Ladinos - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Since precolonial times, the right to the usufruct of the land was linked to membership in a community. Ladinos originally gave up their agricultural rights in order to work at various occupations within urban areas, mainly in manufacture and commerce. In the nineteenth century Ladino laborers began to be employed in haciendas and, later, on coffee plantations, although only when there was a scarcity of indigenous labor. Nowadays it is unusual to find them performing agricultural labor; their presence is more noticeable in small-scale commerce and in the service sector. Some hold jobs as low- and middle-level public functionaries.

Industrial Arts. There is no handicraft production that might be considered typically Ladino; however, Ladinos are associated with agro-industrial and local industries; they participate as wage earners within mestizo establishments. In the highlands of Chiapas and isolated villages of Guatemala, Ladinos work in the production of aguardiente (a cane liquor), which they monopolize in a kind of clandestine emporium that illegally introduces the product to Indian communities.

Trade. Most Ladinos are employed in commerce. They incorporate themselves within the system established by the urban majority, operating small stores or stalls in local markets or working as traveling salesmen in cities. Often they are also intermediaries between suppliers of agricultural products (especially rural Indian communities) and large-scale urban merchants. Some are small private entrepreneurs who transport cargo in their own trucks or vans, or drive passenger vehicles.

Division of Labor. Ladinos have adopted models of division of labor that are predominant among mestizo groups: a father must provide for his family and a mother must dedicate herself to domestic work and the care of her children. Nevertheless, compelled by economic need, women are now increasingly having to find employment outside the home. They run family businesses or sell food or other items from ambulatory stalls. Increasingly, sons and daughters of better-off Ladino families study at universities to become elementary-school teachers or occupy positions as public functionaries.

Land Tenure. Neither members of indigenous communities nor well established in mestizo farming communities, Ladinos can own land only as private proprietors. Given their commercial orientation, however, their primary interest is not in working the land. If they do own property, it is more likely to be land in the city that they use for business ventures, as investments, to build and rent housing, or to leave to their children.

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