Notes on Guatemala Is it True that Nobody in North America Has to Work?
( The author is a junior in Jordan K. This is the second part of a three-part feature. )
Notes from My Journal
Sunday, July 25: My hotel is directly opposite the National Police Center. How handy, I won't have far to move my luggage. It is night, and raining ferociously. As I walk outside, one of the guards sees me, laughs out loud and waves. I wave back, grinning not so broadly. The Center is a huge dark building four stories high and as big as a city block.... I ask a newsboy who sells me a paper with a guerrilla story on the cover-"Who are these guerrillas?" He says that they are "Bandits that kill people."
July 27: I have moved to another hotel, which is also cheaper.... But when I got back yesterday there was a young mustachioed and shiny-booted policeman, sunglasses and apparently sleeping, waiting in the lobby. I was terrified that my room would be searched and my books found, so I hid them in a hole in the wall and composed a dramatic letter to my friends in Boston telling them not to worry, but if they didn't get another letter in a week, call the American Embassy. I still don't know anyone here. As it turns out, he just sleeps there every afternoon....
There are so many police and soldiers. Every other street corner, literally. The worst are the Special Forces trained Rangers, with their bush hats and their spanking silver grease guns. I've only seen American soldiers twice-at the American Embassy and once whipping around the corner in a jeep.
I have also seen some of the cultural benefits of the American presence. There is a $2 a hamburger "EL TEJANO" (The Texan), for example. It is frequented by bell-bottomed American students-the children of business and government people. They are very surprised when I take a picture of them. These girls seem to be from the South.
A Conversation Overheard. Girl: "I just hate it here; I can't wait to get back. Really, I was so disappointed in this place."
Boy: "Well, have you been to Antigua?"
Girl: "Yes, we went to all those places."
The rest of the crowd is Guatemalan students, and some local businessmen, who are quite openly checking out the girls.
Contradictions: In one display window there is a huge pop poster of a long-haired North American Indian looking fierce and brandishing a rifle. Every so often, a passing Indian in the street stops and looks in complete astonishment. In the other window there is a display of some pistols and a plaque commemorating Texan "independence," which Mexicans have another word for. Here the dictates of youth culture and imperial culture collide, but these youngsters don't seem to be bothered. There is also an opulent bedroom display in a store window, in which one of the white mannequins sports a peace-sign belt. There are two or three slot machine parlors. The sign above the machines reads "These machines take American money only."
Aug? White Racism: Galleano (in Guatemala: Occupied Country ) says that most of the guerrillas are Indian. I'd like to think so but it's probably not true. Alfonso Bauer Paiz says 30 per cent. About 60 per cent of the population is Indian, and almost all the peasants are Indian. I am sorry to find that most Guatemalan students (who are all white) are quite racist-even some of the big anti-imperialists. Even though two of the three guerrilla leaders were Indians (the late Yon Sosa and Turicos).
The students still say-"The Indian will never fight, only work." "The Indian is basically happy because he knows nothing better." "Races bred in cold places are more volatile than those bred in low hot places. Coupled with chronic malnutrition, this produces in the Indian an almost complete acceptance and passivity." This deep racism is almost totally unconscious, probably because the whites are somewhat schizophrenic about it, telling you of their Indian blood and erecting statues to legendary Mayan heroes. If the guerrillas have not totally eradicated this racism, it will make forming a rural base almost impossible.
July 30: I have been far too paranoid, it's very easy to move about here. Still, it is almost impossible to start up a conversation about politics with anyone outside the university, and hard enough there. Yet you still find a few.... Best of all was the old lady who runs a little bookstore. The best thing in her politics and history section was about an Indian revolt in 1847. I asked if there was not something "more recent." She caught my meaning. "All the current stuff that isn't pure propaganda is illegal. If I had it here, the police would come and arrest me, maybe even kill me! The Committee for the Defense of the Revolution! " She almost spat. "But if you are in Mexico you can get good books-Bauer Paiz and Galleano." "That is one of the most combatitive books!" she said stridently. I bought seven dollars worth of books there, mostly poetry.
Aug. 10: City Poor, the slums of La Limonada
First, a speech from the capital's former cardinal, who called his birthday "day of the poor."
" You, the humble ones of this colony, you are the ones most cherished by me. I was poor like you; you live in shacks like that of Bethlehem that housed the Infant God, but you are happy, because where there is poverty, there is happiness. "
( El Imparcial, Feb. 24, 1967)
I asked a man who sold coal out of his little, shack what the neighborhood was called. He said "The 15th of August." I said that I thought this was La Limonada. "Oh, some folks call it that, because so many here have to sell lemonade. Others call it the Crown of Thorns, because it rings the city. Are you in the Peace Corps?" No, I wasn't, why did they call it the 15th of August?
By this time there were about a dozen kids hopping around, all eager to give the answer. "Because on that date, about ten years ago," they could not remember exactly (probably the urban riots of 1962), "Ydigoras Fuentes decided to throw out all the squatters." Out of this dirty ravine jammed with wire, cardboards, kids, and dogs as skinny as chickens. "They smashed and burned many houses," they were acting it out impassionedly, most were too young to have remembered it, some were not even alive. "But the people wouldn't leave, they grabbed rocks and boards from the wrecked houses and fought the soldiers all day. And they finally drove them out."
The coal selling man was smiling. He asked me, "Are there places as bad as this in North America?" I said that most people lived better but there were some places as bad in the rural south and in city slums, and that I had seen worse in Alaska. He nodded his head knowingly, not surprised at all.
Aug. 17: Rural Indians, near San Maria volcano, in Quetzaltenango
These people are much less aware of the rest of the world, but seem generally happier. Not much laughing on the buses in the capital, everyone is inhibited. Here they seem to laugh more, especially at me. But when I talk to them, I am embarrassed by what, seems to be deference to my whiteness. It may just be that I look so strange, some are awed, while others are entertained.
"Are there lots of guns in North America?"
"The United States is better than this because everyone is rich, right?"
"Do you eat your babies there?"
"Do you eat shit?"
"Is it true that nobody in North America has to work because there's this machine-you turn it on and it does everything for you?"
"You look just like Jesus!" (my blonde beard).
They are very kind people; I'm never afraid that they will hurt me, though they all have huge machetes (which they used on a policeman in town a couple of days ago). As I walk along people ask me do I have money, or do I have bread. I carry bread, cheese, fruit and water in my backpack, so we sit down for something to eat. They are a very physically beautiful people. The women are still beautiful when they're 60. They all want to know about America. None of them seem to know that America is making war on their country. (Perhaps it is different in Zacapa, where there's been bombing.) When I tell them about this, they are very puzzled about how to take me. I'm the first American many of them have ever seen.
Aug? Indian soldiers, San Marcos
This is where the guerrillas are. There are soldiers everywhere in town. I came to visit someone who might have guerrilla contacts, but I am being watched much too closely. There are no tourists here. I might put him in danger if I go to him, besides, I'm scared. I'm leaving tomorrow. Soldiers ask politely what brings me to town, and I say I am an archaeologist. They seem to believe me, but they give me some funny looks. No one ever looked more the romantic guerrilla than I, with beard and backpack.
All the Rangers that I've seen have been Indians, and all the officers whites. I've talked with several of the Rangers, and though they all carry machine guns, they are generally friendly, and easier to talk to than the peasants. They laugh easily, look into my eyes with that "man to man" look, and after a few moments, they're touching me when they make a point. Sometimes as we stood talking, smoking cigarettes, admiring young boys would gather. The soldiers were obviously proud of their sophistication. They would tell me of other North American friends, usually soldiers, and would ask me to write them.
I had a conversation with a young soldier named Hilio. He is in the paratroopers. He entered when he was twenty and has been in four years. He said he was not drafted, but was offered the chance to go, and was pleased to take it. He fought in Zacapa in '68. He is friendly, honest, and very religious. I was shown a Rosicrucians pamphlet (in Spanish) about the Mystic Life of Christ, and tried hard to appear interested. I offer him beer, but he takes a coke.
"When I was in the Panama Canal Zone (Ft. Gulick), I met many North Americans."
How long had he been there? "Just a month. It was part of a special training program, under Special Forces, 8th division. You know, here we do all the lectures only by talking. There they have movies."
"Were these Green Berets?" I wanted to know. "Yes, Boinas Verdes. "
I asked if there had ever been any trouble, and fights between the two groups. "No. Never any problems. Imet many nice people, and had many good friends. They were just like brothers to me ( puro hermanos ). They had all kinds of experts there. Some, with beards just like you, they were from Florida-specialists in alpine climbing, diving, and demolition."
Had the Army life been good for him? "Yes, pretty good. It taught me to read and write and be a medic. Now I can get a good job."
How much longer would he stay in? "Only six months now, and I'm glad to get out. Sometimes I get so sick of killing, and sad, and sorry. Sometimes I pray to God about it."
What a vicious circle he is in. A white god sends him out to kill guerrillas fighting for his people, some of them are his people, and when he feels there is something wrong, he has only to go to that same god again. I wonder how many of them feel the contradiction this strongly. The army has been the source of the best leadership (both Turicos and Yon Sosa were U. S,-trained), but most are not close to such a flip-flop. For most young Indian men, the Army offers the only opportunity for dignity and a relatively decent life. Three meals a day, movie lectures at Ft. Gulick, the big PX in the Sky, fascinating, macho, Green Beret instructors, and most importantly, a gun, which any man, even a North American, will respect.