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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Office of the Historian > Foreign Relations of the United States > Johnson Administration > Volume XXXI
Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, Volume XXXI
Released by the Office of the Historian
Documents 100-120

100. Letter From the Ambassador to Guatemala (Mein) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Oliver)/1/

Guatemala City, February 27, 1968.

/1/ Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA Files: Lot 72 D 33, Guatemala. Secret; Official-Informal.

Dear Covey:

Your letter of February 6/2/ reached me on February 12, when I was having to devote a great deal of time to personnel reductions. The questions raised by your letter and by the IRG/COIN decisions are of such importance that I did not want to give you a hasty reply. Our recommendations on personnel reductions are in, and we are now tackling the CASP. The points raised in your letter and those we must consider in the preparation of the CASP are so closely related that I wanted to be sure that my reply not only represented my own analysis and recommendations, but also that it did not reflect views contrary to those of the other members of the Country Team as they will be included in the CASP.

/2/ Attached but not printed. Oliver reported that the assassinations of Webber and Monroe led the Interdepartmental Regional Group for Inter-American Affairs (IRG/ARA) to "explore the underlying causes of such dramatic incidents to determine whether the U.S. should take some action." The IRG/ARA had discussed a number of suggestions, but sought the Ambassador’s "advice on what we might do to induce the Guatemalan Army to put an end to its clandestine operations." "What bothers us at this end," Oliver explained, "is the growing concern in the U.S. about the violence in Guatemala and the feeling that we are associated with a repressive regime."

Let me say in the first place that I appreciate the opportunity to comment. We have not been sent officially any details of the IRG/COIN meeting, although through informal channels we have been sent IRG/ARA/COIN Action Memorandum No. 9/3/ containing the decisions taken at the January 31 meeting. Parenthetically, I would like to suggest that some machinery be established for sending IRG documents to the field. They would be very helpful. At its meeting on January 31, the IRG/COIN decided (a) that diplomatic and military approaches should be made to the Guatemalan Government to induce it to end its counter-terrorist activities, and (b) to approach the President of Mexico and ask for suggestions regarding the Guatemalan situation, and whether he would be willing to take any initiatives with the Guatemalan Government toward remedying this situation. Your letter only touched on the first point, but, and I trust you do not object, I would like to comment on both aspects of the IRG/COIN paper.

/3/ Dated February 6. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA/IG Files: Lot 70 D 122, IRG/ARA/COIN Action Memos)

The situation in Guatemala is, as you say, an extremely complex one. It is further complicated at the present time by extensive, and more often than not erroneous reporting by an uninformed press in the United States, and also by the apparent acceptance as "gospel" in some quarters of statements regarding Guatemala by a couple of frustrated priests. I am sure it is also complicated by the present frame of mind of the people in the U.S., the frustrations over Viet-Nam, and the general attitude toward the administration. I find the IRG/COIN decisions, to the extent they represent Washington thinking, very disturbing and can only hope that my comments, our reporting, and the CASP will help to clarify the picture and to place recent developments in their proper context so that any action we might take will not reflect only a negative posture but will direct itself to the real problem, and will be of help to the Guatemalan Government in its counter-insurgency activities.

It is very difficult to predict what lies ahead. That there will be further acts of terrorism and counter-terrorism is generally accepted. The unanswered questions in everyone’s mind are who, when, where and why. The apparent open break between the PGT and the FAR is likely to lead to increased terrorism since not only has the PGT been a moderating force, as hard as it might be to believe that there has been any moderation, but the degree of force to be used is the very issue which has led to the break. We do not know yet whether all the elements of the FAR have broken with the PGT, but we do know that at least one large group has done so and that its plans include further assassinations, robberies, terrorism, etc. It is a fact of life, therefore, that terrorism will continue to be a part of the Guatemalan scene, at least for the immediate future. There is little the Guatemalan Government or its security forces can do to prevent terrorist actions, and since it is well nigh impossible to know when and where the terrorists will strike, it is extremely difficult to take measures to prevent or meet such strikes. The only remedy, therefore, seems to be constant vigilance and to handle each incident as it occurs, while at the same time searching out the terrorists in the hope of eventually eliminating the problem. This is what the Guatemalan security forces are attempting to do. It is a very difficult problem which requires unpleasant, and at times unpalatable, remedies, and which cannot be just wished away.

We should not lose sight of the fact that the Guatemalan Government is fighting not only for the survival of the present administration but also for its very existence as an institution, and that what is at stake for the Guatemalans is what we and others are fighting for in Viet-Nam and other parts of the world. The proclaimed objective of the PGT and of the FAR, whether together or separately, is to take over Guatemala and to establish a communist regime. The difference between the two groups is primarily one as to methods. Thus challenged it is only natural that not only the government, but the people also, react in defense of their institutions, as deficient or ineffective as they may be, and of their way of life. This is what is taking place and the counter-terrorist actions taken by the security forces have, up to now, the backing and tacit approval of the people.

There is one aspect of the IRG/COIN position that I find not only disturbing but also puzzling. We have for some time, certainly since I arrived in Guatemala, been concerned over the internal situation, the guerrillas in Zacapa and Izabal, possible support from Cuba, and so forth, and in the early days with the government’s failure to recognize the problem and its apparent inability to take any corrective action. The record will show that during the Peralta Administration, and since Mendez Montenegro came to power on July 1, 1966, we have urged the government and the security forces to take measures to eliminate the guerrilla problem. The insurgency situation has been one of our great concerns in Guatemala, and many of our actions and programs have been directed specifically at getting the government to move and then in supporting it once it began its counter-insurgency actions. We have had special groups visit us to study the situation, and we have directed a large part of our Military Assistance and Public Safety programs to this problem. The Guatemalan Armed Forces finally launched their campaign against the guerrillas in Zacapa and Izabal in October 1966. The campaign was successful, so that today there are no organized guerrilla units in that area. The surviving guerrillas either left the country or moved to other sections of the country, with many of them coming to Guatemala City to join forces with their urban comrades. The terrorists in the city today are the same elements which were operating earlier in the mountains, led by the same persons, and with the same objectives they had before, that is, to create chaos and eventually take power. Their method of operation may be different, that is, terrorism, assassinations, bombs, etc. rather than encounters between units in the field, but otherwise there is no change.

I am puzzled, therefore, by what appears to be a change in Washington thinking. While the campaign was going on in the mountains we gave it our blessing, but once the center of action shifted to the capital we seem to view the matter in a different perspective. We seem to be saying that the campaign in the mountains was "counter-insurgency", and therefore necessary if the democratic institutions were to survive, while the campaign in the city against the same forces is "repressive action", and therefore wrong. I frankly fail to see the difference.

This does not mean that we should approve or command all that is being done or all the methods that are being used. We don’t. We must, however, view the matter in its true perspective and in the Guatemalan context. The Guatemalan Government, and its security forces, is determined to overcome the threat posed by the PGT/FAR and the only way it can apparently do so, certainly in its own eyes, is by searching out and eliminating the terrorists and the guerrillas. Economic and social reforms, as necessary and urgent as they are, will help to weaken whatever popular appeal the guerrillas might have among the lower classes but they will not in themselves meet the immediate problem created by the terrorists. The terrorists are not reformists who would put down their arms if the government undertook social and reform measures, but rather are men who have but one goal, namely, the assumption of power.

Unless I misread the information coming out of Washington, there appears to be a view held by some that the terrorists are reacting to the action of the security forces-that counter-terrorism breeds terrorism-and that if the security forces cease their activities there will be no more terrorism. (This reminds me a little of the debate in the States over the bombing of North Viet-Nam.) To a certain extent this is true, since the greater the pressures against the terrorists the more likely they are to react, and some of their recent activities would seem to indicate that they have been acts of desperation. This does not mean, however, that the terrorists would have been inactive, since that is not in their nature and in line with their program. I am sure the security forces would be very happy to put a stop to their actions if they could be assured that the PGT/FAR would cease all violence. As mentioned earlier, the terrorists have the initiative in that no one knows exactly where or when they will strike next, so that if the situation is to be resolved by means other than force the terrorists must either stop their activities or be prepared to come to terms with the security forces. The President tried on at least two occasions in the early days of his administration to find a peaceful solution to the problem but he was rebuffed each time by the PGT/FAR.

The ideal situation would be, of course, for the government to depend on the courts for the enforcement of the law and the application of justice. The court system in Guatemala is not only antiquated but the quality of the judges is very low. The security forces feel they cannot rely on the courts for the administration of justice, and, unfortunately, some of their recent experiences have not served to reassure them. The judges are not only often incompetent, but they are in many cases corrupt, and responsive to pressures and threats. Also, the entire judicial process makes it very difficult to prosecute anyone apprehended. There are no prosecuting attorneys as we know them, and often the only accusing officer and witness is the policeman who happened to arrest the defendant. The case of the guerrilla Obregon killed in the city last Friday, February 23, is a good illustration of this point. Obregon was captured by the police early in 1967, along with several others, including the sister of the guerrilla leader Turcios. The members of the group were tried and found guilty but released on appeal. The speculation at the time was that the appellate judge had been threatened and had, therefore, decided to release the prisoners. Rogelia Cruz Martinez, whose death triggered the mid-January incidents, is another case in point. She was being held for a traffic violation, but the threats received by the judge from the FAR were such as to lead him to release her. There have been other similar cases. The Congress begins this week debate on a bill revamping the entire judicial system. Maybe this will help in the long run, but it provides no alternative for the present.

I must apologize for going to such great length before answering the question posed by the IRG/COIN, that is, what might we do to induce the Guatemalan Army to put an end to its clandestine operations. I would answer the question as follows:

1. In my opinion we should not seek to influence the Guatemalan Army "to put an end" to its clandestine operations. Not only do they believe the method being followed is correct, but since they are

dealing with a subversive movement it would be difficult to suggest a substitute. We have not been able to think of a more effective method. An approach by us to the Guatemalans would not produce the intended results since they would, undoubtedly, tell us that they have no alternative, that they must eliminate the enemy, and that they would, therefore, have to continue their counter-terrorist activities. It would, therefore, be a non-productive effort on our part. In addition to being foredoomed to failure, it would also weaken whatever influence we might be able to exert for moderation.

2. Any suggestion by us that the Army put an end to its clandestine operations would more than likely be misunderstood, not only by the Army, but by the President and other political leaders as well. As discussed earlier, the security forces have been successful thus far in their counter-insurgency operations, as the very reaction of the terrorists would indicate, and for us to suggest to them at a time when they have the enemy on the defensive that they should let up could be interpreted by them to mean that we have changed our position, that we no longer support the government, and that we disapprove of its security measures. There would even be those who, maliciously or otherwise, would interpret our approach as an indication that we no longer opposed the cause of the guerrillas. That may sound ridiculous, but it would not be unlikely. Some could even go so far as to speculate that what they might interpret as a change of position on our part had been motivated by the Maryknoll incident, and was simply an effort by us to save the lives of those involved.

3. We should also not deceive ourselves by thinking that if the security forces put an end to their clandestine activities the problem will disappear. At least since 1963 the communist insurgents have engaged in widespread acts of terrorism throughout Guatemala, and the government’s entrance into the clandestine counter-insurgency field in late 1966 was a reaction to the communist terror; an effort to find an effective means to contain a threat which had not been contained within the existing legal framework of law enforcement. If the armed forces should cease their counter-insurgency activities before the situation is brought under control the guerrillas and terrorists would not only continue but would, undoubtedly, intensify their efforts since they would be able to operate more freely. Such freedom would probably also result in a more rapid reorganization of the FAR guerrilla force and a corresponding increase in the insurgency threat to the government. This could also lead to an eventual open confrontation between the PGT/FAR and the extreme rightists, which would not only be nasty, but which would pose some real issues for us. It should not be overlooked that one of the reasons which led the armed forces to organize the clandestine groups, and to use them in counter-insurgency, was the threat by the extreme right in the early days of the present administration that if the government did not move against the communists the right would. The actions taken by the armed forces, including its clandestine operations, have served to remove this issue from the political arena.

4. This does not mean that there is nothing we can do. We have on several occasions, and when supported by information available to us, pointed out to the Minister of Defense, and to others, that

they might be contemplating action against innocent or mistakenly-identified individuals. We have also suggested to the Army that it exercise stricter control over the special unit of the National Police engaged in locating and eliminating FAR elements. Also, we have suggested that if the security forces feel it necessary to carry out summary executions in certain cases that they bury the bodies rather than leave them to be found, which produces a bad psychological effect, and creates an impression abroad that blood is flowing in the streets of Guatemala and that bodies are appearing everywhere. This poses a problem for the security forces, however, since they must continually show the public that they are moving effectively against the guerrillas and terrorists, and one way to do so is to leave the bodies of known communists where they will be found, identified by the families, and the events reported in the press. We should continue to urge moderation, which is probably the only effective thing we can do at the present time, and we will, of course, continue to do this.

I realize this still leaves the problem of public and Congressional concern over the situation in Guatemala unanswered, but I am afraid we are going to have that problem as long as the situation here remains as it is, and as long as the press in the U.S. continues to report mostly the negative aspects of developments in Guatemala. Judging from the reports I see, the press these days seems to be interested only in terrorists, guerrillas, and so on, or in issues which can be played up as anti-administration or anti-U.S. foreign policy. There seems to be no ready answer to this specific problem, except to present the facts as we see them, and to let the facts speak for themselves, while at the same time pressing for moderation, and, if possible, an early solution to the insurgency problem in Guatemala.

With reference to the suggestion that we approach the President of Mexico, I am of two minds. In the first place, the suggestion reflects a tendency which has always bothered me of calling upon others to help us when we can probably do the job ourselves, or before we have even tried. In this instance we have not discussed the matter with the Guatemalan Government, and yet we are considering asking for help from Mexico. Also, if we are going to approach a third party for help, why Mexico? Mexico, contrary to what we might think, does not have much influence with the Guatemalans, so that an approach by them on this issue would probably not be productive. The other Central American Governments would have greater influence than Mexico, but even that would be minimal. On the other hand, maybe an approach by the Mexican President, should he agree to make one, might be helpful in that it would give the Guatemalans one more opportunity to seek Mexican Government cooperation in establishing more effective control to prevent the smuggling of arms across the border and the travel by Guatemalan insurgents through Mexico to Cuba, Prague and other points behind the curtain. The Guatemalans believe that their problems with the insurgents would be more manageable if the Mexican authorities were more cooperative. If the Guatemalans are correct in their estimate, and if the President of Mexico is willing to use his good offices, it might therefore be a fruitful exercise.

In your letter you raised the question of a trip to Washington to discuss this problem. I frankly have no desire to go to Washington at this time, but your letter and recent communications from Chuck Burrows lead me to believe that it might be a good thing to do. It might be helpful to sit down with those working on Guatemala and to discuss not only the situation as we see it, but also to get a better understanding of some of the questions being raised in Washington. As to timing, I would prefer to wait until we have our CASP well underway, since our discussions in the preparation of that document are basic to any fruitful discussions I might have in Washington. Unless there is some urgency from the Department’s standpoint I would prefer, therefore, to go some time in the latter part of March. I will write Chuck Burrows about this, and, if you agree, plan to go up at that time./4/

/4/ Oliver continued the discussion of Guatemalan security in a letter to Mein, March 8: "There was no thought here that you suggest to the Guatemalan Government that it stop its efforts to eliminate guerrilla activity either in the campo or the city. The distinction we were seeking to make (and in re-reading my letter, I see that this distinction was not made clearly) was between discriminate and non-discriminate activities." "What has bothered us," Oliver emphasized, "is the physical elimination of a rather large number of persons who appear to have no political coloration, or could not by a reasonable definition be called Communists." (Ibid., ARA Files: Lot 72 D 33, Guatemala)

Best personal regards.




101. Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Washington, March 13, 1968.

/1/ Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 23 GUAT. Confidential. Drafted by Wiggins on March 20.

Security Situation, Terror and Counter-Terror in Guatemala


For Guatemala
Col. Rafael Arriaga, Guatemalan Defense Minister
Col. Laugerud, Deputy Chief of Staff, Guatemalan Army
Col. Ponciano, Embassy of Guatemala Attaché

For the U.S.
Covey T. Oliver, Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs
Charles R. Burrows, Country Director, Central American Affairs
Robert Starzel, ARA
Guy A. Wiggins, ARA/CEN/G
General Robert Porter, CINC, South Command
Robert F. Corrigan, Political Adviser CINCSO, Panama

Mr. Oliver began the substantive conversation by asking Col. Arriaga to summarize the security situation in Guatemala.

Col. Arriaga replied that he was directing the counter-terrorism campaign, which he justified as necessary to preclude right-wing reaction against the Government of Mendez Montenegro. The Government of Guatemala had been unjustly criticized for this campaign in the press. He was, therefore, much concerned and wanted to know how it could prevent newspapers (i.e., Miami Herald), from printing false stories about it. The Maryknoll fathers, particularly the Melvilles and Blase Bonpane, knew only people on the far left in Guatemala. That is, they did not know anyone but the poor, so could not give an honest interpretation of events. Life magazine, which had printed three hostile articles, was not interested in the attractive aspects of Guatemala, but only in reporting how the army was protecting extreme right-wing terrorism.

Col. Arriaga then turned to the subject of the assassination of Col. Webber, whom he described as a man who understood the Latin temperament and was almost a Latino himself. Col. Webber, he said, had understood the situation in Guatemala.

At this point General Porter arrived, accompanied by Mr. Robert Corrigan. The conversation turned briefly to Panama and Col. Arriaga asked if the political crisis there did not portend a coup by the extreme left. Mr. Corrigan explained that it did not, and that the extreme left was not involved in the crisis.

Mr. Oliver reviewed the conversation for the new arrivals and pointed out to Col. Arriaga that informed public opinion in the U.S., including congressional opinion, took the view that there was too much violence from the right in Guatemala.

In reply, Col. Arriaga cited the bazooka attack of March 7 on the counter-insurgency force barracks at Cipresales. This bloody attack which, he said, left two dead and 30 wounded did not get as much attention from the press as the killing of one or two leftists by the right-wing. Similarly the press always backed up statements by Castro claiming that the CIA was behind every anti-communist movement in Central America. Ambassador Burrows interjected that O’Leary of the Washington Star would like to talk to Col. Arriaga and it might be useful for him to do so.

Mr. Oliver reiterated U.S. sympathy with Guatemala’s problems but asked, with all due respect to the good intentions of the Mendez Montenegro Government, if it could not do more to help the campesinos. He cited the army’s civic action program and suggested that this was the type of activity that should be stepped up to help the newspapers give the other side of the government’s story. He reminded his guest that his impressions were not based on press reports alone but also on other sources.

Reverting to the question of the press, Col. Arriaga said the security forces had finally hit upon a way of making sure their story was told correctly. When they captured two university students who set fire to two department stores in Guatemala City they obtained the students’ confessions on tape and played the tape to the reporters, who "printed the story exactly right this time".

Mr. Oliver reminded him that we still had a serious public relations problem; right-wing terrorist groups were killing indiscriminately and many innocent people were losing their lives. This was making thoughtful people in the U.S., including members of the judiciary, question the present tendency of the Mendez Montenegro Government. Arriaga countered that 90% of the casualties were inflicted by the leftists.

Mr. Oliver reiterated that it was most important for us to collaborate on positive programs to improve the lot of the people, so that the press would have something to concentrate on other than violence. Col. Arriaga did not have an opportunity to respond before the meeting ended.


102. Memorandum From Viron P. Vaky of the Policy Planning Council to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Oliver)/1/

Washington, March 29, 1968.

/1/ Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA/CEN/G Files: Lot 74 D 26, POL 23, Internal Security, Jan-March 1968, Guatemala. Secret. Vaky did not initial the memorandum. According to marginalia on the memorandum it was seen by Oliver, Sayre, and Burrows. A handwritten note, evidently from Vaky, reads: "This is a response based on my conversation with INR/RAR."

Guatemala and Counter-terror

I made the points in the attached memorandum in a private conversation I had with Ambassador Mein yesterday prior to the IRG meeting./2/ These views are based on my experience as DCM in Guatemala and upon a close following of events since I left./3/ They are the product also of extended reflections on the situation and my experience there. As I told Ambassador Mein I feel somewhat like Fulbright says he felt about the Tonkin Gulf resolution-my deepest regret is that I did not fight harder within Embassy councils when I was there to press these views. I can in any case understand quite well how easy it is to be complacent or rationalize things.

/2/ At the IRG/ARA/COIN meeting on March 28 Ambassador Mein analyzed the problems and policies of the Guatemalan Government, including the status of the counterinsurgency campaign. According to the record of the meeting, Sayre indicated concern about the Guatemalan Government’s response to insurgency and terror; he noted that the element of counter-terror in this response had adverse repercussions in Congress and public opinion in the United States; and he questioned the effectiveness of counter-terror as a doctrine. In conclusion he thought the Country Team should assess whether counter-terrorism was "necessary to cope with the insurgency and terror problems, and, if yes, submit specific recommendations for making the counter-terror campaign more palatable. If no, the U.S. Government should inform key Guatemalan officials that unless the counter-terror campaign is stopped or substantially modified, the USG will have to reassess its assistance to Guatemala." (IRG/ARA/COIN Action Memo No. 10, April 4; ibid., ARA/IG Files: Lot 70 D 122, IRG/ARA/COIN Action Memos)

/3/ Vaky was Deputy Chief of Mission in Guatemala July 1964-August 1967.

Because I do feel so very strongly about the problem, I felt compelled to repeat these points to you with the hope they may receive a hearing./4/

/4/ No written response to the memorandum has been found.




The Guatemalan Government’s use of "counter-terror" to combat insurgency is a serious problem in three ways:

a) The tactics are having a terribly corrosive effect on Guatemalan society and the nation’s political development;

b) they present a serious problem for the U.S. in terms of our image in Latin America and the credibility of what we say we stand for;

c) the problem has a corrosive effect on our own judgments and conceptual values.

A. Impact on the Country

Counter-terror is corrosive from three points of view:

1. The counter-terror is indiscriminate, and we cannot rationalize that fact away. Looking back on its full sweep one can cite instances in which leftist but anti-Communist labor leaders were kidnapped and beaten by the army units; the para-military groups armed by the Zacapa commander have operated in parts of the northeast in war-lord fashion and destroyed local PR organizations; people are killed or disappear on the basis of simple accusations. It is argued that the "excesses" of the earlier period have been corrected and now only "collaborators" are being killed. But I question the wisdom or validity of the Guatemalan Army’s criteria as to who is a collaborator or how carefully they check. Moreover, the derivative violence of right-wing vigilantes and sheer criminality made possible by the atmosphere must also be laid at the door of the conceptual tactic of counter-terror. The point is that the society is being rent apart and polarized; emotions, desire for revenge and personal bitterness are being sucked in; the pure Communist issue is thus blurred; and issues of poverty and social injustice are being converted into virulent questions of outraged emotion and "tyranny." The whole cumulative impact is most unhealthy.

It is not true, in my judgment, that Guatemalans are apathetic or are not upset about the problem. Guatemalans very typically mask their feeling with outward passivity, but that does not mean they do not feel things. Guatemalans have told me they are worried, that the situation is serious and nastier than it has ever been. And I submit that we really do not know what the campesinos truly feel.

2. Counter-terror is brutal. The official squads are guilty of atrocities. Interrogations are brutal, torture is used and bodies are mutilated. Many believe that the very brutal way the ex-beauty queen was killed, obviously tortured and mutilated, provoked the FAR to murder Colonel Webber in retaliation. If true, how tragic that the tactics of "our side" would in any way be responsible for that event! But the point is that this is a serious practical political problem as well as a moral one: Because of the evidence of this brutality, the government is, in the eyes of many Guatemalans, a cruel government, and therefore righteous outrage, emotion and viciousness have been sucked into the whole political situation. One can argue about the naivete of the Maryknoll priests, but one should not discount the depth of the emotion and the significance of the reaction. One can easily see there how counter-terror has blurred the question of Communist insurgency and is converting it into an issue of morality and justice. How fortunate for us that there is no charismatic leader around yet to spark an explosion.

3. Counter-terror has retarded modernization and institution building. The tactics have just deepened and continued the proclivity of Guatemalans to operate outside the law. It says in effect to people that the law, the constitution, the institutions mean nothing, the fastest gun counts. The whole system has been degraded as a way to mobilize society and handle problems. Our objectives of helping Guatemala modernize are thus being undermined. The effect of the money we put into civic-action and the pilot program in the northeast is, in my personal opinion, more than offset by the effect of the counter-terror. The value to the nation’s political development of Mendez completing his term is probably already gone.

B. The Image Problem

We are associated with this tactic in the minds of many people, and whether it is right or wrong so to associate us is rapidly becoming

irrelevant. In politics just as important as the way things are is the way people think things are. In the minds of many in Latin America, and, tragically, especially in the sensitive, articulate youth, we are believed to have condoned these tactics, if not actually to have encouraged them. Therefore our image is being tarnished and the credibility of our claims to want a better and more just world are increasingly placed in doubt. I need hardly add the aspect of domestic U.S. reactions.

C. U.S. Values

This leads to an aspect I personally find the most disturbing of all-that we have not been honest with ourselves. We have condoned counter-terror; we may even in effect have encouraged or blessed it. We have been so obsessed with the fear of insurgency that we have rationalized away our qualms and uneasiness. This is not only because we have concluded we cannot do anything about it, for we never really tried. Rather we suspected that maybe it is a good tactic, and that as long as Communists are being killed it is all right. Murder, torture and mutilation are all right if our side is doing it and the victims are Communists. After all hasn’t man been a savage from the beginning of time so let us not be too queasy about terror. I have literally heard these arguments from our people.

Have our values been so twisted by our adversary concept of politics in the hemisphere? Is it conceivable that we are so obsessed with insurgency that we are prepared to rationalize murder as an acceptable counter-insurgency weapon? Is it possible that a nation which so reveres the principle of due process of law has so easily acquiesced in this sort of terror tactic?

I cannot, from my own personal experience in Guatemala and what I have seen since, honestly say to myself that the Guatemalan military have any reason to believe that we really are opposed to this tactic. I honestly think that on the contrary they believe we have accepted and encouraged it-even though we have pro forma remonstrated against excesses. We have talked to them to be sure, but not very insistently, and the image the Guatemalan military man gets from his total contact with the U.S. and U.S. advisors at all levels is very much a mixed bag. It betrays, I am afraid, intentionally or unintentionally, acquiescence and condonment.

Counter-terror is, in short, very wrong-morally, ethically, politically from the standpoint of Guatemala’s own interest and practically from our own foreign policy point of view.

D. What To Do?

I am frankly not sanguine we can stop counter-terror. But one thing we can do is be honest with ourselves and admit to ourselves that there is a problem, and that counter-terror is wrong as a counter-insurgency tactic. I just do not think we have done that.

Beyond that there are three things to do:

a) The record must be made clearer that the United States Government opposes the concept and questions the wisdom of counter-terror;

b) the record must be made clearer that we have made this known unambiguously to the Guatemalans; otherwise we will stand before history unable to answer the accusations that we encouraged the Guatemalan Army to do these things;

c) most importantly, we should put our thinking caps on and devise policies, aid and suggestions that can make counter-terror unnecessary. It is argued that if we can remonstrate strongly to the Guatemalans, they will say we encouraged them to go ahead and now what do we suggest? It is a good question, and we should ask ourselves that. If counter-terror is justified by Guatemalans in terms of the weakness of the legal system, is there nothing we can do to help and prod them on legal reforms? Is there nothing we can do to make them stop the brutality of torture and mutilation? Is there nothing we can do to help them develop philosophical concepts of institutions and a legal system? I know that primitive violence has gone on a long time in Guatemala and elsewhere. Do we just throw up our hands and accept all of its wrongness as long as it is also "effective" (and will history’s verdict say it was "effective" in Guatemala)? If, in fact, the GOG pleads weakness in the conventional security apparatus, is that not precisely what our assistance and counsel is for-to help them perfect conventional, legal law enforcement?

If the U.S. cannot come up with any better suggestion on how to fight insurgency in Guatemala than to condone counter-terror, we are in a bad way indeed. But most of all, even if we cannot dissuade them, we owe it to ourselves to come to terms with our values and judgments and take a clear ethical stand.


103. Action Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Oliver) and the Legal Adviser (Meeker) to Acting Secretary of State Katzenbach/1/

Washington, March 29, 1968.

/1/ Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 32-1 GUAT-UK. Confidential. Drafted by Frank and McCormack; concurred in by Webster, Salans, Burrows, Wiggins, and Shullaw. Originally addressed to the Secretary; the word "Acting" was subsequently inserted by hand. According to Rusk’s Appointment Book he was in Washington on March 29 but left the next day for Wellington, New Zealand, to attend SEATO and ANZUS meetings. (Johnson Library)

British Honduras Mediation


In November of 1965 the United States agreed, at the request of the Governments of Guatemala and the United Kingdom, to mediate their dispute over British Honduras. On the Department’s recommendation the President appointed Bethuel M. Webster as the United States Government mediator.

Ambassador Webster has met with representatives of the two parties and British Honduras many times during the last two years. These discussions have centered on the conclusion of a settlement under which British Honduras would become independent but would have close ties with Guatemala. We have now reached a point where further negotiations are unlikely to resolve the remaining differences between the parties. We believe, therefore, that the time has come when the United States should present to the parties the proposed treaty worked out by Ambassador Webster, which we believe represents a fair solution to the dispute and would provide constructively for the future of British Honduras.

The British and British Hondurans are considering calling a constitutional convention in London this summer to prepare for British Honduran independence in early 1969-even without settlement of the dispute with Guatemala. It is important that they and the Guatemalans have an opportunity to give consideration to our proposals for settling the dispute before the first public steps toward independence are taken. The claim to sovereignty over the territory of British Honduras is an emotional issue in Guatemala, and the Guatemalans may react strongly when the United Kingdom moves toward granting independence.

The proposed treaty (attached)/2/ embodies many of the suggestions made by the parties during their meetings with Ambassador Webster. They have reviewed and commented on earlier drafts. The treaty provides that British Honduras would obtain its independence from the United Kingdom by the end of 1970 (Article 1); that Guatemala would have access to the Caribbean through British Honduras (Article 2); that Guatemala may use free-port areas in British Honduras (Article 3); and that certain common service facilities would be integrated where feasible (Article 5). A joint authority would be established to take jurisdiction over these matters and others of mutual concern in the economic field (Article 9); the United States would appoint the seventh member of the authority if Belize and Guatemala cannot agree on a candidate. The British would make a financial contribution of $3 million to the joint authority which could be used, inter alia, to help construct a road connecting British Honduras and Guatemala. (This road is of importance to the Guatemalans since they believe the United Kingdom has an unfulfilled obligation, resulting from an 1859 agreement, to build such a road.) The treaty establishes a basis for British Honduras’ joining the Central American Common Market if it should decide to do so (Article 10), and for British Honduras’ joining the OAS (Article 13 (4)). It also provides for consultation and cooperation between Guatemala and British Honduras in internal security (Article 12), foreign policy (Article 13), and external defense (Article 14).

/2/ Attached but not printed.

The treaty does not satisfy Guatemala’s demands for control over British Honduras’ defense and foreign affairs and for the construction, by the United Kingdom, of a $40 million road in Guatemala. The treaty would, in general, be acceptable to the British and the Government of British Honduras; it is likely to be opposed, for political reasons, by the opposition party in British Honduras and by other elements of the population who deeply distrust Guatemala.

We believe that it would be desirable for you to present the proposed treaty to the British and Guatemalan Ambassadors. We suggest your doing so on April 11 in Washington with Ambassador Webster present. If you agree, we will prepare a talking paper for the occasion.


That you agree to present the United States’ proposed treaty in the British Honduras mediation to the British and Guatemalan Ambassadors on April 11./3/

/3/ Katzenbach approved this recommendation on April 4. Rusk met separately with the Guatemalan and British Ambassadors on April 18, presenting each with a copy of the draft treaty and an accompanying diplomatic note. (Telegram 149198 to Guatemala, April 18; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 32-1 GUAT-UK) At a meeting in Washington on April 23 Guatemalan Foreign Minister Arenales told Rusk that the draft treaty was unacceptable to his government although he "would be able to sell treaty easier in Guatemala if he had prestige of being President of UNGA." (Telegram 151804 to Guatemala, April 23; ibid.) On June 18 the Department received a diplomatic note indicating that the U.K. Government also found the draft unacceptable. (Telegram 193917 to Guatemala, June 29; ibid.)


104. Telegram From the Embassy in Honduras to the Department of State/1/

Tegucigalpa, April 2, 1968, 2330Z.

/1/ Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 18-1 HOND. Confidential; Limdis.

1943. For Assistant Secretary Oliver. Ref: Tegucigalpa 1917,/2/ 1941,/3/ 1942./4/

/2/ In telegram 1917 from Tegucigalpa, April 1, the Embassy reported that unofficial election returns indicated a "crushing defeat" for the Liberal Party. (Ibid.)

/3/ In telegram 1941 from Tegucigalpa, April 2, the Embassy assessed general reaction to the municipal elections, concluding that the Honduran public had reached a consensus that the results were "so lopsided as to beg the question of free electoral process." (Ibid.)

/4/ In telegram 1942 from Tegucigalpa, April 2, the Embassy reported on Liberal reaction to the "fraudulent elections." (Ibid.)

1. I am deeply disturbed by manner in which municipal elections have been carried out particularly in view of relative optimism which we had come to feel regarding conciliatory atmosphere and the position of non-partisanship of president and of the armed forces.

2. The lopsided election results are an incitement to the liberals to look for unconstitutional solutions and at same time are an embarrassment to the Nationalist Party, to the GOH, to President Lopez and, frankly, to the United States. Zuniga and his close associates did their work not wisely but too well. Had he limited himself to bribery, use of government transportation and other facilities for Nationalist voters, this would have been not laudable perhaps but at least understandable and, in the local context, acceptable. The use of repressive gangster methods has, however, created a very bad effect. The Nationalists, moreover, would probably have made a very respectable showing without need resort to violence and bloodshed.

3. The question already being asked (and one which we must ask ourselves) is what is to be the reaction of the U.S. Government and specifically of this Embassy to elections which were so palpably un-Alianza and un-Punta del Este in procedures. As an illustration of how seriously this is viewed, Minister of Economy Acosta Bonilla came to see me at lunch time April 1 unannounced and without chauffeur. He foresaw grave harm to the laboriously built improved image of the GOH abroad with possible difficulties obtaining alliance loans as well as increasing trouble and potential disturbances domestically unless something is done at once to remedy situation. He said the only way this can be done is if President Lopez promptly declared the most controversial of the electoral districts null and called for re-elections in those places, accompanied by an announcement that he would dismiss Zuniga as person solely responsible for the elections. He urged that I see the President and press this course on him. (We must recognize, of course, that Acosta has his own axe to grind.) In meantime, he said, public opinion closely watching Embassy and he recommended we avoid taking any actions which might give impression we support Zuniga or more unpleasant aspects of Lopez government. (Sandoval subsequently told the DCM/5/ that he so disturbed with Zuniga’s manipulations that he considering offering his resignation to President and specifically asked whether there would be a change in U.S. economic assistance policy towards Honduras.)

/5/ Jean M. Wilkowski.

4. Today I saw President and stressed to him our fear that handling of election had been real step backward for Honduras, for his government, and for his own prestige. I urged him to find some way to restore conciliatory climate which had been so encouraging. Lopez seemed tense and disturbed at events and said he feared that he had now lost confidence of Liberals and any possibility they might participate in government. He spoke of possibility of repeat elections in six or seven most controversial municipalities, was critical of Zuniga and even touched on possibility of Zuniga absenting himself from country for a couple of months. While I frankly doubt latter will happen, Lopez’ attitude at least seems constructive and he was regretfully aware of damage which had been done to Honduras’ image abroad.

5. At noon today Zuniga came to the residence at this [his?] request. I found him nervous and full of self-justification. In same snow job he is probably giving President he claimed poor Liberal showing was "a Liberal plot to embarrass government" and claimed Nationalist success largely due to hard work, good organization, and expenditure large sums of money for bribery as well as pork barrel. He expressed suitable distaste for intimidation and atrocities which he admitted had occurred in two departments and which he said would be investigated. I told him that regardless his rationalization, elections had done great harm to Honduras both here and abroad and would certainly make our task more difficult.

6. I recognize that memories can be short here and the adverse reactions may evaporate in a few weeks. I sincerely hope so. In the meantime I request the Department’s authorization to return to Washington for a few days’ consultation at my discretion if it appears that this is most appropriate way to make known our concern over situation.



105. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Honduras/1/

Washington, April 4, 1968, 2338Z.

/1/ Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 18-1 HOND. Confidential; Immediate; Limdis. Drafted by Warner, cleared by Burrows, and approved Sayre.

142043. Ref: Tegucigalpa 1943./2/

/2/ Document 104.

1. Department shares your distress at manner in which elections were carried out and your concern re possible consequences. However, before a final determination is made of the necessity for consultation you may wish to consider the following factors that have occurred to Department:

1. We believe it important that Lopez be persuaded to decide for himself to take steps to redress the situation. If such actions were taken following your return from hurried consultation, it would be apparent to practically all Hondurans that Lopez acted only under severe U.S. pressure.

2. On the other hand, if you returned from Washington and nothing happened, it probably would be interpreted as evidence U.S. acceptance of repression.

3. It seems to us that you now even more than before offer only possible channel of communication between Lopez and Liberals. Your presence and influence may well be only calming factor in this highly volatile situation.

4. Your departure with its obvious implication of disapproval of Sunday’s happenings could tempt Liberals to greater militancy.

2. Above considerations lead us to believe it may be advisable that you remain in Tegucigalpa and continue your attempt convince Lopez that it is to his advantage to assuage Liberal outrage. Nullification of elections in five to ten municipalities where violations of electoral laws and spirit of democracy were most flagrant and announcement of date for new voting would be important to show Liberals that Lopez seeking meet them half way. We also believe that Lopez’ idea of sending Zuniga on mission outside Honduras would be helpful in giving passions time to cool. In your conversations with Lopez you may wish to tell him of Department’s deep concern and hope that he will take immediate steps to restore confidence of Honduran people and rest of world in GOH dedication to democratic principles. If it later becomes evident that Lopez unwilling to act to restore situation, we will consider bringing you to Washington for longer period (sixty to ninety days).



106. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Central American Affairs (Burrows) to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Sayre)/1/

Washington, April 12, 1968.

/1/ Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA/CEN/H Files: Lot 70 D 59, Honduras 1968, POL 14 Elections. Confidential.

Zuniga and what to do about him

Our Country Team in Tegucigalpa and we have given some thought to the possibility and desirability of using such influence as we have to bring about the removal of Zuniga from the Government of Honduras. The Ambassador and the Country Team have heretofore ruled out such action for the following reasons:

1. The Government does function, however haltingly, and Zuniga has been believed a key element in that limited functioning.

2. Were we to press for Zuniga’s ouster and succeed, we had no idea who might succeed him and what might be the consequences of the change (we still do not know).

3. Were we to attempt to unseat Zuniga and fail, we would lose almost all our influence with Lopez and the GOH.

These considerations are still valid, but the apparent brutality and chicanery employed to make a farce of the March 31 municipal elections necessitate a new review of the question, especially since it is quite possible that Zuniga acted deliberately to sabotage any possible conciliation between the GOH and the Liberals. The review should consider, in addition to the questions outlined above, the following:

1. If Zuniga remains, how much further deterioration is to be expected in the political situation? Is violence probable?

2. What effect will a complete Liberal break with the government have on economic and social development?

3. If the U.S. does decide to work for Zuniga’s removal what leverage have we?

a. External Assistance

Although I believe that the degree of leverage available to us because of A.I.D. programs is often exaggerated, it is one source of pressure. The near certainty that we will receive a formal request for assistance in providing the infrastructure for the projected pulp and paper complex does provide a leverage not ordinarily present. However, if we use this leverage in an attempt to unseat Zuniga we will not be able to use the same leverage to try to obtain more self-help measures from the GOH in the development field. Further, we would need the firm support of the World Bank and the IDB to make this leverage effective.

b. U.S. Private Investment

We might be able to convince the Hondurans (Lopez, that is) that unless Zuniga is removed to permit more stable and effective government we would find it difficult to encourage potential U.S. investment.

c. U.S. Influence Over Honduran Opinion

A very large number of Hondurans are accustomed to looking to the U.S. for guidance. Measures that would clearly show our disapproval of the elections (and by implication of Zuniga) probably would have a strong effect. They might well lead Army leaders and others to conclude that Zuniga must go and to press Lopez to this end.

In this connection, it has been suggested that the Ambassador and Country Team might be instructed to maintain an attitude of cold correctness toward Zuniga while exhibiting increased friendship and approval for Acosta Bonilla and Sandoval. This course might be useful, but might also backfire. On balance, I think it would not accomplish too much. Unless we decide to try to "get" Zuniga, there is little to be gained by angering him (and probably Lopez).

4. If Zuniga goes will the Lopez government survive?

Although the loyalty apparently is to Lopez there is a possible danger that the confusion that would be created by Zuniga’s removal and Lopez’ own lack of ability for the day-to-day operation of the government might lead the Army to feel that a change is needed. Furthermore, Zuniga’s own performance in keeping this government on top of all potential threats should not be underrated.

I believe that unless the government takes some action to assuage the Liberals’ bitterness and to some extent redress the electoral injustices we should seriously contemplate attempting to procure Zuniga’s removal. I would think that if by the latter part of April the situation has not improved, Ambassador Jova should be brought to Washington for protracted consultation and discussion of the procedure we should follow with regard to Zuniga./2/

/2/ In an April 16 memorandum to Sayre, Burrows recalled that Zúñiga had recently invited "an Embassy officer to his home and in a 90-minute conversation quite explicitly admitted his deliberate sponsorship of the violence and fraud attending the March 31 elections." It appears that Zúñiga wanted to tell the United States: "I am number 1 in Honduras and neither you nor anyone else can do anything about it." "The validity of such confidence on Zuniga’s part," Burrows concluded, "is something that should be considered carefully before we decide to ‘go for broke’ to obtain his removal." (Ibid.) According to the Embassy’s account of the meeting: "Zuniga said it was he who pushed Lopez into power, made him what he is and now does the real work of governing. He enigmatically implied that Lopez’ presence was now not indispensable." (Telegram 1994 from Tegucigalpa, April 9; ibid., Central Files 1967-69, POL 12 HOND)


107. Airgram From the Embassy in Honduras to the Department of State/1/

Tegucigalpa, April 24, 1968.

/1/ Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 15-1 HOND. Secret; Limdis. Drafted by Jova on April 23. Jova forwarded the airgram to Sayre under cover of an April 23 letter in which he wrote: "Frankly, I am increasingly convinced that while the survival of the Government is important to stability and development, our interests would be much better served if we could eliminate Zúniga from the picture." Jova explained that, "in accordance with the Department’s desires I have tried to act as a channel between the Liberals and the President and to help bring about a reduction of tensions. This is very difficult under present circumstances, and you will note from the attached airgram as well as from our telegrams that we have been drawn into a considerably more active role than is traditional. While in Honduras it is almost impossible for the American Embassy to remain uninvolved, even here this has its dangers." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA Files: Lot 74 D 467, Honduras 1968)

A-321. Subject: The President and the Zúniga Problem.

1. In my conversation with President López on April 19 I pushed him further on the Zúniga problem than any time previously. He attempted to make the point that his conscience was clear as he considered himself apolitical, had received the Liberal leaders openly and cordially in the pre-election period and had given strict orders for

the Armed Forces to play a non-partisan role. I told him that while it was well known that he himself was apolitical, he could not separate his own role as President from that of Zúniga, his most intimate

collaborator and "Prime Minister" who was at the same time the admittedly real leader of the Nationalist Party and the organizer of the electoral process. I stressed to the President the very real usefulness of his apolitical stance as one of the true unifying forces in the country. I urged that he not let this be eroded. The President replied that he has even considered resigning as his patience with the politicians has grown even thinner, but fears that this would solve nothing and might plunge the country into real chaos. I urged that he forget thoughts of resigning but instead play his full role as President.

2. I pointed out that the very fact that the President had received the Liberals may in itself have led to their persecution as Zúniga had himself told us that he considered this as a threat to himself. When the President later remarked that his door continued open to the Liberal leaders and that he was willing to receive them at any time, I queried him whether this might not cause trouble with Zúniga who, we understood, wished that contacts with the Liberals be carried out through him. The President reacted rather sharply to this, replying that Mr. Zúniga had nothing to do with this matter, this did not concern him, and that he as President was free to see the Liberals when and as he wished.

3. In another portion of the conversation the President referred to Zúniga as he has in the past as merely his assistant and collaborator and one who could be dispensed with at will. To that I replied that, while Zúniga had previously wielded power as in effect the President’s private secretary and closest collaborator, he now, as a result of the municipal elections, had unquestionably emerged as a political power in his own right and as a consequence we understood his attitude had changed and had become considerably more domineering. I told the President that I recognized how useful Zúniga had been to him, and the fact that as a private secretary their interests were in large part mutual. Zúniga’s interests as a political power now, however, might not coincide with the President’s own interests and I suggested that the President examine very carefully to what extent their interests coincided and to what extent they diverged in order that he might be guided accordingly. Certainly their interests had not coincided in regard to the municipal elections and in this instance it had not been the President’s interests which had been served. . .

4. The President not only took my various references to Zúniga in good grace but seemed to agree. In fact, I noted on his part an attitude which bordered on the hostile towards Zúniga and it may be that his recognition of the divergency of their interests is growing. We must not forget that others, including Mrs. López, are pressing him on this divergency. It may also have been significant that in reply to my query he suggested that I not mention to Zúniga the memorandum prepared by former President Villeda Morales which I had handed him./2/ On this occasion he said that this should remain between the two of us, "If you tell Zúniga the whole town will know in no time."

/2/ Not found.

5. I think it is obvious that the differences between these two men are growing and the President may even have begun to fear him. (Could this be why he is starting a new military unit to serve under his personal command as a "Presidential Guard"?) I know that Mrs. López is in a very depressed state, is increasingly anti-Zúniga, and told the Archbishop that her husband has lost prestige and power to "that man" and that she has no hope left for the future. (This admittedly is an emotional woman’s view.) Certainly the confirmation of Zúniga as the "political master of the country" as a result of the election has increased the alarm and the jealousy of various other Nationalist leaders and perhaps of some of the military. Nevertheless, it is very possible that the President would find it difficult (perhaps more so than we know) to take action against Zúniga and will continue living with a situation to which he has become accustomed and which in many respects has been useful (and even profitable) to him. On the other hand, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] received indications [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] that it would not be impossible for the President to drop Zúniga were this to his interest (see enclosure A)./3/

/3/ Attached but not printed.

6. In any case, my conversations with the President should make it clear to him that, contrary to what we sometimes believe Zúniga has led him to think, the American Embassy is not supporting Mr. Zúniga in his present office and would be prepared to work directly with the President toward a more conciliatory type of government at any time the President might wish.



108. Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Bogota, April 25, 1968, 12:15 p.m.

/1/ Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 14 HOND. Confidential. Drafted by Starzel on April 29. The meeting was held at the Hotel Tequendama. Oliver forwarded the memorandum with a letter to Jova on April 30, in which he suggested: "In view of my discussion with Acosta Bonilla you may have different ideas now about an approach to oust Zuniga. If so, we would like to hear them." (Ibid., ARA Files: Lot 74 D 467, Honduras 1968) Jova replied by reiterating his position on Zúñiga’s removal, with an important qualification: "López must be brought to desire it himself." (Letter from Jova to Oliver, May 7, transmitted in telegram 2254 from Tegucigalpa, May 9; ibid., Central Files 1967-69, POL 12 HOND)

Current Political Conditions in Honduras

Roberto Ramirez, President, Central Bank of Honduras
Manuel Acosta Bonilla, Honduran Minister of Economy
Covey T. Oliver, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs

During the course of the Plenary Session of the IDB Governors on April 24, Minister Acosta requested an opportunity for Ramirez and him to talk with Mr. Oliver, topic unspecified. When the conversation was held, Acosta opened on the above subject and did most of the talking. No other subjects arose.

Minister Acosta said that the recent municipal elections in Honduras had not been conducted with complete honesty on the part of the Nationalist Party and that, although the Honduran military had been kept scrupulously out of the elections by the President, the resulting bitterness had badly divided the country. He mentioned specifically the estrangement of the labor unions.

Minister Acosta expressed the concern that if Vice President Zuniga prevails in his drive for greater power within the government of Honduras, the result will be a dictatorship. The Minister explained that Ambassador Jova had made clear the bad reaction in Washington to the latest elections but that the President is blind to Zuniga’s faults and does not comprehend the seriousness of the problem. At the same time, the Minister confided that there are strong elements within the GOH which desire the ouster of Zuniga.

Mr. Oliver asked about the possible motivations of Zuniga and Minister Acosta replied that Zuniga simply wants to control the government. At the present time he stands in the way and is a bottleneck to all important programs. In the case of fulfilling the requirements of the IMF Standby for curtailing excessive government costs, Zuniga continues to run his Ministry in defiance of the demands of the Minister of Economy.

Mr. Oliver asked if there were solutions to the problem, such as holding new elections. The Minister doubted the possibility of doing this, saying that the only answer was to confront the President with the problem and cure his myopia towards Zuniga. Mr. Oliver then asked if there was any outside help which could be used to persuade the President, suggesting both the outgoing and incoming OAS Secretaries General. Acosta discounted these but thought President Somoza might be helpful. However, he believed that Ambassador Sevilla Sacasa was probably the best man, as he is both a close friend of President Lopez and a highly respected figure as well. The possibility of contact at the Central American Meeting of Presidents was also discussed, the advantage there being that Somoza might offer counsel without causing public notice of their contact.

Mr. Oliver asked if it might settle tensions if the President brought more Liberals into his government. Acosta thought that most Liberals would refuse to associate with the present government, and he doubted that there could be any such workable coalition. On this note, he also remarked that while many of the "exaltados Liberales" were leaving the country or merely throwing up their hands in frustration, the Communists are planning to take advantage of the worsening situation.

The Minister commented that President Lopez may believe that Ambassador Jova is acting on his own and siding with the Liberals. Also, there is a belief that Washington may not see the situation as the Ambassador does. Mr. Oliver praised the Ambassador’s reporting and assured the Minister that Washington is as concerned about the situation as the Ambassador is. Mr. Oliver then asked what serious consequences would arise from the removal of as powerful a figure as Zuniga, referring as he did to Colombian President Valencia’s removal of General Ruiz Novoa in 1964. Both Acosta and Ramirez agreed that Zuniga is really without power, that his only source of strength is that the people at many levels view him as the shadow of the President. That notwithstanding, Zuniga has no support from either political party (except from "la basura"), the military, or labor. Mr. Oliver remarked that Zuniga is then "not a power but a symbol of power." Acosta agreed and noted that Ambassador Jova understands this well.

Going back to an earlier general reference of Acosta’s, Mr. Oliver called up the possibility of a visit to Washington by President Lopez, noting that we would have difficulties with this in the United States. Acosta nodded his understanding and said that the President would be delighted to come, that he has already made official visits to Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Mexico, and that he went to Punta del Este.

Mr. Oliver closed stating that he would consider calling Ambassador Jova to Washington for consultations, briefing Ambassador Sevilla Sacasa on the issue and the role he might play. There was brief discussion of the possibility of Presidents Lleras and Trejos being useful, but it was agreed they would not be so at this time./2/

/2/ Jova returned to Washington for consultation in early June, and participated in an IRG/ARA meeting on June 5, to consider the Zúñiga problem. (Telegram 173654 to Tegucigalpa, May 30; ibid., POL 1 HOND-US) An action memorandum records the decision as follows: "To the extent feasible the USG should work to achieve its objectives in Honduras through power centers other than Minister of the Presidency Ricardo Zuniga. We should avoid giving the impression that the USG favors Zuniga or is building up his image. We should not become involved in pressing for Zuniga’s ouster, but if internal pressures for his removal build up in Honduras, the USG may be able to use its influence discreetly to help nudge him out." (IRG/ARA Action Memo No. 49, June 7; ibid., IRG/ARA Files: Lot 70 D 122, IRG/ARA Action Memos, 1968)


109. Summary of the Discussion and Decisions at the 37th Senior Interdepartmental Group Meeting/1/

Washington, May 16, 1968.

/1/ Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S-SIG Files: Lot 70 D 263, SIG/RA No. 37, 5/14/68, Latin America. Secret. No drafting information appears on the summary; it was prepared on May 24 and approved by Katzenbach on May 27.


Under Secretary of State, Chairman
Deputy Secretary of Defense
General Brown for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
The Director of Central Intelligence
Mr. Poats for the Administrator, Agency for International Development
The Director, United States Information Agency
Mr. Bowdler for the Special Assistant to the President
Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Deputy Under Secretary for Political Affairs
SIG Staff Director

Ambassador Mein, Guatemala
JCS-General Orwat
ISA-Mr. Lang; Mr. Earle
State-Mr. Oliver; Mr. Ruser

The SIG, at its 37th meeting, considered the situation in Guatemala. Following are highlights of Ambassador Mein’s presentation and the ensuing discussion.

Statement of Positions

The purpose of the meeting was to review the strategy toward Guatemala proposed in the Country Team’s Country Analysis and Strategy Paper (CASP) for FY 70./2/ The IRG/ARA, reviewing the CASP, had found itself at variance with the Country Team’s conclusions and recommendations./3/

/2/ The FY 1970 CASP for Guatemala was transmitted as an enclosure to airgram A-35 from Guatemala, March 22. (Ibid., Central Files 1967-69, POL 1 GUAT-US)

/3/ At its meeting on April 26 the IRG/ARA "unanimously agreed that the basic U.S. strategy toward Guatemala proposed by the Country Team in its FY 1970 Country Analysis and Strategy Paper (CASP) would not meet U.S. objectives generally for the hemisphere or specifically for Guatemala." As an alternative, the IRG proposed a strategy in which the U.S. Government would increase assistance to Guatemala if the Méndez administration agreed to promote economic development and social reform. The strategy included the following: "If Mendez is unwilling to move on the basis of our proposal, we should then reduce our aid on all three fronts (economic, police and military) to minimal levels." (IRG/ARA Action Memo No. 38, April 29; ibid., S/S-SIG Files: Lot 70 D 263, SIG/Memo No. 64, 5/3/68, IRG/ARA Decision on Basic US Strategy Toward Guatemala)

Ambassador Mein, summarizing the CASP’s recommendations, said the Country Team had considered three alternative strategies toward Guatemala.

-To continue the present strategy of supporting the Mendez regime, and develop United States programs more or less along present lines;

-To put the Mendez regime on notice that we would have to cut back our programs unless it moves faster on economic and social reform;

-To offer a substantial increase in our aid effort as an inducement to more rapid reform.

The Country Team was proposing continuation of our present strategy-albeit with certain changes in emphasis. It had discarded the third alternative essentially because it understood that budget stringencies would preclude a substantial increase in assistance. It had concluded that the second alternative-a strategy of pressure-was both unwise and undesirable. Mendez, with all his shortcomings, was preferable to any alternative now in sight. Should he be replaced,

the next government would be either a purely military or a rightist

military-civilian regime. Mendez was committed to reform to the

extent politically feasible and was well aware of our position. It

was not in our interest to threaten Mendez with withdrawal of our support.

Assistant Secretary Oliver reported that the IRG/ARA, in contrast to the Country Team’s conclusions, had unanimously recommended in favor of a combination of the Embassy’s second and third alternatives-a strategy of pressure, combined with an offer of increased assistance in return for accelerated self-help efforts. We should encourage Mendez to mount a reform program and be prepared to review our assistance effort in light of the regime’s performance.

In the discussion, it was noted that there had recently been considerable criticism in the United States press concerning repressive measures by the Guatemalan Government and our apparent association with them. The United States Government was in a difficult position supporting a regime which appeared to carry out-or tolerate-a campaign of counter-terror against its political opponents. Our military assistance program and AID’s public safety program, in particular, were politically vulnerable. The United States public, not aware of our limited leverage on Guatemala, misinterpreted these programs as evidence of our support for the status quo.

Resilience of the Regime

There was a consensus that the resilience of the regime, its capacity to undertake reform, was the key issue as between the opposing views.

Ambassador Mein said that in his judgment Mendez’ freedom of action continued to be severely circumscribed both by political factors and by available resources. The politically dominant forces in the country remain opposed to significant reforms.

The IRG/ARA view, on the contrary, was that, following the events of March 28,/4/ Mendez was now in a much stronger position. He, therefore, would be able to make a start on carrying out the measures necessary for Guatemala’s development.

/4/ On March 28 Méndez fired three high-level military officers: the Minister of Defense, the Commander of the Zacapa Military Brigade, and the Commander of the Honor Guard Brigade. (Memorandum from Bowdler to Rostow, March 28; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Guatemala, Vol. II, 1/66-11/68)

A third view was that we should not focus entirely on the capacity of the government but also on the attitude of Guatemala’s socio-economic establishment. Since 1954, this power structure had remained essentially unchanged: land-owning groups, some business interests, some elements of the army. The Mendez government would be unable to undertake significant reforms without at least the acquiescence of these groups. We should attempt to engage these groups in a dialogue in an effort to persuade them to accept such a program.

United States Objectives

Ambassador Mein underlined his belief that survival of the duly elected Mendez government, followed by an orderly transfer of power in 1970, should be the primary United States objective-even if Mendez should have to sacrifice major reforms during the remainder of his term. Survival of an elected government-this would be the third such government to survive since 1821-would set an important precedent, which would benefit the development of viable democratic institutions in Guatemala.

In the discussion, the question was raised whether, if the government was in fact so heavily dependent upon tolerance by the power structure, its survival really made that much difference from the United States point of view.

Another view was that a head-on confrontation with the regime-and all the risks attached to such an approach-made in any case little sense, given the regime’s limited room for maneuver. This issue was really not one of how far we were willing to go in risking the regime’s survival but whether Mendez and the United States could persuade the power structure to accept a measure of reform.

Mendez’ Regime Performance

Ambassador Mein stressed his disagreement with the estimate that the Mendez regime had been a standstill administration. There had been significant progress, although not as much as we would have liked to see and probably not as much as Mendez could have accomplished. In assessing Mendez’ accomplishments, we should keep in mind that the Mendez administration had started from scratch. Progress under the previous military regime had been negligible.

In this connection, the Ambassador recalled that the United States had proposed 26 projects to the new government in late 1966; 24 of these had been accepted by the Mendez government. The large loan pipeline ($70 million) was mainly in IBRD, IDB, and CABEI financed projects; the AID pipeline was quite modest.

Other Guatemalan achievements were:

-sound monetary fiscal policies;

-little labor unrest;

-considerable progress under the northeast rural development program;

-encouragement of private enterprise and private foreign investment (e.g., negotiations with International Nickel were virtually completed).

In the important field of tax legislation, the government in 1967 had increased the land tax and it now hoped to get the Guatemalan Congress to approve AID’s property tax development loan, which would result in a substantial increase in tax revenues. The Ambassador considered prospects for this loan favorable although he conceded that there remained considerable opposition.

It was acknowledged that this loan, if authorized, could be an important step towards a more equitable sharing of the tax burden by the land-owning classes of Guatemalan society.

Rightist Counter-Terror

As regards the counter-insurgency situation, Assistant Secretary Oliver noted that the existence of rightist counter-terrorist groups was a major source of concern to the IRG/ARA.

Ambassador Mein said that he shared this concern and had raised this matter with Mendez on several occasions. The President had not conceded any excesses in the clandestine counter-insurgency operations.

Equally important, since removal of the three generals, there had, in fact, been no new incidents. The clandestine units of the national police had been dissolved. Activity of the clandestine army groups had been curtailed. Victims of the counter-terror were, in fact, overwhelmingly leftist subversives and sympathizers.

United States Leverage

Ambassador Mein said we should recognize that our influence and leverage were, in fact, very limited. There remained residues of resentment related to the events of 1954. There also was some resentment related to the rather large United States presence. Nationalism was a force to be reckoned with in our policy.

The question was raised whether the threat of withdrawal of our aid, even if taken seriously, was likely to give us much leverage. Our present program, in fact, was a modest one. Included in it were a prospective educational loan and some $3 million in technical assistance, to which we probably attached greater importance than the Guatemalan leadership. The military assistance program was less than $2 million.

A contrary view was that we presumably would extend our approach to IDB activities, which are of considerably greater magnitude. A United States veto on IDB loans would undoubtedly be rather painful to the regime.

Ambassador Mein said that Mendez was fully aware of our views. Threats to withdraw the remaining program would not be helpful. Our dissatisfaction with Guatemalan self-help efforts was reflected in the fact that no loan agreements, excepting the educational loan, were pending at this time. He strongly urged that we proceed with the educational loan, which had been under discussion for more than a year and which tried to deal with one of Guatemala’s basic requirements.

Desirable Reform Steps

The discussion showed that there was essential agreement on the steps we would like the Mendez government to take.

The steps identified were:

-tax reform;
-a rural development program;
-educational reform and development;
-cessation of the counter-terror;
-freedom of activity for progressive democratic groups.

As regards political reform, Ambassador Mein suggested that this was not much of an issue. The only important democratic political group now denied freedom was the Christian Democrats. This matter was now in court and there was not too much for us to do at this time.

Mr. Oliver said there was an issue of whether to use economic aid as lever for political reform or whether to relate political reform exclusively to our MAP and public safety programs. ARA came out in favor of the more moderate of these two approaches.

Role of Milgroup

The Chairman raised the question of whether and how we could use our Milgroup to encourage a democratic political orientation in the Guatemalan armed forces.

The observation was made that there was some risk in our military personnel entering the political dialogue of their host country. The Guatemalan military was no longer a major obstacle to reform. Its officer corps was increasingly drawn from the middle classes. Many of these officers had received training in the United States.

As regards AID’s public safety program, indoctrination in democratic political processes and the importance of orderly judicial procedures were an important element of the training program at the International Police Academy in Washington. We could not, of course, be sure how much of this training Guatemalan police officials were able to sustain, confronted as they were with political cross pressures in their jobs back home.

Ambassador Mein said that the Guatemalan military academy’s curriculum was being adjusted to modern conceptions of the role of the military. It now includes a political science course. Our military training program envisages sending young military men to public and private universities in this country. In the coming year four Guatemalan officers would be brought to this country for this purpose.

The Chairman concluded that the personal and professional contacts of our Milgroup-as well as AID’s public safety officers-were an asset we should be sure to use fully. It was important that our people speak up in all their contacts with Guatemalans and vigorously express their viewpoint on the value of democratic and orderly judicial processes.


There was a consensus that we should make a serious effort at a dialogue with the Mendez government and the Guatemalan establishment on the requirements for modernization. In this dialogue we should not threaten withdrawal of our already limited program, as this might merely weaken the Mendez government’s position. Conversely, however, we should use the offer of additional aid as an inducement to obtain a commitment by the government-and acceptance by the establishment-to a meaningful reform and development program.

Action Summary

The Chairman directs:

1. That the Country Team, in cooperation with the IRG/ARA:

a. develop, in more specific terms, elements of a development program which the United States would support, and specific performance in the fields of tax reform, agricultural development and educational reform expected from the Mendez government in connection with such a program.

b. develop a plan for a dialogue with elements of the Guatemalan social-economic power structure for the purpose of assisting the Mendez government in obtaining their acquiescence or endorsement for a stepped up reform/development program.

2. That, after this preliminary work is completed, the Ambassador, supported by ARA/LA, commence a formal dialogue with President Mendez and his government on the requirements for accelerated development, offering an increased level of United States assistance in return for increased self help efforts.

3. That, drawing on its preparatory work, the Country Team undertake a systematic effort at a dialogue with the Guatemalan power structure on the need for accelerated development.

4. That the Milgroup continue using its contacts for the purpose of encouraging a democratic political orientation in the Guatemalan armed forces.

5. That all elements of the Country Team continue to emphasize the importance we attach to democratic processes, freedom of expression for democratic political forces, and orderly judicial procedures.

6. That ARA, in due course, report on the results of these efforts./5/

/5/ The Department forwarded the action summary on May 30 and instructed the Embassy to submit first "its recommendations for implementing 1a and 1b above, for IRG/ARA review." (Telegram 173821 to Guatemala, May 30; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, AID(US) 8-8 GUAT) In airgram A-581 from Guatemala, September 7, the Embassy submitted its recommendations, including the following explanation: "The airgram was drafted by Ambassador Mein and reviewed by him with members of the Country Team thoroughly prior to his tragic and untimely death on August 28. The only changes made since then are minor ones which he had discussed with the Country Team and authorized on the morning of August 28." (Ibid., POL 1 GUAT-US) In a memorandum to Katzenbach, October 14, Oliver reported that the IRG/ARA judged that "the airgram constitutes compliance with the SIG directive." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Agency File, SIG, 37th Meeting, 5/16/68, Vol. 5)


Nicholas deB Katzenbach
Senior Interdepartmental Group


110. Information Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson/1/

Washington, June 3, 1968.

/1/ Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Costa Rica, President Trejos Fernandez Visit, 6/68. Confidential.

Visit of Costa Rican President Trejos-June 4-5, 1968

The visit of President Trejos gives you the opportunity to stress democracy and development under the Alliance for Progress. Costa Rica gets high marks on both. It has one of the longest traditions of stable, democratic government in the hemisphere. It also has a good record of meeting Alliance goals in education, health, agriculture and industry.

Your participation in the visit is limited to the welcoming ceremony, a half hour office visit and a state dinner-all on Tuesday, June 4. The welcoming statement and toast, which were sent to you at the Ranch, are designed to give maximum emphasis to the democracy and development themes.

On the official call, there are no outstanding issues in our relations which require decision at the Presidential level. Our intelligence is that President Trejos is not likely to raise bilateral issues, leaving that for his accompanying Ministers to discuss with State and AID. I attach a memorandum from Under Secretary Katzenbach with talking points (Tab A)/2/ which you might use in your conversations with President Trejos. You will want to mention his consistent support on Vietnam.

/2/ Dated May 31; attached but not printed.

There is one point not covered in the Katzenbach memorandum which President Trejos is likely to mention: his pet project of a highway from San Jose to the Caribbean port of Limon and modern port facilities. He regards this as the single most important contribution to Costa Rican development at this stage. The World Bank and the Central American Bank are interested in financing the project. What remains is to work out the details. If he raises the subject, I recommend you tell him you know about the project, and agree on its importance.

Our record of assistance to Costa Rica is good. It has received $188.7 million under the Alliance in loans and technical assistance. For FY 1969, another $6.7 million is earmarked, subject to Congressional action on the AID Bill and Costa Rican self-help measures./3/

/3/ Johnson met Trejos in the Oval Office, on June 6 at 12:25-1:10 p.m. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) A memorandum of conversation is ibid., National Security File, Country File, Costa Rica, Vol. I, 4/64-10/68. At his Tuesday luncheon meeting later that afternoon, Johnson gave the following brief assessment: "The Trejos meeting was a good one. They have some population problems and are not too happy about all the conditions placed on World Bank loans." (Ibid., Tom Johnson’s Notes of Meetings)



111. Editorial Note

In late May 1968 President Johnson proposed visiting Central America as part of a trip to demonstrate his interest in the Western Hemisphere, including stops in Colombia and Brazil. (Memorandum from Rostow to the President, May 25; Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt W. Rostow, Vol. 79) Although the plans for South America subsequently fell through, the White House announced on July 1 that Johnson had accepted an invitation to attend a meeting at the headquarters of the Organization of Central American States (ODECA) in San Salvador. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) The President arrived in San Salvador on July 6; later that day, he participated in a "working session" with the Central American Presidents, addressing such issues of common concern as regional economic integration. On July 7 Johnson toured several sites in El Salvador, including a primary school named in his honor. Before returning to Washington on July 8 he escorted Presidents Somoza, Trejos, López, and Méndez to their respective countries, attending a brief ceremony upon arrival at each airport.

The Embassy in San Salvador considered the visit to Central America an "unqualified" success: "This was probably the greatest event this little country has ever experienced and US-Salvadoran relations will benefit for years to come. Of more significance, the President’s demonstrated and expressed personal interest in Central American regionalism and integration cannot help but give a big shot in the arm to this concept." (Telegram 2268 from San Salvador, July 8; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 7 EL SAL) For Johnson’s remarks during the trip, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Book II, pages 780-800; and Department of State Bulletin, July 29, 1968, pages 109-121) Documentation on the visit is also in the Johnson Library, National Security File, International Meetings and Travel File, Central America; ibid., Hemisfair and Central America, 7/68; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Conference Files: Lot 69 D 182, CF 305 through CF 308; and ibid., Central Files 1967-69, POL 7 EL SAL.


112. Minutes of Cabinet Meeting/1/

Washington, July 10, 1968, 12:10 p.m.

/1/ Source: Johnson Library, Cabinet Papers, July 10, 1968. Confidential. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Johnson met with the Cabinet, July 10, 12:10-1:15 p.m. The first item on the agenda was the President’s report on his trip to Central America. (Johnson Library)

The President opened the meeting of the Cabinet at 12:10 p.m.

He began with a brief summary of the week-end trip to Central America (see attached outline). After completing his formal report, the President said:

"I would say there is no problem in Central America that money and resources cannot cure. But the problems are many, and they are great. There is a great deal to do in education, in health, in housing, in transportation and communication.

"When all these problems are solved, we can expect to see a better life for all the people of this hemisphere, and we can expect to see greatly expanded trade between our country and all these nations.

"The trip was well worth the weekend. Never-not even on the last night of a campaign, surrounded by my closest friends-have I experienced such a warm spirit of affection and hospitality.

"Minor incidents-paint throwing and so forth-were really unimportant, negligible occurrences on this trip. Every place we went, there were thousands of people applauding the United States and applauding the President. They appeared to me about as friendly as any people could be.

"We received the same kind of welcome when we visited each country’s airport, to drop off their Presidents.

"All in all, it was a good weekend. Now I hope that AID and USIA and the other agencies will follow up this effort, and help these Central American countries as they have helped other countries.

"My most vivid impression is that there is so much to do-and so little time to do it."


Attachment I


/2/ The outline was drafted by Rostow on July 9 as "Talking Points on the Central American Trip." (Ibid., Cabinet Papers)

A. Purpose of the Trip

1. To show United States support for economic integration in Central America.

2. To dramatize the success of the Central American Common Market as an example for other areas of the hemisphere and world of what can be accomplished through regional cooperation.

3. To rally increased effort to expand the quantity and quality of education.

B. Direct Accomplishments

1. The meeting took place at a critical time when the Central Americans faced important adjustment problems in the Common Market; morale was sagging.

2. My trip to review their achievements and problems with them and offer increased US support recharged their confidence and determination.

3. Before I arrived, they made a frank assessment of their accomplishments, which are impressive:

-almost 700% increase in intraregional trade;
-an average annual growth in GNP of 6%, although it has slowed down in the past 2 years;
-a 65% increase in investment;
-a 50% increase in expenditures for education;
-effective regional institutions under dynamic, young leadership.

But more importantly, they also measured how much more needs to be done:

-in education, housing, health and population control;
-in diversifying and increasing exports;
-in linking the countries with better roads and telecommunications;
-in perfecting the Common Market institutions.

4. They agreed to redouble their efforts in these fields.

5. They committed themselves to ratify the protocol imposing a 30% surtax on exports-an essential first step.

C. Important Follow-Up

1. The trip convinced me more than ever before that the road to peace and progress lies through regionalism and subregionalism in Central America.

2. Central America can be made a microcosm for this process which will be a challenge and stimulus for other areas to follow.

3. I am impressed by the material gains I saw and the human talent available. I saw this particularly in the educational field symbolized by the LBJ School in a poor neighborhood and in the San Andres Normal School which will house the Instructional Television pilot project for Central America.

4. But as I drove through the streets and countryside and saw thousands of children and young people, I realized how much more needs to be done quickly in schooling, housing, health and jobs.

I am asking Walt Rostow to work with Secretary Rusk and Bill Gaud in organizing a working group to bring together resources in private industry, the universities and government to spur a major development effort in Central America.

A Political Side-Benefit

1. For the past 13 months relations between Honduras and El Salvador had progressively deteriorated as both sides refused to exchange prisoners seized in a border dispute area.

2. The increased bitterness between the two countries was also poisoning Common Market cooperative relations.

3. My trip prompted the two sides to work out a quick solution announced on the eve of my arrival.


113. Memorandum From the Assistant Legal Adviser for Inter-American Affairs (Frank) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Oliver), the Legal Adviser (Meeker), and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Vaky)/1/

Washington, August 2, 1968.

/1/ Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 32-1 GUAT-UK. Confidential. Copies were sent to Webster and Killoran.

British Honduras Mediation

On June 29, 1968 the Department, in accordance with a decision made by Ambassadors Oliver and Webster and Mr. Meeker, informed our posts that we would terminate the British Honduras mediation and our active participation in the dispute, and would so inform the parties to the dispute in writing./2/

/2/ In telegram 193917 to Guatemala, London, and Belize; attached but not printed.

Ambassador Mein has suggested that we not abandon our role as mediator and that we continue our participation through diplomatic channels rather than through Ambassador Webster./3/ Further suggestions have been made that we end the mediation without sending a note, and/or inform the Guatemalans of our willingness to remain involved and of our sympathy for their position.

/3/ In telegram 5715 from Guatemala, July 25. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 32-1 GUAT-UK)

The issue is whether we should overturn the previous decision, i.e. (1) whether we should terminate the mediation; (2) if so, how we should terminate the mediation; and (3) whether we should inform the Guatemalans of our sympathy and willingness to remain involved.

I strongly believe that we should end the mediation, that we should do so in writing, and that we should make no commitments vis-à-vis further participation in the dispute, for the following reasons:

1. Ambassador Mein suggests that the parties can reach agreement. I believe it is now quite evident that a solution will not be found in the foreseeable future-because of Arenales’ reaction to the mediator’s proposal, Mendez Montenegro’s disinterest in the dispute, the politics and emotions in British Honduras manifested after the treaty was published, and the British unwillingness to resolve the dispute with a large cash settlement.

2. A solution will only come with time, when the reality of an independent British Honduras is recognized in Guatemala and when the British Hondurans, as masters of their own affairs, realize the need to make concessions. These events will occur more quickly if the parties are looking to themselves rather than to the United States for an answer.

3. The United States can no longer fill a useful role as a neutral third party. We are not needed to facilitate contact and communication between the parties. We do not have fresh ideas. The parties seem unprepared to have a solution "imposed" on them by the USG, as has been shown by the unanimous objection to the US treaty.

4. Becoming involved in Arenales’ machinations leaves us dangerously exposed. Arenales has told us he wishes to reduce British influence in British Honduras. He has told the British he wishes to reduce US influence in Central America. He has told both of us that he believes the best solution would be the bribery of either Price or Goldson.

5. By following the recommended course of action, we can always re-enter the discussions and consideration of the dispute if we find it would later be in our interest. This flexibility is preferable to a commitment to participation, when significant events will soon occur, e.g., BH constitutional conference and independence.

6. The British Honduras issue is not of major concern to either the Guatemalan public or to the President of Guatemala at the present. It is possible this dispute could die a natural death. However, if we remain involved and mislead the Guatemalans by showing support or sympathy, we could induce Guatemalan politicians to make the claim a political issue-it could sprout like, and reach the proportions of, the Venezuela- Guyana dispute. Rather than nipping this at the bud, we would be assisting in creating an unfortunate situation calling for later reaction.

7. Only Arenales (for personal reasons) and a handful in Guatemala are concerned with the dispute. Mendez Montenegro has shown little interest in assuming the risks of a settlement or in using the issue for political purposes. I believe the Government of Guatemala would not object if we terminate the mediation and dampen rather than encourage Arenales.

8. Ending the mediation in an oral or equivocal fashion, especially when extrapolated in Guatemala City, will result in the Guatemalans misreading our position, in Arenales believing the Treaty was a Webster rather than a US proposal, and in our diplomatic missions becoming more involved-subjectively involved.

In conclusion, I recommend that we send notes to the British and Guatemalans as outlined in paragraph three of the attached cable. If you believe it advisable, we could always console the Guatemalans although we should do so without any implication that we would support any further efforts of theirs to gain control of British Honduras, to prevent British Honduras from becoming independent, or to inflame the British Honduras issue in Guatemala./4/

/4/ An attached handwritten note of August 3 indicates that Meeker agreed that the United States should "deliver notes & cut this off clean." The issue of U.S. mediation in the British Honduras was resolved on September 12, when the Department informed the U.S. Embassies in Guatemala City and London of its conviction that "in balance it is now in best interests US formally end its role as mediator." (Telegram 236943 to Guatemala City and London, September 12; ibid., POL 19 BR HOND) Identical diplomatic notes to this effect were delivered to the Guatemalan and British Embassies in Washington on September 20. (Telegram 242405 to London and Guatemala City, September 20; ibid.)


114. Telegram From the Embassy in Guatemala to the Department of State/1/

Guatemala City, August 28, 1968, 2310Z.

/1/ Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, PER Mein, John Gordon. Confidential; Flash; Limited Office Use. This telegram repeats a telegram originally sent from the Embassy to the Director of the National Security Agency.

Guatemala Critic. The following has been passed USIB agencies.

1. Following details re death Ambassador Mein obtained from Embassy chauffeur and Dr. Salvador Ortega, who was on scene:

1500 Ambassador returning toward Embassy in official limousine, along with driver. Proceeding north along Avenida Reforma, between 12th and 13th streets, Zone 10.

1502 Green car, possibly 64 Buick, overtook limousine on left, forcing it to curb, grazed left front fender. Small red truck stopped immediately behind limousine, blocking it. Young man, dressed olive-green fatigues, armed submachine gun, emerged from green car, ordered chauffeur and Ambassador step out. Driver stepped out of car, but Ambassador opened right rear door and began run back in direction south, protected by car.

Armed youth ran to left rear fender of car, shouted halt, while driver green car said "Shoot him, kill him." Youth fired burst 5-8 shots, Ambassador fell about 12-15 yards behind limousine. Green and red cars fled.

Embassy driver ran to Ambassador, was immediately joined by Dr. Ortega who happened have been driving some twenty yards behind limousine, had witnessed whole incident. Dr. Ortega says Ambassador was killed instantly, probably by bullet through back which cut aorta.

2. GOG authorities investigating, more follows.



115. Information Memorandum From the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Vaky) to Secretary of State Rusk/1/

Washington, August 29, 1968.

/1/ Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA Files: Lot 74 D 467, Guatemala, 1968. Drafted by Wiggins and cleared by Killoran.

Assassination of Ambassador Mein

The Guatemalan Government has reacted quickly to the assassination of American Ambassador John Gordon Mein, who was shot down in the streets of the capital yesterday afternoon while attempting to escape from would-be kidnappers. Last night President Mendez Montenegro declared a state of siege. A curfew was imposed and the frontiers sealed. The security forces have rounded-up suspected left-wing extremists and are conducting a house-to-house search for the assassins. Five suspects have been arrested, but as yet no firm leads have developed.

The Castro-oriented Rebel Armed Forces (FAR), the organization that killed Colonel Webber and Commander Munro of the U.S. Military Group last January, has just claimed responsibility for the assassination. A bulletin issued by the FAR states that Ambassador Mein was killed in reprisal for the arrest by Guatemalan security forces of a top terrorist, Carlos Francisco Ordonez Monteagudo. This bulletin appears to confirm the belief that the FAR intended to kidnap the Ambassador and hold him in exchange for their imprisoned leader. So far the GOG has managed to suppress the bulletin.

The assassination has evoked an outpouring of messages of sorrow and condolence from official and private Guatemalans. President Mendez Montenegro has energetically condemned the killers and the Guatemalan Congress has called for three days of mourning. Hundreds of visitors called at the funeral home where the Ambassador’s remains are lying to pay their respects. They included President and Mrs. Mendez, members of the cabinet, the Supreme Court, and a congressional contingent which came at midnight directly from the session at which they approved the imposition of a state of siege. Similar widespread expressions of sorrow are being reported by our embassies in other Central American countries.

Our diplomatic and consular posts in Latin America have been requested to fly the United States flag at half-staff in respect to the memory of Ambassador Mein.

Ambassador Mein’s remains will be brought to Washington by an airplane provided by the White House. Interment will take place at the Rock Creek Cemetery on Saturday morning,/2/ at an hour not yet fixed.

/2/ August 31.


116. Telegram From the Embassy in Guatemala to the Department of State/1/

Guatemala City, September 4, 1968, 2110Z.

/1/ Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, PER Mein, John Gordon. Secret; Priority; Limdis.

6306. Subj: Death of Ambassador: Preliminary Political Assessment. Ref: (A) Guatemala Critic;/2/ (B) Guatemala 6220, 6221; (C) Guatemala 6238, 6264./3/

/2/ Document 114.

/3/ Telegrams 6220, 6221, 6238, and 6264 from Guatemala City, August 29, 29, 30, and 31, respectively, reported developments in the investigation of the Ambassador’s assassination. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, PER Mein, John Gordon)

1. While it may yet be too early attempt full analysis significance and repercussions assassination, following is effort summarize current status from our viewpoint. Must be recognized that significant reactions to event this magnitude are slow in developing here, and shock effect has not yet worn off. Hence, assessment such reactions at this point necessarily tentative, speculative, and subject later correction. Nonetheless, status summary may be useful in maintaining congruence of views between post and Dept.

2. Facts of Case.

There are no significant changes or additions to details reported Guatemala Critic message Aug 28. Other witnesses have confirmed all essential details related by Embassy driver with exception items such as make of green car (one witness who observed incident from point some 60 yards away, across center strip Avenida Reforma, believes green vehicle may have been 1968 model Chevy II) and number assailants involved (other witnesses state three men were in green car, as many as five in small red Japanese back-up car. Consensus is that three of assailants fled scene on foot when green and red car fled rapidly immediately following shooting).

3. Status of Investigation.

Witnesses have been intensively questioned by authorities for clues, descriptions, etc. GOG security forces have published flyer with pictures 6 (six) suspects, requesting public report any trace these individuals. Flyer scattered over city by helicopter Sept 1. While there have been continuing house-to-house searches, we have no word any evidence found directly connected to murder. Military patrols, roadblocks, area searches, etc., also being conducted, but technique of GOG security forces seems be more pinpointed "rifle" tactic than indiscriminate "shotgun" approach so often used previously. We are satisfied GOG actually making every effort within its power apprehend culprits, and that lack of success to date due intrinsic difficulty of problem rather than to any lack of will or effort.

4. Motivation for Assassination.

All available indications, analysis modus operandi, known facts and projections point to validity and authenticity FAR statement (Guatemala 6220, 6221) as to motive and character of crime. This explanation fits all known facts: none other does. In summation, we think following is motivation story: important FAR leader Camilo Sanchez was captured by GOG security forces night of Aug 24-25. In fear he would be made talk with disastrous results to FAR, his comrades planned abduct Ambassador as hostage for release of Camilo. Probable that FAR unit seized first clear opportunity to make attempt, which happened be afternoon Aug 28. When Ambassador appeared be escaping them, FAR gunman fired. (We simply do not know whether FAR intent was eliminate Ambassador in any case, but it would appear live hostage would be more useful to them, hence we believe intent was abduct Ambassador live, hold him at least until Camilo released to them.)

5. Consequences, Short Term.

(A) On violence: We note FAR statement threatens further measures in aid of Camilo. Presumably such measures would be other similar terrorist acts against local and foreign representatives or symbols of authority. While security measures already taken would make any such attempts more difficult to accomplish, we recognize FAR still has capabilities for additional terrorism of this kind. Under present conditions, FAR may find kidnapping of another hostage too difficult to undertake. In frustration, they might turn to indiscriminate hit-and-run bombings, machine-gunnings, etc. as they have done in past. It also possible that, at least during remainder state of siege, terrorists will go underground, attempt hide, flee country or in any case keep very quiet. Again, this has been pattern after similar major incidents. They prefer not confront GOG security forces when latter engaged in major "offensive" such as present one, but rather to lie low preserving organization and individuals intact for resumption when heat is off. This, however, is rational pattern-loss of Camilo to GOG may prove sufficient stimulus for FAR act in irrational, unpredictable ways including renewed terrorism despite security forces’ offensive. FAR may believe it must make its threat (in statement) credible by further terrorism: this would probably take form attempted assassinations or kidnapping prominent personalities.

(B) On stability of GOG: We see no evidence to date of any threat to stability GOG as result this incident. Military establishment remains loyal to regime, fulfilling constitutional role, there are no indications discontent among military with such role. We have heard of no coup-type plotting (and state of siege has, of course, legally suspended all political activity). There is considerable hand-wringing and talk of the "shame" visited on Guatemala by this murder-but this is analogous in tone to similar expressions heard in US after magnicides there. As of moment, we would say that incident has either had no measurable effect on GOG stability or that such stability has been enhanced in some degree by unanimity and uniformity of reaction among all vital sectors repudiating senseless violence of which this crime is result.

6. Consequences-Longer Term.

Effect of assassination on stability over longer term will depend essentially on whether or not subversives resume terrorism. If they do, GOG is prepared resume counter-insurgent (including extra-legal, if necessary) measures. This could again result in high level of violence which is intrinsically dangerous to stability. Should be recalled that in March-August period, relative calm was possible because of decision by subversives to temporarily suspend their terrorism while they reorganize, in wake of GOG decision suspend offensive extra-legal COIN measures. Since subversives are capable again initiating terror, tranquility is not wholly within power of GOG to determine-it must necessarily react to insurgent-initiated violence even if consequences that violence include stagnation in development, economic deterioration and intrinsic political instability. GOG’s primary objective remains-survival.

7. Murder of Ambassador has also produced great outpouring from all sectors of expressions sympathy, friendship, respect, admiration for him personally, and for country he so ably represented. Granting that this is in part natural reaction of emotional Latins, there is nonetheless evidence of a great reservoir of goodwill toward the United States remaining here./4/

/4/ At a meeting in the Cabinet Room on September 9, the Secretary briefed the President and Congressional leaders on the "tragic loss of Ambassador Mein, who was one of our best ambassadors-the first time in our history we’ve had an ambassador assassinated." After providing details of the assassination and subsequent investigation, Rusk reported that President Méndez "clearly is popular in the country" and "the military actually are loyal to the constitutional government in Guatemala at the present time." "Despite the danger to some of our own people," he concluded, "we’re not basically disturbed about the possibility the Communists could take over Guatemala." (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of a meeting in the Cabinet Room, September 9, 1968, 5:45-7:24 p.m., Tape FC003, Part 1 of 3)

8. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] and DAO concur.



117. Memorandum of Conversation/1/


New York, October 3, 1968, noon.

/1/ Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL HOND-US. Confidential. Drafted by Cates and approved by S on October 5.


New York, September-October 1968

Secretary’s Talk with the Honduran Vice President, Foreign Minister, and White House Ambassador




The Secretary

Vice President Ricardo Zuniga

Mr. John M. Cates, Jr., USUN

Foreign Minister Tiburcio Carias Castillo Ambassador Midence (Washington)

Zuniga opened saying he had a message of friendship from the President of Honduras, to which the Secretary replied referring to Mr. Johnson’s enjoyment with his visit to Honduras./2/

/2/ Reference is to President Johnson’s brief and informal visit to Honduras on July 8.

The Honduran presentation began with a review of the economic difficulties, and also of the progress recently made, in Honduras. As part of the development program, tax reforms had been introduced, in accordance with the protocol of San Jose, growing out of the Central American Common Market. The taxes were on luxury items outside of general public use. However, after the tax had been introduced in San Jose, Costa Rica, and thus supported by, and with the full knowledge of, the Secretary General of the Confederation of Workers, FESESITLE, FESISTRAN and SITRATERCO, public unrest had followed, charges being made that the tax reform would affect the standard of living of the workers by increasing their cost of living. This argument was seized upon by the opposition party (Liberals) union with a segment of the business community.

After a certain number of civil disturbances, the Minister said, one Celio Gonzalez was arrested. It developed that he was actually the leader of certain political interests, a Deputy in the opposition Liberal Party, that were allied with employer interests in a plan to overthrow the Government. The activity of this capital-labor coalition against the Government was limited to the San Pedro Sula area. Although they declared a general strike for the whole country it was not approved by all unions and it only took hold in San Pedro. The Honduran Government became concerned when the opposition announced that it had found allies in its cause against the Government, and that one of its allies was the United States. Despite claims on the part of the opposition that the U.S. was supporting its cause, the U.S. Embassy had not publicly denied the charges and this silence on the part of the U.S. Embassy allowed the idea that the U.S. was involved to grow. Mr. Johnson of United Fruit had obtained a denial from the State Department in a phone call to Washington after Celio Gonzalez had told him of U.S. support for the strike. This type of denial was not enough. Belief in U.S. support for the opposition actually came to be a stimulant to the opposition forces. The Minister pointed out that it put the Honduran Government in a very difficult position when a diplomatic representative of a friendly country was believed to give aid to the Government’s local opposition.

The Secretary noted that the U.S. Government’s relations were with the Government of Honduras and that these relations were friendly and correct; that the U.S. maintained the practice of not interfering in the internal affairs of Honduras and had no intention of interfering in the future./3/ He noted that in many countries people in opposition parties liked to claim U.S. support. However, he pointed out that there was a big difference between what people said the U.S. was doing and what it was actually doing. The Secretary stated that if any U.S. representative had done anything that departed from our policies and practices, he wanted to be informed. He noted, however, that the U.S. cannot accept responsibility for words that someone else had put in its mouth. He then asked the Minister what Honduras wanted the U.S. to do.

/3/ According to a note attached to the memorandum, this sentence was inserted by S/S.

Vice President Zuniga then reported details on the alleged activities of Mr. Mike Hammer, a member of the staff of the Institute for Free Labor Development in Latin America. He said that Mr. Hammer had come from El Salvador to deal with Mr. Johnson of the United Fruit Company. Mr. Hammer as well as others are reported to have told Mr. Johnson that the U.S. and AID favored the strike and the opposition to the Government. Mr. Zuniga said that Mr. Hammer had been aided by the American Consul in San Pedro Sula/4/ having lived in his house, used his car, and operated out of the U.S. Consulate as his headquarters in working with the opposition strikers.

/4/ Herbert D. Swett.

The Secretary said that he would investigate the matter at once and that the U.S. had no intention of making difficulties for Honduras.

The Minister then said that the real interest of Honduras is to have constructive friendly relations with the U.S. but that these relations may be frustrated by local diplomats whose views do not conform to both governments’ official interests.

The Secretary reiterated that there is a great difference between what the U.S. does and what someone says we do.

The Minister then commented, however, that it was easy for the opposition to exploit the failure of the U.S. to deny charges against it and that U.S. contacts with the opposition had made people suspicious. The Minister stated that the U.S. Ambassador himself requested that the President of Honduras grant interviews to the opposition party leaders, thus giving the impression of U.S. backing.

The Secretary reiterated that he would investigate the situation thoroughly./5/

/5/ In a December 2 memorandum to Rusk, Oliver reported that the allegations had been fully investigated and were without foundation. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA/CEN/H Files: Lot 70 D 59, Honduras 1968, POL 1 General)

Following the departure of the Secretary, Vice President Zuniga and Ambassador Midence sought out the Reporting Officer to fill in, between them, details on the rather general presentation given formally to the Secretary.

Mike Hammer, they said, works for the Institute which is under the sponsorship of AID and thus is viewed as a U.S. agency. When he came to San Pedro Sula, he was at home in the Consulate and was taken around by the Consul more or less as a protege. It is important to realize that the head of the strikers, Celio Gonzalez, is not only a labor man but a Deputy in Congress for the opposition party and that his interest was not the betterment of the strikers but the overthrow of the Government. Midence pointed out that Gonzalez had been the leader in the Honduran legislature of a move to criticize the U.S. for its intervention during the Dominican crisis, implying that the return to power of the opposition party would result in weakening the close Honduran-U.S. working relations. Zuniga reiterated that the real complaint from the Honduran Government was that the U.S. Embassy does not deny rumors of U.S. implication in opposition maneuvers. In the public opinion, Zuniga said, the American Ambassador is fighting against the Honduran Government.

Another example of the U.S. interference on the side of the opposition was seen in a visit to Honduras by Andrew McClellan, AFL/CIO representative. McClellan had come to visit a project developed by the Syndicato del Centro for giving land to various unions for housing, etc. The Union was seeking financial support from the AFL/CIO. However, according to Zuniga, the American Ambassador advised Mr. McClellan against the project on the grounds that the particular Honduran union did not deserve the loan from AFL/CIO because the union was in favor of, and too friendly towards, the present Honduran Government. Mr. McClellan subsequently advised the Honduran labor leaders that the AFL/CIO was refusing the loan on the advice of the U.S. Embassy. The labor leaders then wanted to issue a condemnation of this interference by the U.S. Ambassador but the GOH stopped them. Zuniga said he would be glad to have these labor leaders come to Washington to corroborate this story.

Comment: The presentation was extremely confusing with all three persons sometimes talking at the same time. The Foreign Minister was somewhat embarrassed by bothering the Secretary at a moment like this with a matter which appeared so trivial. The details of alleged U.S. interference and the exact request for U.S. rectification of the situation were difficult to identify. According to Midence, most of the information put before Secretary Rusk on October 3 had already been given to Assistant Secretary Oliver. The main purpose of the Vice President’s interview with the Secretary was apparently to make clear on a personal basis the Honduran Government’s deep concern and to make sure that the "U.S. did something."

The Hondurans were critical of two former U.S. officers in Honduras: Robert White, whose departure, Midence said, had been requested by the GOH, and Thomas Killoran, alleging that these officers’ reports had to be taken "with a grain of salt."

Midence made a particular point of saying that the full political implications of the situation had not been spelled out for Assistant Secretary Oliver in their meeting last week/6/ nor had the names of the American individuals whom the Hondurans felt had been working against their interests been exposed. He and Vice President Zuniga also emphasized that this matter was being handled only by the Foreign Ministry and themselves.

/6/ Oliver met Carías and Midence on September 23; a memorandum of the conversation is ibid.

Ambassador Midence at the end made it clear that in his opinion Mr. Killoran was the villain of the piece, as far as the Hondurans were concerned, and could not be expected to give a correct account of the events.

One thing was clear: the Hondurans are badly rattled about what they consider American interference to aid the opposition party and took special care to send to Washington and New York their Vice President to impress upon Secretary Rusk the seriousness of the situation.

As to what action the Hondurans really believed Secretary Rusk should take, the Hondurans, after repeated questions by the reporting officer, suggested that the American Ambassador should be warned of the serious consequences of the continued interference of his officers, and indeed of himself, for the safety of the present Honduran regime, and for the future of Honduran-U.S. relationships. Elaborating on the theme, they requested that the American Ambassador "normalize his activities" so that he does not lend support to the aims of the opposition and become an unwitting instrument of the opposition. This would mean, they said, that the Ambassador follow a "more correct policy" and be "more distant". The Hondurans apparently do not wish a public denial by the U.S. (the possibly fatal consequences of this were suggested by the Secretary and subsequently by the Reporting Officer) but they do wish to be sure that the U.S. Embassy in Honduras "gets the word."


118. Letter From the Ambassador to Honduras (Jova) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Oliver)/1/

Tegucigalpa, October 11, 1968.

/1/ Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL HOND-US. Confidential; Eyes Only.

Dear Covey:

I deeply appreciated your good letter of October 7/2/ and the patience you have shown in going into all the details. I can only start off by saying that it is ironic that the thrust of their complaints is against me personally. To be frank, one of my concerns during the strike crisis was that I might be considered by the Department as showing too much bias in favor of the Government in what did seem to me from the beginning to be an ill-conceived strike that had political motivations.

/2/ Not found. The letter evidently related the Honduran complaints against Jova as outlined in Document 117.

I do wish to thank the Secretary and you personally for the confidence you have expressed in me, both in your letter and in your conversations with Carías and Zúniga. Carías, of course, is not returning until around October 21. Zúniga is back, however, but I have not seen him. I have been told by others that he is in an extremely good mood. As a matter of tactics, it is important to know whether Zúniga himself asked for my removal or did he make that poor Foreign Minister take the lead? I agree with your analysis of the essential weakness of Midence, but can quite see him enjoying playing a role which includes "big time politics" and currying favor with Zúniga, on whom, of course, he is entirely dependent for his job.

I did not speak directly with the President during the strike as at that time I felt there was no need for this as he was extremely busy and I was in touch at least three times a day with Zúniga and an equal number of times with Acosta Bonilla. There was, as a review of the cables will show, no lack of communication with the Government on my part during that period. I have, however, subsequently seen the President on three separate occasions at public gatherings, the last time only yesterday. He has gone out of his way to seek me out, has been very cordial and readily assented when I expressed the hope of seeing him to discuss the strike and post-strike situation. I hope this interview comes off, but Zúniga may stop it.

This should provide the President a good opportunity to make any points he may desire concerning any doubts he personally may have regarding the Embassy/Consulate activities and should also provide me with a better feel for what his own opinions are towards us and towards me personally. I should be able to write you a more conclusive letter as to what might then be our best follow-up response to the GOH after I have had such an opportunity to speak with the President./3/

/3/ Jova met López on October 14. Jova enclosed a memorandum of the conversation with an October 15 letter to Oliver in which he reported: "I have heard locally that having failed to get me recalled Zúniga is now attempting to discredit my reputation by circulating vicious fabrications about my personal conduct." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL HOND-US)

As to the purpose behind Carías’ request and Zúniga’s intent, I fully agree with your own analysis. Certainly Zúniga’s own position with López and within the Government had been weakened somewhat by the events succeeding the March 31 election and even by his apparent victory in that election. The changes in the Cabinet and in other areas of the Government strengthened the so-called economic group which had been his "enemies" (you will recall your own April 25 conversation in Bogota with Acosta Bonilla)/4/ and eliminated various Zúniga henchmen, particularly within the Supreme Court. Zúniga and his wife were not appearing at social events at which the President was present and as recently as September 4 at a party at the home of the President of the Congress, President López held forth at length and with considerable vehemence on how badly served he was by his immediate staff, how poor the coordination was within the Government and how his own commitments to Liberals and others were undermined by his immediate collaborators for their own political ends. While he did not mention Zúniga by name, all present afterwards commented that he was the obvious target.

/4/ Document 108.

The strike, however, served at least for the time being to change this atmosphere. It has apparently strengthened Zúniga and has drawn together all of the Government, including Acosta Bonilla and Zúniga as well as the military. I can thus well understand the reports that Zúniga has returned from Washington and his high level meetings in a mood of self-confidence and good humor. The Liberal Party has in effect been pulverized as a result of the March 31 election and its own foolishness and has a long road ahead to pull itself together; the unions have been "put in their place" and for the time being at least their energies must be devoted to internal matters and to rebuilding their strength; the alliance between the unions and the business community of the north coast has been shattered and several individual members of the business community (including Gabriel Mejia) feel cowed, with a fear that their business interests will be made to suffer; the Church is already passively pro-Government while its pro-labor and campesino members have received a warning through the expulsion of the Jesuits Alberdi and Carney.

(Although the latter has been readmitted at our instance, stiff conditions have been placed on his activities.) This does leave relatively untouched the only other traditional "power center" of Honduras, i.e. the U.S. Embassy, and it now appears that it is our turn.

In fact, "our turn" began some time ago, perhaps the moment Zúniga felt the López Government was firmly installed, and I think it would be illuminating for Chuck Burrows to tell you of some of the harassments he encountered in his later days as Ambassador and also on some of his subsequent visits here. I think there is no doubt that Zúniga has always regarded the American Embassy as a check or monitor on his undemocratic and unsavory operations and thus a potential enemy of the regime. Zúniga probably looks upon U.S. military and economic assistance as a source of competing rather than supporting political power and in his mind the Embassy is thus his own potential enemy if not the regime’s. In addition to an element of native paranoia which he seems to have, I think it is only fair to recollect that it was long our policy to keep López from coming to power, and I believe that John Dreier, when Ambassador to the OAS, came here in 1957 on a special mission to dissuade López from running.

Since I have been here, while my own relationships on the surface have appeared very good, the Embassy as an institution and individual officers, specifically Bob White, have repeatedly been targets for attack and subject for complaint. While Bob White’s actual departure from here was due to other reasons, I am sure that Zúniga in his own mind takes credit for it as he made a special trip to Washington to raise this matter in early June of this year. My own request for Joe Then’s departure, you will recall, was also based largely on allegations which, although they seem well founded, were made by Zúniga. You will also recall that his deep suspicions of me arose when, at the Department’s bidding, I tried to act as a channel between the Liberals and the President and tried to bring about a reduction in tension following on the March 31 elections. It was at this time that you considered sending an emissary such as Sevilla-Sacasa to insure that President López realized that I was not acting on my own but in accordance with the Department’s instructions.

I am pretty sure that my own difficulty dates from that time and that Zúniga is now ready for bigger game than White and Then. Certainly there was nothing done or said by me during the current strike which would justify even a mild complaint, let alone a request for my removal. The Consulate at San Pedro Sula was in a more unenviable position, being right in the thick of things. I daily preached caution to our Consul, and I think that he capably played out a difficult role of keeping communications open and at a most difficult time. The activities of the visiting AIFLD representative, Mike Hammer, may admittedly have been somewhat injudicious until brought under control by the Consul. But even in his case his actions were more subject to misinterpretation than to actual wrongdoing, and when I found out about them I on my own apologized to Zúniga for his activities and he returned to San Salvador as the strike finished.

I appreciate the Secretary’s suggestion that it might be wise to send a senior Inspector to Tegucigalpa. Much as I would welcome such a visit, I am inclined to feel that it might, as you suggested, serve to undercut my position here at this time. I should point out that in addition to the telegraphic traffic, which was copious, we kept fairly complete records of our telephonic conversations with the Consulate in San Pedro Sula, with some of the Government authorities, and with the Department. Thus rather than to send an Inspector here at this time, I would suggest my sending up our file of telegrams, letters, and memoranda of conversation, as well as memos prepared for me by the Consul covering his activities and those of the AIFLD representative. This material should permit someone on your staff or in the Inspection Corps to reconstruct the situation here in a satisfactory manner. Should, after this, there be questions still unanswered, it would then always be possible to send someone down.

I shall look forward to writing you again after I have had a further chance to sound out the President. In the meantime, I appreciate the position you have taken that if the Government of Honduras desires my removal it would have to formally indicate that I am persona non grata. At the moment I am inclined to agree with your thesis that this was something of a fishing expedition on the part of Zúniga,/5/ and one which may require no significant follow-up on our part. I can assure you, however, that should I at any time find that my presence here is in fact a hindrance to the carrying out of satisfactory relations with this country, I shall be the first to suggest a move./6/

/5/ Jova added the following handwritten footnote: "the slimiest of characters!"

/6/ In a letter to Oliver on October 18 Jova reported that López had been able "to ‘reestablish communications’ between Zúniga and myself." In a meeting on October 18 Zúñiga denied that it had been his intention to have Jova recalled, blaming instead "those dummies Carías and Midence," who had misinterpreted and exceeded his instructions during their visit to the United States. Zúñiga pleaded that "we work together closely for the development of Honduras and good relations between our countries." Although he assured Oliver that "this ‘crisis’ has been overcome," Jova suggested that the time had come for a change: "I suppose it is only logical that I will be leaving here shortly after the new administration takes over. By that time I will be approaching my 4th anniversary and I would say that even in the best of circumstances that is long enough in a place like this." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL HOND-US) Jova left Honduras on June 21, 1969; 2 weeks later he was appointed U.S. Representative to the Organization of American States.

With warm personal regards,

Sincerely yours,



119. National Security Action Memorandum No. 371/1/

Washington, October 18, 1968.

/1/ Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, National Security Action Memorandums, NSAM No. 371. Limited Official Use. Rostow forwarded the NSAM to the President as an attachment to an October 17 memorandum in which he noted: "Covey Oliver and his staff have cooperated fully on this effort and share our conviction about its importance. Nonetheless, to make sure no momentum is lost, I think it important formally to record your continuing interest and endorsement for this program. The attached NSAM, which has been cleared with both Bill Gaud and Covey Oliver, would achieve this objective. I recommend that you sign it." (Ibid.)

Secretary of State
AID Administrator
Secretary of Commerce
Secretary of Agriculture
Secretary of the Treasury

Central American Export Development Program

At my recent meetings with the Presidents of Central America we agreed on the critical importance of accelerating growth and diversification of exports from the Central American countries to both U.S. and third country markets. A series of follow-up meetings among officials of the Central American Common Market, U.S., and Central American officials, and prominent members of the U.S. private sector, reinforce my conviction that it is important to maintain momentum toward a solution of these problems. Accordingly I have approved the initiation of a Central American Export Development Program to be organized at the regional and country levels to insure participation of all elements necessary to exploit successfully Central America’s export potential.

The U.S. Coordinator of the Alliance for Progress is charged with the responsibility for organizing the program, and in particular for establishing effective administrative arrangements to link key groups from the U.S. government and private sector to public and private authorities in Central America.

All U.S. Departments and Agencies should, to the maximum possible extent, assist the Coordinator to make this program a success.

Lyndon B. Johnson


120. Special National Intelligence Estimate/1/

SNIE 82-68

Washington, December 19, 1968.

/1/ Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Job 79-R01012A, O/DDI Registry. Secret; Controlled Dissem. According to a note on the cover sheet this estimate was prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency with the participation of the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense and the National Security Agency. The United States Intelligence Board concurred in this estimate on December 19.


The Problem

To assess the prospects over the next several years for the insurgency in Guatemala in the context of the country’s continuing political, economic, and social problems.


A. The persistent insurgency by a small number of leftist extremists is a particularly troublesome manifestation of Guatemala’s chronic political instability. Nonetheless, the insurgency, now in its ninth year, has survived rather than flourished. The insurgents, though able to carry out dramatic acts of urban terror, have had little success in gaining adherents in the countryside. Much of the energy of the insurgent movement has been squandered on internal dissidence and factionalism.

B. We believe it unlikely that the insurgency, now at a low ebb, will expand greatly, at least for several years to come. Over the next year or so, the insurgents will probably attempt to keep the pressure on the government through sporadic terrorism, including acts against US officials. Their apparent motive is to provoke the replacement of President Méndez by a repressive military regime in the hope that it would cause the people to rally to the insurgency.

C. There are some indications that Fidel Castro is planning to increase his support of the Guatemalan insurgency, perhaps to the point of dispatching a small force of guerrillas now undergoing training in Cuba. Such foreign assistance might increase the insurgency’s capacity for violence and terror, and thus increase its disruptive effect. But it would probably not enhance the insurgents’ overall prospect for seizing power.

D. Since early 1968, Méndez has increased his control over Guatemalan security forces and sharply reduced the bloody and often indiscriminate counter-terrorism through which they and right-wing vigilantes were combating the insurgents. The President’s freedom of action, however, still is limited, and he is unlikely to undertake basic reforms or any other actions that would coalesce the military and the political right generally against him. Though the security forces have been able to keep the rural insurgency from getting out of hand, they suffer from a variety of disabilities, including weak leadership and poor and uncoordinated intelligence. The latter disability in particular puts them at a disadvantage in coping with urban terrorism.

E. The basic political and social problems of Guatemala are not caused by the insurgency, and they would persist even if it collapsed. Even if the insurgents were to achieve their interim objective of provoking the establishment of a harsh military dictatorship, they would in our view benefit little, at least in the short run. Over the longer period, the actions of such a regime might increase the prospects for the emergence of a more vigorous revolutionary movement; but we cannot know at this point what role, if any, the current insurgents and their sometime allies among Guatemalan Communists would have in such a movement.

[Omitted here is the Discussion section of the estimate.]


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