Miami Herald: U.S. Backed Guatemela Coup (1963) After Vote of Kennedy Aides

September 25, 2007

THE MIAMI HERALD: Saturday, Dec. 24, 1966

GUATEMALA CITY - Top sources within the Kennedy administration have revealed the U.S. instigated and supported the 1963 coup by the Guatemalan military to overthrow the constitutionally elected President, Miguljl Ydigoras Fuentes. In view of the fight still going on to establish a stable, democratic government in Guatemala and in view of the original concept of the Alliance for Progress to encourage democracy in Latin America, the information writes a new chapter in hemispheric history.

According to these sources, who must remain anonymous, the decision to overthrow Ydigoras was made at a meeting of President John F. Kennedy and his top advisers early in 1963 and was pushed by the American ambassador to Guatemala, John O. Bell.

The reason was not to depose Ydigoras, a flamboyant general and dedicated anti-Communist who gave Guatemalan land for training exiles for the 1961 Cuban Invasion. The purpose was to prevent what was considered to be an imminent presidential victory by Juan Jose Arevalo.

At the meeting, the sources said, Bell argued vehemently that Ribalo, who had been president from 1944 to 1950, was a Communist and that his election must be prevented at all costs.

They added that this point of view was oosed by Theodoro Moscosu then administrator of the Alliance for Progress. Moscoso argued that Arevalo, who was a member of the democratic left and had pushed reforms during his administration,was no further to the left than ex-President Romulo Betancourt of Venezuela and ex-Governor Luis Munoz-Marin of Puerto Rico.

Moscoso, these sources said, argued that these men showed how, once in office men of the non-Communist left developed reform-minded, progressive administration, and he pointed nut that both had become favorites of President Kennedy.

However, when the vote was taken, the "coup bloc" won out -- it was voted that Ydigoras should be overthrown. It is unclear whether the Peralta family was then chosen or whether they proffered their services. But Col. Enriuge Peralta Azurdia, who was Ydigoras' defense minister, and his son then led the revolt that culminated in the overthrow on March 31, 1963.

In President Kennedy's council, the men who pushed the coup were Bell, who had been a top AID official for many years and is now political adviser to a military unit in Florida; Edwin IM. martin then assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs and now ambassador to Argentina and Richard Helms, then a CIA official and now director of the CIA.

According to the Information, President Kennedy was himself unsure about the Ydigoras overthrow, but eventually relied on a simple vote of his advisers.

In part, the Guatemalan coup led directly to today's problems in this most troubled country in Latin America. This is because it was followed by a military dictatorship whose unpopularity helped a Castroite guerrilla movement to flourish.

The Peralta military regime allowed elections to be held last March, and the middle-road government of President Julio Cesar Mendez Montenegri came into power. But the Mendez government is still trying desperately to straddle the two extremes.

THE STORY of American diplomacy in Guatamala,which has played a major role in shaping present events, has been a story of continuous intervention, especially by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The problems started after Guatemala's 1944 revolution against the dictator Jorge Unico, when Juan Jose Arevalo, considered the "first president of the revolution," came to power.

There has never' been any evidence that Arevalo was a Communist. On the contrary,he attempted to control the Communists. What worries some critics, however, is that in the last years of his presidency he became practically a prisoner of the army. His administration led to the far leftist administration of Col. Jacobo Arbenz.

The Arbenz years now make up one of the most fascinating chapters in recent Latin America history.They constitute the first attempt by communism to take over a Latin American country.

As President Eisenhower later admitted the CIA then backed the invasion of Guatemala by still another colonel, Carlos Castillo Armas, and in 1954 the Arbenz government fell. It is in these years that the Ydigoras political story also begins. In an exclusive interview in his home in San Salvador, the general, whose arimi4tration was noted both for its democracy and its corruption, told me he was approached before the Castillo Armas invasion by Walter Turnbull, a former executive the United Fruit Comnany (which owns considerable land in Guatemala). Turnbull was accompanied by two CIA agents.

Ydigoras said they asked him to learn the revolt against Arbenz and to form a government that would "favor the United Fruit Company and the (then American-owned) International Railways of Central America pay back a loan which would cover the expenses of the expedition."

ACCORDING to Ydigoras, he refused. But the implication is that Castillo Armas agreed to the terms, for this was, in fact, the kind of government that he established. Despite the fact that he was pro-American and anti-Communist, Ydigoras had problems with Washington and the CIA from the beginning. It is well known that the American embassy in Guatemala City openly backed his ultra-conservative opponent, Col. Juan Luis Cruz Salazar Castillo Armas' heir. But the amount of money he CIA gave him for campaign funds has not en disclosed before. According to inside sources, it was $97,000.

Ydigoras became president in 1958. He continued his story, saying that soon after his election he was in Washington to meet with President Eisenhower when: "Four men came to see me. You know who they were (the implication was CIA.) They told me I owed them $1,800,000, which was the amount Castillo Armas (who had by then been assassinated), had not repaid of the $3 million then had lent him for the invasion.

"I told them that I had no debts to them, that Castillo Armas was dead and that far from being his heir I had defeated his movement at the polls. They threatened me with a 'conspiracy of silence,' and said that' in that case I would get no aid from the United States and that nothing good would ever be written about my government in the U.S."

After the Castro takeover of Cuba in 1959 and the revolution's gradual turn to communism, Guatemala, with its background of the Arbenz years, became the major target for Communist subversion. So Ydigoras countered by offering Guatemalan territory to President Eisenhower for the racing of Cuban exiles, in preparation for the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. Ydigoras said he asked three things in return for giving Guatemalan land for the invasion 'force: an end to the "feud" with Washington (which was based on Castillo Armas' unpaid debt); a sugar quota of 25,000 tons a year; and Washington's help in settling the dispute over British Honduras (which Guatemala claims).

Ydigoras said, however, that once the invasion had failed, only the first point was honored, and that it was only when he threatened to boycott meetings leading to the Alliance for Progress that the sugar quota was assigned.

After an endless series of bombings, revolts, assassinations and intercepted coups, on Nov. 26, Arevalo, then in exile, announced his candidacy for the next elections. To the ultra-conservative elements, "communism" was coming again. Arevalo then evaded border guards and returned to Guatemala for one day in March 1963.

The next day the military moved against Ydigoras, who refused to renounce power. He was taken to Nicaragua, and has since lived in exile in San Salvador.

History shows that the Ydigoras overthrow marked a total stop in the progress of the country. The military regime headed by Col. Peralta did nothing to further economic development. He became so intransigent that U.S. aid officials became publicly disgusted.

The position of the U.S. has now changed. The do-nothingness and corruption of the Peralta regime, and its inability to do anything about the guerrillas, who flourished under the military dictatorship, have apparently soured Washington on the military option here.

The American embassy in Guatemala City, largely made up of sensitive, knowledgeable people now, is strongly backing the Mendez government.

The situation remains the most touch-and-go in Latin America however. Guerrilla strength keeps growing, and they continuously become more daring. American involvement is growing.

To the uninformed, Guatemala may seem like a small insignificant country, beset by tempests in a teapot. But like Cuba, it is more than that. Like Cuba, it is a symbol of all the problems of Latin America and all the disasters of American foreign policy in Latin America.

Tags: Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes, Guatemala coup 1963, US role

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