Sept. 20, 1954, page 45


Midnight Exile

The right of diplomatic asylum, almost a sacred thing to Latin Americans, prevailed last week for Guatemala's deposed pro-Communist President Jacobo Arbenz; armed with a safe-conduct from new President Carlos Castillo Armas, he flew off to Mexico. With him into exile went the Communist main cogs of his government and others of the 900-odd asylum seekers who had turned Guatemala City's foreign embassies into crowded madhouses for 2 ½ months. These and earlier departures brought the greatest mass dash for diplomatic refuge in Latin America s history close to its end.

Reunion in Prague. The Mexican ambassador hoping to get the widely hated Arbenz out of his embassy and into the air in secrecy, hired a commercial DC-4 and set its departure for midnight, but the press got wind of his plan. That evening some 500 anti-Communists, including many of the capital's well-heeled aristocracy, gulped their dinners and hurried to the airport to boo Arbenz on his way.

"Assassin! Thief! Piece of excrement!" they cried, as the ex-President stalked into the terminal building. There he stripped to his shorts while inspectors carefully examined his grey suit and other belongings, mindful of the fact that Arbenz and his top henchmen drew $1,000,000 in cash from the government-operated Agrarian Bank a few days before he fell*. He watched stonily while marveling examiners counted out his wife's 42 pairs of shoes. Then, with daughter Leonora, 12, and son Jacobito, 7, his wife and 16 cronies, he took off into the night sky. It was still dark when he landed in Mexico City, the most important refugee to reach there since Leon Trotsky in 1937. His only greeter, aside from reporters and plainclothesmen, was Mexico's leftist Senator Luis Rodriguez, onetime Ambassador to Guatemala.

A day earlier, five transport planes sent by Juan Perón had cleared the Argentine embassy of its 120 refugees, among them Carlos Manuel Pellecer, who under Arbenz had captured the land-reform program for the Communists, and Victor Manuel Gutierrez, who had captured labor. Together with Jose Manuel Fortuny, Arbenz' own mentor in Marxism, who went to Mexico in the Arbenz plane, the Communists are expected to meet soon in Prague, where explanations presumably will be in order.

Recapturing the Loot. Behind them the exile seekers left some $18 million worth of land, city real estate, factories, cars and bank accounts. During his time in office, Arbenz emerged as the owner of a $3,000,000 cotton plantation; his Interior Minister turned into a gentleman-farmer with two coffee fincas; another pal acquired two mansions. "Progressive capitalists" who cooperated with the Reds got rich fast. With the owners gone, what was to be done with all this property?

The new regime's sweeping solution, last week, was to classify the Arbenzistas' wealth as "stolen" and take it over as government property.

*Guillermo Palmieri, turist bureau chief under Arbenz, said last week that the money was used to make the last payment on the celebrated shipment of Iron Curtain arms that Arbenz imported from Poland.