340. Airgram A–170 From the Embassy in Guatemala to the Department of State1 2

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  • The Arana Administration; A Preliminary View


Arana, who was elected on a law and order platform, emphasized social progress during the first month of his Administration. He approved the Rural Development Loan with exceptional speed and emphasized that programs to help the “marginal” people will take priority over improvements in infrastructure. This has led some of his critics to question whether he has put together a Cabinet capable and willing to initiate and support social development programs. The extreme Left, which was expected to test the new Administration early in its term, has unexpectedly remained inactive. This has permitted the new officials named to leadership positions in the police and military to settle in and reorganize their forces without pressure.

The President’s efforts to break the mold of his stereotype as a single-minded counter-guerrilla fighter are laudable. If he can succeed in broadening the base of his support, it should do much to increase his flexibility.


President Carlos ARANA Osorio took office as President of Guatemala on July 1, 1970, already typecast by critics and friends alike. The most critical considered him a man wedded to brutal suppression of guerrillas (based on his command of the Zacapa Brigade during the bloody counter-guerrilla campaign of 1966–67). The mildly critical viewed him as a traditional military strongman, untrained in the art of governing and dominated by the ultraconservatism of his political supporters. His [Page 2] associates and supporters spoke of him as a cacique who would bring clean efficient government and would draw on his experience in Zacapa to bring the guerrillas to their knees.

The Arana camp published a “Plan of Government” during the latter part of the campaign (See A–305, 12/5/69). Its keynote was that social, economic, cultural and administrative reform were essential, but that a necessary precondition to all reform was pacification of the country. His critics viewed mention of reforms as sugar coating for a platform of “Law and Order”. Of course, Arana’s credentials as a reformer looked pale against those of his opponents in the Revolutionary Party (PR) and the National Front, both of whom made change and reform the mainstays of their campaigns. Thus, it came as somewhat of a surprise to friends and opponents alike that Arana talked more of social progress and assistance to the “marginal” man than of Law and Order in his inaugural address.


Arana’s reputation as a soldier is well-documented. He was a very able commander, forceful and revered by his subordinates. Considered friendly by U.S. military advisors, he served in the U.S. both as an Attache (on two occasions—1958–59 and 1966) and as a member of the Inter-American Defense Board. He consistently aligned himself with the political right, and was a strong supporter of CASTILLO Armas. Arana was rumored to be coup plotting during the last days of the Peralta regime and after his removal from command of the Zacapa Brigade in 1968. On both occasions he was sent abroad; in 1966 as Attache to Washington, and in 1968 as Ambassador to Nicaragua. He was mentioned as a possible Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional (MLN) presidential candidate in 1966. In 1968 he was wooed and won by a Rightist political coalition composed of the MLN and the Partido Institucional Democratica (PID), returning to Guatemala from Nicaragua in early 1969 to launch his campaign.

The image his political supporters attempted to project of Arana during the campaign was of a military cacique, strongly anti-communist, who would end the urban terrorism as he had the guerrilla movement in Zacapa two years earlier. Arana was often pictured in military uniform in campaign posters. During television presentations, however, Arena belied the man on horseback image. He abdicated the two-fisted strongman role, which was his if he had felt so to Christian Democrat Jorge Lucas CABALLEROS, and his addresses, read in a monotonous high-pitched voice without fire or power, revealed a man who did not view himself as a caudillo. He also tried to dispel his stereotype as the “assassin of Zacapa”. During one TV address devoted completely to his role in the counter-guerrilla campaign in Zacapa, Arana exclaimed that “he was only doing his duty as a soldier who had received orders from the Commander and Chief.”

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Arana’s greatest attraction was in personal appearances when, more at ease than before the cameras, a charm and warmth emerged which attracted many supporters. He, more than any of the candidates in the 1970 race, carried his campaign to the people in the small towns and villages.

Arana is reserved and prone to keep his views to himself or to share them only with his closest associates. We know from his sharp reaction to press criticism that he is thin skinned. On two occasions, when news of secret meetings with Vice President Spiro Agnew and Honduran President Lopez were leaked to the press, his reaction was to want to deny the meetings. In the former case this proved impossible; in the latter it has led to come credibility loss with the local press. In personal dealings Arena is direct and suspicious of deviousness.

As a politician and President, Arana remains somewhat of an enigma. The emphasis he has given to social and economic reform obviously stems from a strong conviction that the “marginal” man has been ignored too long by Guatemalan Governments. He appeared to be appealing to the Fuerzas Vivas in his inaugural address when he said “it is indispensable that those who have more recognize the necessity that others have something... we do not accept the fallacy that social progress is necessarily communism.” His conception of social progress, however, remains undefined. He may see it as an extension of the Military Civic Action which he strongly supported during his days in uniform. His rapid approval of the AID Rural Development Loan is evidence that he will support defined program initiatives in the development field. The real question is whether he has the team to develop such initiatives for him.

In the all-important area of security, Arana is committed to pacify Guatemala. His appointments to leadership positions in the police and military are impressive, and reorganization efforts, especially in the police, are expected to improve effectiveness. The inactivity by the PGT/FAR and FAR has given his Administration a welcome period to settle in and organize. Arana is committed to go the legal route. Congress, at his initiative, is in the process of reforming the Penal Code and judicial process to give the security forces more effective and less corruptible legal support. After Arana called Zacapa strongman and MLN Deputy Oliverio CASTANEDA Paiz to the Palace and ordered him to take an extended vacation outside the country, Castaneda complied immediately and was visibly shaken by the confrontation with Arana when he discussed the incident with Embassy officers the following day.3 This Castaneda incident indicates the forcefulness of Arana when aroused, and is clear evidence that he plans to make the key decisions in the field of public order.

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The most common observation being made in this first month of the Administration is that Arana does not have ideological homogeneity within his Cabinet. Partly this derives from the Cabinet choices. Arana had pledged to form a Government of National Unity. This was taken to mean that Arana might even appoint members of the political opposition to his Cabinet, or that he would follow the example of his predecessor and go outside the sphere of the politically committed to bring competent people into Government. Of the ten Ministerial-level appointees only two can be characterized as apolitical: the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Communications. The remainder have been connected with the MLN and PID.

It does not necessarily follow—as some of his critics aver—that the Arana Cabinet will oppose social and economic development programs. This was not true with the Rural Development Loan. And Minister of Education Alejandro MALDONADO Aguirre has shown strong interest in going ahead with the Primary Education Loan. The Right is not a monolith opposed to change. In fact, several, Maldonado being one, are firmly convinced that the Arana Administration must institute meaningful social programs to survive. Probably the constraints on Arana will be more budgetary than ideological.

Lack of coordination within the Administration on elimination of exchange controls and on the EXMIBAL contract caused some internal problems and probably prompted Arana to make the statement that there would be no “soloists” in his government. The reference was probably to Minister of Economy Gustavo MIRON Porras whose handling of both issues was criticized by other Cabinet Ministers. This is probably symptomatic of the settling-in process. On other fronts, Arana has continued his interest in playing a leading role in reorganizing the CACM. His pre-inaugural trips to his southern neighbors and the emissary role played by Minister of Foreign Relations Roberto HERRERA Ibarguen in trying to bring El Salvador and Honduras together were followed by an invitation to CA Foreign Ministers to meet in Guatemala in early August.

COMMENT: Though the new Administration has not developed a perceptible style after only one month in office, it is significant that Arana has made early attempts to broaden the base of support for his Administration. This is a salutary development which undoubtedly will expand his room to maneuver in the months and years ahead. One danger in raising the expectations for social progress is that he may find them difficult to satisfy.

The hiatus in terrorism appears to have been taken advantage of for thorough reorganization, especially of the police force. It is highly [Page 5] unlikely that PGT/FAR and FAR terrorists will remain inactive for very much longer. The hope is that Arana will have better tools at his disposal to react when the attack comes, for it is in the all-important area of public order that the people of Guatemala expect results from his Administration.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 15 GUAT. Confidential. Repeated to San Salvador, Tegucigalpa, Mexico City, San José, Managua, Panama City, and CINCSO for POLAD. It was drafted and cleared on July 30 by Political Officer Lawrence A. Pezzullo. Stamped notations on the Airgram indicate that it was received at the Department of State on August 4 at 8:28 a.m. and at the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs on August 5.
  2. The Embassy reported on the first month of Arana’s presidency, observing that he was committed to pacifying Guatemala and that a lull in guerrilla activities had allowed the Guatemalan Government to settle in and organize.
  3. What motivated Arana is not certain. Castaneda led us to believe it stemmed from his efforts to conduct his own investigation surrounding the assassination of Zacapa’s mayor. Other sources indicate Castaneda’s men were implicated in the murder of Victor Hugo RODRIGUEZ in Chiquimula. Rodriguez is said to have been an ex-leftist who became an Arana supporter and confidant.