April 1954

on the World today

WITHIN the past year or so the leftist governmnent of Guatemala has twice announced conspiracies against it. The first, centering at the garrison town of Salamá in March, 1953, was supposed to be the work of the anti-Communists and the United Fruit Company. The second, late in January, 1954, brought forth the claim that Nicaragua, with Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela, was plotting with the tacit approval of the United States and the material aid of the United Fruit Company. Both events have been followed by ruthless suppression of the opposition, who are labeled subversives. More significant has been the emergence in this period of the Communist Party as the dominant political force in Guatemala.

Circumstances favored the rise of Communist power in Guatemala. Under previous regimes, social and industrial progress was slow. Most of the population shunned the tropical coastal areas and preferred to live in the mountainous, sometimes almost inaccessible uplands. In a country of about 3 million, over 70 per cent illiterate, many are Indians suspicious of Western life and refusing to change their ways. There are two distinct social classes: the rich and the very poor.

The Reds have attempted to make much of the low wages received by Guatemalan labor. The minimum daily wage is supposed to be 80 cents for agricultural workers and $1.25 for industrial labor iu the populated areas. Even the governmentoperated farms do not meet this minimum, paying only half.

Deporting the unfriendly

The President’s propaganda office is run by a smart Cuban Communist, who was taught the Comnunist technique at a Prague propaganda school. In the January plotting, the populace was aroused to expect U.S. submarines landing troops and arms on the west coast of the nation.

Two U.S. newspaper correspondents were recently deported. One, Sydney Gruson, a traveling correspondent for the New York Times, was accused of insulting President Jacobo Arbenz in a dispatch he had written throe months previously, saying Arbenz was the prisoner of the Communists he had so warmly embraced only a few months ago. The second, Marshall Bannell, a free lance representing several publications, was ousted ostensibly for what was called his “unfriendly” dispatches but actually because he disclosed the fact that President Arbenz had just purchased a $65,000 motor yacht at Belize in neighboring British Honduras.

The Inter-American Press Association immediately protested these actions as violations of the freedom of the press. The Guatemalan government then sought to explain that the two men had not been expelled for their work as newspapermen, but because of technicalities.

Another deportation was that of Franciscan Father Sebastian Buccellato. He had witnessed with concern excesses being carried out by the government under the guise of the agrarian program. When his communicants at Asuncion Mita asked if it were right for them to accept seized property, he told them to observe the Commandments and urged that no land be accepted unless the owner had been adequately paid for it.

Father Buccellato was first arrested in November, 1953, and accused of intervening in internal politics. He was then jailed at Jutiapa but released on appeal. Two months later, while returning from an eight-day circuit saying Masses and giving spiritual comfort, he was seized and forcibly divested of his religious habit.

Upon arrival in his native New York, Father Buccellato explained: “I am undesirable in Guatemala because I preached the Catholic religion. Because Communism is opposed to any religion, they want no leader who might give the people a moral doctrine that enables them to resist the Communist teachings. Communists there can commit murder without fear of being prosecuted. Spies are everywhere. Everyone is so spy-conscious that people are afraid to use telephones or to say much to each other.”

Political infiltration

The value of the Communists to the revolutionary regime of President Arbenz has been their ability to get things done. They are closely organized and strictly disciplined. All those employed in government jobs pay 10 per cent to the treasury. They have infiltrated all four of the political parties forming the government coalition, and their carefully planted seeds of dissension already have caused the virtual disruption of the National Renovation Party, at one time the dominant political organization, and now appear ready to bring about division in the Revolutionary Action Party.

In fact, the Secretary General of the RAP arose in Congress recently and shocked his colleagues by saying that the Communist Party was the only party for Guatemala and that the other parties were transitory. Although he was later removed from his position, the damage had been done. regular seizure of the farmlands by armed bands in Escuintla province.

Land seizure a political football

The agrarian reform program was just what the Communists wanted. It was common knowledge that the program was aimed at the United Fruit Company, which had large reserves of land for future banana plantings. The private landowners were not unhappy, because they blamed the company’s better working conditions and higher wage scales for their own labor problems and higher costs. Only after 234,000 acres of land owned by United Fruit had been expropriated were the land seizures extended to private landowners.

The government recently has been intensifying these in an effort to show that lands owned by nationals constitute the larger amount of expropriated areas. This is designed to answer the complaint of the U.S. government, in August, 1953, that Guatemala discriminated against United Fruit because there had been relatively few takings of lands belonging to nationals. The Communist strategists ordered seizure of parts of farms owned by President Arbenz to prove there were no favorites.

The agrarian program has been a political football since the law was enacted in June, 1952. The Communist plan has made the local agrarian committees all-important while giving advisory powers to the departmental (or state) committees. The National Agrarian Council has the power to approve the recommendations of the lower committees. Final appeal is in the hands of the President, with the courts specifically left out and unable to hear appeals. It is the local committee that accepts a claim for land and in the end actually hands it over.

The non-Communist elements of the government regard their Communist colleagues with indifference, explaining that they are a local phenomenon and can be removed at will. Some army officers have protested the growing influence of the Red leaders, but President Arbenz assured them that he can control the Communists. The officers accepted this reassurance only after Arbenz promised them that the Communists would be thrown out at the end of his term.

Major Alfonso Martinez, onetime chief of the land reform program and a possible presidential candidate, left Guatemala for six weeks after he had protested the Communists’ refusal to heed his direction and Communist-sponsored threats against him while he was personally investigating the ir-

The parties rushed to pack the committees and bitter interparty battles resulted. Many of the officials in the National Agrarian Department were Communists, and they saw to it that Communists or their sympathizers were on the committees they wanted them on.

For some Guatemalans the agrarian program has been an opportunity, but not for others. Many of those receiving land were not prepared as farmers; some unemployed construction workers were sent to Escuintla and given expropriated land and some money. Most of these eventually abandoned the land and returned to Guatemala City.

The average small Guatemalan farmer is chiefly interested in growing corn, which has long been the basic food crop. Even where peasants have planted uncultivated land, seized under the agrarian program, to corn, private reports predict a corn shortage by mid-1954. The government denies this is so and claims there will be sufficient for export.

Hamstringing U.S. investors

The Communist objectives in Guatemala stem from Moscow’s desire to divert the Western world’s attention from the Soviet sphere of influence and force the issue in the Western Hemisphere. Thus the Communists in Guatemala go about hamstringing foreign companies and seek the elimination of companies doing business there, principally the United States concerns. These arc: the United Fruit Company, which has extensive holdings on both coasts and is the largest private employer of labor, with approximately 14,000 on its payrolls; the International Railways of Central America; and the Americanowned Empresa Eléctrica. The latter two have been the object of strikes organized and a belted by the Communist leader Gutierrez. The Communist deputy Paniagua took over direction of the striking railroaders from their own union heads.

American capital is not encouraged although more than a million dollars has been spent in the past year in an effort to encourage American tourists to resume visits to Guatemala. After the North Americans are out the Communists would move against the conservative landholders. Guatemalan Reds now are agitating for recognition of Russia and her satellites.

A Russian trade campaign was inaugurated, deliberately designed to undersell in Guatemala similar products offered by the United States and Great Britain. Goods offered by Mikhail K. Samoilov, the Russian commercial attache from Mexico City, included radio receivers, bicycles, sewing machines, and photographic equipment from Russia and East Germany.

To the tourists who have wandered through Guatemala in the past year there are few indications of the Communist movement. To realize the extent of the Red influence in Guatemala they must read the official newspapers, attend government-sponsored meetings run by Communists in government buildings, listen to the radio. They should compare the official statements of the government with the philosophies and misrepresentations voiced in Red publications.

They should attend the meetings of the intellectual society called Saker-Ti to hear diatribes against the Western world and in favor of Communism in Russia, China, and elsewhere. They should go to public schools to see exhibited the Russian motion pictures purporting to prove that U.S. aviators dropped germ bombs in Korea. They should watch the Communist-dominated convention of the Guatemalan Workers’ Party issue to labor delegates posters captioned “Imperialist Hands! Keep Off Guatemala.” These depicted Uncle Sam with one bloody, hooked, clawlike hand holding a bayonet pointed at Guatemala while the other tried to grab Guatemala’s riches.

At the same moment the Communist Party of the United States was issuing a manifesto which was headed “Hands Off Guatemala!” The tourist should attend a session of the Guatemalan Congress, where one minute of silence was observed to commemorate the death of Premier Stalin of Russia — the only parliament in the Americas to do so.

Guatemala’s immediate neighbors thought they could contain the threat of the expansion of Communist influence by taking action with the Organization of Central American States. Guatemala, although an enthusiastic sponsor of the group at its outset, eventually dropped out, making blistering attacks on its neighbors and accusing them of planning an invasion of Guatemala.

The problem facing Guatemala’s neighbors is to convince other Latin American nations of the necessity of taking steps against Communism before it is too late. For most of them, Communism is a remote danger and by no means as proximate as is the ever present economic influence of the United States.

What can the U.S. do?

Under present law President Eisenhower can embargo U.S. trade with Guatemala if he finds that country to be a Communist nation. This law was adopted to control trading with Russia. Senator Margaret Chase Smith has introduced a resolution in the U.S. Senate to force the President to a decision, by calling on the government to embargo Guatemalan coffee.

This would not be equitable and is not looked upon wilh favor by those most interested in developing this nation’s relations with Latin America, for it smacks overmuch of economic intervention, which has always been difficult for the U.S. to disavow. Such a move might forge a united Guatemalan nation behind the Communists.

Already it has been bitterly attacked by all sides in Guatemala. The reason why such an embargo is regarded favorably by those advocating it is the paradox that the U.S. is financing the very interests it would like to see purged in Guatemala. The coffee business brings in about $50 million annually to Guatemala. The government realizes about half of this from the sale of coffee grown on expropriated farms and from export duties.

The United States fifty years ago might have forcibly intervened to correct such a situation, but interAmerican relations have progressed in the past half century and nonintervention is now generally regarded as a hemispheric principle. What the U.S. would like to see is unanimous and joint action on the part of the Latin Americans themselves to stifle Communism in Guatemala and elsewhere in the hemisphere.

But the Guatemalans have foreseen this, and Arbenz’s predecessor, former President Arevalo, has been selling the Guatemalan line that she is being picked on, and has had a public offer of support from at least one nation, Chile. Arevalo has been working hard for support also from Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

But Communism is not yet a mass movement in Guatemala and further efforts by the Communists to entrench themselves might force a popular revulsion. Relatively few of the dominant Reds hold elective offices in the national government; most of them are in appointive jobs. Economic conditions, despite the high prices realized by coffee, are unstable, and there has been speculation that the quetzal might be devalued. This may awaken the Guatemalans to their danger.