Guatemala: A Mortar and Three Pestles
JCG-5 Calle Londres 190, Depto. 109 Colonia Juarez Mexico 6, D. F. July 15, 1966

By Joseph C. Goulden

Mr. Goulden is 1965 Alicia Patterson Fund fellowship award winner on leave from The Philadelphia Inquirer. Permission to reprint this article may be sought from The Managing Editor, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 400 N. Broad Street., Philadelphia 19101.

“Choking up the streets, all with green bushes in their hats, they seemed…at a distance like a moving forest, They were armed with rusty muskets, old pistols, fowling pieces, some with locks and some without; they carried sticks formed into the shape of muskets, with tin-plate locks, and clubs, machetes, and knives tied to the ends of long poles. And swelling the multitude were two or three thousand women, with sacks and alforjas (saddle bags) for carrying away the plunder. Many, who had never left their villages before, looked wild at the sight of the houses and churches, and the magnificence of the city. They entered the plaza, vociferating ‘Viva la religion, y muerte a los extranjeros!’” (Long live religion, and death to the foreigners.)

U.S. diplomat John L. Stephens’ account of the entry of the guerrilla band of Rafael Carrera into Antigua Guatemala in 1840,

In a hemisphere noted for unstable governments, Guatemala’s new president Julio Cesar Mendez Montenegro walks the wobbliest tightrope of them all. Guatemalans ask one another, “How long will he last?” with the casualness people elsewhere use in inquiring about the duration of a rain shower. The pessimism continues in the answers they receive – six months, three months, a year, the day after tomorrow. It is a rare optimist who replies, “Six years,” the full presidential term.

Mendez Montenegro took office July 1 as Guatemala’s first popularity-elected president since 1954, when the CIA aided military dissidents in deposing the regime of Jacobo Arbenz, who had turned to the Communist bloc for aid in pushing and preserving his reform program. But the presidency is a mortar for the former law school director, and three separate pestles grind upon him:

His own moderately leftist Partido Revolucionario, the Revolutionary Party, or PR, which controls 30 of the 56 Legislative seats, and intends to use them to work towards solution of the economic and social problems that make Guatemala one of Latin America’s most wretched countries.

The 12,000 man army (including 400-odd colonels, some of whom work as receptionists in federal offices), which permitted Mendez Montenegro to take office only after negotiation of a “pact” giving it a high degree of veto power over governmental actions.

A powerful Communist-run guerrilla force which has shown no signs of responding to the new president’s “Comes, let us reason together” pleas for national unity.

Mendez Montenegro considers the army to pose the most immediate threat to his administration, and thus he intends to move cautiously during the first of his scheduled six years in office. According to persons high in the new government, Mendez Montenegro has decided upon a tactic of “confidence building” to demonstrate to the military and to the tightly-knit business oligarchy that controls the Guatemalan economy that his reform program -will be well-reasoned, and that the changes he intends to make in Guatemalan society will be gradual so as to avoid internal turmoil. And, although Mendez Montenegro has opened the borders to all Guatemalan political exiles--including those from the Communist Infiltrated administrations of former presidents Juan Jose Arevalo and Arbenz--he is being careful that the army cannot shout “communist” at any of his top-level appointees as a pretext for a coup.

As a further sop to the army, Mendez Montenegro permitted it to choose the defense minister in his cabinet. He also accepted Col. Juan de Dios Alguilar de Leon, the army candidate he defeated in the March presidential, election, as an “adviser” to his government. (A more exact definition of Aguilar’s role, in some opinions, would be “shadow president.”)

Yet in other areas Mendez Montenegro is loosening the tight bonds under which Guatemalans lived during the preceding 33 months of military rule by Col. Enrique Peralta Azurdia. Press censorship is ended. Each day the Guatemala City airport is filled with returning political refugees, men exiled by the military regimes that have run the country since 1954. Mendez Montenegro says the government has no constitutional authority to bar “Guatemalans from Guatemala,” and that exile as a political instrument is dead. No longer do Guatemalans have to turn on an interior light when they drive their cars at night. Police patrols are perhaps heavier than one would encounter in New York or Philadelphia, but there is no oppressive military or police presence. The only permanent army guards downtown are to the rear of the green-hued National Palace, where young soldiers sit in the back of official limousines with machine guns in laps, awaiting chauffeur duty for government officers. Their mission is to prevent terroristic kidnappings by the Fuerzas Armada Rebelde – the Rebel Armed Forces, or FAR.

The new government tacitly told the world the conditions which citizens endured under Peralta when it ordered the nation’s five police forces to stop torturing political prisoners. To illustrate the reason, the new chief of the judicial police opened up the mazmorras --dungeons – of the downtown headquarters. Bloody handprints on the walls, electrical torture devices, whips and clubs were grisly evidence of the treatment meted suspected guerrillas and other political oppositionists in cells and “interrogation” rooms.

Some 200 persons who were arrested in the last 16 months of Peralta’s regime are still missing – including the onetime head of the national campesino union and the president of the outlawed Guatemalan Communist Party. According to the leftist underground, police marched these men into the woods outside Guatemala City after seizing them in a pre-election raid, covered their heads with sacks, and executed them sans trial. Students who worked against Peralta say that for the first time in their lives they feel safe when they walk on the streets at night. Now, they say, they don’t fear the sudden screech of brakes of an unmarked police car and a handcuffed trip to a mazmorra or into involuntary exile.

But Mendez Montenegro wants the horrors of the past to be forgotten. Again and again he says that Guatemala has so many problems that its citizens can t waste their time and energies righting among themselves, and that there is a place in Guatemalan life for anyone who will work for the good of the country. In his inaugural address he said, “We will fight firmly and sincerely for harmony in the Guatemalan family, an indispensable premise for development of all sectors of the country.”

And indeed there is work to be done In Guatemala. The per capita annual income, by generous computation, is $120, compared to the $400 average for all Latin America. Twenty to 30 cents a day is the going wage on many plantations – money which the ignorant Indian workers are often persuaded to spend on the spot for half-pints of the raw Guatemala whiskey and rum. Illiteracy is 72 percent, highest in the hemisphere save for Papa Voc Duvalier’s Haiti. Three-fourths the land is owned by less people than would fill a bus. More than 50 percent of the Guatemalan deaths are of children less than five years of age, compared with 8.1 percent in the United States. The 70 percent of Guatemala’s 4,278,000 persons who are pureblooded descendants of the Maya Indians are on the fringe of the country’s economic life and a century distant from intelligent participation in the political process. As recently as 1944 Indians were required to work 150 days a year on plantations – like it or not – and carry an, identification card on which overseers could enter their time. Those who couldn’t pay a $2 road tax were impressed into road-building gangs for two weeks a year – a quasi-slavery system tailor-made for the ruling classes.

Guatemala City, glistening white amidst green mountains from the air, is squalid from the ground, with beggar families living in the shelter of walls on unpaved, unlit streets. One fellow with a gangerous, festering leg ulcer full eight inches across lived in a doorway around the corner from the Maya Excelsior Hotel the entire time I was in the city, ignoring and ignored by passersby, alternately sleeping and staring with unblinking eyes at the street. Leave the main highways and one steps into 19th Century primitivity, a world were electricity, cleanliness and health are strangers, and where naked six-year olds play on the muddy floors of thatched-roof huts.

Under Guatemala’s plantation agricultural system (coffee and bananas) food and dollars don’t trickle clown to the masses. And a high number of the wealthy set are not particularly excited about a change. Said one Guatemalan businessman, in evident seriousness, “The Indians have never had enough to eat. If they were to go on a full diet now the shock would ruin their systems and kill them. They work better when they’re a little hungry.” He started to say something about the population problems that would be created through increased life expectancies, then abruptly changed the subject to American League baseball. Our luncheon check was $8.90.

Which brings us to the second of Mendez Montenegro’s dilemmas; Whether reformist elements will permit him to continue his gentleman’s agreement with the army at the expense of immediate betterment of the country. One fact must be kept in mind about Guatemala: Three of the four times since 1920 when Guatemalans have been given free access to the polls they have selected liberals as their president, Arevalo in 1944, Arbenz in 1950, and Mendez Montenegro in 1966. Further, Arbenz’ bosom-buddyship with Communists was no secret, yet he got 65 percent of the popular vote. And it was fear of re-election of Arevalo in 1963 that induced Col. Peralta and other officers to overthrow Gen. Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes, who was bent on carrying out a promise of free elections. Liberal elements in Guatemala recognize Mendez Montenegro’s predicament, and his need to avoid upsetting the army, at least until he has consolidated himself in office. But there are already warning mutters that Mendez Montenegro should remember that he went into the presidency carrying the banner of the reformist, not that of the collaborationist.

Opposition from within his own Partido Revolucionario, of course, will be non-violent. However, a group even more upset about the current friendship with the army is the Communist-led guerrilla force that has ranged Guatemala sporadically since 1960. And the band is now caught in an ideological squeeze that is being watched with keen eyes by non-Marxist liberals throughout Latin America.

Succinctly, the bands must decide whether to accept an amnesty offer by Mendez Montenegro, or continue their attempts to establish a government of their own liking through violence and appeals to the urban and rural masses. The guerrillas’ decision will display to Latin America whether the so-called “national liberation” armies now operating in half a dozen countries are interested in “democracy” or the imposition of Marxist-oriented governments modelled after Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

The debate over whether to disband or to continue fighting is producing sharp cleavages in the main guerrilla group, the Fuerzas Armada Rebelde, led by Luis Augusto Turcios Lima, a onetime Guatemalan army officer.

One of Turcios’ men exclaimed to me a few evenings ago during a conversation in Puerto Barrios, the Guatemalan port on the Gulf of Mexico: When the FAR was recruiting in the universities two years ago the leaders told us the sole purpose was a return to government of the people, and progress for the Guatemalan people.

“Well, we now have a president who was elected by the people, and who promises to help the people. A continued struggle by the FAR would be a fight for the FAR – not a fight for the Guatemalan people. Mendez Montenegro should be given a chance to show what he can do.”

This man, lean and intense, Intends to return to his law classes at the University of Guatemala law school, which Mendez Montenegro formerly headed as president. But his companion – another Turcios adherent with whom I had been put into contact with the Guatemalan underground – was equally adamant
Sin Paiabras

(The “oligarchy” hits the “people,” sending Fidelismo to the top. Caption sin palabras --without words. From Impacto, afternoon daily in Guatemala City.)

against any alliance. We were sitting in the rear of a dimly lit waterfront bar, our conversation shielded by the noisy hubbub of beer-drinking port workers and stevedores. The man reached under his grimy, loose-fitting campesino’s shirt and produced a U. S. Army .45-caliber automatic which he rapped on the table several times for emphasis:

“By giving up our arms and going-into the city we would commit suicide,” he said. “The army has sought to kill us for years, and we have killed soldiers. The army hates us.

“If we are in Guatemala City when (“when,” not “if”) the Mendez Montenegro government is overthrown by the army our organization will be slaughtered, and we will have to redo our work.

“Mendez Montenegro, at best, will be a gradualist, a man so restricted by the army that he cannot accomplish any meaningful reforms. Guatemala needs the catharsis that can be provided only by a revolutionary government that is beholden to no one.”

Turcios, the man who ultimately must make the decision, has remained silent since Mendez Montenegro made the amnesty offer as a national unity gesture during his inaugural address. Predicting Latin American politics is a risky business, and all the more so when a Communist strategical question is involved. But there is strong evidence that Turcios will continue fighting. As recently as January, at the Tricontinental Conference of Asian, African and Latin American Communists in Havana, he said:

“In Guatemala the only channel for revolution is armed struggle. It is a revolutionary war.”

The FAR statement of principle also declares, in part: “The revolutionary forces have taken the only road which remains to our people; to answer counterrevolutionary violence with revolutionary violence; to open the way for the Guatemalan revolutionary violence by force of arms.”

These statements were made, of course, before Mendez Montenegro was elected, and before the army, to the surprise of almost everyone in the country, permitted him to take office. Turcios previously has been pitted only against military governments. The movement which he now heads had its birth Nov. 13, 1960, when a group of military officers rebelled against the then-president, Ydigoras Fuentes. The brief-lived fighting centered around Puerto Barrios, and the rebels who survived fled north into the mountains. Fearing that the flurry might be the start of a Castro invasion, President Eisenhower posted an aircraft carrier and four destroyers off the coasts of Guatemala and Nicaragua, at the request of their governments. (One of the rebels I met at Puerto Barrios asked me sarcastically if the Johnson Administration would provide the same umbrella for Mendez Montenegro if the army launched a coup. I advised him to write the White House and pose his question directly.)

The force first took as its name the 13th of November Movement, and was headed by Marco Antonio Yon Sosa, of mixed Chinese and Guatemalan parentage. Yon Sosa, like Turcios, was an army officer. The United States, ironically, contributed to both men’s military prowess through its educational program for Latin American officers. Yon Sosa was graduated from the special counterinsurgency school at Fort Gulick, The Canal Zone, which teaches officers how to fight Communist guerrillas. Turcios went through the Army’s ranger school at Fort Benning, Ga., rubbing elbows with freshly commissioned West Point graduates and many of the Green Berets now fighting in Vietnam. Both men are also believed to have continued their education at the Cuban Guerrilla training school in Minas del Frio, Oriente Province. There has been no legitimate direct travel between Guatemala and Cuba since 1960 but the Latin American Communist underground has surreptitious shuttles which are almost as reliable as the Pennsylvania Railroad. Although there was a $25,000 price on Turcios’ head in January he managed to take a six-man delegation to Havana for the Tricontinental Conference.)

For three years Yon Sosa and Turcios fought side by side, building a band of an estimated 200 men, and drawing support from Guatemala City, from Cuba, and from Communist messengers who sneaked into Guatemala via the Mexican jungles. An effective propaganda section was established in Guatemala City manned for the most part by student leftists, Communists, and nationalists eager to ally with anyone who would help oust military government. About 18 months ago a rather murky ideological split developed in the rebel ranks. Yon Sosa, possibly because of his family background, began to look favorably on the Chinese revolutionary theory that guerrilla warfare must be the function solely of the countryside. Turcios, conversely, agreed with Castro’s “united front” method, in turn an adaptation of Soviet revolutionary thinking. Since the movement was receiving its arms from Cuba, the result was foreordained, and Turcios succeeded to leadership of the main guerrilla force. Yon Sosa went his separate way with a much-reduced 13th of November Movement, and Turcios renamed his group the FAR. Bitter hatred now separates the groups, and Mexican leftists quote unconfirmable reports that the bands have actually informed on each other to Guatemalan army security agents. Turcios came within a hair breadth of capture by the army in Guatemala City just before election day; there are many persons in the country now who believe that Yon Sosa is dead. The 13th of November Movement has ceased circulating propaganda leaflets, and Yon Sosa has not issued any public statements for months. The majority of the Guatemala City underground went over to Turcios when the split developed.

The intensity of feeling was illustrated in a Fidel Castro speech at the Tricontinental Conference in which he somehow arrived at the conclusion Yon Sosa had been trapped into “one of the most subtle and perfidious strategems of Yankee imperialism.” Castro said tactics suggested by Yon Sosa’s political advisers would have killed the revolution by isolating it from the masses and contaminating it “with the stupidities, the discredit, and the repugnant thing which Trotskyism is today in the field of politics.” Castro credited Turcios with saving the revolutionary banners of Guatemala and anti-imperialism by snatching them from the dirty hands of these mercenaries at the service of Yankee imperialism.” (Did the CIA actually work itself into a position where agents were able to pose as Chinese Communist functionaries and give potentially fatal political advice to a Communist guerrilla chieftain? Perhaps Castro is not sure himself, for he invited Yon Sosa to return to the fold, “but this time under a different leader (Turcios), a different guide who demonstrated…a clarity of vision and an attitude becoming a revolutionary leader.” Castro said Yon Sosa’s honesty “is not questioned by anyone, even though we have strong reasons to doubt his attitudes as a revolutionary leader.” The invitation was issued Jan. 16 but Yon Sosa hasn’t accepted it.)

The Turcios group has been off-balance since Mendez Montenegro’s election in March. When I first contacted its representatives in Mexico City in April (a process only slightly more difficult than making a dental appointment) the thinking was that Peralta would stage a preventive coup and retain the presidency for the military. In this event guerrilla strategy was obvious, a heightened campaign to win liberals and urban dwellers repelled by continued military flauting of the constitution. These persons felt confident that with the new adherents the Turcios band would be strong enough to start a nation-wide civil war by summer. The great fear among them was intervention by the United States ala Santo Domingo. (One man insisted that 2,000 U. S. Marines had already been landed at secret bases near Santa Cruz, a port on the Pacific coast, and were awaiting the guerrilla uprising with sharpened bayonets.) When in late June it became obvious Mendez Montenegro would go into office the Turcios people in Mexico City seemed almost disappointed that they were losing the opportunity for a decisive struggle with the military. The main advantage they saw in the Mendez Montenegro victory was that it represented to the world that the majority of the Guatemalan people wanted a change in their system, and that the military had been rejected. Mendez Montenegro actually received less than a majority of the popular vote but the Revolutionary Party, with whom he ran, won decisive control of the legislature and thus was able to vote him into office over the two runnerups.)

From Turcios’ viewpoint collaboration with Mendez Montenegro would allow the rebels to accomplish by peaceful means some of the revolutionary objectives which required violence in Cuba. These include, but are not restricted to, land reform and redistribution; expulsion of foreign economic interests; subordination of the military to civilian control, and nationalization of basic industries and utilities.

Against these possible gains – and with emphasis on “possible” – must be weighed the strength of the guerrilla organization which Turcios now commands. The FAR has tacit control of the Guatemalan departments (states) of Izabal, Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz, and parts of Zacapa, which compose generally an area 50 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, and about 50 miles in depth at the widest points. Although the Turcios “army” has only 250 to 300 men under arms and in the Sierra de las Minas mountain range at any given time he can move fairly freely in these states, bushwhacking arm; patrols and spreading the gospel to campesinos.

Guerrillas regularly come into Puerto Barrios, which is so pro-rebel that it is jokingly called the FAR’s “R&R” (rest and recreation) area. The sole concession the guerrillas make to security is removal of their combat boots before they enter the town. The two Turcios adherents I met here in early July, by pre-arrangement, obviously felt right at home, exchanging greetings with a dozen persons during the evening. (However, they declined to take me to Turcios after learning that the government had initially denied me an entry visa because of a reportorial trip I had made to Cuba in 1964, travel reflected in entries in my passport. They felt – and I had to agree – that there was a security risk involved for Turcios because of the limited visa status which the government bad ultimately and reluctantly bestowed upon me.) But they were willing to talk about the pros and cons of the amnesty offer, and what the guerrillas felt they could accomplish, and how.

Rather than submerge while evaluating Mendez Montenegro’s performance, many hard core elements in Turcios’ forces advocate on the contrary a sharp increase in guerrilla and subversive activities. Turcios by no means has enlisted mass support among the Indians who compose 70 percent of the Guatemalan population. The Indians are more apathethic than political; the “support” they give the rebels is passive rather than active. The hardliners in the FAR say the Indians and other campesinos – meaning the ladinos who have abandoned the Indian way of life – ultimately must be forced to fight against the government when rebel forces are attacked, and that terrorist tactics must be employed against those who refuse. Tito used the same technique in Yugoslavia during the Second World War to draw peasants into the anti-Nazi underground, and the Vietcong are currently employing it in Vietnam. The obvious risk is that terror will drive the Indians onto the government side.

Beca use of the lack of mass Indian support, Turcios’ movement remains predominantly a middle class one, just as was the Cuba Revolution in its early stages. The only person in Guatemalan history who has been able to stir the Indians into mass action, in fact, was Rafael Carrera, a mixed-blood caudillo who seized the nation through guerrilla warfare in 1840 and ruled as a dictator until his death in 1865. The 1944 revolution which ended one era of military rule was the product of liberal officers and city-dwelling intellectuals. To the current military structure’s concern, a sprinkling of former army officers fights with Turcios, and the existence of an FAR underground in the army is conceded. The minute air force (which has U. S. made jets) and navy are considered insignificant militarily. “You could put the whole navy – including its boats – into this office,” said one official in Guatemala City.

The rank and file of Turcios’ organization has adopted a wait-and-see stance. The students who form his “weekend warrior” pool oil reservists retain their arms – shotguns, assorted European military rifles, enough pistols to outfit a Western movie company, homemade terrorist devices – and their revolutionary spirit.

“At one time probably 90 percent of the University of Guatemala City was ready to fight for Turcios,” one of these students avowed. “Colonel Peralta recognized that elements existed for a civil war, and that is the reason he agreed to let Mendez Montenegro go in.”

These students consider irrelevant the Communist involvement in Turcios’ movement, and the fact that the Tricontinental Conference declared its intent to work towards establishment of a “revolutionary” – i. e., Communist – government in Guatemala. And they show no sign of having given serious thought to the question of how they can help the Communists come to power without being caught up in a government that is dependent upon the Soviets or other Communist nations for survival, as was the case with Cuba. The dictatorial aspects of Communist Cuba are downplayed, perhaps because the recurring sieges of press censorship in Guatemala have made the public suspicious or anything that the military governments have permitted to be published.

Nationalism is also significant in the students’ thinking. Guatemala, they say, has the right to choose any political system it so desires, and says that Uncle Sam must learn it’s none of his business. They also note that the Guatemalan Constitution of 1945 in fact gives the people the right to rebel under certain circumstances. (Article 2 of the constitution, written during the Arevalo regime, reads as follows: “The principle of alternate succession in the exercise of the office of President of the Republic is imperative for the national political system, and the people may have recourse to rebellion should anyone venture to violate this principle.” It was this article which the opposition pointedly called to Col. Peralta’s attention when there was talk of the military barring Mendez, Montenegro from office.)

“To us Guatemala is important,” said another student. “The United States has ‘owned’ Guatemala for almost a century and look at the conditions. You cannot do anything for us: Thus why should you object if Cuba and Russia ask the chance to aid us?”

The guerrillas continue to let their presence be felt while they wait. A “noise bomb” shattered a gate at the home of a German auto dealer July 8, twenty-first such blast detonated by the FAR since January 1 as a means of letting the city dwellers hear the sound of battle. The FAR has made no move to release two prominent kidnap victims it seized prior to the inauguration--the former chief justice of the Guatemalan Supreme Court and the head of press information for the Peralta government. Other kidnap victims, taken solely for monetary purposes, produced an estimated half million dollars ransom money for the FAR in 18 months. Police dogs are now popular pets among the Guatemalan aristocracy, and the louder they bark at strangers the better. Possibly because of the army’s “disengagement” after the amnesty offer, there have been no armed clashes with guerrilla bands since Mendez Montenegro took office.

Agreement is general in Guatemala that some degree of land reform is essential if all the citizens are to be part of the country’s economic life. The Mendez Montenegro administration, as of this writing, had not indicated what course it intends to pursue. The new agricultural minister, Francisco Montenegro Giron, in announcing a seven-point farm program he intends to follow, shied away from the subject altogether, confining himself to generalities about increased export products and more dams and irrigation projects. Ignored altogether was the preponderance of undersized and outsized farms that makes an unwieldly monster of Guatemalan agriculture. In the highly populated central highlands, Indians make do with tracts averaging an acre, a classic example of the minifundio problem of Latin American agriculture. Yet in the lush coastal plains, which contain the bulk of the good farming land, the latifundia, or large estate, continues dominant. And much of this and isn’t even tilled, the owners preferring to leave it idle so as to avoid both work and higher taxes.

Charitably, Mendez Montenegro’s supporters say the new president will get around to the land imbalance problem after he has convinced the army he is solid enough to stay in office. But Mendez Montenegro’s detractors point to his caution in this area as the harbinger of a do-nothing and “false reformer” regime that through hypocrisy will preclude establishment of a “truly progressive” government.

Mendez Montenegro has ample historical precedent for treading carefully. Arbenz’ downfall in 1954 came when he began whittling at the large foreign-owned banana and coffee plantations, limiting private holdings to 46.25 acres (but permitting rentals of additional acreage) and setting compensation at the tax-roll value of nationalized properties.

One United Fruit Company tract of 395,200 acres, uncultivated and held as a reserve, was taken by the government for $609,572, its tax-purpose value. Whereupon the company protested that it was actually worth $15,854,849 – 26 times the amount on which it was paying taxes. In two years some 1,489,461 acres of land were distributed to 100,000 campesino families, benefiting an estimated half million persons, based on an average family member of five. These figures, quoted in a 1964 study by the Institute of Economic and Social Studies of the University of Guatemala, are disputed by some authorities, who say much of the land was transferred on paper only. And even Arbenz’ admirers admit the program bogged down in confusion and inaccurate record keeping in its latter days.

The entire affair became moot, however, when the weight of the United States and dissident Guatemalans crashed down upon Arbenz. In his biography General Ydigoras Fuentes, later to become president, recounts that he was visited in 1954 in his exile in El Salvador by a former United Fruit executive and two men introduced to him as CIA operatives. They asked him bluntly to lead a revolt against Arbenz, Ydigoras Fuentes said he asked what was expected of him in return, and was told that he had to “favor the United Fruit Company and the International Railways of Central America (a UFCO subsidiary); to destroy the railroad workers’ labor union; to suspend claims against Great Britain for the Belize territory (British Honduras); to establish a strong-arm government on the style of Ubico” (meaning Jorge Ubico, the Guatemalan dictator from 1931 to 1944). Ydigoras said he refused. When it became apparent to Arbenz that he faced invasion he bought arms from the Soviet bloc and announced plans to arm a peasant militia because the regular army couldn’t be trusted. The invasion force came, headed by Carlos Castillo Armas, and Arbenz was driven into exile. And Castillo Armas carried out exactly the policies which Ydigoras Fuentes attributed to his American visitors. Additionally, the land reform program was suspended, which perhaps explains why an American reporter receives a chilly reception in the Guatemalan countryside 12 years afterwards. (This history is cited to explain why current U. S. policy makers have to cope with an omnipresent anti-American feeling in Guatemala. From Washington’s viewpoint the overthrow of Arbenz prevented establishment of a totally Communist regime in Guatemala; from the viewpoint of many Guatemalans Washington overthrew a man who had been elected by the Guatemalan people, and whose sole crime was to offend the pocketbooks of wealthy Guatemalans and United Fruit Company.)

In foreign affairs Guatemala can be expected to continue its opposition to Fidel Castro’s Cuba, and all the more so since the Tricontinental Conference made it a special target of revolutionary warfare. The Guatemalan vice president, Clemente Marroquin Roja, publisher of the afternoon daily La Hora, says the United States should make a swift unilateral strike against Cuba without bogging down in collective actions with other members of the Organization of American States. Guatemala has had no diplomatic relations with Cuba since April, 1960.

In general, U. S. diplomats seem happy that constitutional government has been restored to Guatemala, and they are impressed with Mendez Montenegro’s professed desire for economic and social reforms. To them he appears to be one of the “not-too-hasty” good guys currently popular with the State Department. In foreign policy he is viewed as an unknown. “He has no track record, he is never been in government,” said one U. S. official. “We don’t know what to expect from him.”

The Peralta regime viewed itself as a “caretaker” administration and did little to initiate new programs. Peralta himself was viewed as non-ideological, simply a soldier who felt it to be his function to preserve peace. If a few heads were broken in the process, so be it. His government was also severely handicapped by a shortage of governmental technicians necessary to national development. The bulk of the professionals from preceding administrations were in political exile of one type or another, and so the National Place was filled with a collection of colonels who had interesting ideas about government.

To illustrate: An international bank consulted with Guatemala about a $3 million loan to study a potable water project. (One-third of Guatemalan deaths result from assorted intestinal and parasitic ailments traceable to polluted water.)

The Guatemalan official said fine, send the money. The bank replied, first please, a project outline on how you intend to spend it.

The official was insulted. “I am a minister of a sovereign government he declared, “and I account to no one but my own president.

The loan was cancelled, and Guatemalan water continues to have an odor, taste and color that are both unusual and deadly.

Received in New York July 18, 1966.

©1966 Joseph C. Goulden, Jr.

Mr. Goulden is a 1965 Alicia Patterson Fund fellowship winner on leave from The Philadelphia Inquirer. Permission to publish this article may be sought from The Managing Editor, Philadelphia Inquirer.