• U.S.

GUATEMALA: Student Rag

2 minute read

Through thronged streets in Guatemala City last week rolled an open Chrysler carrying two men who looked astonishingly like President Carlos Castillo Armas and U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon.

“Ricardo!” pleaded the first, “Guatemala needs a handout!”

“Hey!” protested the second, “I just gave you $6,000,000!”

“I know,” cried the first, “but my secretary already stole that!”

Once a year in Guatemala, everything that is revered, respectable, powerful or pompous gets powerful but highly irreverent ribbing. The occasion is the traditional Eastertide Strike of students at the University of San Carlos, one of the most merciless lampoons anywhere. Starting weeks ahead, the students shamelessly shake down politicos and merchants for expenses, adding to the fund receipts from a scurrilous vaudeville show and a scandal sheet that flouts all libel laws. With the $25,000 to $30,000 they collect, the students build big floats that are, in effect, moving stages for the outrageous and often obscene skits and tableaux they spend weeks devising. A week before Good Friday, while the capital watches goggle-eyed, the students belt down quantities of donated rum and parade the floats through the streets. Invariable topic of the rag: politics.

Ex-President Jacobo Arbenz, lately in Swiss exile, got his lumps last week in a float depicting him skiing down the Alps clutching bags of gold lifted from the Guatemalan treasury. But this year’s parade was the first since Castillo Armas took power, and the students naturally honored him as Target No. 1. One float kidded his anti-Communist revolution last June. A wolf decked out in hammers and sickles was stopped from devouring a Red Riding Hood named Guatemala by an ax blow from Uncle Sam. On the axhead: a picture of Castillo Armas. Another joshed his style of rule by decree, showing him whipping up two mules labeled “Congress” and “Courts.” The motto of his revolution, Dios, Patria y Libertad, was devastatingly changed on the float to Adiós, Patria y Libertad.

By custom, Guatemalan Presidents must prove themselves good sports by giving generously to the Eastertide Strike fund. Castillo Armas’ sporting contribution to get himself panned: $1,500.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com