CIA in 1950's Drew Up List of Guatemalan Leaders to Be Assassinated
WASHINGTON -- The CIA, plotting to overthrow the Guatemalan government
in the early 1950s, drew up a "disposal list" of at least 58 key leaders,
and it trained
assassins to kill them, newly declassified documents show.
The coup, code-named Operation Success, toppled the freely elected president
of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, and installed the first of a series
leaders friendly to the United States.
The assassination plans were never carried out, according to an official
CIA history of the coup. "Until the day that Arbenz resigned in June 1954
the option of
assassination was still being considered," the history concludes.
The 1,400 pages of newly declassified documents represent fewer than
1 percent of the CIA's files on the coup. A former CIA official, Clair
George, testified in
1983 that the agency's records on the coup ran to about 180,000 pages.
The CIA also deleted the names of the Americans who carried out the
coup. Those whose titles show up, but whose names were stricken from the
agency officials whose identities have long been public, like Frank Wisner, then the agency's chief of covert operations, and his field commander for the coup, Col.
Albert Haney. This censorship drew a statement of regret on Sunday from Guatemala's minister of foreign affairs, Eduardo Stein.
The documents add at least three sets of important new information to
the historical record: the existence of the assassination plans of the
agency, aspects of its
propaganda campaign against Arbenz, and details of the agency's early efforts to recruit members of the Guatemalan military.
The planning began in 1952, after the president of Nicaragua, Anastasio
Somoza Debayle, proposed to President Harry Truman that they work together
overthrow Arbenz, who had been elected in 1950. Arbenz's left-wing politics angered the United States.
Truman told the CIA to go forward. The agency launched a short-lived
operation, shipping guns and money to Guatemalan exiles. The operation's
cover was blown
within five weeks and it was abandoned in October 1952. But the plan lived on.
In 1953, under President Eisenhower, the CIA drew up plans for assassinations,
sabotage and propaganda to overthrow Arbenz. The assassination list contained
names of at least 58 Guatemalan supporters of Guzman who the CIA suspected were Communists. Late that year, the National Security Council gave Operation
Success the go-ahead. The State Department, now led by John Foster Dulles, the brother of the director of central intelligence, Allen Dulles, worked closely with the
The coup went quickly, from June 16 through June 27, 1954, with radio
propaganda and political subversion proving to be the most effective weapons.
resigned, denounced the United States, and took refuge in Mexico.
CIA plans for Operation Success called for the assassinations, and these
plans were discussed in great detail at very high levels of the agency
and the State
Department, the records show.
No record of the formal approval or disapproval of these plans by Eisenhower
or the Dulles brothers has been made public. None likely exists. The newly
files include a 22-page how-to manual on murder that says, "No assassination instructions should ever be written or recorded."
The CIA records show it conducted what it called a "nerve war" against
some of these targets -- government officials, "unfriendly army officers"
and the like -- in
1953 and 1954. Its plans included sending them death threats; telephoning them, "preferably between 2 and 5 a.m.," with blood-curdling warnings; and denouncing
them to their superiors with accusations, ranging "from treason to tax evasion."
And they show that the agency considered the Guatemalan military "the
only organized element in Guatemala" through which political change could
take place. That
change, says a 1953 CIA document, had to begin with the "subversion and defection of army leaders." The agency has had Guatemalan military men on its payroll
The 1954 coup was the first chapter in the CIA's long and continuing
liaison with the Guatemalan military. Those ties deepened over the decades
scorched-earth campaign against a small Communist insurgency. The civil war in Guatemala, touched off in part by the coup, ended only five months ago. More than
100,000 civilians were killed.