84. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson1


  • Deepening Crisis in Guatemala
Recent reports from our Embassy and CIA sources in Guatemala indicate that President Peralta’s position has deteriorated and that a military coup may be attempted prior to December 20.2
The leader of the coup is Col. Miguel Angel Ponciano, candidate for President of the minority, rightist Movement for National Liberation (MLN). Ponciano suspects that Peralta is working to insure the election of another candidate. The elections are scheduled for March 6, 1966. Ponciano is trying to develop enough support among military commanders to overthrow Peralta.
Embassy officers met with Ponciano on Tuesday and told him that we strongly favor return to constitutionality via the scheduled elections. He made quite clear that the issue is Peralta’s suspected support of another candidate. He said in effect that either Peralta stops interfering in the elections, or he must go. He claims that he would remove only Peralta and his cousin and that elections would be held on schedule. What is clear is that Ponciano wants to count the ballots on March 6.3
The danger in this situation is that an attempted coup may split the military, lead to protracted fighting and play into the hands of the Communists. We have instructed Ambassador Mein to convey a strong warning against a coup to Ponciano.4 At the same time, we want him to urge Peralta, in his own interest, to request OAS supervision of the elections with a visit now by OAS Secretary General Mora or OAS Council Chairman Penna Marinho (Brazil).5 Such a proposal might give Peralta some insurance and could not do any of us any harm. He is seeing Peralta today and will afterwards lean hard on Ponciano.
This is not at present a Dominican Republic situation, but it may easily require some energetic diplomatic pressures in order to prevent real deterioration via military civil war.
We are following developments closely. State, DOD and CIA are doing some contingency planning.6
McG. B.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. XVII. Secret. A notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. As reported in CIA Intelligence Memorandum, [text not declassified]; ibid., Country File, Guatemala, Vol. I, 3/64–1/66. A memorandum from Vaughn to Rusk, December 10, closely following the language of the CIA memorandum, is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–9 GUAT.
  3. As reported in telegram 373 from Guatemala City, December 14. (Ibid., POL 23–8 GUAT)
  4. Instructions transmitted in telegram 279 to Guatemala City, December 15. (Ibid., POL 23–9 GUAT)
  5. As suggested in telegram 277 to Guatemala City, December 15. (Ibid., POL 23–8 GUAT)
  6. The Department forwarded a report on its contingency plans in a December 27 memorandum to Bundy. The report reflected the recommendations of the LAPC, and considered a number of contingencies, including Situation A, in which Guatemala continues “more or less as it is from now to the elections.” In this event, the Department recommended that the U.S. maintain its course of: a) providing assistance for the counterinsurgency effort; b) keeping in touch with presidential candidates and other leaders; and c) “making clear at every opportune moment to Peralta and to all conspirators that we favor not a coup but elections on schedule.” (Ibid., POL 2 GUAT)