Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Ernest V. Siracusa of the Division of Central America and Panama Affairs

Participants: Sr. Ismael González Arévalo, Guatemalan Ambassador
Assistant Secretary Miller, ARA
Mr. Willard F. Barber, ARA 1
Mr. Ernest V. Siracusa, CPA

Assistant Secretary Miller received Ambassador Arévalo at 12:00, the latter having called at Mr. Miller’s request.

Mr. Miller opened the discussion in Spanish, after an exchange of pleasantries regarding his visit to Guatemala, by informing the Ambassador he regretted very much that their first official meeting involved a disagreeable matter. He said he was concerned with events in Guatemala which make it increasingly difficult for United States enterprise to operate in that country. He said that this matter has become so serious that it is receiving rather widespread attention in the United States and that the net result, although unfavorable to U.S. firms already in Guatemala, was also harmful to Guatemala in that it is discouraging the further investment of capital in that country.

. . . . . . .

Although the meeting was originally planned to emphasize exclusively the IRCA case, it was decided, in view of reports that Gonzalez Arévalo may be recalled and named Foreign Minister, to broaden the discussion to include other matters of concern in general U.S.-Guatemalan relationships.

At this point, Mr. Miller stated that he wanted to impress the Ambassador with the fact that he views the situation in Guatemala as one of the most pressing economic problems in the hemisphere today. He then guided the discussion to another subject by quite frankly asking the Ambassador to comment upon the reported communist influence in Guatemala. The Ambassador admitted the existence of such influence, which he had first noted strongly in 1946. He said, in commenting upon it, that Guatemala lacks basic education and that the exposure of a Guatemalan to communist doctrine is the same as the exposure of a Dane, Swede, etc. His implication was that he took a serious view of the matter because this lack of preparation and education rendered Guatemalans to demagogic and unrealistic promises.

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He said, in this regard, that Guatemalans like the fine sounding doctrines of communism but that they simply do not understand the ultimate implications. In this regard he mentioned Fortuny, Galich, and Charnaud MacDonald, who, he claims “do not understand” what they are doing. He implied that although he was friendly with these people, he had refused to join their parties because, as he put it, they “do not understand”.

He said, however, that once they travel abroad, they return with somewhat modified opinions and are not so extreme. In this regard, he specifically mentioned Galich. (It cannot be recalled how Galich’s travels made him any less extreme.)

Mr. Siracusa then mentioned the fact that Fortuny, having visited behind the Iron Curtain, was now proposing agrarian reforms in Guatemala based upon the laws of Russian satellite countries, and that it did not appear that his travels had moderated him. The Ambassador then indicated an awareness of Fortuny’s proposals (he mentioned the Polish Agrarian Law), but made no further comment except to discuss the necessity for some reform in Guatemala. He did, however, state that this was not a pressing necessity and that other problems required attention first. His whole attitude seems to be that Guatemala must slow down its reforms until it is prepared for more liberalism by better education.

The Ambassador said he understood the United States’ preoccupation with communism, wherever it showed itself, and mentioned the necessity for Guatemala to maintain good relationships with the United States. Here he discussed briefly the economic ties which bind Guatemala to the United States and require it basically to be friendly to the United States.

Mr. Miller then said that he gathered that the Ambassador did not wholly approve of much of what was transpiring in Guatemala and invited his comments.

The Ambassador, appearing to be somewhat surprised but pleased at this candid request, smiled broadly and said “off the record” that it was true. While he did not specifically mention anything concrete about happenings in Guatemala he again stressed the necessity of cooperation with the United States and that while he has counseled this policy he has not had much success. He then commented himself upon the bad reputation which Guatemala was acquiring as a place for capital investment and, at this opportunity, Mr. Miller handed him a copy of a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. In doing so he said that he understood many people consider this paper to be the newspaper of “yankee imperialist capital” but that nonetheless, the important thing is that people who might invest in Guatemala are [Page 664] its readers. With the growth of this opinion, and its publicity in the United States, possibilities of Guatemala’s attracting capital which it sorely needs for development are materially lessened. The Ambassador perused the article for a while and appeared to be impressed, and noted the publication date.

Returning again to his opinion about things in Guatemala, the Ambassador referred to the assassination of Arana2 and said that he was afraid that there would be others. He commented, in this regard, on Cuban history which underlines the possibility that one assassination will inevitably lead to others. He made no comment, however, on who might have been responsible for Arana’s assassination.

Mr. Miller then asked the Ambassador if he had any plans for returning to Guatemala and the latter said that he had heard rumors to the effect that he would be named Foreign Minister, to replace Muñoz Meany. He said, however, that he did not believe the rumors since he was not a member of any political party. (After the meeting, in talking with Mr. Siracusa, the Ambassador said that if offered the position he would not accept it. He said that he would like to improve Guatemalan-U.S. relationships but that lacking political power, and not having any party backing, it would be impossible for him to do anything. This is certainly logical, but it might be wondered how much his decision might be influenced by a lack of faith in the Arévalo government, and his preoccupation with further assassinations.)

Bringing up the subject of technical cooperation with Guatemala, Mr. Miller said that some sentiment had been developed to curtail the IIAA programs but said that he had agreed that such curtailment might be counterproductive. While he did not develop this idea further, it is believed that the Guatemalan Ambassador was impressed with the fact that the Department views the situation as being serious enough to warrant consideration of a change of policy toward Guatemala and a possible withholding of technical aid. At any rate, the Ambassador took this opportunity to mention how much Guatemala needs such cooperation and how valuable it has been in the past.

The meeting was closed on a friendly and cordial note when Mr. Barber recalled, and the Ambassador enlarged upon, the incident of the loss of a marimba in New York by a group of Guatemalan musicians. In closing, Mr. Miller again stated his regret that the meeting had to be concerned primarily with a disagreeable matter and urged the Ambassador to consider the serious view which the Department takes of the progress of events in Guatemala, and the treatment of American capital, as exemplified in the IRCA case.

  1. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for American Republic Affairs.
  2. See telegram 263, July 21, to Caracas, p. 655.