182. Telegram 2197 From the Embassy in Guatemala to the Department of State1

2197. Subject: FAA Section 32—Political Prisoners. Ref: State 68545.

Summary: While Guatemala has few if any strictly political prisoners, there is a serious problem of government-authorized political violence, which if not ameliorated, could lead to a reduction in all levels of U.S. Government assistance in the context of a broad interpretation of Section 32 of the FAA of 1973. End summary.

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1. If Section 32 of the FAA of 1973 is interpreted narrowly, we believe it would have little effect on U.S. economic and military assistance programs here, because Guatemala has very few people imprisoned for purposes which could be unequivocally termed political. Those who might come under this category would be the estimated 35 current prisoners who have been tried, convicted and sentenced for alleged subversion under Guatemala’s Law of the Defense of Democratic Institutions. The offences often involve distributing subversive propaganda, or harboring materials which could be used in terrorist activities.

2. The real problem in Guatemala, however, is not one of political prisoners, but rather that of political violence. There is evidence that every Guatemalan Government which has exercised jurisdiction over the last 50 years has to one degree or another, used extra legal violence, including officially sanctioned murder, against some of its political enemies. In recent years, this violence has been directed primarily, but not exclusively, against known or suspected left-wing terrorists.

3. The Embassy has devoted a considerable portion of its reporting resources over the last 10 years to an attempt to gauge the level of political violence in Guatemala. For the last five years at least, this effort has included attempts to determine, wherever possible, the degree of government involvement in this illegal violence. Given the high degree of government sensitivity on this subject, it has more often than not been impossible to pinpoint GOG responsibility for various incidents with absolute certainty. Nevertheless, our estimate of the level of GOG involvement in such violence during the 1971–72 period was such as to make the question of what the U.S. Government should do about it one of the major issues discussed in the FY 1973 Country Analysis and Strategy Paper (CASP). Reduction of U.S. assistance was one of the options considered.

4. GOG involvement in illegal repressive actions during the 1972–73 period was considerably reduced, and was not a major issue in FY 1974 CASP. However, the elimination of the use of illegal repressive actions against insurgents and common criminals was a goal in that CASP, and one of the courses of action was a careful monitoring of the level of government induced or tolerated extra legal repressive activity so that we could judge whether some disengagement to protect our image might be necessary.

5. This year, the question of political violence and our reaction to it is once again a major issue in our CASP. The conditions which have led to this renewed concern include: The fact that the government stole the 1974 election and is uneasy about it; the fact that subsequent to the elections, top-level opposition figures have been threatened with violence by right-wing figures who may play a very strong role in the next government; and our belief that the post election assassinations of Guerra [Page 512] Teilheimer, a self-styled “extreme leftist” highly critical of the GOG, and Mario Monterroso a vitriolic radio news commentator and minor opposition politician who strongly attacked the GOG both during and after the campaign, were ordered, or at least sanctioned by the GOG, probably at the very highest level.

6. One [of] our recommendations in this year’s CASP is the consideration of a reduction in the level of our military assistance and/or the size of our military presence here if there is a continued use of terrorism by the GOG against its political opponents. Thus it would seem clear that there is indeed a very real possibility that conditions in Guatemala might develop in a way which would cause us to reexamine our entire assistance posture in the light of Section 32 of the FAA and to reduce assistance levels considerably.

  1. Summary: The Embassy reported that Guatemala’s ongoing problem of government-authorized political violence could lead to a reduction in all levels of U.S. Government assistance.

    Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Country Files, Latin America, Box 785, Guatemala, Vol. I. Secret; Exdis. All brackets are in the original except “[of]”, added for clarity. In telegram 68545 to Guatemala City, the Department requested an assessment of how the Foreign Assistance Act of 1973, Section 32, might affect the status of U.S. Foreign Assistance; specifically, the statement: “It is the sense of Congress that the President should deny any economic or military assistance to the government of any foreign country which practices the internment or imprisonment of that country’s citizens for political purposes.” (Ibid., RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D740079–0085, D740077–0232)