collections of very original old pottery. Further on were samples of beer, which Guatemala already produces, and cereals, including a collection of beans of all colours and shapes. Sacks of coffee and cocoa abounded; here, gums, balms, resins, flours, oils, fats, vegetable waxes, with the plants that produce them; there, a fruit of the cocoa tree that presents a singular conformation: the envelope has taken on the hardness of wood; it is no longer a pod, but a large nut, which encloses the cocoa beans. Ornamental plants and textile fibres were displayed on the walls; but sugar appeared, very varied with the plants that supplied it. The products of Indian industry were of great originality.

Coffee, the principal article of this exhibition, was distinguished by the number of its varieties and the delicacy of its berries. Production is steadily increasing in the country: from 552,000 bags in 1889, it rose to over 700,000 bags in 1899. These large quantities of a first-rate coffee, as the visitors to the tasting, who are becoming more numerous every day, have so far been absorbed by Germany.

The rich geological and mineralogical collection was no less interesting: it had been assembled by Mr René Guérin, who had spent eight years gathering the various samples.

©Paul Gers - 1900