99. Information Memorandum From the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Sayre) to Secretary of State Rusk 1

SUBJECT

  • Terrorist Assassination in Guatemala of U.S. MILGP Commander and Chief of Navy Section2

The Guatemalan Government has declared a “State of Alert.” The Guatemalan Minister of Defense believes that a strong reaction is necessary to the pattern of Communist terrorist activities which has developed in the last few days in order to demonstrate that the Government has control of the security situation. He therefore intends to make a maximum effort and has taken personal charge of the investigation of the assassination of the two U.S. military officers.

The Guatemalan President has extended written condolences to Ambassador Mein.

From the information available to me I would tentatively conclude: a) that the assassination is part of a pattern of Communist terrorist activities in Guatemala; b) the assailants knew that the occupants of the car were U.S. military personnel and c) there is no reason for believing at this time that U.S. personnel in other countries in Latin America will be objects of such attacks. With respect to this last point, however, the Communists have now “broken the ice” on assassination of U.S. personnel in Latin America.

All of the available information indicates that the Country Team was fully alert to the possibility of terrorist attacks; however, there is a press indication that the terrorists were able to set up the assassination because the MILGP Commander was following a routine pattern of travel between his Headquarters and home. If so, this would be contrary to instructions from the Department which required Country [Page 227]Teams to assure that their top personnel varied their pattern of activity sufficiently in going to their offices, departing for lunch, and going home at night so that it could not be regarded as routine. We will be checking this point out with Ambassador Mein.

I will also be sending a round-up message on the situation in Guatemala to all of our Ambassadors, who were instructed yesterday to review their security procedures.

I understand that Ambassador Mein has discussed with Assistant Secretary Oliver the latter’s planned visit to Guatemala today. At present, Ambassador Mein recommends and Oliver agrees that Oliver should proceed according to schedule. However, Ambassador Mein desires to review the situation this morning and discuss it with Oliver before a final decision is made. Ambassador Mein has a message prepared giving the rationale and his recommendations which he will transmit to the Department this morning.3

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA Files: Lot 72 D 33, Guatemala. Confidential. No drafting information appears on the memorandum.
  2. The White House Situation Room forwarded a brief account of the incident to President Johnson on January 16: “Two members of our military mission in Guatemala City were killed and one was wounded when the car in which they were riding was machine gunned shortly before noon this morning. Col. John Webber, Jr., the Commander of the U.S. Guatemala Military Group, was killed outright, and Lt. Comdr. Ernest Monroe died shortly after the attack from his wounds. The identity of the assassins is not known, but it is suspected that they were members of the Rebel Armed Forces, a Communist guerrilla organization.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Guatemala, Vol. II, 1/66–11/68)
  3. In telegram 2854 from Guatemala, January 17, the Embassy recommended that Oliver proceed as planned since canceling the visit “might be interpreted by President [Méndez] and others as indication that we wavering in our support of government at very difficult time.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, ORG 7 ARA)