UNITED STATES—In the jungle with Antonio and Juana, and there was the Great Banana Strike in Guatemalan. The workers went out on strike in August. For days the lines had been drawn. It was a relief the chosen day neared. They gathered around the city plaza. Their demands were stop their practice of hiring through sub-contractors.
Their demands were simple, only because the unions in the USA had already fought these battles before them and shed blood, for a Sunday off and a 40-hour work week. They would have been taken for granted, and perhaps never even noticed elsewhere but the light of freedom lights in one place and freedom’s torch shine more brightly.
The fieldworkers sought an eight-hour work-day. Compensation for work accidents. A six-day work week, and sanitary sleeping quarters that could pass a health inspection. A weekly wage. No more company stores. Payment in money rather than coupons.
The U.S. Embassy in the capital kept a stream of information to Washington stating:
Feeling against the Government by the proletariat which is shared by some of the soldiers is high and it is doubtful if we can depend upon the Costa Norte Government for protection. May I respectfully suggest that my request for the presence within calling distance of an American warship be granted and that it stand off subject to my call … It is admitted that the character of the strike has changed and that the disturbance is a manifestation with a subversive tendencies (subversive: read red tendencies).
As a matter of fact one of the generals of the national army had the foresight to exclude soldiers from the department of Santa Cruz from being included in the foray because they could not effectively open fire against banana plantation workers with whom they might be related. The banana company shrewdly planned for every contingency, like dude, we gotta be prepared. The Freethinking press will undoubtedly work up a great deal of feeling against the Government and will tend to inculcate in the popular mind a belief that the Government was hasty in protecting the interests of the Allied Fruit Company. The Conservative journals are defending the Government’s course but I doubt that their counter-fire will suffice to do away with the damage the Liberal journals are causing. (telegrams from the embassy).
Allied Fruit Company had a strong role. Sam could be proud that the current gentleman who sat in the place once occupied by adipose Phineas Cox was already Sam’s concierge, so to speak. Without having to be asked, he made sure that a battleship belonging to the Marines was parked off the coast.
Meanwhile, though not one shot had been fired or striker assassinated, Allied was already shrewdly planning how to handle the foreseen labor shortage. The White Fleet had already been mobilized to bring in a passel of new workers from Barbados, who disembarked by the hundred in Puerto Cortes. The mahogany complected laborers were loaded into the trains, with a destination in the banana plantations. They cars were blazoned by the twin inverted Cs of the Chamelecón Railway Co. The railroad’s freight cars were deputized for the mission.
That workers about already had misgivings because one man had a cousin who had already worked for the Banana Company and had heard tales of atrocious conditions. His cousin’s eyes was one of those sprayers whose skin had turned green then blue, and he wasted away, a victim of the Bordeaux mixture.
“Before G-d, I do not want to follow in his footsteps,” said the new recruit, trembling. All around the dawn of panic sowed in the others jammed into the freight car. It became a tangible doom and horror of what awaited at the plantations.
“You’ll be sorry you ever said yes,” said a man in a palm hat by the train station where the locomotive got filled with water. “But you are you, and you will learn.”
They got to their destination: a plantation on the banks of the Sula River, and there were a few hundred of them there already. After a few weeks on the plantation, they had had enough. Under the auspices of their leader Tuco, they fled into the hills, like the lost tribe of Israel, into the leap-dappled jungle hill, at their footsteps that manatees fled with a rusty screech, they saw waterfalls and iguanas—getting to freedom was so much bigger and more precarious than anything their journey from Barbados had led them to imagine.
That first night they set up a tent and roasted an iguana. It was delicious. Then at one point in their wandering, they went down steep ravines and up slow mountains, and at one point they faced death in in mangrove swamp. And the group of a few hundred turned around under spell of the plantations, they trudged back to what they knew.
“Sometimes what eats you feeds you,” said Juana.
To be continued…
Graydon is the Wizard of Fiction.