326. Intelligence Note 873 From the Deputy Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Denney) to Secretary of State Rogers1 2

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  • GUATEMALA: Insurgents Sow Christmas Terror

The current increase in terrorism in Guatemala is aimed at disrupting the election campaign and provoking a military takeover. The violence has included an unsuccessful attempt on the life of the Vice Minister of Government, the assassination of the rightist candidate for Mayor of Guatemala, the murder in the streets of a number of city policemen, the firebombing of businesses in various parts of the capital resulting in losses estimated at several million dollars and the ambush of a patrol of the Mobile Military Police in a rural area of Guatemala’s northwest coast in which the officer commanding the patrol was killed. Guerrilla losses have been slight.

The guerrillas had been expected to strike as the election campaign proceeded toward its scheduled culmination on March 1, 1970, but the December offensive and its ferocity caught many by surprise. The leftist guerrilla bands are reportedly divided, however, and it is not known whether the wave of attacks will continue or whether the bands are capable of sustained action. There is no evidence at present to indicate that military support for the government is wavering.

The government’s response. On December 17, President Mendez declared a “state of precaution” throughout the nation for a 15 day period. During this time security forces may make arrests and search homes and vehicles without [Page 2] warrant. Handguns may not be sold and unauthorized persons may not carry weapons. The press must comply with government guidelines in publishing materials which could cause the disturbance of public order. Reportedly, the President felt he had to act to give the security forces a freer hand in coping with the terrorists, but he stopped short of measures which could curb normal electioneering.

The goal of the guerrillas. The national election campaign provides the guerrillas a good opportunity to spread chaos, force the government to adopt repressive measures and, possibly, provoke a military coup. Reportedly the guerrillas have long felt that they would enjoy political advantages at home and abroad if the government could be forced to circumscribe political rights to maintain public order. A military government, according to this theory, would give maximum advantage to the guerrillas not only because it would be repressive but also because it would lack legitimacy.

Prospects. The ruling Revolutionary Party (PR) seems to be determined to proceed with free and fair elections. The party believes that it has a good chance of winning. Furthermore, the transfer of power from the current government to a legally elected successor even if the PR looses, would fulfill a major policy objective of President Mendez, i.e., implanting respect for the constitution and demonstrating that representative democracy is possible in Guatemala.

The right wing National Liberation Movement (MLN) and its presidential candidate retired Colonel Carlos Arana also appear willing to see fair elections held. Some of Arana’s supporters from time to time have encouraged him to support a coup to place himself in power. However, Arana has counseled against such [Page 3] plans, because he judges that he will win the election easily and believes that the advantages of taking office by ballot far outweigh the handicaps of leading a government installed by force. The MLN’s main issue in the elections is the question of law and order. Arana has accused the present government of inability to enforce public security. The acts of terrorism could convince the MLN that the validity of its major issue has been underlined and that the insecurity of the electorate will be translated into an even more impressive victory on election day.

The armed forces. It is difficult to predict whether the military will use the wave of terrorism as an excuse to oust the constitutional government. If key officers should decide that such action would be in their interests or in the interest of the military institution, they probably would remove Mendez. The president, however, has chosen troop commanders with concern for political consequences. Moreover, these officers lack the national stature which might make their assumption of power widely acceptable in Guatemala. The one officer who does have sufficient stature is Arana, but key officers on active duty are not close to him, although it is conceivable that some mutually advantageous relationship might be worked out. As of now, however, Arana apparently wants elections and expects to win, and presumably would not opt for a coup.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–8 GUAT. Secret; No Foreign Dissem. In telegram 5253 from Guatemala City, December 18, the Embassy reported establishment of a state of siege in the wake of the FAR assassination of prominent “rightist” David Guerra Guzmán. (Ibid.)
  2. INR reported on increased terrorism in Guatemala and guerrilla efforts to undermine presidential elections.