A Visit to Guatemala

The New Republic

You have read:

0 / 8

free articles in the past 30 days.

Already a subscriber?

Log in here

sign up for unlimited access for just $34.97Sign me up

MARCH 27, 1934

A Visit to Guatemala

 

QUIRIGUAU is in the low-lying banana lands along the East Coast. Along the railroad United Fruit has set out a row of greenish-yellow frame buildings like buildings some place in Ohio. The damp night comes on enormously hot under the tall gawky trees whose names we don’t know. The last of the frame buildings is a boarding house dingy and crowded like a railroad boarding house at home. It’s hot in there, smells of sweaty bedclothes and Flit. A few foremen and overseers, from Texas or Oklahoma by their talk, are eating supper. They have guns on their hips. The sweat glistens on their necks and in the hollows of the collarbones under their open shirts. It’s too hot to eat. We step out of the squalid light and the protecting screens of the boarding house into the breathless hot dripping dark. The night insects aren’t as noisy as we’d expected, shriller, but no noisier than katydids at home. There’s an occasional thin whine of a mosquito in our ears. The hospital looks empty and dark. The patients have been put away for the night. The lights are shaded in the wards. The corridors are dim. It’s completely quiet in the hospital, but you can feel a faint crowded stirring behind the white walls. “Yes, the Señor Doctor would like to see you, he is free now.”

We sit drinking coffee at a round table in a small room under a dim electric light with the Malaria Man and another doctor. Through the screens in the crowding darkness comes a little soft feeling not of coolness but of moisture. From somewhere far away the one-cylinder motor of a water pump gives your skull sharp regular taps as with a metal rod. It’s hard to talk, it’s too dark outside, the light’s too dim.

Yes, they know about the attempted revolution in El Salvador. It’s the communists. The Malaria Man (he is a Scotchman, he is a scientist of distinction, he is an employee of United Fruit) has seen the confidential report of the Guatemala police. It was a very dangerous uprising. They captured Santa Ana and several other towns and held them for several days. Many Americans and people of prominence fled to Guatemala. No, there was no danger here, the police had acted in time, arrested eleven leaders, shot some of them. Nothing had gotten out to the press at all. That was efficient action. In El Salvador it had been terrible though. From there the thing might have spread to all Central America. The extraordinary thing about it was that there had been many educated people involved. They had stirred up the masses against the army officers and coffee planters. There’d almost been a massacre of army leaders in Santa Ana. Even in San Salvador, the capital, there’d been trouble. The communists had stirred up the wild Indians and the town workers and part of the army. Prominent officers had been shot, some of them tortured, eyes burned out with cigars. What the doctors couldn’t understand was that men of education like themselves had been mixed up in it, agitating against imperialism, demanding land for the Indians, higher wages for plantation workers. In fact they were planning to expropriate all the coffee and banana lands. It was the communists behind it, agents from Moscow undoubtedly. Too bad that the leader in Guatemala, he’d probably been shot by now, had an English name. He was a Honduran, the son of an Englishman, no, not a real Englishman of course. Anyway, thank God, it was over now. The army was in control. The government of El Salvador was making a thorough clean-up. They’d been shooting two or three hundred people a week. All kinds of people, doctors, lawyers, students, people of education and breeding that you wouldn’t have expected to be mixed up in a criminal business like this. They’re keeping a firm hand on the situation. “Now that they’ve got communism stamped out,” said the Malaria Man, “I suppose the government of the United States will feel more like recognition. Yes, you really ought to recognize them now.”

The pump kept up its steady tapping on our skulls out of the crowding blackness. It was good to get out of the dim hospital where the dense steam of the night seemed to be always crowding in around the dim electric bulbs. There was little sleep in the wilted stuffiness of the boarding house.

Next morning we went down the little rickety line of the banana railroad on a motor section-car, through banana plantations gutted and ragged from the cutting of the crop, to the ruins of the Old Empire city. The ruins had been cleared of jungle a year before but already saplings rose eighteen or twenty feet high from the crumbled terraces and pyramids. Here stands the row of enormous steles that have furnished the date that links the Mayan calendar to ours. These stones, standing grimly in line, swelling with the enormous strength of their great half-obliterated carvings, still give you, through all the confusion of races and empires long dead, of languages and writings that can never be understood, a feeling of serene order and form that is an actual refuge, like a strong stone house, cool against the sun, in the midst of the terrible silent carnage of the tropical rain-forest, so that, after seeing them, the railroad and the guns of the overseers and the loading sheds and the up-to-date malaria hospital, all the carefully organized machinery for efficiently squeezing out of the spongy soil and the sweat and blood of the yellow, brown and white mongrel race of workers who live in the rows of company shacks and whose arms belong to United Fruit, bananas and dollars for the North, seems feeble and flabby, not organization at all, not order at all.

On the way back up to Guatemala City there was a woman in the observation car whom an unhappy-looking man, evidently her husband, was very tenderly taking up to a sanitarium in the capital; she was a pleasant-faced middle-aged woman; she was crazy, she lay back in her seat and screeched like a parrot all the way.

share this article on facebook or twitter

print this article

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

You must be a subscriber to post comments. Subscribe today.

Back to Top

SHARE HIGHLIGHT

0 CHARACTERS SELECTED

TWEET THIS

POST TO TUMBLR

SHARE ON FACEBOOK