174. Airgram A–230 From the Embassy in Guatemala to the Department of State1


  • A Guide to the March 1974 Guatemalan Elections

SUMMARY: The three candidates for the March 3, 1974 Presidential election all are former high-ranking military officers: General Kjell Laugerud of the incumbent rightist coalition of the National Liberation Movement (MLN) and Institutional Democratic Party (PID), General Efrain Rios Montt of the leftist Christian Democratic Party (DCG) opposition unity, and Colonel Ernesto Paiz Novales of the centrist Revolutionary Party (PR). The four parties participating in the current elections are the same as those which contended in 1970; and once again the two rightist parties are united while the leftists are split. Government intervention in the form of payoffs and threats was a significant factor in keeping the DCG and PR from agreeing on a common candidate, although ideological differences and personal ambitions also played an important role. The government also was responsible for preventing the participation of two popular figures: Guatemala City Mayor Manuel Colom Argueta and former Chief of State Enrique Peralta Azurdia, either one of whom probably would have won in an open contest. The government-controlled Electoral Registry blocked the inscription of parties supporting Colom and Peralta.

The convocation of elections on October 13 signalled the start of the campaign period, which lasts until one day before the nation goes to the polls to select a new President, new Congressmen and mayors for [Page 496] the 325 municipalities. The public rally, personal contact with key opinion leaders, and radio advertisements still are the most popular campaign methods, but television is growing in importance, especially in the capital. In the recent past the campaign period and the actual polling have been relatively honest, only marred occasionally by the strong-arm tactics of local military commissioners. About 1,500,000 are registered to vote, but in previous years less than half of those registered have gone to the polls.

Voting trends in past elections suggest some relative advantages of the three presidential candidates. Laugerud’s assets include official support, MLN strength in the eastern region, the tendency of highland Indians to vote for official candidates, and financial assistance from wealthy MLN and PID businessmen. Paiz Novales benefits from the PR’s regional strength on the South and Caribbean coasts and his image as the candidate of the “Center.” Rios Montt’s assets include the Guatemalan tendency to favor the opposition and the growth of population elements favorable to the DCG (i.e., people who have recently migrated and unionized labor). Various factors also indicate the DCG may do well in seven key districts which together account for over 50% of the total vote. The main problem faced by the PR and DCG is that they once again may split their leftist constituency, resulting in a replay of their 1970 defeats.

A number of important aspects of the election still are unclear. The courses finally chosen by Peralta Azurdia and influential newspaper publisher Clemente Marroquín Rojas will significantly affect the election outcome. Inflation and political violence have begun to emerge as campaign issues but the degree of popular discontent over these problems remains to be seen. More important than issues may be the relative popularity of the candidates’ campaign styles. Also significant will be the parties’ choice of municipal candidates, who in the past have proven important in drawing voters toward the parties’ presidential contenders.

The election drama may not be over even after the vote tally is known. If none of the presidential contenders wins a majority, the choice between the two front runners passes to the MLN–PID controlled Congress, which is under no legal obligation to select the candidate who wins a plurality. The outcome will only be certain when the new President assumes office on July 1, 1974. End Summary.

[Omitted here is the body of the airgram]

  1. Summary: The Embassy provided a guide to the March 1974 elections.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 14 GUAT. Confidential. Drafted by Raymond F. Burghardt, cleared by Francis C. MacDonald, and approved by William T. Pryce and all members of the Political Section. Signed by Chargé Dreyfuss. All brackets are in the original except those indicating text omitted by the editors.