Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Susan Green

A Tragic Story of Life Down South America

(22 December 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 51, 22 December 1941, p. 3
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

By CIRO ALEGRIA, Winner of Latin American Prize Novel Contest

We have heard a lot lately about the “democracies to the south of us,” about “our good neighbors of the Western Hemisphere.” Therefore very timely indeed is this sincerely written story of how Peruvian “democracy” is applied to the native Indians, the workers and the poor of that country.

The community of Bumi is the hero of the story, so to speak. Living peacefully, cultivating their fields and grazing their cattle in common, building their first school house for their children, these Indians of an Andes plateau become victims of the greed of the rich rancher, Don Alvaro Amenabar y Roldan.

To force free, soil-loving Indians to become slave-workers in his mine, Don Alvaro, descendant of the Spanish conquistadores, adopts the simple expedient of robbing them of their land. He falsely claims to have legal title. Against the machinations of swindling lawyers, against witnesses paid or intimidated to testify dishonestly, against judges and politicians owing their jobs and allegiance to the rich, the poor Indians are helpless. They are altogether unable to cope with such “civilized” practices. Their own lawyer betrays them – after taking their money. Neither can their machetes, supplemented by a few rifles, serve them against the machine guns and mounted ruffians of Don Alvaro Amenabar y Roldan.

So these unhappy people are called together by their Mayor, Rosendo Maqui, to decide in their communal assembly what to do. They agree that they will gain nothing by resisting but must take their movable belongings and settle in the bleak mountainous land still left to them.

There the unfavorable climate, the rocky soil, the scarcity of pasture land, make living so hard that the community begins to disintegrate. To revenge themselves on the rich, some of the men join a bandit, whose exploits are interwoven in the story. A few Indians go to the coca plantations to become peons under the overseer’s whip; to sicken of malaria, to die of poisonous viper bites – and to be systematically robbed of their miserble wages.

The Mayor’s young son departs to work at tapping rubber in the jungle. There he witnesses Indians tied to trees and lashed into senseless bleeding pulp because they do not bring in enough rubber to please the boss. He himself is blinded by boiling rubber, against which he has no protection – not even a warning as to its danger.

But none of the Indians go into Don Alvaro’s mine.

He Dies of “Heart Failure”

To break their morale, he has his underlings steal their cattle. Finally, when they find their most valued bull gone, the aged Mayor, himself travels to the corrals of Don Alvaro to claim it. By the dictates of Peruvian justice, the bull remains with the thief while Rosendo Maqui is clapped into jail for stealing cattle. Here one day the old man is beaten to death. Officially, he has died of heart failure.

Finally a ray of hope comes to the Rumi Indians. A new leader appears, the adopted son of their beloved old Mayor. In his contacts with the outside world he has lost many of his superstitions and has acquired knowledge for improving the soil, for building better houses, for communal education. He fights for his ideas against the fears and superstitions of the Indians – and wins.

But their prosperity in their mountain retreat does not please Don Alvaro. His ambition still is to get peons for his mine. So he files an appeal to the Supreme Court to deprive the Indians of their newly built and now prospering village. Once again the swindlers have it their way.

But this time the Indians decide to resist dispossess[ion]. They prepare to defend their land. Their courage fires to revolt the robbed and impoverished Indians of the whole region. On the eve of combat their leader, Benito Castor, makes a stirring speech:

“The fate of the poor is the same everywhere, and we ask all the poor to join us. That’s the only way we’ll ever win. For years, for centuries, many have rebelled and lost. Have no fear of defeat, for it is better to die than be a slave.”

But despite their bravery the crude weapons of the Indians cannot compete against: the machine guns and mausers used by the henchmen of Don Alvaro. Nor are they a match for the truckloads ot trained soldiers that the “democratic” government of Peru sends to assist its most worthy citizen, Don. Alvaro Amenabar y Roldan, despoiler of Indian villages. So this realistic story ends with the defeat of its hero – the peaceful community of Rumi Indians.

A Book to Be Highly Recommended

Giro Alegria’s book is highly recommended to the working people of the United States. It will help them understand that they, as working people, have nothing in common with the South American governments run for the rich against the poor. Washington clasps these ruling classes to its bosom as brothers. But the South American brothers of the working class are not in the seats of the mighty. They are in the sacked Indian villages, on the plantations, in the mines.

It is interesting to note that a rival rich rancher who for his own purposes is at first willing to assist the Rumi villagers against Don Alvaro rapidly changes his mind when he perceives they are starting a revolt. The rich never help the poor when they are fighting for their

An American reader may find the story a bit overwritten and the style perhaps florid. But these characteristics are quite consistent with the author’s background and with his subject matter. The publisher states that Giro Alegria was born on his grandfather’s hacienda in northern Peru, but has lived most of his 32 years in Chile.

He has written a valuable story, exposing in one of its most violent forms the rule of might over right.

Susan Green Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 26 August 2014