Memorandum by the Officer in Charge of Central America and Panama Affairs (Leddy) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Holland)



  • Assurances to Central American Governments of United States Support in Event of Attack from Guatemala

Responsive to Mr. Jamison’s suggestion for review of the Department’s action in 1953, in assuring certain Central American Governments of United States support in event of attack from Guatemala, the following is set forth.

In February 1953, the Government of El Salvador sent to Washington a special mission, composed of the Minister of Commerce (Dr. Jorge Sol), the Minister of Labor (Dr. Mario Salazar), and the Chief of Staff (Colonel Molina); the mission came to solicit the urgent assistance of the United States Government in procurement of arms, to defend El Salvador against an attack from Guatemala, which the Salvadoran Government then considered imminent. Since the arms and equipment desired were estimated to cost in excess of $2,000,000, which the mission regarded as too costly, it was suggested to the mission that some facility in acquisition could be obtained by entering into a military assistance agreement with the United States. The Salvadorans were reluctant to consider this agreement, which they stated would be unpopular politically at home and would expose El Salvador to the danger of Guatemalan reprisal before any arms and equipment [Page 371] to be delivered under the agreement could be received. Thereupon, the visiting mission and the Salvadoran Ambassador, Dr. Castro, were assured by Assistant Secretary Cabot that the United States Government would, by promptly honoring its commitments under the Rio Treaty and the OAS and UN Charters, safeguard El Salvador by coming immediately to its defense in the event of Guatemalan attack. Since the Salvadoran mission did not accept this assurance as sufficient (Colonel Molina said “our dishes will be broken in a few minutes and you could not come for at least 24 hours”), Mr. Cabot spoke directly with the President and Foreign Minister of the Salvadoran Government, during his visit in April 1953.1 He repeated the assurances previously given with reference to our commitments under the Rio Treaty and the OAS and UN Charters.

Further, in April 1953, the Governments of four Central American countries (El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica) were uncertain as to whether or not to continue the Organization of Central American States, after Guatemala’s withdrawal on April 1; and the Department acted to assure these Governments of our friendly interest, and support of the purposes of ODECA, through direct statements to this effect by our four Ambassadors to the respective Presidents or Foreign Ministers; Acting Assistant Secretary Mann spoke in the same sense to the respective Ambassadors of these four countries in Washington. The lukewarm attitude of Honduras toward ODECA was based on fear of Guatemala’s greater military power, and the opportunity was therefore taken by Mr. Mann to assure the Honduran Ambassador in the same sense that Mr. Cabot had spoken with the Salvadorans.

These assurances were, in both cases, oral and informal, and referred to defense against aggression in the form of an armed attack by Guatemalan military forces.2

  1. Assistant Secretary Cabot visited a number of countries in Latin America from Apr. 6 to May 3, 1953; pertinent documents are in file 110.15 CA.
  2. For further documentation on U.S. concern over the Guatemalan threat to Central America, see pp. 1027 ff.