The Chargé in Guatemala (Cabot) to the Secretary of State
[Received July 8.]
Sir: I have the honor to report that Colonel Pate, the Military Attaché of this Legation, who is normally stationed at San José, Costa Rica, visited this city over the week-end in connection with the flight of the 19th Wing Squadron.
On July 1st he came to the Legation for a long conference which dealt principally with the possibility of subversive activities in this country. The first matter discussed was the Guatemalan desire to secure arms from the United States to equip the already trained men which the country could call to the colors in an emergency. Colonel Pate spoke of the strongly-worded requests which have been made of him, as equally of the Minister and Captain Taylor, by the Guatemalan authorities in this connection. He said that the Guatemalan soldiers, even though allegedly trained, would not be remotely capable of standing up against even a small force of properly trained men, but that if we did nothing to help Guatemala it would merely drive this country into the arms of Germany. He mentioned the bad impression which had been caused in El Salvador by the insistence of the United States upon cash payment for rifles recently purchased from the United States Government, when Germany had offered El Salvador war equipment free. He agreed to my comment that it was essential that there be a force here able to hold this country against any enemy, either foreign or internal, until help could arrive from the United States.
Colonel Pate then said that in his opinion the German Government could arrange for the overthrow of this Government and all the other Governments in Central America at a moment’s notice, and that in that case a surprise aerial attack might be made on the Panama Canal before its defenses could be properly organized. He said that [Page 114]on this account it was essential that if any arms were sent to Guatemala for the use of Guatemalan soldiers, this must be done only under the supervision of an American Military Mission which would be sufficiently numerous to form a nucleus of resistance in the event of any attempted coup. He emphasized the importance of nuclei in such a situation. He said that whereas a few hundred Germans might seize the barracks in this city by surprise, a real rallying point would probably enable the loyal Guatemalans to recover and counterattack. He agreed to my suggestion that the Escuela Politécnica under its American Director might constitute such a rallying point in the case of a German coup, and pointed out that cadet schools have had a magnificent record in many countries under such conditions. The possibility of training Guatemalan officers and pilots in the United States was also discussed, but we agreed that this might be inadequate.
While not dismissing the possibility of the overthrow of the Guatemalan Government by a sudden German coup, the Legation is inclined to believe that such an attempted coup would not be likely to succeed. The German colony in this country could scarcely muster 500 men of military age. They are scattered all over the country; so far as is known they have no considerable quantity of arms; they are not able to drill militarily; they are carefully watched by the Guatemalan authorities, and the Guatemalan Government is alert against any subversive movement. It seems scarcely possible under these conditions that they could seize all three of the vital forts in this city together with the vital strategical points without very considerable assistance from Guatemalans.
But if Guatemalans were involved in such a plot, the risk of detection both through treachery and because of the Government’s vigilance, would be enormously increased. Moreover, the Legation knows of no important Guatemalan leader who would be willing to act as a mere rubber stamp for a German-dominated Guatemala, unless he were convinced that the United States was unable or unwilling to do anything about it. For this reason the Legation doubts the possibility that it would be possible that a German coup could seize this country and immediately use it as a base for a surprise attack on the Panama Canal. It believes that the more likely sequence of events is that the Germans will arrange for the assassination of the President, and in the confusion will endeavor to set up a Government which they hope will fall more and more under German influence. However, even if they were able to install their own man in the Presidency, there is no certainty that the United States could not wean such a man away from the Germans if the man could be persuaded that it was not to his personal advantage to be obviously dominated by Germany.[Page 115]
In conclusion, I may say that I agree entirely with Colonel Pate on these points:
- The Guatemalan Government must in one way or another be supplied with sufficient arms to hold this country against the first brunt of sudden internal or external aggression. The quantity furnished should not be so great as to constitute a serious military problem if it fell into the hands of an openly pro-German dictator.
- These arms must be in the hands of an American mission which on the one hand must be large enough to train Guatemalan soldiers properly and to furnish some slight protection for the arms and, on the other, must not be so large as to wound Guatemalan susceptibilities. In furnishing arms and a mission the susceptibilities of neighboring countries obviously must also be considered.
- The Guatemalan Government would probably be very glad to accept such an arrangement. If nothing is done, it might tend to fall under German influence.
- Guatemala is much too important strategically to be neglected.