353. Telegram 2564 From the Embassy in Guatemala to the Department of State1 2

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  • Counter-Terror


  • Guatemala 2439 and State 95511

1. During call by Cen Director Breen and me on FonMin Herrera, Herrera raised question of violence in Guatemala. It was at end of conversation about Salvador-Honduras, CACM, Belize and other matters—and after Breen had had ample opportunity to raise question.

2. Herrera told US Ambassador Asencio had talked to him about Senator Church’s apparent plans to hold hearings. (Like Asencio, he made brief, unsuccessful effort to elicit information about Church’s sources). Herrera went on to refer indirectly to Asencio’s conversation with Assistant Secretary Meyer and ask clarification of impression Asencio brought to Guatemala that Washington desires moderation of antiterrorist campaign.

3. Breen told Herrera we do not have any information at present indicating Senator Church plans to hold hearings. He pointed out that Brazil hearings had not been public, and there was no reason to relieve any hearings on Guatemala would be. Explaining background of Church’s concern over Brazil, Breen noted that allegations of torture had been involved.

4. Breen reviewed press stories on Guatemala violence, [Page 2] including Terry Shaw, Time, Gall’s piece in New York Review of Books, etc. He briefly described concern of some liberal Senators, and fact that Dante Fascell tells us he has problem with a few of his colleagues in the house. Breen pointed out that all governments live in goldfish bowl, and their actions are inevitably judged by standard different from one we use in judging irresponsible acts of terrorists.

5. After some back and forth about recent absence of violence against important Guatemalan political figures, I expressed concern at reports of deaths in countryside, often little known or humble people. I observed that it was difficult to know what was happening, how politically motivated these incidents of violence might be, and extent personal animosities or other factors might be involved. I asked Herrera whether he foresaw less violence of this kind as time went on.

6. In answer which I believe disappointed both Breen and me, Herrera said he did not expect this violence to subside quickly. In subsequent discussion he commented on problem criminality, complex mixture of politics, personal vendettas and crimes of passion, Guatemala’s unfortunate history of violence, etc. He complained of press irresponsibility and tendency to pick up reports of crimes which occur in all societies and all times and insinuate political context in present-day Guatemala. Without lumping them together, he nevertheless observed that Christian Democrats and Communists both have international propaganda resources, and ruminated about possibility of organizing pro-Guatemala public relations campaign—at great expense.

7. Herrera made transparently unconvincing attempt to leave impression GOG caught off guard by some of killings such as that of Mijangos. Far more openly and candidly, he talked about recent death of his own uncle, Guillermo Ibarguen, saying there was speculation that it was not FAR or PGT that killed him. Apparently Ibarguen’s wrists were locked in police-type handcuffs, nature of kidnapping, tapes used in ransom requests, and fact that Ibarguen not delivered up alive after ransom paid lent doubt to assumption that leftist guerrillas actually responsible.

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8. In concluding discussion Herrera said he believed President Arana would misunderstand Asencio’s observations on U.S. reaction, and therefore he relieved it was better that we have our discussion and matter be left at that.

9. Comment. From my own talks with Asencio, I know Ambassador has had long session with President Arana. I am quite sure from what Asencio tells me that he talked about violence and our reaction to it. Therefore, I think we should assume that Herrera’s suggestion that matter not be carried to President is designed to protect Guatemalan pride and to convey something short of ultimate GOG cognizance of it. I think we need have little fear that GOG has not considered most seriously concerns expressed in Washington.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 785, Country Files, Latin America, Guatemala, Vol. I. Secret; Exdis. A stamped notation on the telegram indicates that it was received in the White House Situation Room at 8:07 a.m. on June 15.
  2. Ambassador Davis, Director Breen, and Foreign Minister Herrera discussed political violence and the Guatemalan Government’s concerns over rumors that Senator Frank Church planned to hold hearings on Guatemala. Herrera told the Ambassador and Breen that “he did not expect this violence to subside quickly.”