- Terror and Counter-Terror
1. When I called on President’s Private Secretary Lopez Padilla on April 28 he got to talking about activities of “Ojo por Ojo” right wing, counter-terrorist organization. He alleged these people were working with Arana’s knowledge, acquiescence and complicity (as Lopez is bitterly anti-Aranista, and not above being carried away by his biases, we should not regard this as independent confirmation Arana’s involvement). I asked Lopez what GOG’s view and policy were regarding Ojo. He answered that GOG was watching what form and direction movement would take before deciding on its course of action.
2. Later in conversation Lopez made great point of key importance twenty-two FAR prisoners whose release was demanded for Von Spreti. (He exaggerates importance of some of these). I asked Lopez if police efforts since state of siege had produced many additional FAR prisoners. His somewhat uncomfortable reply was: “a few.”
3. Comment: We are getting number of signs—[text not declassified]—that Mendez administration is not pursuing terrorists with full vigor. Department may remember President Mendez told me prior to elections that security situation eroding, and he would have to crack down after [Page 2] March 1. His assumption at that time, however, was that Fuentes Pieruccini would win. After elections, GOG acted vigorously at height of tension connected with Von Spreti case (some would say too vigorously). More recent indications are that President Mendez falling back into tacit (and not always tacit) live-and-let-live strategy which has characterized his administration during considerable periods in past two years. Most glaring example this strategy was Mendez, decision to shove acting Communist Secretary General across border into Mexico in June 1969. It must be said that Mendez’ strategy had some success in keeping level of violence lower than it might have been—particularly as terrorists also had some need for respite and reorganization after violence of 1966–1968.
4. Mendez’ self-interest in reversion to this policy is obvious. His central, overriding goal is to get through next eight weeks. Both his party’s political image and his own place in Guatemalan history would be enhanced if last two months were relatively tranquil—and in stark contrast to the violence and bloodshed which will surely follow when Arana confronts his problem. President probably does not too much care if policy of temporization and accommodation makes Arana’s task even a bit harder.
5. One can speculate that organizers of Ojo—with at least tacit acquiescence of Arana—understand what Mendez is trying to do, and don’t like it. Ojo activities may be an effort to pressure President Mendez and force him from his current strategy. In this regard, counter-terror just might achieve objective. Mendez has proved master in reacting to political situations he is forced into. In meantime, however, Ojo activities and bad name may wash over to further damage Arana’s reputation in Guatemala and abroad.
6. Next step in ugly tangle of reaction and counter-reaction was apparent Communist decision [text not declassified] to turn to assassination U.S. Embassy officials as way force U.S. Government exert its power to curb Ojo.[Page 3]
7. This springs us to question what action we might usefully take. I could seek appointment with President Mendez. Object would be to convince President to crack down on terrorists vigorously and legally. Arana is coming to my house in any case for private lunch next Thursday. I could try to convince Arana to use such influence as he might have in rightist quarters to call off Ojo. In both cases I could mention info paragraph 6 and our obvious and unavoidable concern as a result of it.
8. Foregoing scenario has several disadvantages. First, President Mendez’ instincts and interests make it doubtful he would reverse course to accommodate us. He might well give me some fuzzy assurance and go on more or less as before. Moreover, such an approach to Mendez would impugn government’s present efforts and might be regarded by him as intervention into Guatemala’s most sensitive internal policies. Second disadvantage relates to Arana. Last thing Arana would welcome at this point would be inevitable implication that USG regards him as knowledgeable and in position to control Ojo activities. We might pay considerable price in terms his attitudes. He would have obvious recourse of denying any knowledge or influence over Ojo. Third disadvantage, implicit in other two, is departure such demarches would be from our general policy of avoiding where we can, involving ourselves deeply in local politics. Nevertheless, alternative of watchful waiting not altogether attractive either.
9. I would appreciate any thoughts and guidance department might consider it useful to give..
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 785, Country Files, Latin America, Guatemala, Vol. I. Secret; Exdis; Priority. A stamped notation on the telegram indicates that it was received in the White House Situation Room on May 1 at 8:35 a.m.↩
- Ambassador Davis met with President Méndez Montenegro’s private secretary López Padilla to discuss the security situation in Guatemala and the right-wing “Ojo por Ojo” counter-terror organization.↩