120. Special National Intelligence Estimate1

SNIE 82–68


The Problem

To assess the prospects over the next several years for the insurgency in Guatemala in the context of the country’s continuing political, economic, and social problems.


The persistent insurgency by a small number of leftist extremists is a particularly troublesome manifestation of Guatemala’s chronic political instability. Nonetheless, the insurgency, now in its ninth year, has survived rather than flourished. The insurgents, though able to carry out dramatic acts of urban terror, have had little success in gaining adherents in the countryside. Much of the energy of the insurgent movement has been squandered on internal dissidence and factionalism.
We believe it unlikely that the insurgency, now at a low ebb, will expand greatly, at least for several years to come. Over the next year or so, the insurgents will probably attempt to keep the pressure on the government through sporadic terrorism, including acts against US officials. Their apparent motive is to provoke the replacement of President Méndez by a repressive military regime in the hope that it would cause the people to rally to the insurgency.
There are some indications that Fidel Castro is planning to increase his support of the Guatemalan insurgency, perhaps to the point of dispatching a small force of guerrillas now undergoing training in Cuba. Such foreign assistance might increase the insurgency’s capacity for violence and terror, and thus increase its disruptive effect. But it would probably not enhance the insurgents’ overall prospect for seizing power.
Since early 1968, Méndez has increased his control over Guatemalan security forces and sharply reduced the bloody and often indiscriminate counter-terrorism through which they and right-wing vigilantes were combating the insurgents. The President’s freedom of [Page 284]action, however, still is limited, and he is unlikely to undertake basic reforms or any other actions that would coalesce the military and the political right generally against him. Though the security forces have been able to keep the rural insurgency from getting out of hand, they suffer from a variety of disabilities, including weak leadership and poor and uncoordinated intelligence. The latter disability in particular puts them at a disadvantage in coping with urban terrorism.
The basic political and social problems of Guatemala are not caused by the insurgency, and they would persist even if it collapsed. Even if the insurgents were to achieve their interim objective of provoking the establishment of a harsh military dictatorship, they would in our view benefit little, at least in the short run. Over the longer period, the actions of such a regime might increase the prospects for the emergence of a more vigorous revolutionary movement; but we cannot know at this point what role, if any, the current insurgents and their sometime allies among Guatemalan Communists would have in such a movement.

[Omitted here is the Discussion section of the estimate.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Job 79–R01012A, O/DDI Registry. Secret; Controlled Dissem. According to a note on the cover sheet this estimate was prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency with the participation of the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense and the National Security Agency. The United States Intelligence Board concurred in this estimate on December 19.