E. Howard







HH: Yeah... came down to number three, and when I saw him... I didn't see him personally, but I had his bio and his photographs and so forth... he was in refuge in Honduras at that time. I realized that "This has got to be our guy." He was an extraordinary fellow himself; he looked pure Mayan: he had the bronzed skin of the Central American Mayan or Aztec, and the hooked nose; a little, short, squat guy; very, very, durable individual. He'd been imprisoned by Arbenz for a long time, and had tunneled out of the prison with his bare hands, made his escape that way, and got into Honduras, where our chief of station contacted him and made his location available. So at that point, I didn't know that Castillo Armas was going to be our man. I knew that Idigros Fuentes wasn't going to be, because State had already given him a thumbs-down. But I thought the proper, the most appropriate leading candidate would be,, Juan Cordoba Serna, and almost at that very moment, as though by divine intervention, he went down to the Oxener Cancer Clinic in New Orleans for a bad throat cancer, and never emerged alive. So, one, two, three, Castillo Armas - we went with Castillo Armas, and he had of course adherence from the army who were in exile with him in Honduras. And so it was a relatively simple thing for him to draw more people to himself. Once he was assured of the United States backing - and I didn't make that assurance to him; another member of the team did - then he went all out and got this group together, and told us what we were going to need and what his suggestions were to make the operation work.

INT: When did President Somoza of Nicaragua become involved in terms of making training facilities available?

HH:... I'm trying to think when that was - because I dealt with Somoza... You mean the father or son?

INT: The father.

HH: The father. Because I dealt with the son (Overlap) about five years later.

INT: If I may prompt you...

HH: Yeah.

INT: It's highly likely that... He made a visit to New York, which wasn't a state visit, but he visited New York in about May 1952, and the City of New York awarded him a medal, and surely he met people from the State Department - even Eisenhower. But it's alleged that he said to State Department officials, "If you give me the backing and the means, I'll get rid of Arbenz for you..."

HH: (Overlap) That sounds very typical to me.

INT: So describe the evolution of the training of the rebel army, and your particular work with the radio station, the propaganda, and how, in as far as you're aware of it, how the plan came into being.

HH: Well, the plan, like most plans for... whether it's a landing on the coast of Normandy or a simple little thing like a border crossing in... from Honduras into Guatemala, those things were largely determined by circumstances: how many men have you got; if you've got air support, how many; what's the disposition of the troops that you're going to work on, so that you don't have a lot of latitude. In otwords, you've got x assets, and the other side has got x assets, and just as in a chess game, you have to oppose them and try to render their side neutral. We... set up our training areas, of course, in Honduras, and thenanother group of our organization went ahead and acquired the aircraft that we were going to use. I suppose the... example that I can best turn to, although I rather hate to, is... what we wanted to do was to have a terror campaign, to terrify Arbenz particularly, terrify his troops, much as the German Stuka bombers terrified the population of Holland, Belgium and Poland at the onset of World War II and just rendered everybody paralyzed. So we had a couple of P-47 Thunderbolts and pilots, and I think we had three or four Cessna aircraft, light aircraft. The date of the... invasion, if we can call it that, had never really been firmly established because there was always a "Hurry up, hurry up, we have to do this right away," but it became very apparent that speed was of the essence when it became known that a Polish or Czech freighter, named the Alf-helm, was being loaded at the port of Gdynia with something like 50 tons of weapons for what Arbenz was going to do in the communist style: form a militia and arm them in addition to the army, whose loyalties he could never be particularly sure of, although he had risen through the ranks of it. And the sailing date of the Alfhelm was what decided the actual date, so we had to take: "We're here, our time-line is this, we are here today, we have x assets. Out there is the date that the Alfhelm is going to arrive in Puerto Barrios in Guatemala to unload these unhealthy weapons for this milice, so we have to work in between there."

INT: Do you remember how that information came to you - was that from CIA stations on the continent of Europe?

HH: Oh, yes, oh, yeah, sure. We had watchers at...

INT: Do you remember the day you got information?

HH: Phhh - not particularly, no. (Laughs)

INT: No, I mean, I just think...

HH: (Overlap) If you've ever had... well, if you... an operations headquarters is like a press room, the busy press room of a major metropolitan daily: everybody's running around, sheets of paper in their hand, some people are just drawing coffee, other people have a mountain of work to accomplish, and you just get into the flow of the thing. So I don't remember a particular watermark for that, or watershed.

INT: I can just imagine it was quite a day when you (got the condition read).

HH: Yeah, that's right, and it wasn't anticipated really. While I was assigned to the project, nobody said, "Well, we have to do this by July 1st" or anything like that, or July 15th - it's just "do the job", and so we thought that we had more time than it turned out we actually had.

INT: The radio station...


INT: ... I think it was Radio...

HH: Radio Liberacion.

INT: ... and the setting up of that in that part of that air force field in Miami - can you describe that to me, and how you thought ... had you done that kind of thing before, or was it new...?

HH: (Overlap) No, but I'd seen it done in OSS.

INT: How did you plan it?

HH: I had brought up from Chile a contract agent whose cover was that of a newspaper publisher in Santiago, a young, very talented man, named Dave Phillips, who later on carved quite a career for himself in the agency. And Dave pulled together a team of Guatemalan journalists; he found them here and there, mostly in Honduras, a few in Mexico, and we had these black flights coming in to Opa-Locka airport here in Miami, practically around the clock, bringing in people for training. And we had to establish in Honduras a very powerful radio station of our own, a transmitter that would override the beam of the Guatemalan national radio, so that... as in World War II, where we did the Funkspiel so often - this was an idea borrowed from World War II: you just override the other guy's transmitter and feed false information to the public. So that was done. That was a technical thing; we just contracted with, I think... what was it called?... Pan-American Communications to establish this transmitter, very powerful transmitter, in Honduras, near the border, focused so that its main effect would be on the main transmitter of the Guatemalan national radio. Now the material that was to be broadcast, and began to be broadcast very soon after the establishment of the transmitter, was being written here in Opa-Locka, in our safe house. A group of... as I said, Dave Phillips had brought up a group of Guatemalan journalists - they knew what needed to be said far better than any American did, and so they were responsible for the scripts. We'd get the material down there... Actually, the tapes were made right here in Opa-Locka; the tapes were put on the transmitter down in Honduras.

INT: Did you do leaflet raids? Did you drop leaflets?

HH: Well, that was another part of the plan, absolutely. As I said, we had acquired some aircraft, and the same propaganda team, Guatemalan propaganda team, prepared leaflets, which were in several phases. You know, "Beware: the day is coming" and so forth. And then the next air drop would have a slightly different theme, but they were all focusing basically on the main situation, which was that Arbenz was a baddie, that he was selling Guatemala to a foreign power, i.e. the Soviet Union, and that this should not be tolerated by the Guatemalan populace. ... yes, we had... And when the D-day actually came, these P-47s made a couple of low-level, relatively harmless strafing runs over the city. We didn't want to kill civilians; they dropped a few smoke bombs and concussion bombs to frighten people so that they just stayed indoors. And actually, the Guatemalan army was confined to barracks. When Arbenz tried to get a message out over his own transmitter, he found that his words were not being heard, because our station in Guatemala was telling all of Guatemala - and indeed all of Latin America became the sole source of information on what was going on in Guatemala - that Arbenz had fled, Arbenz and his cabinet had fled and left the country naked, and that was greeted with a lot of enthusiasm by the locals. And so, what had been a hypothesis, a propaganda hypothesis, became reality after a couple of days, when there was no support that Arbenz could accrue to himself.

INT: From my reading of it, I in some respects could describe it as a "coup by radio": the radio worked, the Guatemalan army didn't fight. Now the fact that the Guatemalan army didn't fight was because, I believe, they feared the Americans would invade. They'd taken your propaganda hook, line and sinker. Is that true?

HH: Well...

INT: Could you talk me through that?

HH: We never made any threats of an American invasion - that would have been counterproductive, in my opinion, and if I'd seen any draft leaflets or broadcasts saying that, you know, "You guys better lay down your arms because Uncle Sam will come in if you don't" - everybody would have said, "Hey, we're nationalistic patriots - we can't allow that to happen." That would have been a bad deal. I think it was just the... Well, we haven't really talked about the student influence or the influence of the priests, which was so very important too, because the priests reached... their messages reached their population way out on the hinterland, where you had basically just a Mayan population, and that was good too. That was all arranged... the co-operation of the Guatemalan clergy was arranged through Cardinal Spellman in New York, and I had taken upon myself to meet with the Cardinal. I had a letter of introduction from a prominent Washington figure, and I didn't tell him, I asked him what assistance he might be able to be in terms of getting co-operation from the Guatemalan clergy. I knew, of course, that in 1948 or thereabouts, the Catholic Church had been very helpful in arranging a subvention to the Christian Democrats in Italy and turning back the communist electoral threat there. So I wasn't at all bashful about approaching Spel, and he was a rather roly-poly placid individual, but a man of great mentality, and he said in effect, "You've told me what the problem is - I'll deal with it." And that was it. And soon we were writing scripts or leaflets for the Guatemalan clergy, the Catholic clergy, and this information was going out in the pastorals aacross the country, and in radio broadcasts.

INT: Did you have anything to do with the Archbishop in Guatemala's pastoral letter?

HH: No, no, but we certainly tried to make him a popular figure.