323. Memorandum of Conversation1 2

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  • Col. Carlos ARANA Osorio, MLN/PID Presidential Candidate
  • Lic. Mario SANDOVAL Alarcon, Secretary-General of MLN
  • Dr. Roberto HERRERA Ibarguen, MLN Deputy to National Congress
  • Ambassador Nathaniel Davis
  • Matthew D. Smith, Jr., First Secretary

1. Dr. Herrera invited the Ambassador to meet and exchange views with the MLN/PID candidate. The luncheon took place at the Herrera family’s estate in a residential area of the capital city. There follows a topical summary of highlights of the discussion.

2. Violence and “the General Situation of Guatemala”

This topic was a recurrent threnody running through the entire conversation. Col. Arana is preoccupied with the necessity of restoring law and order, peace and tranquility to Guatemala, and insists this can be accomplished by strict adherence to established law. Arana referred to the recent assassination of MLN officer Mario LOPEZ Villatoro, to that of Ambassador Mein, and others. He urged the necessity of taking full security precautions for the personal safety of Ambassador Davis. He did not offer any quick, easy solutions to the problem of violence, limiting himself to a discussion of its unfortunate effects on the country.

Arana, at Sandoval’s prompting, did mention that, following the Lopez assassination, he had barely managed to dissuade “his people” in the Northeast (Departments of Zacapa, Izabal, Jalapa, etc.) from attempting violent reprisals. Arana said he had managed to stop them once—he might be able to do it again—but could not be sure he could stop them a third time. The Ambassador commented that Arana was a forceful commander, implying confidence that he would be able to control, his followers. To this, Arana responded that a leader who counsels moderation too often runs the risk that his followers will dump him and seek another leader who will “give them the action they want”.

Sandoval’s contributions to the conversation were usually concerned with the violence theme—and he frequently reverted to that theme when Arana appeared to be ill at ease (on such topics as economic policy, foreign affairs, etc.). Sandoval insisted that violence—and its solution—is the central issue; all else would fall into place if only a “strong leader” is elected to resolve the problem of political violence. With [Page 2] tranquility and restoration of confidence, solutions to other problems would follow, he felt. He did not, however, specify how those solutions would be reached.

3. The Fraud Issue

Arana and Sandoval both frequently mentioned their conviction that the PR was “preparing fraud” in order to “impose their candidate and perpetuate the party in power. They insisted that the PR is actively engaged in the falsification of identity papers, voter registration lists, etc. They implied that such shenanigans would naturally lead to stuffing of ballot boxes and false count of votes cast. All this “hard fraud” they regarded as on an entirely different (and more outrageous) plane from the traditional use of government resources and machinery by the party in power. Their conclusion is that if such kinds of fraud (on both levels) are used to the extent that it “mocks the people’s expressed will” they would regard the elections as invalid. (Sandoval spoke darkly of a constitutional provision which “permits” the overthrow of an illegal government. MLN press advertisements have also referred to this “right”, citing the second sentence of Art. 78 as their authority:“Adequate resistance for the protection of the rights and guarantees set forth in the Constitution is legitimate.”)

4. Golpe and “Auto-Golpe”

As a corollary to the fraud issue, the MLN leaders mentioned that they had heard that some “extreme” elements of the PR were thinking of preparing a golpe—or rather, an “auto-golpe” which would overthrow the constitutional regime, then engage in temporizing maneuvers such as juntas, constitutional conventions, etc., with the object of perpetuating themselves in power. Col. Arana said he had mentioned this possibility to President Mendez during their recent interview (June 12—see Guatemala 2465). Arana added that he had told the President that the MIN/PID “had the most to lose in an overthrow of constitutionality” since they felt assured of winning the elections by legal means. For this reason, Arana said, he had offered the President the full support of the MLN partisans should this be needed to suppress any attempt to overthrow the Mendez regime “from any quarter”. Arana said that the President had merely replied that GOG intelligence had not apprised him of any golpe threats.

Arana also said he had protested to the President that the PR had organized a group (self-styled “The Centurions”) of about 200 youths, aged 15 to 20, had armed them with pistols, and used them to “terrorize the electorate”. The President had promised to look into this, Arana said.

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5. PID “Split” Unit of Conservative Forces; Vice Presidential Candidate

Arana asserted that the breach in the ranks of the PID was now completely healed as the result of recent talks with Roberto Alejos, leader of the dissident faction. Sandoval said Alejos had been greatly moved by the assassination of Lopez Villatoro; that Alejos had voluntarily decided to throw his support to Arana, and would make public announcement of this decision in the near future. Smith asked if this meant that Alejos would be named as Arana’s vice-presidential running-mate. Both Arana and Sandoval insisted that this was not the case—Alejos did not wish to run for any office, wanted only to insure an Arana victory. With this, they claimed, “all anti-communist forces in Guatemala” are now united behind Arana, and they feel assured of victory.

Arana neatly evaded all further probes as to their choice of a vice-presidential candidate by saying that various persons were under consideration, and that no decision had yet been made. He implied that the choice might not be announced until the MLN/PID’s national conventions following official convocation to elections (probably in September–October).

It was evident throughout the conversation, that the MLN leaders regard the PID as very much a junior partner in the coalition. At one point, in discussing party representatives to the Electoral Tribunal, none of the three could recall the name of the PID representative. Nor did they, at any point, refer to a PID viewpoint or position—it was always “our” (MLN) view, policy, etc., with the implication that PID views simply need not be taken into account.

6. Central American Integration

In response to the Ambassador’s query as to Arana’s policy toward CA integration, the latter faltered a bit, but soon came out four-square in favor of integration in principle. He said he would like to see “more participation by the private sector” in the integration, but was vague as to his precise meaning. Sandoval and Herrera joined in to say that the MIN actually favored political as well as economic integration of the region—and Herrera expressed the thought that economic integration may have gone as far as it can without such political integration. He also spoke of the necessity for CA tribunals to adjudicate controversies between CA countries.

7. Belize

Regarding Belize, Arana gave the impression of not being sure of his ground. He gratefully turned the majority of the discussion over to Dr. Herrera, who is an acknowledged expert in the matter (Herrera [Page 4] has been a member of the National Council on Belize for 15 years, and as such has participated in GOG policy-making on the subject.) Arana limited himself to saying vaguely that “obviously, we must continue the struggle and push our case through international tribunals,”—and then allowed Herrera to interpret his meaning. Herrera reiterated the standard Guatemalan line on Belize—that Belizeans were not yet ready for independence; that their small numbers, weakness, inexperience at self-government, etc., represented a real danger for their neighbors in that it would be easy for “inimical foreign powers” (read Cuba, or USSR) to subvert and gain dominant influence. Herrera cited Guyana as a case in point. He added that Guatemala would like to see Belize “reoriented” toward Central America.

As the discussion concluded, Arana indicated that he did not believe the Belize issue would play any great part in the political campaign—and that he had no desire to raise it in that context. Herrera then said that much, of course, would depend on external events—if the British were to grant Belize independence prior to the 1970 Guatemalan elections, this would indeed inject the issue into the campaign, with “unforeseeable consequences.” (We received the impression that in this particular context, Herrera was speaking more as a Guatemalan, and as a member of the Council on Belize, than he was as an MLN partisan.)

8. Economics—Tax Policy

Queried as to his views on tax policy, Arana admitted that many of his followers felt that taxes should be either reduced or held at present levels—then smilingly said that, once in power, he would be guided by the needs of the country and not by the interests of any particular group. Dr. Herrera immediately took up the discussion to point out that the MLN view was that the problem was not so much a need for new taxes as it was for just and efficient collection of taxes now on the books. He cited the example of the some 1,200 lawyers currently practicing, and said that as a member of the Economic Committee of the Congress, he had learned that only seven (7) lawyers had paid income tax in 1968. He felt sure this was unjust, because “many” lawyers have very considerable taxable income—and the same with other sectors. The present law, Herrera said, is simply not enforced. His solution would be to emulate the Italian experience—be prepared to enforce the law rigidly; select a few prominent tax evaders, prosecute them to the full extent of the law—with this, he felt, the majority would pay their taxes, and the government’s revenue would be greatly increased. Arana joined in to add that this kind of “tax reform” required a strong, resolute leadership (implying that he could furnish just such leadership).

9. U.S. Policy in Elections

In the course of the conversations, the Ambassador took occasion to make clear the U.S. policy of neutrality and non-intervention in [Page 5] Guatemalan internal political affairs. He stressed that the USG would continue its friendly relations with a duly elected government; and that our interest paralleled that expressed by the MLN leaders in support of democratic institutions and constitutionality. (The MLN leaders seemed to accept these statements as “natural” and to be expected, but they seemed just a bit disappointed that the USG could not be more forthcoming in support of “their” righteous anti-communist cause.)

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 12–6 GUAT. Confidential. Transmitted to the Department in Airgram A–163 from Guatemala City, June 27, 1969. (Ibid.) The meeting took place in Herrera’s home.
  2. Ambassador Davis met with Movimiento Liberación Nacional (MLN) candidate Carlos Arana Osorio and MLN representatives to discuss his candidacy, the problem of political violence, and MLN plans to promote law and order. Davis reiterated U.S. neutrality in the upcoming elections.