Publisher — 01 September 2015 — by Evan X Hyde
From the Publisher

        Today I again would like to use this column to educate you about the real Guatemala, the enemy they have kept you ignorant about. The following is from a book on GUATEMALA published by the North American Congress on Latin America in 1974.

        Beginning in the 1830s, the Guatemalan government sought to attract Europeans and North American settlers. They were convinced that Guatemala would not progress without industrious workers of European extraction. None of the early efforts was successful. The Guatemalan climate and economy were not attractive to large numbers of potential settlers and a poor international credit rating discouraged foreign investment. With the development of coffee and banana production, however, foreign immigration and investment picked up.

        There were those foreigners, however, who needed no invitation to do business in Guatemala. The English, concerned with increasing their markets for manufactured goods, were actively engaged in making inroads into Guatemalan commerce even before the latter’s independence from Spain. Contraband through the borders of the British colony of Belize, with Guatemalan merchant complicity, was common practice. After Independence, trade through Belize continued and English merchants became established in Guatemala. The English commercial firm of Klee, Skinner and Company began operations in Guatemala around 1830, and others followed.

        By the end of the century, and after great difficulties, a system of railroads from major agricultural production areas to both Atlantic and Pacific ports had been built. The government further contracted with European enterprises or immigrants to install electric lighting and telephones in the capital city.

        This wave of foreigners (including, for example, the German Dusseldorf family) quickly moved into ownership positions in commerce, coffee export and industry in the second half of the 19th century. Though the total number of  foreign residents in Guatemala was never large, their economic activity was great. Of particular importance were the credit sources and access to markets abroad they were able to establish. They also subsequently paved the way for the arrival of foreign corporations. The initiation of direct operations in Guatemala by the United Fruit Company, in 1901, underscored a growing trend that had developed by the end of the 19th century: the establishment of branches of foreign enterprises on Guatemalan soil, particularly on the part of German, French and U.S. companies. By 1930, foreign companies amassed large agricultural holdings in Guatemala and gained virtually complete control over the economy in the area of export agriculture, utilities and related areas of transportation and communications. Spanish surnamed Guatemalans initially played little, if any, direct role in the major foreign enterprises either as representatives or shareholders.

        Individual foreign immigrants were able to increase their holdings significantly through buying government land, cheaply acquiring plots owned by Indians, and purchasing farms of bankrupt Guatemalan coffee planters who lacked sufficient credit to survive slumps in the coffee markets. Growers were frequently at the mercy of banks and coffee export firms, many of them foreign-owned, which controlled credit and export outlets. Of the 20 largest landowners existing in 1930, over half were of non-Spanish foreign origin.

        Direct German participation in the areas of agriculture and commerce was ended by World War I, with the exception of some resident German owners of coffee farms. U.S. interests maneuvered quickly to fill the gap. Even after the government’s second confiscation of German capital (during World War II, at least half of the top coffee export houses were owned by persons with foreign surnames or by foreign companies. A new influx of foreign immigrants, particularly from the Mid-East, appeared during the first quarter of the 20th century and quickly moved into commerce and industry. Preceded by the earlier arrival of the Abularach family, they included such families as Zimeri, David and Gabriel. Textiles became a particular area of commercial and industrial specialization among this group, just as dry goods became the focus of Chinese immigrants.

        As Guatemalan landowners lost ground during the 50 years between 1880 and 1930 (if not in numbers of enterprises, certainly in percentage of total production and export of major crops), the commercial sector of the Guatemalan bourgeoisie was also outpaced by foreigners. Guatemalan nations barely held their own in numbers of industrial enterprises until the 1950s. At that point, a resurgence of foreign immigrant and foreign company-owned enterprises pushed the Guatemalan bourgeoisie further into the background.


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