359. Memorandum of Conversation1 2

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  • Guatemala


  • Mr. Pat Holt, Staff Senate Foreign Relations Committee
  • Mr. John R. Breen, Country Director, Office of Central American Affairs, ARA–LA/CEN

Pat Holt of the Staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had just returned from a trip to Guatemala, Haiti and Santo Domingo. When queried as to the general impression obtained from his visit to Guatemala, Holt answered that he was genuinely confused; that Guatemala remains a real dilemma. In his judgment, it is hard to know who is right and who is wrong, because what is going on there is a real civil war. He contrasted the Dominican Republic with Guatemala by saying that in the Dominican Republic the violence is coming from only one side (the government); in Guatemala the violence is coming from all sides, i.e., the government, the Right and the Left. He said he was asked while in Guatemala how he compared the Guatemala of today with the Guatemala of 1966 when he last visited the country. He answered that he saw very little difference; indeed, in 1966 he was told that the terrorism and terrorists were about to be defeated, in 1971 he was told the same thing.

Holt said that the problem Guatemala poses for the U.S. centers about its security assistance relationships. He said that he was told by the Embassy that the political opposition in Guatemala paid very little attention to our security programs (Milgroup and [Page 2] Public Safety) and these were not factors which associated the U.S. with extra-legal tactics by the COG. However, he said, when he met with Christian Democratic leader de Leon Schlotter he found this to be a central concern. de Leon apparently criticized the U.S. association with the Guatemalan police and Army, and insinuated the possibility of U.S. complicity by saying one could never be sure and could never know how deeply involved U.S. advisors were in the decisions being made daily by the National Police and other security agencies; the fact that they are in day-to-day contact creates a presumption that the U.S. advisors are involved. Mr. Holt concluded that the high profile of those Milgroup and Public Safety programs, specifically in countries like Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala should be substantially reduced. (He went on to say that he thought the problem extended to all of the countries in Latin America, and perhaps, in the developing world.) In defining the problem, Holt expressed his continuing dismay that the officers carrying out both Milgroup and Public Safety Programs thought of their programs as ends in themselves and not as principally for serving U.S. interests. He said he asked one of the officers of the MilGroup to define the basic purpose of the MilGroup and MAP Program. The answer he got was “to assist the Guatemalan Armed Forces to be the most efficient and effective Armed Force possible within their resource constraints.” Holt said he went on to ask the officer in what way did this serve U.S. interests. This query was met by what he described as a rather stunned silence, and then expression that this was taken as given. Holt made a point of saying that in his opinion the MilGroup in Guatemala was particularly insensitive to political aspects of U.S.-Guatemala relationships.

Holt went on to say that he thought the only solution was that the U.S. should withdraw its Milgroups and Public Safety Programs from these countries including specifically Guatemala. He recognized that there were problems of timing and phasing which could be managed to avert political costs in our relationships. He recognized that the fact that we have “intervened in the past” inevitably made the very act of withdrawal to a more passive stance a kind of “act of intervention” in itself. He speculated that possibly the best way to avoid this problem would be to “carry out the phase-down on a hemisphere-wide basis.” He then said, but did not elaborate, “maybe the Hill can help the Executive Branch do this.”

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In response to query as to what Holt thought was specifically needed in Guatemala, he replied that although he had not yet thought out all of the aspects of his position, he would venture the following:

a. He would get out of such a prominent role in the training business. He mentioned specifically that there was no need for a U.S. advisor to go around the country conducting firearms training. (He grimly commented that Guatemala hardly needed this kind of assistance), and that we should not be involved with their police academy. I reminded him that we had already granted the money to build it. He said he would not withdraw any assistance already made available but that he would not have a U.S. presence in or connected with the academy once it is built. He did not rule out the training of instructors at the Washington International Police Academy.

b. He went on to say that he thought we could leave the communications technician but he would remove, “as their tours expire,” the training and other police advisors that we maintain there. I mentioned to him that I had originally thought it would be easier to move the communications and vehicle maintenance technicians out of permanent residence in Guatemala—first, because they would be replaced either by factory technicians under contract to GOG or we could offer occasional TDY assistance. Holt was very sensitive to this disparity of view. He said that sounded like a bureaucratic attempt to avoid the essence of the problem by taking a superficial gesture which would have no real impact. On the contrary, he thought that the U.S. should as quickly as possible remove those technicians involved in such sensitive things as “search and arrest procedures, firearms training, etc.”

Later in the conversation, Holt said that upon reflecting further on the problem, he thought that the most important thing was that the U.S. security assistance profile in the country be reduced, beginning now, as part of a clearly defined plan for phase-out in the future. He was not specific as to the numbers of months or years represented by the “future.”

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COMMENT: Although Holt would not be drawn into a discussion of next steps planned by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or Church Subcommittee, it was clear from the tenor of his remarks that the Department and A.I.D. would be pressed to respond to these points over the coming months.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–8 GUAT. Confidential. Drafted by Breen. Copies sent to Meyer, Hurwitch, Kleine, Samuels, Engle, Amembassy Guatemala, USAID Guatemala, Wiggins, Lockard, and Lewis. In telegram 297 from Guatemala City, January 19, 1972, the Embassy took exception with many of Holt’s statements. (Ibid., POL GUAT–US)
  2. Breen met with Pat Holt of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Staff and the Church Subcommittee to discuss U.S. military and security assistance to Guatemala. Holt argued that the United States should reduce its security assistance profile in order to disassociate itself from Guatemala’s ongoing political violence.