U.S. intelligence activities in Guatemala

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For more information, see: U.S. intelligence activities in the Americas.
See also: Guatemala

Guatemala, according to the CIA World Factbook, it experienced, in the second half of the twenthieth century, a variety of military and civilian governments, as well as a 36-year guerrilla war. In 1996, the government signed a peace agreement formally ending the conflict, which had left more than 100,000 people dead and had created, by some estimates, some 1 million refugees.

General CIA reference

Political analysis

Economic analysis

Guatemala is the most populous of the Central American countries with a GDP per capita roughly one-half that of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. The agricultural sector accounts for about one-tenth of GDP, two-fifths of exports, and half of the labor force. Coffee, sugar, and bananas are the main products, with sugar exports benefiting from increased global demand for ethanol. The 1996 signing of peace accords, which ended 36 years of civil war, removed a major obstacle to foreign investment, and Guatemala since then has pursued important reforms and macroeconomic stabilization. On 1 July 2006, the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) entered into force between the US and Guatemala and has since spurred increased investment in the export sector. The distribution of income remains highly unequal with about 56% of the population below the poverty line. Other ongoing challenges include increasing government revenues, negotiating further assistance from international donors, upgrading both government and private financial operations, curtailing drug trafficking and rampant crime, and narrowing the trade deficit. Given Guatemala's large expatriate community in the United States, it is the top remittance recipient in Central America, with inflows serving as a primary source of foreign income equivalent to nearly two-thirds of exports.

International concerns

Annual ministerial meetings under the OAS-initiated Agreement on the Framework for Negotiations and Confidence Building Measures continue to address Guatemalan land and maritime claims in Belize and the Caribbean Sea; the Line of Adjacency created under the 2002 Differendum serves in lieu of the contiguous international boundary to control squatting in the sparsely inhabited rain forests of Belize's border region; Mexico must deal with thousands of impoverished Guatemalans and other Central Americans who cross the porous border looking for work in Mexico and the United States

Illicit drugs

major transit country for cocaine and heroin; in 2005, cultivated 100 hectares of opium poppy after reemerging as a potential source of opium in 2004; potential production of less than 1 metric ton of pure heroin; marijuana cultivation for mostly domestic consumption; proximity to Mexico makes Guatemala a major staging area for drugs (particularly for cocaine); money laundering is a serious problem.[1]

Specific CIA activities

CIA has had a long history with Guatemala, as shown by several hundred records were released by the CIA on May 23, 1997 on its involvement in the 1954 coup in Guatemala.[2]. They reflected Truman Administration feeling on that the Arbenz government, elected in 1950, would continue a process of socio-economic reforms that the CIA refers to in its memoranda as "an intensely nationalistic program of progress colored by the touchy, anti-foreign inferiority complex of the 'Banana Republic.'"

Between 1954 and 1990, human rights groups estimate, the repressive operatives of successive military regimes "murdered more than 100,000 civilians.[2] Although most high-level US officials recognized that a hostile government in Guatemala by itself did not constitute a direct security threat to the United States, they viewed events there in the context of the growing Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union and feared Guatemala could become a client state from which the Soviets could project power and influence throughout the Western Hemisphere.

CIA and IC reports tended to support the view that Guatemala and the Arbenz regime were rapidly falling under the sway of communism. DCI Walter Bedell Smith…believed the situation called for action. Their assessment was that without help, the Guatemalan opposition would remain inept, disorganized and efficient. The anti-Communist elements -- the Catholic hierarchy, landowners, business interests, the railway workers union, university students and the Army were prepared to prevent a Communist accession to power, but they had little outside support.

Other US officials, especially in the Department of State, urged a more cautious approach. The Bureau of Inter-American Affairs,for example, did not want to present "the spectacle of the elephant shaking with alarm before the mouse." It wanted a policy of firm persuasion with the withholding of virtually all cooperative assistance, and the concluding of military defense assistance pacts, with El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras. Although the Department of State position became the official public US policy, the CIA assessment…had support within the Truman administration as well.[3]

Guatemala 1952

The first CIA effort to overthrow the Guatemalan president--a CIA collaboration with Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza to support a general named Carlos Castillo Armas and codenamed Operation PBFORTUNE--was authorized by President Truman in 1952. As early as February of that year, CIA Headquarters began generating memos with subject titles such as "Guatemalan Communist Personnel to be disposed of during Military Operations," outlining categories of persons to be neutralized "through Executive Action"--murder--or through imprisonment and exile.[2]

Following a visit by Washington by Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza in April 1952, in which Somoza boasted that if provided arms, he and Guatemalan exile Carlos Castillo Armas could overthrow Arbenz, President Harry Truman asked DCI Smith to investigate the possibility…" After seeing the report of an agent sent to investigate, Smith approved a proposal to supply Castillo Armas with arms and $225,000 and that Nicaragua and Honduras provide air cover. PBFORTUNE was approved on 9 September 1952, but was terminated a month later when Smith learned it had become known. The idea of assassinations were mentioned, but only at a general level.[3]

Guatemala 1953

In 1953, the CIA continued to try to influence Guatemalan policy and explore disposing of key adversaries…As psychological warfare, the CIA Guatemala City station sent "death notice" cards to all leading communists. The one-month campaigns in April and June produced no apparent results.[2]

President Eisenhower approved a covert action against Arbenz in August 1953. Ot carried a $2.7 million budget for "psychological warfare and political action" and "subversion," among the other components of a small paramilitary war.[2]

Guatemala 1954

PBSUCCESS, authorized by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, was the codename for the CIA first covert operation in Latin America, carried out in Guatemala. The purpose of the operation was to overthrow Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, the elected President of Guatemala. The U.S. began to worry about the growth of Communism there due Jacobo Arbenz's policies. By recruiting a Guatemalan military force the CIA's operation succeeded in eliminating the democratic government and replacing it with a military junta headed by Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas.

Contrary to popular belief the responsibility of the United Fruit Company in instigating the coup d'etat was relatively small; it is not mentioned in the declassified CIA history.[4] A U.S. State Department report released in 2003 states that social unrest within Guatemala and Arbenz's alleged Communist ties were the reason the CIA first drew up a contingency plan to oust Arbenz, entitled Operation PBFORTUNE The plan was drafted in 1951, before the U.S.-based United Fruit Company's landholdings had been expropriated.

The CIA's own declassified analysis is generally consistent, although differing in detail with the above. Training for the new PBSUCCESS plan included preparation of a briefing plan for assassinations,separate from the NSC plan.

Dissident leaders urged the "violent disposal" of an opponent, as psychological warfare, but the CIA chief of the temporary covert action base, LINCOLN, cautioned that they only wanted to destroy effectiveness; "we do not mean to kill the man…scare not kill."

Castillo Armas' CIA-supported force entered Guatemala on June 16. Arbenz sought asylum on 27 June, and 120 other Arbenz officials were given safe passage out of the country. There is no evidence of executions. "Discussion of whether to assassinate Guatemalans…took place in a historical era quite different from the present. In the documents, however, was an unsigned, undated technical discussion of assassination.[2]

Soviet Communism had earned a reputation of using whatever means were expedient to advance Moscow's interests internationally…American officials and the public regarded foreign Communist parties as Soviet pawns and as threatening to US security interest. The public perception was that the Soviets were intent on world hegemony -- which the Soviets believed of the US.

The political and consequent social instability created in Guatemala 6 years later resulted in a very long civil war and its consequent, destructive impact upon the society, the economy, human rights and the culture of Guatemala. [4]

Guatemala 1965

President Lyndon B. Johnson wanted to invade Guatemala with private military contractors.[5] In support of this, DCI William Raborn was tasked with finding evidence to support the President's belief that Guatemala was a Cuban puppet. Raborn was unsuccessful in finding such evidence.

Guatemala 1993

In 1993 the CIA helped in overthrowing Jorge Serrano Elías who attempted a self-coup and had suspended the constitution, dissolved Congress and the Supreme Court, and imposed censorship. He was replaced by Ramiro de León Carpio.[6]

Guatemala 2007

Guatemala elected Alvaro Colom, its first leftist president in 50 years, the last one having been overthrown in a CIA-arranged coup in 1954.[7]


  1. Central Intelligence Agency, Guatemala, The World Factbook
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Doyle, Kate, CIA and Assassinations: The Guatemala 1954 Documents, Electronic Briefing Book No. 4, George Washington University National Security Archive
  3. 3.0 3.1 Haines, Gerald K. (June 1995), CIA History Staff Analysis: CIA and Guatemala Assassination Proposals, 1952-1954, Electronic Briefing Book No. 4, Document 1, George Washington University National Security Archive
  4. 4.0 4.1 Guatemala – 1954: Behind the CIA’s Coup. The Consortium (1997).
  5. Weiner, Tim (2007). Legacy of Ashes. Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-51445-3. 
  6. Report on the Guatemala Review Intelligence Oversight Board. June 28, 1996.
  7. " Guatemala's Colom takes office", CNN, January 14, 2008