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Voices in the Streets of Guatemala

A young Guatemalan woman, whose father's wealth comes mostly from land and cattle, professes to have an optimistic view of the nation' future. Returning to Guatemal from a trip to the United States, she carries a new pair of roller skates. She declares that the North American press has exaggerated Guatemala's problems and writes down a list of pleasant places where a tourist can shop and dine in the Guatemalan capital.

When it comes to the subject of the Indian population, she declares that most Guatemalans do not make a distinction between Indians and ladinos.m

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"It's not a racist society,c she says.

But then she proceeds to describe the Indians in terms which make them sound like a docile people, content in their poverty.

"They have all they need," she says. "They have their homes, and their pigs, and their land. . . . If you gave them more, they wouldn't be happy."

To emphasize the point, she describes an Indian woman whom she and her family cared for at one of ranch houses when the woman fell ill. This woman, she says, was extremely uncomfortable in the new surroundings and did not like sleeping on clean sheets.

"The Protestant missionaries seem to me to be a bit communistic in some of their ideas," she continues. "But there is one good thing about them: They do forbid alcohol. The Indians can't handle it."

he ideal leader for Guatemala, in her view, was Carlos Arana Osorio, a former Army colonel and President who smashed a guerrilla uprising in the eastern part of the country in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was not a gentle operation. According to a US State Department human rights report, the insurgency was suppressed "with considerable loss of life."

Arana has since been known to some as the "Lion of Zacapa." But to others, he is Zacapa's "jackal."

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"HE was like a World War II dictator," the young woman says. "We need that."

A young Guatemalan man explains that much of what he was taught at the University of San Carlos, the country's largest university, amounted to Marxism.

"No one ever said so outright," he declares. "But that's pretty much the way it was."

"The professors taught us that things wouldn't have been so bad for so long if it weren't for the United States," he adds. "They saw the US as a nation which was exploiting Guatemala. . . . Many of the students accepted that."

He says that a professor once hinted to him that he could put him in touch with a guerrilla organization if the student was interested. The young man never took up the invitations. But his views to this day seem to reflect the Marxist-style analysis of some of his old professors. His attitude toward the Romeo Lucas Garcia government is a micture of hostility and contempt.

He believes the government can do no good.

He was asked his view on the health clinics which the government has established in the countryside. They have no medicine, the young man says.

He was asked to explain how the University of San Carlos had survived the many attacks which have been made upon it and its students and faculty by armed men, usually believed to be part of the government security forces.

(For a week or so last year, the death squads were killing one professor or former professor every day in Guatemala City. According to some estimates, more than 60 students and 40 members of the faculty and staff have been gunned down over the past two years. In one technique, the killer rides on the back of a motorcycle.)

The young man displayed a kind of fatalistic attitude toward this terror.

"Well, sometimes everybody would stay away from the university," he recounts. "But then they would drift back.

"It's not really dangerous unless you're involved in things. But, of course, sometimes they did shoot some unlucky bystanders."

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