E. Howard Negroponte,
INTERVIEW WITH E. HOWARD HUNT
INTERVIEWER: Mr. Hunt, will you please tell me who you are, your full name, and your profession.
HOWARD HUNT: My name is E. Howard Hunt. I'm currently retired from more than 22 years in the profession of espionage.
INT: When you began your period of office in Mexico City, could you tell me what year that was, and how you perceived the Monroe Doctrine and what it was?
HH: Well, in 1949, when I went down to establish the first postwar CIA station in Mexico City, I had to take over from the slash-and-burn remnants of the FBI office. J. Edgar Hoover knew that we were coming in, that is CIA was coming in, and he was as uncooperative as possible, so my first few months there were devoted almost entirely to housekeeping, trying to get desks and facilities for my secretary and myself, and I didn't have anybody come down and join me in Mexico City until the basics were in place - the plumbing, that is. So my attention was soon directed to the apparent violations of the Monroe Doctrine, or the coming violations of the Monroe Doctrine, by Guatemala, by the government of Arbenz, when a number of students that I had been responsible for sending into Guatemala, at least paying... it was a very low-level thing, just paying their expenses to meet with their Catholic conference in Guatemala City... and when they come back, they told horrific stories of communist-type suppression, of beatings of Christian students, and I thought this thing could grow and become a cancer in Central America. And I reported the students' findings religiously to headquarters, and there was very, very little interest. Eventually, an officer of lower rank than myself came down to say, "Well, you know, why don't you cool it - there's no particular interest in what's going on in Guatemala." And I said, "Well, I don't think that's the thing to do," I said, "because we're faced here with the obvious intervention of a foreign power, because these home-grown parties are not really home-grown, they're being funded or advised by a foreign power - i.e. the Soviet Union." I had another opportunity when I was called up to Washington on a routine consultation and I got in to see General Walter Bedell-Smith, and there were some of my associates there with him, and I just gave a little report, mainly having to do with the difficulties of conducting an operation de novo against the barren landscape that had been left me by the FBI, and I tried to get in a few words about the Guatemalan situation, but by that time the interview was over with, and I returned to Mexico City for a while.
INT: Could you... to interrupt you a little bit... just tell me, in a short kind of way, but not too short, your version of how you perceived the Monroe Doctrine...?
HH: Well, I perceived the Monroe Doctrine as a shield between the New World and the old. We were not concerned with interventions from South America, let's say, into Mexico, but certainly the history of World War I, with the Zimmerman telegram and that sort of thing, we were acutely aware of the possibility that Central America, in its proximity to the United States, made a very attractive target for the European powers, and I thought - and certainly I wasn't alone in this perception - that the Monroe Doctrine was a shield between the imperialistic designs of the old world on the new, and... a comfortable, rational existence for the citizens of my country, and that was the United States. After all, it announced the Monroe Doctrine and defended it.
INT: And with the coming of the Cold War - and the jury is still out over exactly when did it start - but with the coming of the Cold War, is it true to think that the Monroe Doctrine itself became even more fundamental to the American policy in Latin America and the Caribbean?
HH: I think that's very true. We had, after all, no other recourse to protect ourselves, no other document, let's say, than the Monroe Doctrine. So that could be cited as a cause for intervention if and when it might become necessary. So you're quite right that when... as the Cold War grew and expanded out of Europe, we ourselves had to take refuge behind the shield of the Monroe Doctrine.
INT: And the arrival of communism, Marxism, socialism, all the "isms" on the two continents of Latin America and then later within the Caribbean - what kind of alarm bells did that ring in your head, and what are your feelings about communism?
HH: Well, the... communism, in various shapes and forms, had been around for a long time in Latin America. I remember when Dzerzhinsky's KGB, under a different name, was first formed, my recollection is that the first two agents, a husband and wife team, were sent to Mexico, and that was let's say in 1916-1917, around in there. ... socialism has always had a powerful attraction for the student element in Latin America, regardless of what country it is - socialism, in my opinion, being just a step away from authoritarian communism; "communism with a happy face", you can call it. But it was there, it had been there for a long time. I felt that it was inimical to our way of life, to my way of life, to... I had spent time in Vienna at a time when the Russians were starting to take the velvet off their mailed fist and crack down on everything that was Allied, everything that was anti-Communist in the Austrian framework, and so I knew from personal experience how these things could develop, and I felt we wanted no part of that so close to the United States.
INT: After the Second World War, what signs were there, including Guatemala, that it was going to be a problem for the United States?
HH: Communism itself? Well, I think that had been amply demonstrated in Europe, certainly in China, where I served the last year of World War II. We all knew that things were falling apart very rapidly in Central Europe, under pressure from the Russians. They had the military forces there, they had homegrown communists with a long tradition, and they moved very rapidly to take over essential elements of what had been fledgling democracies in Central Europe. Having seen that,... to some extent at first hand - and I refer again to Austria - I certainly wanted none of that to take place in Latin America. As I've mentioned earlier, the predisposition among Latin American intellectuals and students is a pro-Communist stance - they're good; the United States and democracy are bad. And I thought that we have to do something to change this mindset if we can, otherwise the whole continent is going to turn red.
INT: Within the doctrines of President Monroe's initial statements, which are way back - 1823, I think, or 1821 - it's easy to say that the United States has always looked on Latin America and the Caribbean as its own backyard, and therefore merit special attention when things get out of hand. Can you start to describe... I know you've done some of it already, but I don't mind if you do it again ... the first little bells that started ringing out of Guatemala after 1950, when Arbenz took over the government?
HH: Well, in addition to the warnings from the students, the students that I was sending in back and forth to Guatemala City, of course my counterpart in Guatemala, Guatemala City chief of station was sending in reports too about communist infiltration in the government, and of course he mentions Jose Manuel Fortuny and some of the old-time Stalinist communists who were gaining favorable positions in the Arbenz regime. And so that ... and I don't know what... I wasn't privy to all of the intelligence that was coming in about Guatemala, but I did see the traffic that was coming in from Guatemala City, because it was very relevant to me, and of course I exchanged what I had with the chief of station in Guatemala City.
INT: And when you started trying to alert Washington to the problems and to the possibility of major problems - talk me through the period of time that it took you to really get them to understand how serious the problewas.
HH: I would say about a two-year period, from about 1951 or so until 1953, when the PB Success got going. Actually, I wolimit that to 1952, because Bedell-Smith had to be convinced first of all, and as I've said in previous writings, I always felt that in forming a task force to overthrow the communist government of Arbenz, that we did the right thing, but perhaps for the wrong reason - that reason being, I wanted it to be purely for our national security and to bolster and revere the Monroe Doctrine; whereas, when I was finally called up from Mexico City to confer with Bedell-Smith and some of the other high-ranking members of our national security apparatus, it turned out that the reason that they were having a change of heart was because Thomas Corcoran, who was the rather famous lobbyist and working for the United Fruit Company, had persuaded Eisenhower and some of the other high dignitaries to take this matter under very close advisement and get going, do something about it. So... and then I felt a little bit betrayed when I learned that, because I thought, "Hey, you know, I'm working for the United States of America, I'm not a hireling for United Fruit." But I went ahead with my assigned tasks in any case, and if United Fruit benefited from it, that was part of the set game, I suppose you could say.
INT: What would you think... it's a hypothesis, but if you'd known that at the time, how would it have affected the way you did work?
HH: Well, I've always taken orders and carried them out. If somebody had said, "Well, we can't go in for the right reasons, but Thomas Corcoran is working on Eisenhower and we think that Eisenhower will give the go-ahead, so just stand by," I would have stood by and done exactly what I had done before, but liking it a hell of a lot less.
INT: Were you aware that both John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles, and I think Cabot Lodge, had previous connection via their legal practices (Overlap) with...?
HH: (Overlap) Yes, yes, I was aware of that, but in a very general way; it didn't set off any alarm bells.
INT: In the way that history has described the Guatemalan operation, there's sort of an ironical tinge that a lot of authors have put to the story, which doesn't put America, or the United States of America, in the greatest of lights, despite a very successful operation.
HH: Well, that's true. Of course, I'd known Allen in OSS; I was an OSS officer in World War II - that was the Office of Strategic Services - and I really had the feeling that he could do no wrong, and I was a fervent admirer of John Foster Dulles and of Eisenhower, and so I had no real doubts about their participation in any aspect of furthering or enhancing United States security.
INT: So when the operation was beginning to be developed - talk me through the first stages of how you decided to recruit the rebel army, pick a leader, where to do it from, the involvement of Somoza, and why it was called "PB Success".
HH: I'll start with the last one first. "PB" is the diagraph for Guatemala, or was in my day, and "Success" obviously is a morale-building type of codeword, so the combination "PB" plus "Success" meant we're going to have a successful operation in Guatemala, and I believed that - never had any reason to believe otherwise.
I was not part of the military planning for this operation; I was in charge of the political and the psychological warfare aspects. And the old slogan "You can't beat someone with no one" was very much at the front of my mind, and from various sources I was able to pull together a sort of a preferential panel, or group of three prominent Guatemalans who were outside Guatemala. We could only deal with those who were outside, because those who were inside were in tough shape thanks to Arbenz's secret police. And one of them was a former justice... I guess chief justice of the Guatemalan Supreme Court, Juan Curdoba Serna, whom I had met... he was living in Mexico, and I met him in Mexico City and talked with him and got some more input from him about the dangers of communism erupting inside Guatemala and then spreading out. The next one was Miguel Idegros Fuentes, who was a very prominent... or had been a prominent military figure, an extraordinary man - if I can just give you an example of his appropriateness. Years later, actually during the Cuba affair, I was in the Casa Rosada in Guatemala City, and by then Idegros Fuentes was president, and while he was holding a conversation with myself and two other CIA officers, aides are coming in, he's dictating to two secretaries, he's signing cables. He was a most extraordinary example to me of how a brilliant mind can handle a number of tracks at the same time. He was working on about seven tracks, and he never missed pace, never missed a moment, and he was just a fine, patriotic leader. However, the Department of State said that he was right-winger and therefore he was unsuitable, that the masses would not support him. So that came down to number three, Colonel Castillo Armas...
(Interruption - request to start again)