88. Memorandum From William G. Bowdler of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson 1

SUBJECT

  • Guatemalan Situation

Latest reports from Guatemala indicate that there are certain civilian and military elements strongly opposed to the moderate PR party of Julio Mendez, who are trying to pressure President Peralta to annul the elections or step aside and let a successor do it. At this point we don’t know how strong these elements are.

Ambassador Gordon Mein spoke with Peralta this morning about these reports. Peralta tended to dismiss them and expressed his determination not to alter the schedule for return to constitutionality. When Ambassador Mein asked him whether Mendez and the PR would be allowed to take office should they be elected, he was less definite, saying that the election would not be final until the Congress has selected a President from the two leading candidates in May.2

Ambassador Mein and his staff yesterday and today have made the rounds of the party candidates, certain business and military leaders, and President Peralta, to convey to them our strong desire to see the results of the elections fully respected and our extreme distaste with any effort to alter or annul them.

I think it might strengthen Ambassador Mein’s efforts to prop up Peralta’s determination to stay in power—and at the same time disincline him to tamper with the election results—if he were able to convey to Peralta that the “White House” would like to see the results fully respected and power transferred peacefully, and offering U.S. cooperation and support in his efforts to achieve this. An ounce of prevention now may be worth more than a pound of cure later.3

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Attached is a suggested statement which the Ambassador in his discretion could use orally in making this pitch to Peralta.4 I would like to have your authorization to send this to Ambassador Mein. Linc Gordon concurs in this step.5

WGB

Approve message

Prefer not to send message

See me

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Guatemala, Vol. II, 1/66–11/68. Secret; Sensitive. A notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. As reported in telegram 666 from Guatemala City, March 10. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 14 GUAT)
  3. Komer wrote in the margin next to this paragraph. “Mr. President, this is tricky but it is oral, and if it did leak it would sound like a good noise, not a bad one. On balance I’m for it.”
  4. Attached but not printed.
  5. Although the memorandum does not record the President’s decision, the Department proposed that Mein deliver the message to Peralta on the Secretary’s behalf. (Telegram 460 to Guatemala City, March 11; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 14 GUAT) Mein replied that the proposed message was “not necessary at this time” since an agreement had been “reached and signed last night by representatives of military, PR and PID providing for orderly transfer of power if PR wins elections which is generally assumed to be the case.” (Telegram 675 from Guatemala, March 12; ibid.) An election tribunal later certified that the PR had won a majority of seats in congress, clearing the way for Mèndez’ elevation to the presidency. (Memorandum from Rostow to the President, April 5; Johnson Library, Memos to the President, Walt W. Rostow, Vol. I)