Four days after the 20th Anniversary of June Fourth Crackdown, just like to share an extract from a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The tension of the people broke with no forewarning.
José Arcadio Segundo and other union leaders who had remained underground until then suddenly appeared one day and organized demonstrations in towns throughout the banana region. The police merely maintained public order. But on Monday night the leaders were taken from their homes and sent to jail in the capital of the province with two-pound irons on their legs. Taken among them were José Arcadio Segundo and Lorenzo Gavilán, a colonel in the Mexican revolution, exiled in Macondo. They were set free, however, within three months because the government and the banana company could not reach an agreement as to who should feed them in jail.
The protests of the workers this time were based the lack of sanitary facilities in their living quarters, the nonexistence of medical services, and terrible working conditions. They stated, furthermore, that they were not being paid in real money but in scrip, which was good only to buy Virginia ham in the company commissaries. José Arcadio Segundo was put in jail because he revealed that the scrip system was a way for the company to finance its fruit ships; which without the commissary merchandise would have to return empty for New Orleans to the banana ports.
The other complaints were common knowledge. The company physicians did not examine the sick but had them line up in the dispensaries and a nurse would put a pill the colour of copper sulfate on their tongues, whether they had malaria, gonorrhea, or constipation.
The workers were crowded together in miserable barracks. The engineers, instead of putting in toilets, had a portable latrine for every fifty people brought to the camps and they held public demonstration of how to use them so they would last longer. The decrepit lawyers controlled by the banana company dismissed those demands with decisions that seemed like acts of magic.
When the workers drew up a list unanimous petitions, a long time passed before they were able to notify the banana company officially. As soon as he found out the agreement Mr. Brown hitched his coach to the train and disappeared along the more prominent representatives of his company. Nonetheless some workers found one of the following Saturday in a brothel and they made him sign a copy of the sheet with the demands. The lawyers showed in a court that that man had nothing to do with the company.
Later on, Mr. Brown was traveling incognito in a third-class coach and they made him sign another copy of the demands. On the following day he appeared before the judges with his hair dyed black and speaking flawless Spanish. The lawyers showed that the man was not Mr. Brown, the superintendent of the banana company, but a harmless vendor of medicinal plants.
Tired of that hermeneutical delirium, the workers turned away from the authorities in Macondo and brought their complaints up to the higher courts. It was there that lawyers proved the demands lacked all validity for the simple reason that the banana company did not have, never had had, and never would have any workers in its service because they were all hired on a temporary and occasional basis. So that the fable of the Virginia ham was nonsense, the same as that of the miraculous pills and the Yuletide toilets, and by a decision of the court it was established and set down in solemn decrees that the workers did not exist.
The great strike broke out. Cultivation stopped half-way, the fruit rotted on the trees and the hundred twenty-car trains remained on the sidings. The idle workers overflowed the towns. The streets of the Turks echoed with a Saturday that lasted for several days and in the poolroom at the Hotel Jacob they had to arrange twenty-four-hour shifts. That was where José Arcadio Segundo was on the day it was announced that the army had been assigned to reestablish public order… There were three regiments; they were short, stocky, and brute-like.
Martial law enabled the army to assume the functions of arbitrator in the controversy, but no effort at conciliation was made. As soon as they appeared in Macondo, the soldiers put aside their rifles and cut and loaded the bananas and started the trains running. The workers, who had been content to wait until then, went into the woods with no other weapons than their working machetes and they began to sabotage the sabotage. They burned plantation and commissaries, tore up tracks in impede the passage of the trains that began to open their path with machine-gun fire, and they cut telegraph and telephone wires…The situation was threatening to lead to a bloody and unequal civil war when the authorities called upon the workers to gather in Macondo. The summons announced that the civil and military leaders of the province would arrive on the following Friday ready to intercede in the conflict.
José Arcadio Segundo was in the crowd that had gathered at the station on Friday since early in the morning. He…noticed that the army had set up machine-gun emplacements around the small square and that the wired city of the banana company was protected by artillery pieces. Around 12 o’clock, waiting for a train that was not arriving, more than 3000 people, workers, women, and children, had spilled out the of the open space in front of the station and were pressing in the neighbouring streets, which the army had closed off with rows of machine-guns…A short time before 3 o’clock an army lieutenant climbed up onto the roof of the station where there were four machine-gun emplacements aiming at the crowd, called for silence and read Decree No. 4 of the civil and military leader of the province through an old phonograph horn. It had been signed by Gen. Carlos Cortes Vargas and his secretary, Major Enrique Garcia Isaza, and in three articles of eighty words he declared the strikers to be a “bunch of hoodlums" and he authorized the army to shoot to kill.
After the decree was read, in the midst of a deafening hoot of protest, a captain took the place of the lieutenant and signaled that he wanted to speak. The crowd was quiet again.
“Ladies and gentlemen," the captain said in a low voice that was slow and a little tired, “you have five minutes to withdraw"
No one moved.
“Five minutes have passed," the captain said the same tone, “one more minute and we’ll open fire."
“You bastards!" [José Arcadio Segundo] shouted. “Take the extra minute and stick it up your ass!"
After his shout something happened that did not bring on fright but a kind of hallucination. The captain gave the order to fire and fourteen machine-guns answered at once. But it all seemed like a farce. It was as if the machine-guns had been loaded with caps…not the slightest reaction was perceived, not a cry, not even a sigh among the compact crowd that seemed petrified by an instantaneous invulnerability. Suddenly, on one side-of the station, a cry of death tore open the enchantment: “Aaaagh, mother!"
The crowd swirled about in panic.
Several voices shouted at the same time: “get down! Get down!"
The people in front had already been swept down by the waves of bullets. The survivors, instead of getting down, tried to go back to the small square, and the panic became a dragon’s tail as one compact wave ran against another which was moving in the opposite direction, toward the other dragon’s rail in the street across the way, where the machine-guns were also firing nonstop. They were penned in, swirling about in a gigantic whirlwind that little by little was being reduced to its epicenter as the edges were systematically being cut off all around like an onion being peeled by the insatiable and methodical shears of the machine-guns.
When José Arcadio Segundo came to he was lying face up in the darkness. He realized he was riding on an endless and silent train and that his head was caked with dry blood and that all his bones ached. He felt an intolerable desire to sleep. Prepared to sleep for many hours, safe from the terror and horror, he made himself comfortable on the side that pained him less, and only then did he discover that he was lying against dead people. Trying to flee from the nightmare, José Arcadio Segundo dragged himself from one car to another in the direction which the train was heading…. When he got to the first car he jumped into the darkness and lay beside the tracks until the train had passed. It was the longest one he had ever seen, with almost two hundred freight cars and a locomotive at both ends and a third in the middle. It had no lights, not even the red and green running lights, and it slipped off with a nocturnal and stealthy velocity. On top of the cars there could be seen the dark shapes of the soldiers with their emplaced machine-guns.
* * *
“There must be 3000 of them" he murmured.
“The dead" he clarified, “it must have been the 3000 people who were at the station."
The woman measured him with a pitying look.
“There haven’t been any dead here."
He went through the small square by the station and he could find NO TRACE OF MASSACRE.
The official version was finally accepted: there were no dead; the satisfied workers had gone back to their families. At night after taps, [martial law troops] knocked doors down with their rifle butts, hauled suspects out of their beds, and took them off on trips from which there was no return. The search for and extermination of the hoodlums, murderers, arsonists, and rebels of Decree No. 4 was still going on, but the military denied it even to the relatives of the victims who crowded the commandant’s offices in search of news.
“You must have been dreaming," the officers insisted. “Nothing has happened in Macondo. Nothing has happened, and nothing ever will happen. This is a happy town." In that way they were finally able to wipe out the union leaders.