184. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Bowdler) to the Director of the Office of Security Assistance and Sales, Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs (Ladd)1


  • Military Assistance to Guatemala

ARA shares your belief that the question of military assistance to Guatemala should be reviewed. The post-election manuevers, the arbitrary expulsion of two American priests and the murder of two vociferous opponents of the GOG have deeply troubled the Bureau and the Embassy. An analysis of the implications of such events for U.S. policy will form a major part of the Guatemala FY 75–76 CASP now being completed by the Embassy. Additionally, I have scheduled a separate IG session specifically to consider our military assistance posture toward Central America as a region.

Unfortunately, these reviews will not be completed until late June, and I understand that a decision must be taken now regarding the formal proposal of the $2 million FY 74 FMS Credit Program to the GOG.

We should be clear from the start that by definition the Reuss Amendment is not applicable to the Guatemalan situation. The Amendment specifically refers to the arming of “military dictators,” which has been interpreted to mean military regimes which came to office by other than constitutional processes. Incumbent President Carlos Arana Osorio received the plurality vote in a generally free election in [Page 515] 1970 and was duly chosen by an opposition-controlled Congress in accordance with the Guatemalan Constitution. Civilians hold all key Cabinet portfolios except Defense; since late 1971 the government has not imposed emergency decrees such as state of seige, etc. Whatever else may be said about the current Guatemalan administration, it is not a “military dictatorship,” under any reasonable usage. Arana’s term ends June 30, 1974.

Kjell Laugerud Garcia is to assume the Presidency July 1. Although ARA plans to keep a close watch on the composition and actions of the new government, we are in no position at this time to predict that it will evolve into the kind of regime specified in the Reuss Amendment.

Accordingly, in ARA’s view, the constraints to offering the FY 74 FMS package to the GOG, set out in your March 26 memorandum, do not presently exist.

On the other hand, the GOG already knows that the USG had planned to make some provision for Guatemala under FMS credit (we understand that the funds tentatively had been earmarked—$500,000 for automotive spare parts, $500,000 for communications equipment and $1 million for “other support equipment”). No matter what pretext the USG put forward, the GOG would likely interpret the curtailment of the entire offer as a conscious decision directly related to recent events in Guatemala. The poisoning of our relationship with both the lame-duck Arana government and the prospective Laugerud administration would be certain and serious.

If events reveal that Arana or Laugerud are relying heavily upon political violence to support their regimes, or otherwise undertaking policies which we feel it in the U.S. interest to inhibit, the USG has a variety of instruments available to attempt to make our influence felt. For example, the FY 75 military assistance program could likely be involved, even though a narrow finding under Reuss or other Congressional constraints might not be sustained. It should be noted too, in this connection, that failure to provide FMS credit for 1974 under the circumstances set forth above would put us in a less—rather than more—influential position with the GOG at such time as we may wish to use that influence.

As indicated above, ARA would have preferred not to make a decision regarding the FMS credit proposal until after our policy reviews had been completed and until after the Guatemalan situation had clarified further. With this possibility precluded, however, ARA on balance believes we should follow normal procedures and authorize our Mission to make the proposal to the GOG if they so decide. The Department still would review the specific uses to which the credit would be applied.

  1. Summary: While agreeing that events in Guatemala were troubling, Bowdler observed that congressional limitations on the disbursement of military assistance were not applicable and that the curtailment of planned military sales might undermine bilateral relations and weaken U.S. influence.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, ARA/CEN Files, Lot 77D59, Guatemala 1974 Military Assistance (MILGP, MAP). Confidential. Drafted May 6 by Clare in ARA/CEN and cleared by LTC J. Williams in ARA/PLC and Lazar in ARA/CEN. The memorandum is an unsigned copy. Bowdler’s memorandum was in response to Document 181. In a May 6 memorandum to Williams, through Lazar, Clare noted that the U.S. Government sought to discourage “unrealistic and unnecessary arms purchases” by Guatemala, control the transfer of weapons designed for clandestine operations, and minimize Guatemala’s ability to invade Belize. (National Archives, RG 59, ARA/CEN Files, Lot 77D59, Guatemala 1974 Military Assistance (MILGP, MAP)) In telegram 2678 from Guatemala City to Belize, May 15, the Embassy noted that Laugerud would “be at least as ready as Arana has been to invade Belize, if it should move toward independence without reaching an accommodation with Guatemala.” (Ibid., Central Foreign Policy File, D740119–0384)