Minister Combs to the Secretary of State.

No. 384.]

Sir: I have the honor to transmit copies of a letter from Messrs. Kensett Champney & Co., which describes very clearly the labor troubles they are experiencing, of my note to Mr. Barrios transmitting a copy of this letter, and his answer.

[Page 825]

I settled these difficulties several times, but as this correspondence discloses they recur. I have intimated to Mr. Barrios, as you will observe in my last note, that an illegal interference with labor might lead to claims against his Government.

I trust that they will take warning and put an end to this form of annoyance.

I have, etc.,

Leslie Combs.
[Inclosure 1.]

Kensett Champney & Co. to Minister Combs.

Sir: You know that we have been troubled for a long time by the local authorities catching our Indian tenants for work of the Northern Railway. Mr. Brown, when he was with us some time ago, told us that you had already asked the authorities in Guatemala to put an end to this vexation, and we are greatly obliged to you.

We are very sorry to have to say, however, that the vexations went on as before and still go on. We wired you on the 14th of April that men of ours were seized in Senahú the day before and put in jail to be sent to the railway. A day or two later we wired you that the same thing had been done in Cahabin. Senahú and Cahabin are the two towns which have jurisdiction in our lands. The men were locked up for several days before being marched to the railway, and we wired you on the chance of there being time to get an order back to loose them. The men had to go; but we are glad to hear that our wires reached you, and we appreciate your kindness in seeing Mr. Barrios and getting his undertaking to give the matter his prompt attention.

We are now afraid that he is not very prompt. We inclose you a warrant that came from Senahú, dated the 1st of May, and signed by the alcalde de la Cruz. This warrant, you will see, does not stop at demanding men from us for the railway, but authorizes the bearer to trespass and seize the men wherever they may be in our land.

We refused, of course, to consider the order, and on the 4th, as a consequence, we had notice to appear at the jefatura política in Coban, two days’ journey from here. Of this notice (antedated May 1) we can only inclose you a copy. The notice reads as a circular to various plantations, ours included, but it is directed only to us.

It was made out as a circular, apparently, so that it might not remain in our hands. In view of these orders it was plain that nothing was being done for us from Guatemala, that in fact things were looking worse for us; and we wired you yesterday, the 5th.a

We hope that you will state our grievances again, and that tangible results will follow. We simply want to see that we are let alone at our own business. We are planting coffee; we are not building railways; we have nothing to do with the Northern Railway Company. They are a private concern, like our own, and no matter what public or private influence they may enjoy, we have no notion of doing other people’s work gratis with the very laborers that we have lawfully paid and contracted for our own work. The United Fruit Company might as reasonably ask us to plant bananas for them.

We have no men to spare; quite to the contrary. Mr. Barrios is from the Alta Vera Paz and should understand perfectly the state of things here. The plantations are not worked as they are in the Pacific coast, by gangs of Indians from the other provinces.

They are worked by tenants of the land, and if tenants are taken off we have no way of making up the lost work. And the loss is no trifle. When a man is taken for the railway it means, with going and coming, a loss of six weeks to begin with. But it mostly means more. It is very likely to mean six months lost, and often it means a dead Indian. You see the man comes back sick. It is next to impossible for Indians of this climate to cross the Polichic Valley without getting fever—a bad sort of fever, and apt to be rapid. A week or so after a man is back we ask for him and learn that he is buried. [Page 826] At the best he is an invalid—no good to us and no good to his family for a long time.

Our Indians are farmers. They live where they please in our land and grow their own crops. They have to cut forests and make ready the ground for their crops, and sow them, and hoe them, and reap them, and everything, between their times of work for the plantation; if they don’t there is a famine. Just now they are all trying to sow; now is the time; it is a question of now or not at all. Yet they see themselves caught and sent to the railway for a month or more, then come back sick, seed time past, and no crop for a year.

These are the things that the Indians here can not stand. It is the sort of thing that is driving them out of the country and leaving us without hands; estates which, in our case, we have been twenty-five years building up. In the Alta Verapaz it is only a step to the inaccessible regions of the Sartoon. That is the land of freedom for these Indians, and once there, there is no getting them back, and others continually follow them. It is a growing stream.

The southwest of British Honduras, that used to be empty, is now a hive of Indians, runaways from Alta Verapaz; and of all the Alta Verapaz there is no plantation from which this exodus is easier than from ours. We are in the very edge. There are no plantations beyond. Our specially precarious situation in this respect is extremely serious; it is badly understood in Guatemala.

We have dwelt a good deal in this letter on the unfairness of what is being done, and on the consequent hardships and losses to us. But we realize of course that our final plea is that of illegality. This you know already. We only ask for law. We have paid the taxes and kept the laws of the country for a quarter of a century now, without offense or complaint, and we expect to have the laws protect us.

We remain, etc.,

Kensett Champney & Co.
[Inclosure 2.]

Minister Combs to the Guatemalan Minister of Foreign Affairs.

No. 332.]

Excellency: I have the honor to forward to your excellency a copy of a letter received from Messrs. Kensett Champney & Co., which sets forth in a forcible way the great loss entailed upon them by the impressment of their colonists, from time to time, by government officials and the grounds upon which they have appealed for protection.

I send this letter that your excellency may have a fuller knowledge of all the facts that the various telegrams from the same parties have given us, though they were sufficient to elicit the prompt and satisfactory assurance from your excellency that a stop would be put to unjust and illegal drafting of Messrs. Kensett Champney’s laborers.

I do not think it necessary to add anything to this note of transmittal, as I have the confident hope no further grounds of complaint will be permitted. Such complaints are so likely to develop into just grounds for claims that your excellency’s correct disposition in the matter is most satisfactory.

I have the honor, etc.,

Leslie Combs.
[Inclosure 3.]

The Guatemalan Minister of Foreign Affairs to Minister Combs.

Mr. Minister: From the department of public works I have received the communication which says: “Mr. Minister: Referring myself to your respective communications, relative to the colonists that in the Department of Alta Verapaz are sent to work on the Guatemala Railroad, I have the honor to manifest to you that the suitable orders have been dictated so that they shall remit to those works only those that are found to be without any engagement of that nature. I remain with the most distinguished consideration and esteem, your most obedient servant. Jose Flamenco.”

On transcribing it to your excellency it is very pleasing for me to renew to you, etc.,

Juan Barrios M.
  1. Telegram printed ante.