341. Intelligence Brief INRB–205 From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Cline) to Secretary of State Rogers1 2

[Page 1]


  • Guatemala: State of Siege Declared

President Arana issued a decree imposing a state of siege at 7:00 a.m. Guatemala time, November 13 in an effort to stem the rising tide of terror and assassinations caused by leftist groups and to satisfy rightist pressure to do something about the situation. The terrorists have been increasing their activities in an effort to force the Arana government into harsh repressive action designed to further polarize Guatemala’s society.

Arana’s law and order image. President Arana gained a reputation for bloody suppression of guerrilla activity when he was commander of the Zacapa Brigade from 1966 to 1968, and he was elected on a campaign platform which stressed the need for law and order. Since his inauguration Arana has been emphasizing the necessity for social and economic reform and his determination to act within the constitution in dealing with the insurgency. Arana’s principal base of support is among conservative and right-wing groups and the army, and there have been reports that these groups are extremely unhappy with the lack of effective action against the terrorists. Many have been exerting increasing pressure upon Arana to take whatever means, including counter-terror, might be necessary to crush the insurgents. Arana has been [Page 2] attempting to upgrade the security forces, and while he has made sweeping changes in police personnel and has improved the army’s reaction capability there has as yet been no apparent diminution of the urban terrorists’ ability to act.

State of siege probably a compromise. Many of Arana’s supporters would like to see him institute a campaign of counter-terror similar to the one which he helped to orchestrate when he commanded the Zacapa Brigade. But Arana deeply feels his broader responsibility as President of Guatemala, and he knows that to take such a course would sacrifice the larger interests of the Guatemalan people and nation for the sake of internal security. Hence, he is determined to avoid this course of action if at all possible. The declaration of a state of siege should therefore be seen as a compromise which allows the security forces to operate more freely owing to the temporary suspension of rights of political activity and civil liberties. The action is within the limits of the Constitution and appears designed to satisfy Arana’s supporters without instituting a full scale counter-terror program.

Action not likely to affect hard-core terrorists. Clandestine reporting indicates that the imposition of a counter-subversive law or other legal action was planned in advance, but that the issuance of the decree would be timed to allow the security forces to coordinate action against known Communist Party types (PGT) and members of the Castro-oriented Rebel Armed Forces (FAR). Given the demonstrated lack of efficiency of the security forces, it is doubtful that the imposition of a state of siege [Page 3] at this time signifies that the police are ready for concerted action against the terror groups. The non-activist but rather visible PGT members will probably be apprehended in significant numbers, but not many leaders of the much more covert and dangerous groups, such as the FAR, are likely to be caught in the dragnet.

Actions such as the imposition of state of siege or the passage of stricter subversive laws, while of some propaganda benefit because of the publicity which such official acts obtain, are only as effective as the police work which enforces them. However hard Arana may be working to increase the effectiveness of the security forces, experience up to the present does not give much grounds for optimism that they will be able to crush the terrorists in the near future.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–8 GUAT. Secret; No Foreign Dissem.
  2. INR reported that President Arana had imposed a state of siege and was taking action to pursue insurgents, but that the action would likely have no effect on “hard-core terrorists.”