414.608/5–2854:Circular telegram

The Secretary of State to Certain Diplomatic Offices 1


440. Department requests you inform government to which accredited at high level of serious concern this Government with regard to use of ships of friendly powers to transport arms to Guatemala, whose Communist-oriented government poses increasing threat in vital Central American area.

For your information only this Government is determined prevent further substantial arms shipments from reaching Guatemala, but first seeking cooperation of other governments which it urgently desires you obtain.

You may exercise your judgment how this matter is taken up. Following argument presented for your guidance:

A Soviet thrust into Western Hemisphere by establishing and maintaining Communist-controlled state between U.S. and Canal Zone would represent serious set-back to free world. It would represent challenge to Hemisphere security and peace as Guatemala has become increasingly instrument of Soviet aggression in this hemisphere. Its President (Arbenz) has publicly expressed his backing of Communists saying that to isolate them would be equivalent to suicide of revolutionary movement he heads. Communists have infiltrated government and now control its agrarian reform, labor, social security, informational and educational policies. Police and Army are either subservient or passive toward Government’s pro-Communist policies. Sole national labor federation, affiliated with WFTU, is Communist controlled. All political parties supporting Administration, controlling 51 of 56 seats in Congress, are bound together in Communist controlled “National Democratic Front”. In its foreign relations, Guatemala has become spokesman for Soviet policy for Western Hemisphere and menace to stability of strategic Central American and Caribbean area.
U.S. Government has for some time pursued policies designed to reduce this threat. It obtained at Caracas OAS Conference anti-international Communist resolution under which action can be taken against the domination or control of an American state by international Communism. Guatemala was only American country to vote against it. U.S. has for several years progressively denied export [Page 1138] licenses for arms to Guatemala to prevent build up of its military potential which is already predominant in area. This predominance now greatly increased by recent arrival 2,000 ton shipment of armaments from behind iron curtain. Leading Western European Governments last month agreed to refuse export of arms shipments from their territories to Guatemala. You should cite any specific assurance you have on this point.
It has now been established that these controls are insufficient and it will be necessary to supplement control program by preventing use of ships of free world to transport arms to Guatemala. Arrival Swedish ship Alfhem in Guatemala on May 15 with some 2,000 tons arms loaded at Stettin April 18 illustrates capacity international Communist movement to vitiate cooperative efforts of free world by simply loading up entire ship at Communist-controlled port for clandestine delivery. Market value these arms, if only light weapons and munitions are involved, has been estimated at $10 million by our military authorities and considerably higher if tanks and planes are involved. This is large sum for nation whose annual military budget is less than $7 million and suggests Soviet’s long term purposes in arming Communist power in Central America. Department now has information two more ships, which may carry flags of one or more of countries to which you accredited, are on their way to Guatemala with arms from Soviet orbit.
Arrival these ships or others carrying more arms for Guatemala would further augment Guatemala’s preponderant military position in area. Guatemalan military and police forces, totalling 9,000 already overshadow combined forces of Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, numbering about 7,000.
This Government is anxious for cooperation of free governments in all possible measures to prevent use their flag ships in future arms traffic to Guatemala; for controls to be instituted to identify and report possible arms shipments for Guatemala on national ships; and for measures to be taken by governments themselves to divert or otherwise prevent delivery such shipments.
Guatemalan Government has forced strong measures by its flagrant abuse of system of international trade under which ships move freely and without hindrance because of presumed reliability of ships’ documents. In connivance with Soviet orbit suppliers of the arms, it resorted to false documents misrepresenting nature and destination of cargo, false statements as to ships destination and a Swedish charterer who made public statement misrepresenting nature cargo. These tactics make it impossible rely on conventional means for determining contents ship destined to Guatemala and, in cases where suspicious circumstances exist, force actual inspection. Moreover tactics used by Guatemala in this case prejudice best interests all nations engaged in maritime commerce and would justify their filing vigorous protest with Guatemala against such abuses.
This Government would welcome cooperation Western maritime nations to end that if U.S. Naval patrols in Caribbean or Pacific approaches to Guatemala have reason suspect that ship approaching Guatemala carries arms and U.S. does not have time notify flag government, they detain it while U.S. Government clarifies its status and cargo with flag government.

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You should attempt to obtain explicit consent of government to which you accredited to measures outlined preceding paragraph; otherwise indication of its tacit approval and willingness not to make formal protest if we do take such measures.2

Embassy London: This matter is being taken up with British Ambassador here and therefore you should not initiate discussions there.

  1. Drafted by John C. Hill, Jr. of the Office of Middle American Affairs. Sent to the Embassies in Stockholm, Paris, Brussels, Lisbon, Rome, The Hague, Oslo, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Athens, London, and Madrid; sent also to HICOG in Bonn; repeated for information to the Embassies in Bern and Guatemala City, USUN in New York, and USPOLAD in Trieste.

    In circular telegram 443, dated May 29, 1954, sent to all diplomatic posts in the American Republics, except Guatemala, and repeated for information to the Embassies in Guatemala City, London, Paris, Rome, Bonn, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, Bern, Vienna, Madrid, and Athens, and to USUN in New York, the Department augmented this telegram with additional details concerning arms shipments to Guatemala, particularly the so-called “Alfhem case.” (414.608/5–2954)

  2. In a memorandum to Assistant Secretary Holland, dated June 3, 1954, Mr. Leddy and Mr. Hill stated that of the six countries (United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the German Federal Republic) whose governments had indicated their position in response to circular telegram 440, “none have explicitly agreed to our detention of their ships but none have objected,” and that one other country (Finland) had requested use of a modified approach “limited to an expression of serious concern about the use of ships of friendly powers to transmit arms to Guatemala.” (414.608/6–354)