324. Intelligence Note 729 From the Deputy Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Denney) to the Acting Secretary of State (Richardson)1 2

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  • GUATEMALA: Guerrillas Attack US Drilling Site After Two-Year Lull in Rural Insurgency

After almost two years of limiting their actions to largely urban terrorism, Guatemala’s Rebel Armed Forces (FAR)—a Cuban-oriented insurgent group—returned in strength to rural warfare in the first week of October. About 40 well disciplined guerrillas attacked the drilling sites of the Monoil Guatemala Company, a subsidiary of Monsanto Chemical, in an isolated jungle area near the Mexican border. They seized supplies from the campsites, lectured the workers on the aims of their revolution and sought recruits. The workers, including two Americans, were not mistreated and their personal property was not stolen. The Guatemalan security forces responded to this raid with an airlift of 20 men from the nearest army base, but so far no contact has been made with the guerrillas.

At the same time, there have been reports that the FAR is planning an urban operation in the near future which might include attacks on the American Ambassador, the Consul, one or more embassy military attachés, and the kidnapping of a prominent Guatemalan political leader.

The Guerrilla Threat. Since the FAR was routed from its area of operations in the departments of Zacapa and Izabal by the armed forces and civilian vigilantes in 1966 and 1967, there have been reports that the guerrillas were determined to resume rural warfare. However, deadlines for action passed repeatedly without incident and the threat of another rural insurgency effort [Page 2] appeared to recede. Although one attack does not necessarily mean a major offensive has begun, the reappearance of such a large force of guerrillas in the field may make reexamination of the threat advisable.

FAR Strategy. While the FAR talked about returning to the field, there were reports of a new strategy which would be adopted for the offensive. The FAR presumably would not concentrate completely in one geographical location again as they did in Zacapa and Izabal in the mid-1960’s. Such concentration permitted the armed forces and civilian vigilantes to bring superior forces against the guerrillas and crush them. The FAR units probably would not try to hold areas, but rather would concentrate on being self-sufficient, flexible and mobile. Hit-and-run tactics would likely be used against selected targets along with efforts to ambush government reaction forces.

Intelligence reports received late last year indicated that FAR plans also included the infiltration into Guatemala from Cuba of a group of about 40 trained guerrillas made up of Guatemalans, other Central Americans and perhaps some Cubans. Again, as time passed without the appearance of these trained guerrillas, their existence became subject to doubt. However, it is possible that the 40 guerrillas who attacked the drilling sites include some of the men whose arrival the FAR has been expecting.

The Impact of New FAR Strategy. If the FAR strategy is one of mobility as suggested above, the Guatemalan military’s experiences in dealing with the guerrillas in 1966 and 1967 will not provide much guidance for handling the situation. FAR plans would exploit the military’s limited troop lift and [Page 3] logistic capabilities and the presence among the guerrilla forces of a number of well-trained men might make FAR units more difficult to deal with. On the other hand, the guerrillas’ ability to move quickly and often once their offensive begins remains to be tested. The recent attack may be an example of the first step in an attempt to force dispersal of government forces. But it may also be a sign of respect for the army’s ability to respond to insurgency since the guerrillas chose a distant and isolated area to make their appearance.

Political Impact. A presidential election is scheduled in Guatemala for next March, and the three political parties have chosen their candidates. It is not known whether FAR activity is designed to affect the election; it might simply be a question of it having taken this much time to reorganize for a new offensive. Nevertheless, if the guerrillas make significant headway they will undoubtedly influence the atmosphere and the outcome of the election. The rightist candidate, Col. Carlos Arana, is the candidate of law and order, and he may well benefit from whatever confusion and violence the FAR can generate.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–7 GUAT. Secret; No Foreign Dissem. In Intelligence Information Cable TDCS 314/14485–69, October 6, CIA reported that the FAR was planning to assassinate or kidnap U.S. Embassy personnel. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 785, Country Files, Latin America, Guatemala, Vol. I)
  2. INR reported that FAR rebel activities in rural areas were on the rise with an attack on oil drilling sites operated by the U.S.-based Monsanto Chemical Company and plans to attack U.S. Embassy personnel.