611.14/12–1754: Telegram

The Ambassador in Guatemala (Peurifoy)1 to the Department of State


154. President and Mrs. Arbenz 2 entertained my wife and me privately at dinner last night and we had a frank six hour discussion of the Communist problem here lasting until two this morning. President showed depth of his feeling against United Fruit Company and his admiration for Guatemala’s Communist leaders, leaving no doubt he intended to continue to collaborate with them.

I opened conversation by telling President I was interested in seeing what I could do to improve relations and asked if he had any suggestions. He began by saying problem here is one between United Fruit Company and his government. He spoke at length and bitterly on Fruit Company’s history since 1904, complaining especially that now his Government has a $70 million budget to meet and collects only $150,000 in taxes.

I interrupted here to say I thought we should put first things first, that as long as Communists exerted their present influence in Guatemalan Government I did not see real hope of better relations.

President then answered that there were some Communists in his Government and that [they] had certain amount of influence, but they were “local.” He described his friendship with Victor Manuel Gutierrez, Communist secretary general of country’s only national labor federation, and Jose Manuel Fortuny, head of Guatemala Communist Party. [Page 1092]They were both “honest” and followed Guatemalan not Soviet interests. They went to Moscow (Fortuny is on trip there now) merely to study Marxism, not necessarily to get instructions.

I asked by name about several Communists and Communist suspects in National Agrarian Department, directorate general of Radio Broadcasting and Guatemala Institute of Social Security. Before translating, Mrs. Arbenz started in each case to deny twenty were Communists, but three times President contradicted her saying he was sure they were. I asked whether Government adverting [advertising?] helped support Communist Tribuna Popular and after Mrs. Arbenz again started to deny, President admitted that it did. Also asked about Guatemalan Congressional memorial observances for Stalin’s death and Mrs. Arbenz explanation was Guatemalan people regarded Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin as saviors of world. Communists presented no threat and his government was in full control.

Touching on the Caracas conference,3 I told President that since he has said Communists were of no consequence in Guatemala, I found it strange Guatemala had cast its vote against inclusion of the item on Communist infiltration on agenda. He said that this was interference in internal affairs, that they did not want outsiders coming in to investigate their country. I told him this was not a question of investigating, but discussing means and methods of combatting a godless ideology, but he reiterated views that Communism was not a threat. President took up agrarian reform, saying there had been much opposition from American circles and others in the country. I told him we had worked and were working with countries who had introduced land reform, citing my experience in Greece4 and present situation in Bolivia. I said the difference seemed to lie in the administration, not in principle of assisting poor people to obtain land. I pointed out the explanation was perhaps in fact that National Agrarian Department was dominated by Communists. I said I was sorry he had had no concrete proposals to make to improve our relations. He then reverted to Fruit Company and said this was the stumbling block: It was a large American organization which dominated press in US. I explained Fruit Company was relatively small by US standards and no corporation as far as I knew dominated any of US press whose Guatemalan reports were based by on-the-spot investigation. At one point President stated if there were a choice, it would be for Guatemala to live under Communist domination than live for fifty years with Fruit Company.

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Foregoing took place in atmosphere of frank and polite exchange of views, and on leaving I told President I was disappointed because we had not accomplished anything. He said after I had become familiar with country, I would probably come around to his way of thinking. I told him I did not believe anything would make me convert to Communism and feared situation would get worse because Americans had given blood and paid high taxes and would continue to do so as long as Communism threatened free nations. President ended by giving me private phone numbers, saying I should get in touch with him whenever I wanted without going through Foreign Office.

I came away definitely convinced that if President is not a Communist he will certainly do until one comes along, and that normal approaches will not work in Guatemala. I am now assessing situation in this light and expect to submit recommendations in a few days.

  1. John E. Peurifoy was appointed Ambassador to Guatemala on Oct. 5, 1953; he arrived in Guatemala City on Oct. 29, and presented his credentials on Nov. 4.
  2. María Cristina Vilanova de Arbenz Guzmán.
  3. Reference is to the Tenth Inter-American Conference, which convened at Caracas, Venezuela, Mar. 1–28, 1954; for documentation on the conference, see pp. 264 ff.
  4. Ambassador Peurifoy had been Ambassador to Greece, 1950–1953.