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Research Paper (Latin American Studies, UCSC)

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Sierra Club

by Nicholas Klar

17th June 1993

TOPIC: How have peasant lifestyles evolved and been affected by governments in post-revolutionary Guatemala? What are some of the major problems they face including dislocation and emigration, modernization, repression, urbanization and peasant differentiation. Discuss possible solutions (such as land reform), given favorable political circumstances.

NOTE: This study was begun prior to 1993 events in Guatemala involving President Serrano and his attempts to annul the constitution. Therefore this paper was only able to touch briefly on it's consequences.

There are many issues affecting peasants in modern day Guatemala. Some of these problems are rooted in inherited power structures of colonial history, such as the distribution of land, an established racist social order, and disruption of traditional lifestyles. Others are caused by the ongoing civil war which began after the overthrow of the Arbenz government. These include military repression, flight to refugee camps in neighboring states, and forced relocation into 'model' villages.

Guatemala has the largest amount of natural resources in Central America, including significant deposits of oil. It also contains important U.S. business interests, the largest population on the Isthmus - more than half of which are of Mayan descent, and a geographic and strategic location second only to Panama. By 1980 it had the largest GNP in Central America, yet it's quality of life was the lowest. [Sexton pp.3,12]

Around 120,000 people have 'disappeared' in Guatemala since the deposing of Arbenz. Yet only a handful of the perpetrators have been tried for these and other crimes, including kidnap and rape. [San Francisco Chronicle 6.2.93 p.A11] At the same time a white elite continues to dominate an Indian and mixed-race majority. Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu has been at the center of an Indian majority movement who are attempting to negotiate peace in the civil war, and equity for the Indian underclass. [New York Times 10.19.92 p.A7]

Today the lifestyles of Guatemalan peasants are not only challenged by the problems of the past, but they also have to deal with environmental destruction, chemical poisoning, modernization, and also bear the brunt of the 1980's debt crisis fallout. It is important to note that the Guatemalan peasant class largely consists of Indians descended from the 22 ethnic groupings indigenous to the state.

These people have been, are continuing to be, dispossessed of their traditional lifestyles evolving from pre-Columbian times. With the best agricultural lands in Guatemala now producing export crops, most peasant farmers are forced to work marginal lands. As these small farms are subdivided with each generation, many can no longer survive. These peasants are forced to colonize new areas, become seasonal or migrant workers on larger farms, or migrate to burgeoning population centers. [New Forest Projects p.1]

In this paper we will initially discuss post-colonial history up to the time of the Alliance for Progress. to show how many of today's problems are tied to colonial and post-colonial power structures. The October Revolution (1944-54) was an attempt to rectify these problems. From the end of the revolution, through the time of the Alliance for Progress and the continuing civil war, to the problems of today, I will discuss how peasants have been affected.

In conclusion I will suggest possible solutions and their relevance in the new global economy. Some of these suggestions are controversial and highly theoretical given the current circumstances. However these are put forth in the light of the realities of modern capitalism and it's effects. The very structure of traditional Indian peasant (sometimes referred to as Campesino) society and it's '...locality centered attitudes offer stiff resistance to the development of social integration at a national level.' [Whetten p.viii]

Much of the crisis in Guatemala relates to land, and the colonially imposed mono-export crop economy. Until the mid-18th century Guatemala's main export product was vegetable dyes. The discovery of synthetic dyes in Europe heralded a serious economic crisis. Coffee became the main cash crop which needed large lands and labor force. [Bissio p.333] Thus began capitalist penetration in Guatemala, and the decline of subsistence farming.

Communal Indian lands were alienated which in turn provided landless laborers to work the crops for the oligarchy. By 1914 coffee accounted for 85.2% of Guatemala's exports.[Smith p.6, also Rivas p.5] A small agrarian class was able to ,

'...control the power of the state and then, to create a structure of domination based on hegemonic manipulation.' [Rivas p.6]

These elite, who clung to the old colonial traditions, used political violence to break down the social order and political power of the criollos. [Ibid] Prior to the "Liberal Revolution" of 1871 the oligarchy had ruled in a Spanish colonial style, utilizing the power of the military and religion. The revolution consolidated this power by 'acquiring' land, increasing the power of the army, and introducing tough new laws which were stringently and violently policed. [Trudeau & Schoultz p.25]

The Liberals had prevailed in an intra-class struggle between themselves and the Conservatives. The Conservatives had championed the special privileges of the Catholic church, greater economic regulation and authoritarian centralized government. The Liberals wished to separate the church and state, institute limited representative democracy, free up trade, have limited economic regulation, and decentralize government.

Whereas the conservatives favored traditional economic practices, Liberals, '...advocated "modernization" within an externally oriented, laissez-faire economic framework.' [Booth & Walker pp.19,20] After 1871 the Liberals forged a new alliance between foreign interests and local elites. Enormous plantations, employing thousands of wage laborers, were turned into self-dependent foreign enclaves.

UFCO were one of the first of these, which in time would ultimately cause so many problems for the Guatemalan peasantry. With foreign investment Guatemala now became heavily dependent on the United States. When other Latin America states began to industrialize with import substitution programs Guatemala, caught in a web of foreign capital, did not follow and remained locked into a mono-export economy which would eventually restrict any chances of modernization or improvement. [Smith p.9]

The strong repressive rule which the liberals imposed lead to an almost total division between the elites and military on one side, the peasantry on the other. This division would cause a lack of new investment, discouragement of overseas immigration, absolute poverty of much of the population, and eventually civil war. The 'October Revolution' in Guatemala was to be the first crack in traditional Central American government rule.

By the 1940's the middle class had become discontent with the repressive and backward looking Ubico dictatorship. In October 1944 a coalition of students, academics, business people, and disaffected soldiers, all mainly from the middle class, overthrew Ubico and subsequently elected Juan Jose Arevalo as president in 1945. The goals of the new government were economic and political reform in the style of western development.[Trudeau & Schoultz p.25] The reforms instituted by Arevalo were many, and were often likened to Roosevelt's 'New Deal'.

He adopted a new constitution and established political democracy. Universal suffrage was enacted (apart from illiterate women), freedom of speech was guaranteed, political power was decentralized, and one third of all state expenditures was devoted to an ambitious welfare program. New political parties were able to be established, apart from those affiliated with communist or foreign interests. Labor laws were introduced which assisted workers, rather than exploiting them.

Unions were encouraged to organize, although still subject to state control.[Jonas pp.23,25] The semifeudal systems of peonage and forced labor were eliminated, and workers rights were now upheld judicially.[Trudeau & Schoultz p.25] Urban workers gained from the new laws, unlike rural workers and peasants where conditions did not initially improve. This may have been due in part to the revolution having an emphasis on middle class needs, which initially ignored the plight of the campesinos.

Economic diversification (moving away from an export crop economy) was encouraged through investment promotion, but by 1950 the three large monopolies in Guatemala had not been seriously challenged.[Jonas p.25] Agrarian reform had begun but had not yet affected any major holdings. This would prove to be the challenge before new President Arbenz, and ultimately his undoing. Finally in 1952 the land reform bill began to alienate the lands of the oligarchs and UFCO. Landless peasants started forcibly taking land without waiting for legislation or titles. [Ibid p. 27]

Initially the US government had been receptive to the reforms but after Arbenz began to build on previous reforms, and take a more nationalistic line than Arevalo, the U.S. actively became involved in his overthrow. After the successful coup led by Castillo Armas the US poured a $100 million of aid into Guatemala in an attempt to make it a 'showcase of capitalism'. Unfortunately the experiment failed miserably.

There were many weaknesses that made Guatemala susceptible to intervention. Foreign interests, the oligarchy, sections of the military and the middle class (many of whom had initially supported the revolution) had become alienated. The oligarchies power had not been limited and the bourgeoisie had become apathetic. The peasant movement had grown too strong, almost to the point of anarchy, with the military reticent to defend something they no longer totally believed in.[Ibid pp. 35-37] Neither would they allow the peasantry to be armed.

From this can be seen the structural factors throughout Guatemala's history that have led to discontent and insurgencies. These include a privileged minority having control over the political system and armed forces, and persistent chronic deprivation amongst the lower classes. Apart from the years of Arbenz and Arevalo middle class reformers have been effectively barred from power (although not always from office). A climate of fear has generally made it impossible for the formation of reform groups sufficiently capable of pressing for change. [Trudeau & Schoultz pp.23,41]

During the 1960's the insurgency movement was led by disaffected US trained military officers. President Kennedy had tried to promote reform in Central America through the US government sponsored Alliance For Progress (AFP). The economy grew strongly but there was no reform instituted by the government, therefore the new economic conditions only benefited a few. The AFP was seen as '...a feckless mix of economic and military assistance that did more to prop up dictatorships than improve the lives of the poor.' [Sexton p.8]

An increase in export crops brought about a concentration of land in the hands of the elite, wages fell, and unemployment rose drastically.[Ibid pp. 29,30] Some nationalistic military officers began to resent the US training of Cuban exiles in Guatemala. In 1960 a group of officers, commanding around 40% of the armed forces, attempted a coup aimed at overthrowing the military junta. The coup failed and the rebels were forced to flee, eventually establishing different opposition groups such as MR 13 and FAR.

Despite being joined by some students and workers these movements did not take root amongst poor ladino peasants and had scarcely any effect on the Indian population. Arguments occurred amongst the different groupings on a way to achieve victory. With divided forces it was not until 1968 that, under the weight of increasing losses, some kind of unity was achieved. [Vega pp.127,128] The battle however was still being fought by ladinos and the disaffected middle class. But by 1982 Indians became prominent in the struggle, joining in the revolutionary coalition known as URNG.

Into the 1970's rural unemployment rose to 42%, and for the first time Guatemala had to import foodstuffs. Thousands of Indians became a cheap labor source for the plantations or industries of Quetzaltenango and Guatemala City. [Wearne p.60] Over half a million minifundistas began an annual trek to latifundios on the Pacific coast to work as wage laborers. Rigoberta Menchu recalls that, as a child her family worked for 20 cents a day each on a south coast plantation because they could only subsist on their plot for four or five months of the year.[Fried, et al pp.192,4]

Minimum dietary needs for most peasants were taking up to 70% of their income and malnutrition rose as a consequence. As the power of the army grew democracy became limited with electoral fraud common. Right wing death squads became prevalent in an attempt to violently stamp out any opposition.

Other tactics were used by the military government were the burning of crops, compulsory service in Civil Patrols, and forced resettlement into 'model' villages.[Trudeau & Schoultz pp. 42,41] Even as popular organizations were put down there remained some divisions between the military and the oligarchy because the army kept itself fully in control. [Ibid pp. 37,42] By the 70's and 80's the nature of guerrilla insurgencies had changed with Indians now constituting around 80% of its forces.[Wearne p.61]

The general claim is that Indian peasants were acting out of self defense. This was in response to the increase of military operations in rural areas not previously affected by military activity, and confiscation of lands. Military officers have been particularly prominent in the acquisition of land. The Northern Transversal Strip is known as 'The Zone of the Generals' [Trudeau and Shoultz p.33] The more the government repressed peasants, the more radicalized they became, and the more groups like C.U.C. (Committee for Campesino Unity) seemed to grow.

The implications of this terror campaign were many. Women now worked the fields because their men were dead, 'disappeared', or conscripted. Local markets lay abandoned, and indigenous industries dried up as their supplies were cut off. 'Military' celebrations such as Army day were ordered to replace fiestas. All men between the ages of 18 and 50 were required to serve in 'civil patrols', often at the cost of their lives.

Relocation has cut the Indians vital link between location and culture. [Wearne p.63] '...the half-empty or deserted villages, burned homes, and dismembered bodies present a picture far removed from the tight social order that for centuries has ruled one of the oldest cultures in the Americas.' [Fried, et al p.251]

It is important to note that Indians did not, or do not necessarily support either the government or the guerrilleros. In 'Campesino' Ignacio Bizarro Upjan, a Mayan Indian, describes in his diary how both sides involved in the conflict used violence in an attempt to win the 'hearts and minds' of the peasant communities. But Bizarro reflects that most Indians '..just wanted to be left alone'.

At the same time the power of the Catholic Church became stronger in rural areas. The church helped to enhance the Indians identity and preached the theology of liberation. [Ibid p.62] The church in Guatemala has traditionally opposed the 'establishment' in many ways after it's properties were confiscated, and foreign clergy expelled, by the post-1871 Liberals. [Adams p.278]

Indians had previously been mistrustful of ladinos but now joined in what they saw as a common cause. Despite this growth of Indian radicalization, ladinos generally remained as those in charge of insurgency operations. The leaders of the rebel movements are also generally proletarian in nature, not peasants.

Racism is still rampant, not just amongst the opposition forces, but across all of Guatemalan society. Whites and ladinos claim that Indian peasants are '...dumb, lazy, drunken, have no desire to better themselves, and lack intelligence.' [Herrera p.396] In justification of this the church used to proclaim (and is still widely believed by many) that '...some were born to be poor and some to be rich. It is the law of God.' [Ibid p.399]

One observer has stratified Guatemala's ethnic heirachy thus, '...a small elite of white Europeans at the top, followed by a group of mixed-bloods known as Guatemaltecos, urban ladinos, followed by rural ladinos, with Indians firmly at the bottom.' [Wearne p.133] This traditional animosity has been encouraged by rich elites and landowners in an attempt to nullify opposition. [Fried, et al p.193]

Around 40,000 peasants have fled to refugee camps in Mexico and Honduras, even as far as the US where they may earn $40-50 per day as manual laborers. [Wearne p. 64] The army and private sector are threatened by the return of thousands of these refugees from Mexico, many now highly politicized. [San Francisco Chronicle 5.26.93 p. A12] Many of the children growing up in the camps had been there for 10 years and have no conception of the agrarian peasant lifestyle.

Guatemala is also becoming an important link in the international drug trade, being able to supply up to 60% of the illegal trade in cocaine and marijuana to the U.S. Peasant farmers can earn $2,000 an acre growing opium poppies, as compared to $150 for a similar area of tomatoes. [New York Times 10.1.89 p.A12] In fact one of the reasons former President Serrano put forward for his auto-golpe was that the, '...narcotics-trafficking Mafia [was] corroding the core of the Guatemalan state.' [San Francisco Chronicle 5.26.93 p. A12]

This is one of the large side-effects of world capitalism and falling commodity prices. Peasant farmers are forced firstly away from traditional subsistence crops, to export crops, and eventually to illegal trade. With mouths to feed would anyone else make a different decision? Yet even in this way peasants are forced away from subsistence into capitalist lifestyles, having to invest their earnings, and depend on the market for foodstuffs.

The question of land reform in Guatemala is a difficult one. Apart from the rampant polarization that is caused, issues that affect reform include capitalist penetration, terms of trade, the debt crisis, disarticulated alliances (elites, multinationals, and the military), peasant differentiation, ecological destruction, politics, and world economics. Solutions do not appear to exist on a small scale. Land reform, like that of other concerns, cannot be addressed on its own. There is a need for sweeping changes that can only be done as a whole.

The first challenge of land reform is its actual availability. There are simply too many people in Guatemala to ensure that all who want land can actually have it. The reality is that the countryside can only support around 15% of the population. The successful first world economies have a majority of urban dwellers who are supplied food by efficient primary industries. Efficiency has been compromised by too many people concentrated on small plots of land. These plots do not necessarily ensure even a subsistence lifestyle.

The argument of reform proponents is that land is concentrated in the hands of too few. In Guatemala 10% of landowners control over 8o% of the land. [Newfarmer p.209] In 1979 it was concluded that Guatemala had the worst land distribution ratio in Latin America. [Wearne p.53] Some land is left fallow either awaiting rising prices, or for tax purposes. This concentration of land has '...tampered with something sacred: beliefs about rights to land.' [Williams p.159]

Apart from inaccessible mountain lands most land is now being used. Native forest cover has declined from 77% to 27%, and an estimated 25% to 35% of Guatemala's soils are seriously eroded. Guatemala is also a land of vastly contrasting ecologies. Due to increased pressures land is not being allowed to remain fallow. 54% of farms are now less than 3.5 acres, 86% of farm families live below the poverty line, 54% of these in extreme poverty. [New Forests Project proposal pp. 1,2]

Cotton ranching has poisoned the coastal environment, whilst cattle ranching is irreversibly destroying tropical rainforests. [Williams p.155] Fertilizers and chemicals have brought increased yields, but have also brought sickness, loss of top soil and salinization, and killed ecological systems vital to the food chain. Chemicals have expanded large scale agriculture without considering the impact. Guatemalan women have testified to being poisoned by the aerial spraying of insecticides. [Herrera p.392]

Many workers on latifundios had six times the amount of DDT in their blood compared to the most exposed workers in the U.S. [Fried, et al p.192] At the same time pesticides have lost their effectiveness. In 1932 research showed that only 7 parasites were resistant to chemical control, by 1980 this had risen to a staggering 432. [Bequette p.33] Organic farming is discouraged because it requires crop rotation. Traditional forms of maize, suited to soils, local diets, and the weather are passed over in favor of new crops. [Downing p.155]

Many of these problems can be tied to the Green Revolution which began in the 1960's. The possibility of land reform in Guatemala has been severely restricted due to the effects of the Green Revolution. Agriculture as a growth industry set a catastrophic chain of events into motion. [Lappe p.22] The transfer of land from forest, to corn, to pasture/export crop, brought a clash between two incompatible systems of land use. [Williams p.159]

Despite the superior productivity of many peasant farmers the government came to believe that it would be better to eliminate a majority of small farmers, thereby ensuring large acreage's efficiently producing export cash crops. [Ibid p.23] Mechanization was introduced which was not cost effective on a small scale. Aid, credits and technology went mainly to elites in an effort to improve efficiency on large land holdings. Fertilizers and insecticides also became essential.

The Green Revolution is a large factor in the currently popular Comparative Advantage Theory. This theory states that each nation should specialize in a narrow range of goods that they produce most efficiently. Fiscally burdened countries like Guatemala are obliged to export 'flat out' in an effort to reduce their foreign debt. A major problem with this is the large reliance on non-food agriculture.

Thousands of farmers have been removed from both the production and consumption processes. [Ibid] This is part of the process called Depeasantization. Food must be imported which then increases debt, and also makes countries dependent on food producing nations and transnational corporations. This also has the contradictory effect of raising debt.

Although only a 'middle range' debtor the debt crisis has forced Guatemala into reliance upon the international community and the 'New World Order'. [Downing p.307] The global economy today is a web of interdependence that transcends the sovereignty of all states. In a steadily shrinking globe there are four major players in the new economy - capital, international institutions, multinational corpora-tions, and national governments.

To this end, effective land and other reforms are often unacceptable to these huge interests. Conditions are also needed where foreign capital can be invested safely with a reasonable return. This has given the military and rich elites in Guatemala the opportunity to establish strong repressive control with the blessing of the U.S. and other large western institutions. Thus there is a dual system of government - the formal and highly centralized one in Guatemala City, and the informal Indian one rooted deep in traditional social structures. [Whetten p.65]

Guatemala is also affected by trade blocs. The immediate effects of NAFTA on Guatemalan peasants are unclear. In the short term jobs, industry, and exports may be lost in competition with Mexico. Therefore, the reinstitution of an equitable common market as a precursor to the extension of NAFTA is needed. But this also needs to be done in conjunction with the reform of regressive tax structures and foreign exchange regimes, along with increased delivery of social services. [Newfarmer p.225]

Prebisch considered that unfavorable international terms of trade limited a governments road to reform. Prices and market control are dominated by groups in the developed world, and nationals are marginalized in this process. [Bennett, J. p.155] Lower prices and repatriated profits contribute to continued poverty. The General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs (GATT) is controlled in the main by the first world. Therefore, on these and other issues, transnational groups are able to undermine government sovereignty. This is of particular importance to a nation like Guatemala

Guatemala is also hampered by its bimodal form of agriculture. Because of colonial land tenure patterns what is termed as the 'Junker Road' was taken as capitalism penetrated the agricultural sector. This resulted in large land holdings dominated by elites and transnationals. Thousands of peasants were dispossessed bringing large scale social change. This change in the peasant class is still going on today and is known as Peasant Differentiation Theory. It also brought about Guatemala's mono-export economy where only a few select crops were grown. The ongoing effect is capitalist penetration of the peasant farm sector.

Guatemala, like much of Latin America, became heavily dependent on the United States. During the 1960's the Alliance for Progress (AFP) invested huge amounts of aid without consideration for economic or political reform. Alba contends that the AFP read ' a monumental joke' [Alba p.127] Washington's modernization and export diversification programs helped increase the class of landless peasants, thereby creating the conditions for the formation of peasant leagues, and armed struggle. [Williams p.161]

The environment began to be decimated when rainforests were used as an 'escape valve' for the poor and hungry. The colonization of rainforests continues today. In 1987 alone nearly 1,500 square kilometers of the Peten tropical forest was burned in a '...disturbing synergism between logging and pasture fires.' Sustainable industries within the forest and soil quality are being destroyed in the process. As another result of the civil war in Guatemala, refugees are pouring into Belize with consequent increasing deforestation. [Downing pp.58,195-6] Yet, it is justified in the name of 'development'.

In this we can see that in Guatemala, as in most other Latin American states, the Trickle Down Theory has exacerbated divisions of wealth. Inequality of wealth was (and still is by many liberal economists) actually deemed favorable. Potential markets have been eliminated and effective markets saturated. This has contributed to the rationalization of agriculture consolidating land into even larger landholdings dominated by the rich. [Bennet, J. pp. 137,8]

This is a vital factor effecting land reform. With modernization and urbanization food prices are kept low to feed the urban population, therefore uncompetitive farmers are not able to break out of a cycle of poverty. Many flee to the cities, and their lands taken over by larger concerns. Others turn to producing cash crops, or merely subsist on a 'hand to mouth' basis. Traditional peasant farmers have turned away from the barter system into a cash based exchange system. [Whetten p.108]

B.F.Johnston put forward the theory that countries like Guatemala could break out of this cycle by instituting a unimodal system of agriculture, similar to that of the U.S. This is characterized by family enterprises working medium sized farms, and is known as the Farmer Road. This goes against the popular notion of land reform as many small and large land holdings would be lost.

With this more attention would need to be paid to local conditions. As put by Carl Sauer, 'The corn on [a] Guatemalan hillside that may seem a sorry likely to be very suited to the native diet, local soils and weather.' [Wright p.155] 'New' sustainable methods, which often incorporate ancient farm techniques like those being attempted in Tiwanaku (Bolivia), need to be incorporated in some way. [Star Tribune p. 10a] The peasants who have been forced out of villages and subsistence lifestyles, into 'model hamlets', have been required to produce cash crops which may be highly unsuitable to the area.

Therefore three objectives would need to be, advancing structural transformation, raising the welfare of the rural population, along with fostering changes in their attitudes and behavior. This theory hopefully makes some sense because peasants have never been trained to 'argue' with the system. However it does not take into necessarily take into account some of the political and economic realities of Guatemala.

These include monopolistic land control, the power of the military along with profit taking middle-men and disarticulated alliances (special interests), and the clamor for peasant land reform with its associated revolutionary implications. Special interests are evidenced to control eight major areas of the Guatemalan economy - foreign competition, marketing, production, processing, credit, labor, and government taxation and regulation. [Adams p.321]

For economic reasons the government in Guatemala perpetuates agrarian functional dualism. This is needed to ensure a slowdown in the collapse of peasant agriculture so that a cheap pool of rural labor remains. [De Janvry pp.224-5,230] Also as some peasants are able to acquire a modicum of wealth they support government policy and become opposed to more radical reform. A breakdown in community comes as peasants turn 'symbolic' capital into 'physical' capital.

The assumption that land reform is not tenable is usually held by those who have a vested interest in its ramifications. However this assumption is not always necessarily true. China has reached a high level of food sufficiency through labor intensive agriculture which is not dependent upon chemicals. On the average hectare China produces enough food to feed 14 people, compared to 2 in France. [Baquette p. 32] (* Note: comparable figure for Guatemala unknown)

The important element here is that agriculture has been supplemented by localized industry producing goods needed in the particular area as well as for export, and who are able to absorb surplus rural labor without massive dislocation. This has the effect of drastically slowing down the migration of labor and the rural drift to cities. The ideal industries are light factories and workshops, unlike the heavily polluting maquiladoras that line the Mexico/U.S.A. border

The system is also subject to strong political control and backed up by extensive health care. Here we see a more effective strategy because it addressed in an overall way. [Bennett J. p.33] However this model would be unlikely to be acceptable to the global order. Forces of world capitalism, the oligarchs, and the military would not be imbued with fervor to embrace a socialist system unruled by free market forces. The forced removal of Arbenz was a good example of the consequences of trying to remove creditors' local allies from power. [Wright p.272]

Yet a study by the BDNES of Brazil shows that South Korea, one of the four "Asian Tigers", has been successful because of an effective export oriented industrial development program based on the transformation of its agrarian subsistence base. Strong government intervention played a large role in determining allocation of resources, rather than allowing it to be dictated by the market. This refutes the popularly conceived notion that it's success was based on liberal economic programs.[Bissio p.100]

Ejidos in Mexico have enjoyed the support of the population and proved to be successful in many ways, particularly in keeping social peace. [Soe p.239] This has helped to retain the Fiesta System, which traditionally discourages inequality. Land reform began early in Mexico (1926), and paved the way for development. [Survey p.19] However these reforms are now being reversed, and will continue to accelerate under the NAFTA agreement. In his study of Mexico, Wright does attempt to put his argument in an international context, with an active connection to a larger world economy.

In conclusion it could be argued that land reform is feasible, and could reduce the plight of Guatemalan peasant farmers given the right circumstances. But this is not land reform as thought of traditionally. Reform does not automatically mean that land is productive, and the process itself can be long and tedious. Also, modern capitalistic theory decrees that all rural peasant farmers can not be integrated into the system. Those that survive under the peasant system may give some credence to Chayanovs theory.

However there are several preconditions, which are highly arguable, and given present conditions in Guatemala, very theoretical. The pre-cursor is that Guatemalan capitalism is not working efficiently, or on a proper scale yet. There is needed a movement away from the Junker Road to the Farmer Road, an improvement in terms of trade, a change in rural marketing methods, welfare and attitudes, agricultural policies firmly tied to industrial, economic and social policies, more localized industrialization, and strong politically democratic control of all of these elements.

There is unfortunately little room for the romantic moral economy idealism of authors like Lynn Stephen when confronting the realities of modern day Guatemala. There are cases of peasants who wish to reject modern capitalism and attempt to embrace some communal form of egalitarianism, but most still seek to better themselves. However, there still needs to be serious considerations for harmonious land and agriculture use, and respect for the fact that traditionally ' is more important an Indian to be somebody, rather than to have something.' [Wearne p.55]

Land is not just important to the Indian peasant, it is vital. This is exemplified by the businessman who returns to his milpa for planting, and the guerrilla who abandons the fight because it is harvest time. [Ibid] It is recorded how many Indians would not leave Patzun because it was felt once they left ' were no longer a Patzun Indian.' After leaving, the process of ladinoization sets in, particularly when young men are forcibly conscripted into the military. [Ibid pp.58,9]

Many observers consider that Indians can manage their traditional natural resources in clear sustainable way, but to suggest that this can be done in some timeless manner ignores the political reality that is recognized by most Indians. They are faced with a shrinking base of natural resources, an encroaching market economy, and expanding colonist frontiers which have reduced or eliminated their ability to subsist solely through traditional methods. [Downing p.214]

Therefore farmers will need to fine-tune their output to local conditions, but still live with the demands of the global economy. The challenge before Guatemala, and all of Latin America, is not to imitate models or adopt endless theories, but to evolve all-encompassing political processes alongside of the above where local savings, individual productivity, the work ethic, entrepreneurial initiative, sound administration, just laws, and humane social arrangements all have their place. [Soe p.226]

To do this the power of the disarticulated alliances would need to be challenged. The AFP failed in their Latin American mission because they '...gravely underestimated the power and resilience of the traditional upper classes...'.[Smith p.11] Other states who have been able to restrict the power of elites have implemented meaningful reform, and suffered less revolutionary challenge. [Ibid p.13] This will help inequality to be reduced at every level. [Lappe p.24]

The legacies of 1944-1954 have been enormous for Guatemala. Although the economy grew in the 1960's it was without any kind of reform and hindered further growth. Reverting to a crop export economy led to a drop in locally grown foodstuffs and pushed prices up. There have been divisions within the military, as exemplified by the 1960 coup attempt. Much of the money spent on the military has been used for repression and the gaining of land and power. Peasant agriculture has been divided and discounted in this process.

By undertaking complete measures, it may finally begin to bring under control all those other issues which tend to be approached in disparate ways. These include over-population, seed control, ecological destruction, epidemics, child mortality, human rights, and militarism. Neither should the developed world promote the use of any technology that increases the dependency of the Guatemala, and other developing nations, on them. For too long Guatemala has been developed only in ways advantageous to nations of primary development. [Adams p.10]

Solving only the economic problems of Guatemala does not mean that social problems will automatically follow. Blame cannot be laid at the feet of any one issue, including the lack of land reform. We need to look forward, and sometime backward, for new propositions on the environment, community, and food production. Development needs to be evolutionary, not forced. The problem is a complete package which needs to be addressed, not a variety of single concerns.


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T.E. Downing, et al (Ed.) 'Development or Destruction' Boulder: Westview 1992

J.L. Fried , et al (Ed.) 'Guatemala in Rebellion: Unfinished History' NY:Grove Press 1983

A. De Janvry 'The Agrarian Question' Baltimore : John Hopkins University Press 1981

Edelberto Torres Rivas "Central America Today" in M. Diskin (Ed) 'Trouble In Our Backyard' NY:Pantheon 1983

L.A. Herrera "Testimonies of Guatemalan Women" in SCAAN 'Revolution in Central America' Boulder:Westview 1987

S.Jonas 'The Battle for Guatemala' Westview 1991

The New Forests Project 'Guatemala Sustainable Development Project - proposal' International Center: Washington D.C.

New York Times 10.1.89, 10.19.92

San Francisco Chronicle 5.26.93, 6.2.93

J.D. Sexton 'Campesino: The Diary of a Guatemalan Indian' Tucson:University of Arizona Press 1985

P.Smith "The Origins of Crisis" in M. Blachman, W. Leo Grande, K.Sharpe 'Confronting Revolution' NY:Pantheon 1986

C. Soe (Ed.) 'Comparative Politics 86/87' Connecticut:Dushkin Publishing Group 1986

Star Tribune 9.9.91

R.Trudeau and L.Schoultz "Guatemala" in Blachman, et al, Ibid

L.M.Vega 'Guerillas in Latin America' Praeger:NY 1969

P.Wearne 'Guatemala' in 'Central America's Indians' Minority Rights Group Report (No. 62): London 1986

N.L. Whetten 'Guatemala: The Land and the People' New Haven: Yale University Press 1961

R.Williams 'Agriculture and the Crisis in Central America' Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press 1980

A.Wright 'The Death of Ramon Gonzalez' Austin: University of Texas Press 1990

© 1993-2008, Nicholas Klar, PO Box 280, Brighton SA 5048, AUSTRALIA 

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REF: Nicholas Klar, 1993, "How have peasant lifestyles evolved and been affected by governments in post-revolutionary Guatemala?" - + date accessed


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