116. Telegram From the Embassy in Guatemala to the Department of State1

6306. Subj: Death of Ambassador: Preliminary Political Assessment. Ref: (A) Guatemala Critic;2 (B) Guatemala 6220, 6221; (C) Guatemala 6238, 6264.3

[Page 271]
While it may yet be too early attempt full analysis significance and repercussions assassination, following is effort summarize current status from our viewpoint. Must be recognized that significant reactions to event this magnitude are slow in developing here, and shock effect has not yet worn off. Hence, assessment such reactions at this point necessarily tentative, speculative, and subject later correction. Nonetheless, status summary may be useful in maintaining congruence of views between post and Dept.

Facts of Case.

There are no significant changes or additions to details reported Guatemala Critic message Aug 28. Other witnesses have confirmed all essential details related by Embassy driver with exception items such as make of green car (one witness who observed incident from point some 60 yards away, across center strip Avenida Reforma, believes green vehicle may have been 1968 model Chevy II) and number assailants involved (other witnesses state three men were in green car, as many as five in small red Japanese back-up car. Consensus is that three of assailants fled scene on foot when green and red car fled rapidly immediately following shooting).


Status of Investigation.

Witnesses have been intensively questioned by authorities for clues, descriptions, etc. GOG security forces have published flyer with pictures 6 (six) suspects, requesting public report any trace these individuals. Flyer scattered over city by helicopter Sept 1. While there have been continuing house-to-house searches, we have no word any evidence found directly connected to murder. Military patrols, roadblocks, area searches, etc., also being conducted, but technique of GOG security forces seems be more pinpointed “rifle” tactic than indiscriminate “shotgun” approach so often used previously. We are satisfied GOG actually making every effort within its power apprehend culprits, and that lack of success to date due intrinsic difficulty of problem rather than to any lack of will or effort.


Motivation for Assassination.

All available indications, analysis modus operandi, known facts and projections point to validity and authenticity FAR statement (Guatemala 6220, 6221) as to motive and character of crime. This explanation fits all known facts: none other does. In summation, we think following is motivation story: important FAR leader Camilo Sanchez was captured by GOG security forces night of Aug 24–25. In fear he would be made talk with disastrous results to FAR, his comrades planned abduct Ambassador as hostage for release of Camilo. Probable that FAR unit seized first clear opportunity to make attempt, which happened be afternoon Aug 28. When Ambassador appeared be escaping them, FAR gunman fired. (We simply do not know whether [Page 272] FAR intent was eliminate Ambassador in any case, but it would appear live hostage would be more useful to them, hence we believe intent was abduct Ambassador live, hold him at least until Camilo released to them.)

Consequences, Short Term.
On violence: We note FAR statement threatens further measures in aid of Camilo. Presumably such measures would be other similar terrorist acts against local and foreign representatives or symbols of authority. While security measures already taken would make any such attempts more difficult to accomplish, we recognize FAR still has capabilities for additional terrorism of this kind. Under present conditions, FAR may find kidnapping of another hostage too difficult to undertake. In frustration, they might turn to indiscriminate hit-and-run bombings, machine-gunnings, etc. as they have done in past. It also possible that, at least during remainder state of siege, terrorists will go underground, attempt hide, flee country or in any case keep very quiet. Again, this has been pattern after similar major incidents. They prefer not confront GOG security forces when latter engaged in major “offensive” such as present one, but rather to lie low preserving organization and individuals intact for resumption when heat is off. This, however, is rational pattern—loss of Camilo to GOG may prove sufficient stimulus for FAR act in irrational, unpredictable ways including renewed terrorism despite security forces’ offensive. FAR may believe it must make its threat (in statement) credible by further terrorism: this would probably take form attempted assassinations or kidnapping prominent personalities.
On stability of GOG: We see no evidence to date of any threat to stability GOG as result this incident. Military establishment remains loyal to regime, fulfilling constitutional role, there are no indications discontent among military with such role. We have heard of no coup-type plotting (and state of siege has, of course, legally suspended all political activity). There is considerable hand-wringing and talk of the “shame” visited on Guatemala by this murder—but this is analogous in tone to similar expressions heard in US after magnicides there. As of moment, we would say that incident has either had no measurable effect on GOG stability or that such stability has been enhanced in some degree by unanimity and uniformity of reaction among all vital sectors repudiating senseless violence of which this crime is result.

Consequences—Longer Term.

Effect of assassination on stability over longer term will depend essentially on whether or not subversives resume terrorism. If they do, GOG is prepared resume counter-insurgent (including extra-legal, if necessary) measures. This could again result in high level of violence which is intrinsically dangerous to stability. Should be recalled that in [Page 273] March–August period, relative calm was possible because of decision by subversives to temporarily suspend their terrorism while they reorganize, in wake of GOG decision suspend offensive extra-legal COIN measures. Since subversives are capable again initiating terror, tranquility is not wholly within power of GOG to determine—it must necessarily react to insurgent-initiated violence even if consequences that violence include stagnation in development, economic deterioration and intrinsic political instability. GOG’s primary objective remains—survival.

Murder of Ambassador has also produced great outpouring from all sectors of expressions sympathy, friendship, respect, admiration for him personally, and for country he so ably represented. Granting that this is in part natural reaction of emotional Latins, there is nonetheless evidence of a great reservoir of goodwill toward the United States remaining here.4
[less than 1 line of source text not declassified] and DAO concur.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, PERMein, John Gordon. Secret; Priority; Limdis.
  2. Document 114.
  3. Telegrams 6220, 6221, 6238, and 6264 from Guatemala City, August 29, 29, 30, and 31, respectively, reported developments in the investigation of the Ambassador’s assassination. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, PER Mein, John Gordon)
  4. At a meeting in the Cabinet Room on September 9, the Secretary briefed the President and Congressional leaders on the “tragic loss of Ambassador Mein, who was one of our best ambassadors—the first time in our history we’ve had an ambassador assassinated.” After providing details of the assassination and subsequent investigation, Rusk reported that President Méndez “clearly is popular in the country” and “the military actually are loyal to the constitutional government in Guatemala at the present time.” “Despite the danger to some of our own people,” he concluded, “we’re not basically disturbed about the possibility the Communists could take over Guatemala.” (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of a meeting in the Cabinet Room, September 9, 1968, 5:45–7:24 p.m., Tape FC003, Part 1 of 3)