814.00 Revolutions/60: Telegram

The Chargé in Guatemala (McCafferty) to the Secretary of State

110. Late in the evening of December 15th I heard persistent rumors that the forts of Matamoras and San Jose, which guard the Capital, would revolt against the government of Baudilio Palma at midnight. The Government apparently was informed of such a plot as the Provisional President spent the night at the barracks of the Guardia de Honor. However, nothing occurred that night but at 4 p.m. on December 16th there was sudden firing on the city. It later became known that the Matamoras Fort commanded by General Manuel Orellana had revolted against the Government and had advanced on the city. They arrived at the Central Plaza and attacked the Guardia de Honor and the Presidential Palace. The police who were loyal to the Government were unable to withstand the attack and the revolutionary forces were successful. The Minister of War was killed and it is estimated that the total deaths were 50. There was grave danger that the two forts might shell the city, chaos reigned, and looting and disorders began. The President escaped to the Guardia de Honor and later took refuge at German Legation which was the nearest foreign mission. At 8 o’clock I was called to the German Legation and when I arrived there, after my car had been stopped several times by soldiers, I found the Provisional President with all his Cabinet, a delegate of the revolutionary forces together with the Ambassador of Mexico and the Ministers of Germany, Chile, Spain and Colombia, who were the only chiefs of mission who could be communicated with. Both parties requested our good offices to assist in making an arrangement which would prevent further bloodshed and we agreed to do so but made it clear that we were acting unofficially for humanitarian reasons. The Provisional President had received a letter from General Orellana that the sole purpose of the armed movement was to restore Chacon to Presidency from which he had been [Page 179] illegally removed. Two delegates were named by both parties and in our presence they agreed to the following conditions:

An armistice was declared until noon on December 17th but this could be extended further by agreement between both parties if more time were necessary to bring about an accord.
Both parties agreed to each name a doctor and these would name a third who would examine Chacon at 8 a.m. to decide if he were capacitated to continue in the exercise of the Presidency. If they decided in the affirmative, Chacon would immediately resume office; and, in case of an adverse decision, both sides would mutually agree as to the best course to pursue for the good of the country. The opinion of the doctors was to be presented at 10 a.m. to all parties assembled at the Mexican Embassy.
Orellana agreed to police the city and prevent disorders during the armistice, at the termination of which the troops would be returned to their original stations.

The meeting broke up at 4:30 a.m. About midnight an emissary of General Orellana requested me to call on him. When I arrived I informed him that I had come only in a personal capacity but was deeply concerned about the protection of the lives of American citizens and property and the prevention of further bloodshed. He assured me that he would do everything possible to grant absolute protection and said he desired only that the situation should be normalized according to the Constitution. I suggested that his delegates should treat with the Government delegates in a spirit of conciliation and he agreed to instruct them in that sense. We gathered at the Mexican Embassy and all the chiefs of mission were present except the French Chargé d’Affaires, but the British Minister withdrew as he did not feel that his Government would approve of his presence as a witness even for humanitarian reasons. The physicians presented their opinion that Chacon was physically incapacitated to resume office. The delegates of both sides then began conversations with a view to putting an end to the abnormal situation. The Government delegates stated that the revolutionary forces were in control, that no further resistance was possible and they asked what were the terms of the rebels. They demanded the resignation of Palma and said the Assembly would be called to elect a Provisional President. The Government delegates agreed, the Cabinet immediately resigned, and Palma sent his resignation to Congress. The Department has already been informed of the action of the Assembly in my cable No. 109 of December 17, 4 p.m. The appointment of the leader of the armed movement against the constituted government is undoubtedly a violation of articles 65 and 69 of the Constitution and the pacts of 1923 and I presume that under the circumstances the Department will not desire to recognize a government which has been established through violence. It is fairly certain that the military [Page 180] were dissatisfied during Chacon’s administration because of their gradual loss of power and had intended to revolt but with the turn of events they used the pretext of the illegality of Palma’s selection as Provisional President and their loyalty to Chacon and the Constitution to carry out their original plans. The bad example of the Guatemalan Army may seriously affect the present political situation in Salvador.