Hat tip to Ecuador news magazine – Quito, November 15, (Andes).- “
Screams and moans. The sharp whistle of the bullets. The smell of gunpowder.
The inclement hammer of machine guns. The human bodies breaking like clusters, fertilizing the earth, sowing revenge and hate.
Jaw bones open, eyes falling out, arms wanting to climb and climb to escape to another place. The children with tense hands, wrinkling the blankets of their mothers, screaming with paralyzed features. And without weapons with which soldiers and generals kill.
In this way the Ecuadorian writer, Alfredo Pareja Diezcanseco, depicted the massacre that occurred November 15th, 1922, in the city of Guayaquil. That event, in agreement with sociologists and historians, marked the baptism of blood of the Ecuador’s proletariat.
But how did it all begin? Guayaquil, at the beginning of the 20th Century, was a port that received migrants from various countries. With its dirt streets, the principal port’s daily life consisted of the import and export of products.
The great economic movement permitted that the first factories were born and with them, the movement of the Ecuadorian worker.
Ecuador, which in those years had a population of approximately 1.3 million inhabitants, began what was known as the cocoa period. Europe and the United States were the primary trade partners of the country.
In the city, the trucks passed like noisy shadows with bottles of milk moving and squeaking with the impact. Some men carried on their backs hundreds of pounds of the Seed of gold with hurried steps, with a slight trot. It was the port that shortly would transform into a great city.
The income obtained by the owners of haciendas easily passed 300% of the production cost; cocoa did not remain in Guayaquil for long, therefore, they weren’t required to rent cellars. The final price of 100 pounds in the port was between 20 and 25 sucres.
According to the sociologist, Oswaldo Albornoz Peralta, in that time 25 sucres could by 50 packs of noodles, 300 pounds of rice, 600 pounds of potatoes, or 300 pounds of flour.
The debts owed to the USA by the Ecuadorian Bank and the Commercial and Agricultural Bank, as a result of using resources to defeat the liberal troops commanded by Carlos Concha, during the First World War, the consequent displacement of important food supplies, and the plagues that affected the cocoa cultivation (witches’ broom disease and Manila), were the impetuses for the crisis later in the period.
The price of 100 pounds of cocoa fell from 26 sucres, in January of 1920, to 5.75 sucres, in December of 1921.
The total exports, which in 1920 reached 20 million sucres, reduced to 9 million sucres in 1921 and, after a brief respite, continued falling to 7.5 million sucres in 1923. The nascent bourgeoisie made sure the weight of the crisis rested on the shoulders of the people.
Guayaquil was the center and origin of the entire movement of Ecuadorian workers. There were, as Oswaldo Albornoz Peralta noted, “noodle, cracker, shoe, sack, liquor, cola, lighter, cigarette, broom, and ice factories. Also, there were saw mills, breweries, tanners, peelers, and soap makers.”
Influenced by the Russian Revolution (1917), the first provincial organizations surfaced in Guayaquil and, in the following years, the first national congresses convened.
The labor organizations, reinforced in the first period of their development by anarcho-syndalistic ideas, were developing from Marxism and Leninism, and its dialectic application to the Ecuadorian conditions. November 15, 1992, constituted the starting point for the future formation of leftist political parties in Ecuador.
The movement that culminated in the vile and massive assassination initiated with the strike of two rail workers in Durán, October 17th, 1922, when they received backing from three labor unions: the Federation of Ecuadorian Regional Workers (that sheltered 32 organizations), the Association of Shipyard Professionals, and the Worker Confederation of Guayas.
The complaints were not heard and they were obligated to halt their activities from the 19th of that month. With all that pressure, the petition was accepted and went into effect the 25th.
Despite it, the general situation of the workers did not improve. The organizations took to the Guayaquil’s streets again November 13, 1922.
The situation was not only limited to the confrontation between businesses and the salaried workers, but also transformed into a solidary struggle that included the artisans, port workers, and underemployed among others.
All of these organizations presented the same requirements in their petitions: raise the salary, an 8 hour work day, freedom to organize, overtime pay, and compensation for untimely layoffs, among other demands that tried to mitigate their precarious living conditions.
A total of 53 organizations participated in the strike that gave rise to the massacre perpetrated in the streets of Guayaquil, while the bourgeoisie, with their own weapons, celebrated and assisted the army from their balconies.
Alejo Capelo, survivor of the massacre, affirmed that “General Barriga received this categorical order on behalf of the president of Ecuador, José Luis Tamayo: ‘I hope that tomorrow, at six in the afternoon, you inform me that you have returned Guayaquil’s tranquility, by whatever means necessary, authorized by President Tamayo .
Despite there not being an agreement on the number of deaths that day, historians of the Ecuadorian worker’s movement estimate more than one thousand murdered; there were thousands of people that walked and were stationed in the provincial government of Guayas in a peaceful way.
But the order was given and, “by whatever means necessary,” there had to be peace in Guayaquil, with such vileness, which such cowardice!
Slogans filled the atmosphere, but Tamayo and the Guayaquil’s bourgeoisie wanted peace and tranquility, so that the rifles and firearms were right against the chests of the workers.
The Ecuadorian writer, Joaquín Gallegos Lara, wrote a novel that related the happenings of that day, “The cross above the water.” The narration is centered on two characters: Alfredo Baldeón and Alfonso Cortés.
The first, belonging to the brave tradition of shipyard neighborhood settlers; a man made, like his neighborhood, from fights and running around, and tricks for the mere purpose of surviving the misery that one contended with in one of the most representative sectors of Guayaquil.
The second, an intellectual person belonging to the small bourgeoisie that also inhabited the shipyard neighborhood, is who Joaquín Gallegos Lara used to bring up formal, political arguments that would have been implausible if they had come from the mouth of Baldeón.
This is the way Joaquín Gallegos Lara, militant of the Communist Party, portrays it; the cruelty of the acts that occurred 90 years ago.
“Above the grid of stones toasted by the son, men, boys, and women wandered, deadpan, rigid, or even retreating. They were people who exited similar storage rooms and had the same hunger. And they were so many boys!
They were hopscotch players, vendors of newspapers, shoe polishes, boys, like your children today and like theirs one day.”
The massacre was of such magnitude that the bodies, which they counted by hundreds in the streets, were thrown, with the stomachs open, into the Guayas River to hide the crime.
Alfredo Pareja, who was 14 years old when the massacre occurred, told of the events:
(…) “The Marañon Battalion surrounded the people and began to kill them. They fired all day. (…) The following day I went out on my bicycle and saw the catastrophe and so much blood through the city.
I lived in the department beneath Rocafuerte Street and from there I saw the freight cars of the customs train passed by, full of cadavers.
After the slaughter, every November 15th the people launch crowns of flowers and buoys with crosses on the Guayas River. The people do not forget it: musicians, performers, painters, and writers remember the massacre and recount it; including today in various forms.
For now, we leave them with the memory of the slaughter, but also of the organization and of the voices that, with their art, repeat: “prohibited to forget.”