Created: 5/14/1954

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The Organization of Rural Labor under the Agrarian Reform Program/Lack of Evidence of Rural Arms Distribution or PH Training.


Marnd earlier

Marand Hay ^


1. Sinoe my laat viait to the OS inho moatchange in the domestic situation in Ouateaala in my opinion la tha increase in the organizational efficacy of the labor groups In rural areas. Although tha farm workers groups, or aindlcatoB, are sponsored by tha national government under the agrarian reform program, they apparently ara capable of harassing tha patrones outside of the legal framework and spirit of thuarla. Furthermore, there ara indications that President Arbenz'is either unaware of these excesses or unable to halt them. m certain that he does not want any extra-legal land seizurea but in instances where they have taken plaoe ths government hastie or nc effort to suppress them, in extreme cases tha President sonde Alfonso MartInez, tho administrator of tha ley agrarla, to speak personally with tho offending worker's. As farave been

able to learn, Martinez merely tries to explain to the workers why they should obey the aaw. The only concrete eanotione against such Illegal seizures are the provisions that the farmer who obtains his land in this extra-legal wayot eligible to obtain clear title to the land and is not eligible for an agrarian loan. These sanctions have had little effect. It is obvious that the aotivitiee of the newly-formed sindlcatos are controlled by Communist or pro-Cojtnaunist agitators and that only in rare and Isolated caeea are any of their demonstrations spontaneous.

Bvery large finca now has its own sindlcato. They were established and are supported by the government for the purpose of giving the farm laborers an organizational voice in the administration of the agrarian reform. It is true that unless the woricero have some such group status before the courts and the Ofioina del Trabajo, the government's reform program could not be'enfoWea' in "iheir behalf. Although most of us who consider ourselves enlightened patronea are In favor of the president's program to develop the nat'ionaT eaonomy, even If it means alight short-term financial losses to ourselves, there are nevertheless several patronea who would never agree to make even the most basic improvements in theworking conditions of their flncaa. There iainca located nearf* he patronery old man who runs his finca in aAseaCiLa. ouct if he has been to the place in five years. The finaa Is consequently the most backward in our area, both from the point-of-view of production and from the polnt-of-view of working conditions. He had obeyed none of the government laws favoring the workers. They had not been given the raises they were legally entitled to and the management had employed none of the safety measures prescribed. t there was no way for the workers to cope with this situation as they were ignorant and illiterate and had no way of making their grievances heard. The answer to this inequality before the law waa the organization of the sindlcatos.

The central office of the Labor Department sends out agitators to each finca to organize the farm workers. Byhould estimatef Guatemala's total farm laborers are members of Bindlcatos. ave never seen more than negative pressure exercised against those few workers who were reluctant to join, but these measures seem effective enough. On my finca theof the sindlcato is ray personal chauffeur. He la the top official and he'ls 'assistedreasurer and another official whoseave forgotten.

One of the strongest bargaining powers enjoyed by the sindlcato Ib the constant threat that it can bring oomplainto of law violations or improper treatment to the labor courte of the Qflclna del Trabajo. These oourtB hear such cases and have the powdr to levy heavy fineo against the patronea. The verdicts.

incidentally, are almost never

Thereovernment law forbidding strikes during the crop season when the patron is most vulnerable to financial loss. As farnow, this law haa been pretty well observed, but the Blndlcatoa stilltrike threat simply because they now possess the organization to put one Into effect when ordered.

Although the sindlcatos are instruments of the national government policy, they also make Ideal tools for Communist subversion. The native workers are inherently like children in their obedience to authority and have already gotten *nto the habit of talcing orders from the leaders of the Bindlcatos. It is reasonable to assume that theae groups are even now unaer the dlreotof Communist or pro-Communist agitators and that tha various excesses on the fincaa have been instigated either by Conmrunlst agitators or by local opportunists. Thus the rank and file of rural laaor can probably be relied upon to follow orders without question.


7. Although the Blndlcatoo wore set up aa lnatruoienta of presidential ahthority, the local labor officials now aeen to be defying that authority rather openly. o not know whether or not Arbenz realises tha extent to whioh the presidential authority is diminished in the actual operational control of these groups.hould ba very much surpriasd if do word of instances of the extra-legal slndicato operations has reached Arbenz,

fplmarlly because some of these excesses have occurred on tha Lncas of the President's closest friends.

3. An example of such trouble occurred on the large snd prosperous finoa of the Metzgor brothers, Arnoldo and Enrique, who are both numbered among the President's closest friends. There had been some question aa to tha status of soma of tha Matsgers' holdings under tha agrarian reform laws and, in order to avoid trouble, Arnoldo saw Arbenz personally and got the situation settled satisfactorily. But when the Metzgers returned to their finca they found that thair slndicato had broughteries ofnow ohargsa denouncing their Inhuman treatment of their workers to the local "labor relations" court. The Hetzgers were then quite aortain that thssa oharges were made out of pure spite so thoy decided to investigate them. One of thenaett ardent complalnors stated that his patron (Ketzger) had refused to give tho workers any medicalTo" "refute this Metager showed the "court" records of medical treatment given tho workers. They even showed that this cctnplainer had himself received medical care only one week before the complaint. Confronted with the evldenoe, the worker admitted that ha had lied and that he had made the olaim because ofio of tha organizers had told him to. Obviously those ignorant workers have beenew authority to respect and obey.

There is one episode, however, that In my mind best illustrates the extent to which the labor officials dare to disassociate themselves from the presidential authority. One of the members of the familyery cloae friend of mine is closely related to and on very good terms with President Arbenz. My friend owns sndairly large and prosperous coffee fines. Tne slndicato began operations on his fines by demanding immediate reforma which were out of line with his current economic situation. Cn one occasion In latehe administrator of my friend'b finoa, when he trusts completely, drew aside the local official of the labor relations board and indicated to him that hia patron (my friend) and his family were lOOfJ behind the Presidents agrarian reform program snd that he did not think the labor officials should exert any undue pressure on anyone ao closely associate: with the President. Tne labor official replied "The name of Arbenz does not mean ,' Thia reply came ashock when it was considered that the labor official undoubtedly knew that he would be quoted on his oomment to the administrator's patron.

My friend hesitated to relateersonal Insult to Arbenz himself, but he did wish that the president could be made aware of it. In this connection, he did describe the episode to another close friend of the President's who is an Inspector in the pepartmento Agrarlo Naclonal, This official,eft-winger, Btato'd' that he 'waB deeply shocked by suoh an occurrence, but my friend had no Idea whether or not thiseventually told the President about the disrespect which had been shown him.


As far as the possibility that the Ccmnunlsts ore clandestinely arming the rural labor groups isave no evidence that this is being done at all, let alonearge enough scale to be effective. The clandestine arming and training of theee groups would be impossible to accomplish because of the


fact that theserk'-'i. could not be trainedacuum. Airaoat any training they might receive would be difficult to effect without attracting the attention of the patronea.elieve that the Bindlcatos are being organized merely to atage political demdriatrations, strikes and occasional riota. By no stretch of my Imaginationhink that they couldara-military force overnight which would be capable of defeating the Ouatemalan Army.

Meanwhile, President Arbenz is sincerely anxious to bring about and maintain the social and economic changes which the Communists are taking the credit for. Actually the changes are not based on Coenrunlatlc goala but are rather patterned on Arbenz'of the US Mew Deal idea of placing purchasing power in the handa of the masses. Unfortunately, the operation of the lay agrarla is plagued with several economic Inconsistencies. For instance, the workers on the government fincaa arereat deal more than the workers on the most liberal private finca a. This causes much dlaaatlafaction among the latter group, who do not realize that the wage difference la possible only ecause of the faot that the government had obtained these fincaa by confiscating them from the Germane. Therefore there had to be no financial consideration of such items asand return on initial investment,arge ahare of the operating profit could be turned back to the workers than would have been practical under private ownership. Although these pay raises may have ambarraaelng repercussions, they at least attained the government'a initial objective of placing more money into the hands of the finca workers. These workers immediately put their money into circulation. riend of mine whotore in Ouatemalo City told me that during the Christmas season3 the "poor people" spent more than did the rich. It was true. The workers had large lump sums for the first time in their lives end they immediately went on buying binges, purchasing various items which they did not need or could not use.

Fortunately, theremargin forn the Introduction of those economic "reforms." Thia margin is provided by the continuing (irmnesa of the coffee market. The large profits enjoyed by the growera and traders actually represents the economic backbone of the present administration. The coffee market shows no signs of falling off because of increasingfrom western Europe and It la predicted that next year'a production will be slightly greater than this year's. In my opinion, aa long aa the coffee market holds up, there will be no serious economic "crisis" in Quatemala.



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