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In the political and economic chaos of Guatemala immediately after independence, there was little need for the forced wage labor (repartimientos) that had characterized the late colonial period. The onset of large-scale coffee production after 1860, however, prompted the state and expectant planters to revive and expand coerced labor, now universally labeled mandamientos (from mandar, "to order"). The labor law of 1877, for example, gave Guatemala's Indian population the choice of accepting contracts for seasonal work on the coffee plantations or of finding themselves subjected to repeated forced drafts for the same purposes. Under the mandamiento system a planter in need of labor might request workers from one of the regional governors, paying the necessary wages and travel expenses in advance; the governor designated a community to supply the workers and required local Indian officials to mobilize and deliver them. Coercion kept wages low, but because mandamiento Indians were a reluctant and resentful work force, planters turned to them only in emergencies or to staff properties notorious for egregious abuse or particularly unhealthful conditions. The more important function of mandamientos was to force Indians into debt peonage. Officially abolished in the 1890s, mandamientos in fact persisted until the overthrow of President Manuel Estrada Cabrera in 1920.

See alsoCoffee Industry; Debt Peonage; Repartimientos.


Chester Lloyd Jones, Guatemala: Past and Present (1940), chap. 12.

David Mc Creery, "'An Odious Feudalism': Mandamiento Labor and Commercial Agriculture in Guatemala, 1858–1920," in Latin American Perspectives 13, no. 1 (Winter 1986): 99-117.

Additional Bibliography

Cambranes, J.C. Coffee and Peasants: The Origins of the Plantation Economy in Guatemala, 1853–1897. Stockholm, Sweden: Institute of Latin American Studies, 1985.

McCreery, David. Rural Guatemala: 1760–1940. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994.

Reeves, René. Ladinos with Ladinos, Indians with Indians: Land, Labor, and Regional Ethnic Conflict in the Making of Guatemala. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006.

Taracena Arriola, Arturo. Etnicidad, estado y nación en Guatemala. Antigua: Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamérica, 2002–2004.

                                        David McCreery