33. Intelligence Report Prepared in the Office of Intelligence Research, Department of State1



This paper is one of thirty evaluations of the capabilities of Communist Parties in the countries of the free world. It is divided into two parts: (1) an analysis of the objectives, tactics and capabilities of the party; and (2) a compilation of the specific “assets” of the party drawn up on the basis of an exhaustive checklist provided by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The first part of the paper focuses on the actual current major objectives of the party; the specific tactics employed to carry them out; and the capability of the party to achieve its objectives assessed in the light of both past and present performance.

The second section of the paper is designed to supplement the evaluative portion of the paper by both itemizing the organizational potential and material assets of the party and, at the same time, providing an index to areas of Communist activity where information is inadequate, unreliable, or absent. The data presented in the section on “Assets” should not be treated as definitive; they are rather the best available to the Department at the present time.

Communism in Guatemala: Objectives, Tactics, and Capabilities

I. Objectives

The immediate objectives of the Communist Party of Guatemala, now the Guatemalan Labor Party (Partido Guatemalteco de Trabajo, PGT), are to extend the party’s control over labor, to increase its influence in and infiltration of the leftist-nationalist government, and to dominate the more radical intellectual circles of the country. The Communists push “progressive” Guatemalan political groups toward extreme labor, agrarian, and educational reform, intensify nationalist dissatisfaction with US private interests in Guatemala, and portray US foreign policy as the instrument of “imperialistic warmongers”.

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Communist objectives during the comparatively short period of three years of open existence have remained constant. Such alterations and diversions as have occurred were essentially related to the will of an administration which, in the final analysis, has the real power to determine the Communist Party’s life or death. Thus, with government support, Communists played a key role in whipping up and organizing popular feeling against the United Fruit Company during the Company–labor disputes of 1951. Subsequently, however, Communist labor leaders silently accepted a government rejection of radical labor code revision. And presently, Communist propagandists in key positions have sharply reduced their attacks upon the United States, apparently because the Guatemalan Government does not wish to prejudice negotiations for assistance from the United States.

II. Tactics

Among groups in Guatemalan society to which the Communists especially direct themselves are urban and rural labor. Intellectuals and the “progressive bourgeoisie” are also high on the list of targets, although the appeal to the latter is mixed with distrust and is, in part, inspired by reason of political necessity because of the middle class core of the national revolutionary movement which has inspired Guatemalan political life since 1944. Since they are few in numbers the Communists concentrate upon infiltrating and capturing existing organizational leadership, or, they may bring into existence their own front organization, especially with respect to peace, youth, and women’s groups.

The Communists, with the assistance of the government, have successfully directed the unification of labor and have joined the national General Confederation of Workers of Guatemala (Confederación General de Trabajadores de Guatemala, CGTG) with the regional Communist Confederation of Workers of Latin America (Confederación de Trabajadores de América Latina, CTAL) and the international Communist World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU). The Communists now seek to expand their control over labor by ousting non-Communist leadership from important railway and rural unions, but especially by leading the government-supported agrarian reform program from which they may expect to realize thousands of recruits among the unorganized peasantry. Thus, the Communists can hope to extend their influence among the electorate and, therefore, over the government by control of voters and by their ability to organize mob demonstrations, while at the same time they strengthen Communist international labor organizations and a variety of front groups.

Among the intellectuals the Communists have successfully concentrated their attention upon educators and writers. They and their sympathizers control the principal teachers’ union and the most vigorous professional [Page 58]artists’ and writers’ union, and have strongly penetrated the official and semi-official press and the government propaganda agencies. From these positions they may hope more effectively to accelerate the government’s leftist and nationalist programs, while they cover the nation with propaganda in line with Soviet objectives.

The political tactics of the Communists are adjusted to international Communist strategy and the local environment. From the time of its public emergence in mid-1951 until very recently, the Communists, without legal status, have encouraged and supported the dominant leftist government parties and have sought to work through them, as well as through friends in the executive branch of the government. The Communists have consistently taken a proprietary interest in the activities of the government parties, admonishing and criticizing in detail and urging a united “democratic front” against “reaction”. Four admitted Communists have won seats in the national legislature as candidates of the government parties. There also are probably several crypto-Communists seated in this body of 58 delegates which, on the whole, is either sympathetic toward or tolerant of Communism. Within the legislature the Communists successfully work for assignment to labor and agrarian committees and will be found in the vanguard of legislative support for nationalistic measures. This is in addition to the promotion of more direct Soviet objectives as represented, for example, by the “Korean solidarity” manifesto signed by 19 members of Congress in June 1952. The recent registration of the Communist Party as the Guatemalan Labor Party (PGT) now gives this group legal status for the first time. The maneuver in all probability does not, however, indicate alteration of Communist political tactics.

In the executive they also seek out positions which best enable them to promote their program. Thus, they have heavily infiltrated the Social Security System, the Agrarian Department and the propaganda agencies. It is apparent also that Fortuny, PGT’s General Secretary, has access to the inner circle of politicians who surround the President. He is credited with drafting the recently passed Agrarian Reform Law which subsequently was steered through Congress under Communist leadership.

III. Capabilities

Communist success in Guatemala is strongly conditioned by the superficially democratic, leftist, and nationalistic environment brought about by the Revolution of 1944. The social and economic backwardness of the country and the powerful role played by US business interest in the Guatemalan life provide the Communists with obvious ammunition. Nor is there any question about the relatively high efficiency of Communist leadership in Guatemala. So far, it has demonstrated an ability to lead groups heretofore outside of the nation’s political life, as well as strongly to influence politicians who either cannot comprehend [Page 59]or who refuse to comprehend the significance of the tie between local and international Communism. Finally, the traditional ruling groups in Guatemala, particularly the landholders, are so demoralized and divided, that they have been unable to offer serious opposition to Communist development.

At the same time, there are serious limitations to the Communist position. Although the Communists have enjoyed considerable success in capturing key positions among important groups in Guatemalan society, they have not yet gained a substantial consistent popular following. They must continually contend with an essentially inarticulate and conservative mass. On higher levels they must face the fact that the economic groups which subscribe to the principles of the Revolution of 1944 are not extremists and that many seeming pro-Communist political allies are, in fact, primarily opportunists.

The real answer to Communist success in Guatemala lies with the attitude of the administrations of Juan José Arévalo (1945–1951) and Jacobo Arbenz (1951– ), for, despite democratic overtones, Guatemalan political life is still largely run by the executive. Arbenz, in particular, has favored Communist development because he has found its leadership cooperative and capable. Whether or not he fully appreciates the dangers of Communism, he apparently believes that he controls the Communist organization. He has the power to check or break the Communist organization at will. In the last analysis the Communists are dependent upon the executive’s pleasure for their positions and probably the great bulk of their financial support. In themselves they lack the economic resources and popular following to contest determined opposition from the President.

Communism in Guatemala: Assets

I. Numerical Strength

There are probably less than 1,000 members of the Guatemalan Labor Party (Partido Guatemalteco de Trabajo, PGT). PGT’s petition for registration in December 1952 carried 532 signatures. Cell organization may be found in predominantly rural areas, but Communist strength is centered in the capital, Guatemala City. PGT membership is drawn from the middle class and labor and its leadership has come largely from among intellectuals and bureaucrats. On the whole, while there are opportunists and dilettantes in PGT, its membership is militant and well-disciplined. Leaders such as José Manuel Fortuny and Victor Manuel Gutiérrez are judged particularly capable. Short of engaging in violence against heavy odds, considerable personal sacrifice may be expected from members of this small group as long as they have backing within the government.

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II. Electoral Strength

Until the registration of PGT (December 1952) Communist Party members gained a limited number of elected positions—primarily in the National Congress—as candidates sponsored by the dominant government parties. In addition, some crypto-Communists have attained office as members of the progovernment parties. The present strategy of the newly registered PGT is continued reliance upon the “democratic front” support of other parties to provide electoral success. There are four acknowledged Communists presently in Congress. PGT can probably poll its largest vote in Guatemala City, but there it also faces the strongest opposition. In the mayoralty contests of 1951, the independent candidate in Guatemala City, with unusually well-unified, anti-Communist support, won over the progovernment and Communist-backed candidate by 5,000 votes (24,000–19,000). In the most recent congressional election (January 1953), Fortuny, Secretary General of PGT, was defeated as the progovernment candidate in the capital, while another coalition-sponsored Communist was winning in an outlying province. Independent Communist electoral strength in rural areas probably is not great.

III. Military Strength and Organization for Violent Action

As an ally of a friendly government, PGT has had little cause to organize and plan for violent insurrection and no such plans are known to exist. PGT has threatened violence against the government’s opposition for alleged revolutionary plots, however, and there have been some reports of Communist-controlled unions possessing firearms. Communist resort to force has been confined largely to rural areas where they have had some success in promoting mob intimidation of local landowners. Should the Communists have to face official opposition, it is doubtful that they could rally more than a few hundred willing to risk violence.

IV. Government Policy Toward Communism

Communist freedom of action is essentially geared to the will of the present administration which has the capabilities, but not the inclination, to wipe out the small Communist organization. The Communists, in fact, receive from the government strategic political appointments and benefit from propaganda and indirect financial assistance. PGT operations are favored by a leftist, nationalist, and “democratic” climate, but the Party lacks a popular following and must work with a generally nonpolitical, apathetic mass.

V. Communist Influence in Labor

The rank and file of Guatemalan union members, who are centered in plantations, farms, transport, communications, and small urban industrial [Page 61]enterprises, although susceptible to demagogic leadership, are essentially non-Communist. Exceptions to this may exist in professional unions, as in the case of the left-wing press guild. At the same time, except for a few groups, such as the railway union, the rank-and-file membership cannot be considered anti-Communist. It is largely undisciplined and, especially in the rural areas, is likely to be apathetic or conservative. Communist control of Guatemalan labor is centered in the leadership of the General Confederation of Guatemalan Labor (Confederación General de Trabajadores de Guatemala, CGTG), a CTALWFTU associate, to which the principal labor unions in the country belong. The CGTG’s total claimed membership is 50,000. Possibly the largest union in the CGTG, and one of the most consistently pro-Communist, is the teachers’ union which has a claimed membership of 10,000. Certain unions in the CGTG, such as the United Fruit Company and the Pan American Airways organizations, have shown clear-cut Communist direction in recent labor disputes. Rural labor, other than United Fruit Company workers and those on the national coffee fincas, which are affiliated with the CGTG, is nominally controlled by the National Farm Workers Confederation (Confederación Nacional de Campesinos de Guatemala, CNCG), an associate of the CGTG, whose exaggerated claim of 200,000 members represents only a potential at best. CNCG apparently has recently fallen more definitely under pro-Communist leadership. It is currently engaged in exploiting the political advantages to be gained through the implementation of the Agrarian Reform Law.

Local union leadership probably is less consistently in Communist hands. One important United Fruit Company union, at least, has sharply vacillated between Communists and opportunists. Anti-Communists or opportunists have offered especially strong resistance to Communist infiltration in the railway union which has a membership of 4,400 and which, by US standards, most closely approximates a trade union.

VI. Communist Influence in Social, Cultural, and Professional Organizations

Communist front groups are represented in the familiar realms of “peace”, youth, women’s, and intellectual activities. Their activities center primarily in Guatemala City. A tolerant, often sympathetic, government provides not only protection, but also frequent official recognition, favorable propaganda, and indirect financial assistance.

One of the oldest and most consistently prominent of the front groups is Grupo Saker-Ti, an organization formed by militant young intellectuals associated with the leftist-nationalist Revolution of 1944. Communist infiltration of this group has been heavy and its policies have been strongly pro-Communist, including advocacy of the “peace” movement. The organization publishes a locally well-known journal of the same name. Grupo Saker-Ti probably receives Government financial assistance, a factor [Page 62]which, together with its historical national prestige, guarantees its future under present political circumstances.

The National Committee of Peace Partisans (Comité Nacional de Partidarios de la Paz), the local organization of the international Communist peace front, with a reported membership of 88, under excellent leadership, has been an active “peace” organization. It has held local congresses and has strongly supported international meetings. Under present political circumstances, with the support of the administration’s propaganda machinery and the dominant progovernment political parties, the “peace” committee is in a favorable position.

The Democratic University Front (Frente Universitaria Democrática) is a small organization in the humanities division of the University of San Carlos. Despite the aggressive character of its leadership, this group has not been successful in either capturing or weakening the anti-Communist student organization, the Association of University Students (Asociación de Estudiantes Universitarios).

The Guatemalan Alliance of Democratic Youth (Alianza de la Juventud Democratica Guatemalteca) is a front group dating from June 1950; it is affiliated with the Communist World Federation of Democratic Youth and the International Union of Students. It has worked closely with the Communist Party for the promotion of Communism in Central America and has been active in the promotion of international Communist youth meetings and local and international “peace” organizations. It has assisted in the dissemination of strong anti-US propaganda.

The Guatemalan Feminine Alliance (Alianza Femenina Guatemalteca), with probably less than 100 active members, is an affiliate of the Women’s International Democratic Federation. It has joined with other front groups in pushing the local Communist “peace” campaign.

The National Conference for the Protection of Children, which first met in December 1951, not only involved a number of Communist front groups, but its laudable aims initially attracted prominent non-Communists. It also received generous Government support; public buildings were donated for use by the Conference and sessions were addressed by the President’s wife and a member of the cabinet.

There are several small refugee groups in Guatemala, some of which may be considered front organizations. One of these is the Spanish Republican Center (Centro Republicano Español), which has, perhaps, 50 members.

VII. Communist Infiltration Into Government

There are four known Communists, including the second ranking party member, Victor Manuel Gutiérrez, in the National Congress which has 58 seats. The majority of the 43 members of the dominant government [Page 63]parties in Congress are either pro-Communist or tolerant of PGT and there are probably a number of crypto-Communists among them. PGT members control three important congressional committees: labor, agrarian reform, and that dealing with revision of public contracts, a factor of particular concern to US companies operating in the country. Communists and their sympathizers heavily infiltrate the executive. At the top, José Manuel Fortuny, Secretary General of PGT, is believed to be a member of the President’s inner circle of advisers. Communists are strategically located in the Secretariat of Propaganda from which they disseminate the Communist line through official and semiofficial press and radio and through an extensive poster campaign. They occupy key positions from top to bottom in the Social Security System. They not only were instrumental in pushing through the Agrarian Reform program but now dominate much of its present field administration, particularly at the lower levels which afford direct contact with the landless peasantry and where confiscatory cases are initiated. The national coffee fincas, now administered by the Agrarian Department, have been major centers of Communist-dominated labor organization in the rural areas.

There are possibly a few Communists at lower levels of the armed forces and police. If the recent appeal to soldiers in terms of the Agrarian Reform program is successful, the Communists will have improved leverage in this direction. None are believed to be among the higher ranking officers, even though these have been willing to go along with the government’s policy of cooperation with the Communists.

VIII. Communist Influence on Public Opinion Formation

Communists strongly influence public educational circles, especially through their leadership in the teachers’ union and through their infiltration of traveling cultural missions in the interior. They are, however, strongly resisted in the University. As noted, the Communists have obtained strategic positions from which they disseminate propaganda through press, radio, and posters to large segments of the population. This is countered, to some extent, by the fact that the largest newspaper circulation is in the hands of the anti-Communist press. The Communists are actively resisted by the Catholic Church insofar as its resources permit, but that institution is relatively weak in Guatemala.

IX. Communist Infiltration of Non-Communist Political Parties

Forty-seven of 58 seats in the National Congress, including the four occupied by known Communists, are held by government-backed political parties. Most of these are either tolerant of, or sympathetic toward, PGT and a number are probably crypto-Communists. The largest and most influential of the progovernment parties is the Party of Revolutionary Action (Partido de Accion Revolucionaria, PAR), which is also the most pro-Communist. [Page 64]These parties have invited the numerically weak PGT to participate in national electoral “democratic fronts” and have successfully sponsored admitted Communist candidates. Except in Guatemala City, opposition parties are badly split and are handicapped by the government-controlled electoral machinery. As already noted, of the two coalition-sponsored Communist candidates running in the most recent congressional elections (January 1953), Fortuny was defeated in Guatemala City, while another Communist was winning in an outlying province.

X. Communist Propaganda Machinery

The PGT newspaper is Octubre, a weekly with an estimated circulation of 3,000. A recently established labor paper, which reportedly receives government subsidies, is Unidad, founded by Victor Manuel Gutiérrez and directed by Carlos Manuel Pellecer, who are probably the second and third ranking Communists in Guatemala, respectively. Pro-Communist newspapers are the official daily Diario de Centro América with a circulation of 5,000 and the semiofficial daily Nuestro Diario with 3,000. Among the cultural periodicals, the most prominent is probably Revista de Guatemala, edited by Luis Cardoza y Aragón, chairman of the local “peace” committee. The well-known Saker-Ti has been noted. Other front publications with small circulation include: Infancia, organ of the Protection of Children group, the Boletín de la Paz, Mujeres, Orientación, paper of the Dominican exiles, and Nuestra Lucha, organ of the Democratic University Front.

TGW the government-owned radio station in the capital, is the most powerful in Guatemala and reaches an estimated 500,000. It is fed the Communist line from a number of sources, including the Secretariat of Propaganda. Radio Nuestro Mundo in Guatemala City is also pro-Communist in its policy. Communist-controlled and influenced organizations have easy access to time on these two stations.

General Soviet broadcasts beamed to Latin America are poorly received and a wide audience is unlikely. Some Soviet-Satellite propaganda literature and film comes in, principally by way of Mexico and Cuba, and from travellers returning from the Russian orbit.

XI. Financial Condition

The estimated financial condition of PGT is poor. It probably receives little from membership dues, nor are the labor unions or front groups able to contribute substantially. Some assistance to Communist operations has probably come through CTAL, and the expenses of delegates abroad have probably been paid by foreign sources. The principal source of support comes from the Government through patronage, free propaganda, meeting facilities and some subsidies given to front group activities.

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XII. Soviet-Satellite Official Assets

There is no official diplomatic representation between Guatemala and Russia. Czech and Polish ministers, resident in Mexico, are accredited to Guatemala, along with other Central American Republics, but their visits to this area are rare.

XIII. Communist International Organizations

The Conference of Land and Air Transport Workers of Latin America, sponsored by the international Communist labor front, WFTU, and by the regional front, CTAL, was held in Guatemala City in May 1951. CTALWFTU officials, including Lombardo Toledano and Louis Saillant, attended and prominent Guatemalan Government officials were also present at the meeting.

International meetings in 1951 and 1952 to which Guatemala send representatives were:

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Meeting Date Size of local representation
1. Regional Conference of Latin American Agriculture (Mexico City) May 1951 1
2. Third World Youth Festival (Berlin) August 1951 6 or 7
3. World Peace Council (Vienna) November 1951 1
4. WFTU General Council Meeting (Berlin) November 1951 1
5. American Continental Congress of Peace Partisans (Montevideo) March 1951 6
6. International Conference on Defense of Children (Vienna) April 1952 2
7. Council of International Union of Students (Bucharest) September 1952 n a
8. CTAL Central Committee Meeting (Mexico) September 1952 1
9. Asian and Pacific Regions Peace Conference (Peiping) October 1952 5
10. Continental Congress of Democratic Jurists of America (Rio de Janeiro) Nov.–Dec 1952 1
11. World Congress of Peoples for Peace (Vienna) December 1952 10–11

Although no definite information is available, it is probable that the Guatemalan labor affiliate of the CTAL and WFTU has received financial assistance from the parent organizations. It is also probable that the expenses of Guatemalan delegates to Communist-sponsored international conferences have been paid from foreign sources.

XIV. Communist Communication Network

Guatemala maintains closest relations with the Middle American area. Ties with Mexico and Cuba have been particularly close and these two countries are among the principal American focal points for international Communist activity. Guatemala has also been a haven for small groups of political exiles, some of whom have strong Communist leanings, from neighboring countries.

Many Guatemalans, Communists and fellow-travellers, have visited the Soviet orbit, usually to attend international meetings. It is certain that the Communists among these have been couriers for Soviet instructions. The best example of this was the visit which Gutiérrez made to Moscow in 1951. It probably was no coincidence that his small Communist labor party was merged with the main Communist group shortly after Gutiérrez’ return to Guatemala. The most recent demonstration of the sensitivity of the Guatemalan party to Moscow came with the alteration of the party’ naame in December 1952 to the Guatemalan Labor Party (PGT), a maneeuver traceable to the policies expressed th the Ninteenth Soviet Congress of 1952.

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Job 79–01025A, Box 78, Folder 1. Secret.