The sound of xylophone music resounded through the airport arrival hall and American and German tourists beamed at the musicians in Indian gear. Guatemala is full of color and surprises, the brochures said, and this must be the start.
Alvaro Arzu, the national tourism director, seemed just as pleased.
"Violence is no obstacle for the growth of tourism in Guatemala," he told reporters with optimism. "Our tourism is growing at least 10 percent per year, despite the international campaign against us."
In saying "campaign," Arzu referred to foreign press reports on the terror and violence against the Indian peasants and reform-minded politicians here. The intimidation appears to have government approval.
Human rights organizations and the Catholic Church, "manipulated and financed by communism," are responsible for the thousands of protest letters flooding into the government, Arzu said.
Although the violence grows much faster than tourism here, the tourists who ply the Indian highlands and the splendid Mayan ruins need not notice what goes on around them.
The Army convoys are ordered to stay away from the tourist routes. The roadblocks and ubiquitous police searches of cars in the capital are carried out away from the hotel zone. Soldiers and police patrol downtown in plain clothes.
Even the four leftist guerrilla groups, which have become increasingly active in the countryside, respect the tourist buses that ply the Indian markets. Their dollars and West German marks, after all, go to the Indian women who weave and embroider to make up for what their small patches of land do not yield.
Yet a half dozen students, university professors, union leaders or other activists are murdered almost every day, their bodies usually dumped in trucks or bushes, hidden from sight.
The climate of terror produced by perhaps 200 political murders a month is pervasive to those who are not tourists. Reporters' contacts with opposition politicians, lawyers, union leaders or local independent journalists have become difficult. Many opposition figures, although reared by the establishment, live semi-clandestine lives and change home frequently.
Telephone calls are carried on in code. Appointments have to be made via a complex system of messages. The rightist death squads, people have learned, are not intimidated by a person's prestige or fame. Six well-known university professors and more than 30 leftist students have been killed in the past two months. Recently, unknown assailants started firing into the office of the rector of San Carlos University, then sped away.
The foreign business community, which has rapidly grown and thrived on Guatemala's recent economic boom, is becoming anxious.
"We are taking precautions seriously," said an American business manager here. "We change speed, the route to the office, we keep an eye out for following cars."
Although in Latin America, foreign business traditionally have been kidnaped by leftist guerrillas for large ransoms, they say here there is evidence that the extreme right is selling protection and planning kidnapings to fill their coffers for the "anti-communist battle" they have launched.
The terror campaign conducted by the rightist death squads, who are generally believed to have protection from the Army and police, is rapidly polarizing the country. Slowly the battle lines are drawn. On the one side is a modern, well-equipped military with about 14,000 men as well as several police groups. Vowing to make common cause with them are at least three new death squads who have all pledged that "Guatemala will wage war against the communist enemy."
On the other side are four small but fast-growing leftist guerilla groups that not only occupy entire villages for "consciousness-raising" with the peasants but have began to ambush military patrols.
The poltical center and moderates on the political left comprise the Democratic Front Against Repression. While the parties, church groups and student movements belonging to it are legal many of their leaders have been killed in the last year. The Social Democrats, for example, have lost five national and regional leaders in the past three months.
No one knows exactly how many have died. Pictures of slain bodies are shown in the papers every day. The national police said that in the first 10 months of 1979, 3,252 persons were killed by rightist death squads.
A Catholic organization called Justice and Peace has said that political violence has already claimed more than 1,200 victims this year. In 1979, the group reported that 1,300 persons were killed by progovernment groups and 81 people, including 45 soldiers and police, were killed by leftist guerrillas. Of the 1,300 -- most of them peasants workers and politicians -- 434 bodies had been tortured or maimed, the report said.
Some members of the conservative business sector say the country has only an image problem, caused by the foreign reporters and human rights activists. The government had hired the MacKenzie McCheyne public relation firm in Washington, which represented Anastaso Somoza's Nicaragua, to improve Guatemala's image.
The national tourist council is considering suing the London-based human rights organizaton Amnesty International, one tourist official said.
But tourism clearly has not been harmed. The manager of Guatemala's most expensive hotel said, "This season we are 99.4 percent full. That is unprecedented."
In Antigua, the center of the tourist route and Guatemala's magnificent colonial capital partially destroyed by earthquakes, a group of French tourists recently strolled around the colonial town hall.
They started taking pictures of a woman dressed in the native embroideries. Some took close-ups of the two children she carried, one in a shawl on her back.
Suddenly the woman started crying and shouting and the bewildered French group turned away. Via an interpreter, the woman later explained in her native Quiche language what was on her mind.
"The soldiers came and took away my husband. He is the father of my children and never been dishonest in his life. Until they give him back to me I cannot go away."