87. Memorandum From William G. Bowdler of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson1


  • Elections in Guatemala

Guatemala is scheduled to hold general elections tomorrow. Whether they will bring tranquility or turmoil cannot be forecast with [Page 207] certainty. Much depends on the returns and whether the Guatemalan people accept them as a reasonably fair expression of popular will. Communist-dominated subversive groups are waiting on the wings to exploit discontent.

Despite protestations that the voting will be unhindered and the ballot counting honest, President Peralta has shown partiality during the campaign for the PID party which his regime created, whose standard-bearer is Juan de Dios Aguilar. The other two candidates—Professor Julio Mendez of the moderately left of center PR party and Col. Miguel Ponciano of the extreme right MLN party—are already protesting the government’s partiality. Peralta has not wanted OAS observers. But there will be a large press representation on hand, some 25 reporters from the U.S.

Our Embassy’s estimate is that none of the three candidates is sufficiently strong to win an absolute majority.2 If this happens, the new Congress which takes office on May 5 must select the President from the two receiving the most votes. We expect considerable political maneuvering during this period (assuming an immediate post-election blowup does not materialize) accompanied by political unrest. The guerrillas and other elements of the extreme left are awaiting election results and popular reaction thereto before deciding the course which they will follow. If popular disturbances materialize, we can anticipate their adding fuel to the fire in a bid to get a revolutionary situation started.

In recent months we have tried to help the Peralta Government improve its capabilities for dealing with rural and urban insurgency. The Guatemalans were slow in responding to our offers of assistance. Last week they acted. AID and DOD have done a good job in getting equipment and experts down there to help them.3

Unless the election results produce a more violent popular reaction than can be foreseen at the present time, the Guatemalan security forces can probably cope with the situation. As a precautionary step, Linc Gordon met yesterday afternoon with his interdepartmental Latin American Policy Committee to review the general situation and the contingency plans.

  • WGB
  • RWK4
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Robert W. Komer, Vol. XXI. Secret. A notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. Transmitted in telegrams 566 and 594 from Guatemala City, February 15 and 24. (Both National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 14 GUAT)
  3. On February 25 the Embassy reported that Peralta had requested emergency assistance for his counter-insurgency campaign. The United States shipped equipment to the Guatemalan army on March 1; a team of military advisers, and supplies for the Guatemalan police, arrived shortly thereafter. (Memorandum from Burrows to Sayre, March 14; ibid., ARA/CEN/G Files, 1966: Lot 68 D 464, DEF 19 GUAT)
  4. Komer initialed below Bowdler’s typed signature and initials.