327. Memorandum Prepared in the Department of State1 2

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On Sunday, March 1, Guatemala will elect a new president, vice president, all members of congress (55) and the mayors of all the larger towns including Guatemala City. The candidates are Mario FUENTES Pieruccini, for the governing Revolutionary Party (PR); Colonel Carlos ARANA Osorio, for the right-wing coalition parties and Jorge Lucas CABALLEROS for the Christian Democratic Party, on the left.

When President MENDEZ who was elected in 1966 steps down, he will be only the third president in Guatemala’s history to complete his constitutional term in office. He hopes that through free and open elections and the orderly transfer of power to his successor he can contribute to the development of a constitutional tradition in Guatemala. At his request the OAS is sending three observers to Guatemala to help assure honest results.

Considering their lack of experience, the Guatemalans have staged an impressive campaign: all three candidates are able, forceful men, who have electioneered throughout the country; radio and television as well as newspapers have been widely used, and there has been a conscientious effort to get out the vote.

The leftist insurgency movement has sought to disrupt the election campaign by assassinations and bombings. Their victims include ten police officers, the rightist candidate for mayor [Page 2] of Guatemala City and a respected newspaper editor, but they do not appear capable of preventing the elections from taking place as planned.

The Embassy estimates that none of the Presidential candidates will gain an absolute majority and that the Congress will be required to choose between the two candidates having the largest number of votes: probably Fuentes and Arana. Since the PR is expected to maintain or increase its present majority (32 out of 55 seats) this means Fuentes will be the final winner. The slimmer Fuentes’ margin, the greater is the chance that his victory will be contested and that a period of dangerous political instability will ensue.

U.S. stakes in these elections are important. For 12 years after the overthrow of Colonel Arbenz’ leftist regime in 1954 Guatemala stagnated politically and economically. Since 1966 under Mendez leadership, however, Guatemala has moved forward. The President’s policies have checked the destructive political polarization of the country and achieved some stability, as shown by the conduct of these elections. His administration has also brought the military under civilian control, weakened the guerrilla movement, stepped up economic development and improved the efficiency of government.

The U.S. Government has officially remained scrupulously aloof from the elections, but we believe a PR victory would be best for Guatemala at this stage in its development and for our objectives. While a right-wing government might crack down more effectively on the insurgency, it would probably do little to eliminate the causes of it, while a Christian Democrat victory might well provoke the military into a preemptory seizure of power. Therefore, we hope for a PR victory by the widest possible margin and for four more years in which to further strengthen adherence to constitutional norms. The PR has also drawn up a five-year program for the development of the neglected rural sector, to be partly financed by U.S. loan funds, and we are anxious that this urgently needed program be carried out.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 785, Country Files, Latin America, Guatemala, Vol. I. Confidential. The paper was prepared for Rogers and forwarded to Kissinger under cover of a February 27 transmittal memorandum from Eliot. (Ibid.)
  2. The Department of State provided background information for Kissinger and Rogers on the Guatemalan presidential elections, scheduled for March 1, in which the U.S. Government was officially neutral, but hoped the Partido Revolucionario (PR) would win the elections.