Under Secretary’s Meetings, Lot 53 D 2501

Paper Prepared for the Under Secretary’s Meeting2

UM D–101/1

Current Relations With Guatemala3


To assess our current relations with Guatemala.


This paper follows a review of the United States relations with the Republic of Guatemala which was presented at the Under Secretary’s meeting on May 29, 1950 (UM D–101)4 and other papers and memoranda prepared periodically in ARA concerning the infiltration of communist elements into positions of power and influence in Guatemala. This paper is concerned with developments since the change of administration in Guatemala on March 15 of this year and does not attempt to retrace ground covered in previous studies, such as the gradual taking over of control of organized labor by the communists.

The three-month period since the inauguration of Jacobo Arbenz as President of Guatemala provides few indications to bear out hopes that the new President would take prompt action to reduce the influence on the Government and life of Guatemala of known communists and leftist extremists. On the contrary, communist elements appear, if anything, to have stepped up the pace of their efforts to consolidate the bases of their political and economic position in Guatemala and to be reaching out for more and more power.

It was always recognized that the infiltration of communist elements in Guatemalan life had reached sufficiently serious proportions as to compel the new Chief Executive to proceed cautiously, even assuming [Page 1437] the best intentions on his part to clear up the situation. It must be admitted, however, that in Guatemala since March 15 of this year the ascending curve of communist influence has not even tended to level off, but has rather continued upward on an accelerated incline.

Although President Arbenz has made no public statements to indicate a pro-communist or extremist policy, he has made numerous appointments of communists and extreme leftists to important and strategic positions in the Government. The Foreign Minister and the Minister of Education5 are far left in their views and have consistently cooperated with the communists since taking office. Both, together with a third member of the cabinet and the President of the National Congress,6 are reported recently to have signed the communist “peace” manifesto.

The National Electoral Board is now controlled by communist elements, with active pro-communists having been appointed to two of its three seats. The labor unions are now firmly in the grip of communist and extremist leadership; and the important Guatemalan Institute of Social Security has been practically taken over, the Administrator7 being one of the most dangerous communists in the country.

The volume of communist propaganda has grown markedly during the past years. Its effectiveness is increased by the enthusiastic support it receives from the Government radio station and the official and semi-official newspapers. Communist-line editorials and campaigns on the Korean situation and on political and economic issues of local, continental, and world application are featured regularly in public opinion media financed wholly or in part by Government funds.

Since April of this year the Communist Party of Guatemala has operated openly despite the provision by the constitution which prohibits the formation of a political organization of “international or foreign character”.

Communists of international importance are welcomed in Guatemala, and the pro-Government press delights in pointing out that, while they are denied visas to many other countries, they are free to come and go in Guatemala as they like. Louis Saillant, Secretary General of the WFTU, came from France in May for a Latin American transport workers’ conference which was attended by communist labor leaders from all over the hemisphere. Communist political and economic themes were featured throughout the meeting. Four Guatemalan cabinet ministers sat on the platform at the opening session, which was held in an auditorium made available by the Government.

American interests in Guatemala are being hard pressed by extremist labor demands, sparked by communist leaders and by the open partisanship [Page 1438] of the Government, which goes so far as to ignore the labor code and laws when necessary and to support the union position even in such extreme causes as illegal strikes. International Railways of Central America (IRCA) appears to be in imminent danger of expropriation. The United Fruit Company is continually being subjected to harassing work stoppages and extreme demands and threats backed by Government pressure.

policy recommendations

In recent months, due to the increasing influence of communist elements in Guatemala and the continued failure of the Guatemalan Government to face the issue squarely, we have been in the process of adapting our policies towards more direct counter-action of leftist trends. In this connection, we have had to bear constantly in mind that Guatemalan political history and social development requires us to move with great care in an effort to expose and isolate communists there and destroy their power. Nothing would harm overall interests of the United States in Guatemala more than the premature employment of overly agressive measures with respect to Guatemalan internal matters. The communists would be furnished with a valuable weapon throughout Latin America and would be able to do great harm to the inter-American system through a revival of mistrust in the United States and fears of a return to the days of unilateral intervention and “big-stick” diplomacy. In the light of these conditions the followed [following?] policies are recommended:

Under present policy this Government will refrain from supplying aid to Guatemala which it is not under positive obligation to furnish. No Point IV Umbrella Agreement is being signed with Guatemala, and Guatemala has been deleted from the list of countries being proposed to Congress for increased technical assistance aid. It is not contemplated that Guatemala will be the recipient of any military grant funds that may be made available by Congress, and it is not proposed that Guatemala be assigned a defense role by the Inter-American Defense Board.
With respect to technical missions already operating in the country, the agricultural mission is being maintained at present strength; proposed plans for its expansion have been postponed. Technical personnel furnished by IIAA to the large Roosevelt Hospital project under an agreement dating from 1942 has been substantially reduced in view of the dilatory tactics of the Guatemalans in making further funds available for completion of the hospital. Since the United States investment in this project amounts to more than $2 million, we do not wish to withdraw entirely before completion if that can be avoided.
No change is proposed in the status of our military ground and air missions in Guatemala in the belief that they constitute a valuable link between the United States and Guatemalan military establishments, the latter being considered predominantly anti-communist. For some months now Guatemalan requests for arms and munitions have [Page 1439] been denied, and we are currently engaged in an effort to prevent the sale to Guatemala by Italy of surplus airplanes. The only exception to this policy on arms would be in instances where the request is for a nominal quantity and where favorable action would seem necessary for the continuance of the status of our military missions.
The Department will oppose any Export-Import Bank or World Bank loans to Guatemala unless the loan is related to the production or transportation of strategic materials which would directly serve United States interests. In this connection the extension of financial and technical assistance by international agencies which the United States does not unilaterally control represents a real problem. For instance, UNESCO has now signed a contract with Guatemala to provide educational assistance of the type being given by our IIAA mission when it was forced to withdraw. There are other examples in this field. This problem is now under consideration.
We have withdrawn plans for allocating for work in Guatemala $2.4 million of the current $4 million appropriation for the Inter-American Highway. This allocation, which is connected with the construction of an important 20-mile gap to connect Guatemala with the Mexican highway system, will be reviewed later in the year.
We hope to avoid signing a new agreement with Guatemala at this time for the continuation of the rubber development project there. Plans for expanding abacá production (the Guatemalan project is production-wise perhaps the most successful in Central America) are being postponed for the present. Decisions on these projects can be delayed until the end of the year without harm to future development.
With respect to the growing list of items being placed under export control, we are now considering with the Department of Commerce the possibilities of setting quotas and allocations for Guatemala at levels relatively lower than those for other countries in the area and at the lowest point justifiable on an historical trade pattern.

It is not contemplated that there will be any announcement of the above policies. Since candid tactics in seeking to convince Guatemalan officials of the danger of communism to Guatemala and the Hemisphere have been shown to be ineffective, it is considered important that we refrain from stating officially or privately that our actions are related to internal conditions in Guatemala. Whenever it becomes necessary to explain our inability to accede to some official request, we should plead technical reasons. Delays in shipments of needed materials would be blamed on the critical world situation and other reasons connected with the defense of democracy. Guatemalans should be left to make their own deductions, and we would attempt to insure that at no time would Guatemalan officials have any tangible grounds on which to accuse the United States of discriminating against Guatemala for political reasons or of attempting to intervene in her internal affairs.

It is believed that the United States Government should avoid any final or rigid position at this time. It is important to maintain sufficient flexibility in our policies to permit adjustments as changing conditions may dictate. We shall have greater opportunity to influence the situation [Page 1440] in Guatemala if the Guatemalans feel they have something to hope for and, alternatively, something to forfeit.

  1. Master file of records of meetings, documents, summaries, and agenda of the Under Secretary’s meetings for the years 1949–1952, as maintained by the Executive Secretariat of the Department of State.
  2. The Under Secretary’s meeting convened weekly; it was customarily attended by the Deputy Under Secretaries of State, Assistant Secretaries of State, and certain office directors. Under Secretary of State James E. Webb presided at these meetings.
  3. Prepared in the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs; a detailed background, study, entitled “A Review of Communist Influence in Guatemala,” dated May 31, 1951, is attached to the source text as Tab A, but not printed.
  4. Reference document, entitled “Current Relations With Guatemala.” is printed in Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. ii, p. 897.
  5. Héctor Morgan García.
  6. Roberto Alvarado Fuentes.
  7. Alfonso Solórzano Fernàndez.