57. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Alleged Support of Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas, Guatemalan Oppositionist, by United Fruit Company

PARTICIPANTS

  • Colonel Roberto Barrios Peña
  • Lic. Victor Ramiro Flores
  • MID—Mr. Fisher

Colonel Barrios Peña said that on August 31 a military and political committee met in San Salvador to unify the opposition forces against the Arbenz Government. All leading Guatemalan oppositionists attended except Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas, who sent a letter declining to affiliate on the ground of having other commitments. In a later meeting between Castillo Armas and General Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes, a member of the military and political committee, Castillo Armas renewed his refusal to join the group.

Barrios Peña said it was notorious throughout Central America that Castillo Armas received large sums of money from the United Fruit Company. In Tegucigalpa he had several limousines, numerous body guards, 34 exiled Guatemalan students; and he had a large body of spies and agents engaged elsewhere; the total monthly expenditures amounting to about $30,000. Castillo Armas was known to be entirely without resources of his own. Despite the absurd ostentation of Castillo Armas’ heavily financed activities in Honduras, the Guatemalan Government has never said a word about him, but when the United States Government merely asked for just compensation for expropriated property, a storm of insults broke out against the U.S. on the theme of “intervention”. This raised the suspicion that there was some kind of understanding with Arbenz, but the worst, according to Barrios Peña, was that Castillo Armas was actively spying on and working against honest oppositionists who were using their own sources2 and making great personal sacrifices for a patriotic cause. Castillo Armas’ refusal to join in a united front divided the opposition to the Arbenz Government and this, coupled with his sabotage of other people’s efforts, assured continued success of the Communist cause. Barrios Peña said he had come [Page 118]to the United States to tell the heads of the United Fruit Company of the great damage which their support of the deceitful Castillo Armas was doing to the anti-Communist cause, to the company itself, and to the United States Government, which was being linked to the United Fruit Company through effective Communist propaganda. All his group wanted was to be left alone and not stabbed in the back by the United Fruit Company and its man, Castillo Armas. However, he said, Mr. Montgomery and other United Fruit Company officials had foolishly refused even to see him. He had therefore determined to give his information to the Department and to the McCarthy Committee.

Barrios Peña said his organization had prepared an uprising in Guatemala for March 28, 1953, execution of which was dependent on arrival in San Salvador of a coordinating emissary from a secure outside source of assistance. The emissary failed to arrive when expected and Barrios Peña accordingly cancelled the operation. His subordinate, Carlos Simons, nevertheless set off the abortive Salamá uprising on his own responsibility and thus needlessly sacrificed lives and brought about complete suppression of oppositionist leadership in Guatemala. Barrios Peña later went to the outside source of assistance and asked why the emissary failed to arrive.3 He was told that Castillo Armas had sent word that Barrios Peña was a spy for Arbenz, and that the emissary was therefore withheld.

I questioned the credibility of reports that any American interest was financing revolutionary forces in Central America. Barrios Peña said that although he had no documentary evidence, there was no shadow of doubt in his mind that the United Fruit Company was in fact contributing heavily to Castillo Armas. He thought the company had already invested about $2 million in him. He attributed the company’s confidence in Castillo Armas to Juan Cordoba Cerna, who was retained by the United Fruit Company as counsel for several years. Cordoba Cerna had such faith in Castillo Armas that he sent his own 20-year-old son with him in the attempt to seize the Base Militar in Guatemala City in November 1950. The boy was killed in the terrible ambush which resulted. According to Lic. Flores, over 100 men were shot down by Arbenz’ forces, only Castillo Armas and two others escaping. Most were mowed down by machine guns inside the Base Militar. Castillo Armas had brought them there in an incredibly stupid attempt to seize the internal arsenal and take over the fort. After the machine gunning, Army officers finished off everyone with pistol shots except, strangely enough, Castillo Armas and the other two. Furthermore, after only six weeks in the penitentiary Castillo Armas recovered from his superficial [Page 119]leg wound and escaped. He was said to have tunneled through a stone court under an enormous stone wall and up through the pavement of the street outside, all with his bare hands.

Barrios Peña reiterated that he was asking for nothing except that the Department use its influence to stop the company from supporting Castillo Armas in his activity against other oppositionists. Lic. Flores added that he and other anti-Communist leaders of long-standing were growing discouraged and resentful over the unnecessary obstacles put in their way, citing the Castillo Armas situation and adding that the United States was still supporting the Arbenz Government through military missions, etc. They also complained of the U.S. Immigration rules, which they thought should be relaxed in favor of Latin American anti-Communists.

Colonel Barrios Peña handed me a sheaf of documents (in Spanish) which he said were copies of those supplied to Senator McCarthy’s committee. I said the paper he left with me would be carefully studied.

Comment: The documents left by Colonel Barrios Peña include the following:

1.
A memorandum dated Washington, October 8, signed by Colonel Barrios Peña setting forth the complaint against Castillo Armas substantially as given above. The memorandum contains the following statement: “It is public knowledge that for more than two years the financial agent of Colonel Castillo Armas in Honduras has been the United Fruit Company of Boston, Massachusetts, and that thanks to its influence Castillo Armas enjoys every kind of prerogative and consideration in that country”.
2.
Copies of three letters purportedly sent by Castillo Armas to other opposition leaders on the question of unification.
3.
Copies of a unification pact of the “Guatemalan forces of liberation” signed at San Salvador, August 31, by the following: Military Committee, Colonel Jorge Barrios Solares, Colonel Julio Pablo Garcia, General Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes, Colonel Roberto Barrios Peña; Political Committee, Carlos A. Luna, Manuel José Ares y Valladares, Guillermo Putzeys, Raul Enriquez G., and Carlos Samayoa Chinchilla.
4.
A purported memorandum of conversation between General Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes and Colonel Castillo Armas at the Salvador-Honduran border on September 13. The memorandum supposedly records Castillo Armas’ refusal to join the other oppositionist leaders despite energetic representations by Ydigoras Fuentes.

Colonel Barrios Peña has called at the Department on several previous occasions, the latest being on April 28 when we spoke freely of Salamá uprising of March 29 as having been carried out by his organization (although without his authorization).

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Job 79–01025A, Box 80, Folder 2. Secret. Drafted by Fisher.
  2. A handwritten note in the margin reads “Trujillo?”.
  3. A handwritten marginal note reads “Trujillo.”