329. LA Staff Note No. 1–70 Prepared in the Office of National Estimates, Central Intelligence Agency1 2

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  • What to Expect in Guatemala

1. As a result of the plurality won by Carlos Arana Osorio, in the elections of 1 March, he will almost certainly be the next president of Guatemala.3 The American Embassy in Guatemala City has issued a prognosis of what to expect from Arana and, on balance, it seems to be rather more optimistic than we think the evidence warrants.

2. Arana, the candidate of the rightist political coalition, is the career Army colonel who commanded a successful anti-guerrilla campaign in the Northeast during 1967–1968. Arana’s use of terrorist tactics, on individuals known or suspected of being even remotely involved with the guerrillas, led to a [Page 2] bloody vendetta between leftist and rightist extremists that involved innocent bystanders and was intensifying a polarization of the society until he and other similarly minded military officers were transferred to other duties. It is with this background in mind that Arana’s more moderate stance during the election campaign must be evaluated.

3. We are willing to give Arana credit for realizing that he will be a minority president (42 percent of the popular vote) and to accept his declarations of intending to form a government of national union, with qualified apolitical people in his cabinet. It is also likely that one way or another he will be able to put together at least a temporary working coalition in the National Congress. And Arana probably will try to deliver on some of his campaign promises to aid small and medium farmers, to improve educational and public health facilities, and to improve tax collection. Almost certainly he will emphasize an aggressive anti-crime and anti-terrorism campaign; particularly since the inability of the administration of incumbent President Mendez Montenegro to curb crime and terrorism discredited the candidate of the President’s party and played a major role in Arana receiving his plurality.

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4. In Guatemalan politics, however, it still takes two to tango. Arana may be willing to let bygones be bygones but we doubt that his opponents will. Among those eliminated by the methods that earned him the title of the “Assassin of Zacapa” were a few elected officials of the PR and more than a few individuals whose friends and relatives believe those victims had no connection whatsoever with the guerrilla forces.

5. We would agree with the Embassy that Arana is in an excellent position to continue the evolution of a viable political system. We are not at all confident, however, that he is strongly committed to such a course and we are quite sure that not only the extremist leftists but other Guatemalans as well have no intention of cooperating with Arana. Supporters of Mendez will remember the harassment and plotting from the right during his term in office. And we wonder what kind of success Arena will have in persuading his rightist supporters that they should pay increased taxes to support reform programs similar to those they opposed and blocked under the present administration.

6. Finally, since violence still appears to be an integral part of Guatemalan politics—and Arana arouses rather intense [Page 4] feelings among his opponents—we think that the likelihood of an intensification of terrorism as a political tactic is much higher than the Embassy appraisal allows for. It may be that Arana will keep his cool and try to keep his forces for law and order under control. But even if that is his intent, we are concerned that some of his less-constitutionally minded followers and lieutenants will regard Arana’s election as a mandate to revive the tactics which were so successful in Zacapa. At the same time we think that Arana’s die-hard opponents almost certainly will try to assassinate him. Whether successful or not such tactics would be likely to result in a revival of the political polarization that only a few years ago, threatened to tear apart the very fabric of Guatemalan society. On balance, therefore, we feel we must demur at the Embassy prognosis, even while hoping that we, and riot the Embassy, will be proven wrong.

[text not declassified]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, National Intelligence Office, Latin American Staff Notes, 1970, Job 79–T00968A. Secret.
  2. Responding to the Embassy analysis of Arana’s election, the Office of National Estimates countered that it was not at all confident that Arana was committed to evolving Guatemala’s political system.
  3. No candidate had the required majority for direct election. But if the National Congress does not choose Arana when it meets to determine which of the two leading candidate’s is to be inaugurated in July, the Guatemalan Armed Forces will.