GUATEMALA: Down the Middle

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Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas, by right of conquest and popular acclaim, last week took the presidency of Guatemala. The temporary junta, of which he was a member and Colonel Elfego Monzon the head, saw no reason to prolong its nervous interregnum and unanimously voted Castillo Armas into office. Then two Monzon supporters resigned, leaving the junta composed of the new provisional President, one of the officers who fought in his rebel army, and Monzon, who stayed on to be the voice of the regular Guatemalan army. Castillo Armas' 2,000 tattered troops planned to muster out.

Bad for Reds. What kind of regime would Castillo Armas' be? Since he marched under the banner of antiCommunism, he will doubtless deal sternly with any real Reds or their sympathizers in the overthrown government of former President Jacobo Arbenz—if he can catch them. Of Arbenz and his Foreign Minister Guillermo Toriello, Castillo Armas said: "These men are criminals . . . responsible for torturing and killing many people." He froze the assets of the ex-President and 99 of his cohorts, and seized Arbenz' 6,700-acre showplace cotton plantation.

But no anti-Communist blood bath was in prospect. Arbenz and his top cronies were mostly safe in embassy asylum and likely to get out of the country scot free (see below). Two ranking Communists—Carlos Manuel Pellecer and Victor Manuel Gutierrez—had quit embassies and joined a third, Alfredo Guerra Borges, in hiding. They might try to make backlands trouble for Castillo Armas, if they were willing to risk being caught and shot. Two thousand minor suspects were held for questioning in jails just vacated by the anti-Communists Arbenz kept there.

Good for Progress. On the evidence of his first days in office it was clear that Castillo Armas planned no abrupt swing to the right. His coup came to Guatemala in the midst of a ten-year-old social revolution against a series of dictatorships that had ruled for 105 years before. The rebel, who sided with Arbenz in the 1944 overthrow of Dictator Jorge Ubico, has no nostalgia for the old days. Last week he promised to consolidate all "social reforms benefiting the working class" and to "continue the public works begun by our enemies." Land redistribution, which has been slowly getting some of the country's huge estates into peasant hands, will stay, though it will surely be modified to prevent abuses of the basic law. For his new Cabinet, Castillo Armas appointed mostly capable middle-of-the-roaders.

Castillo Armas promised elections, first for an assembly to write a new constitution, and later for the presidency. Running the risk of uniformed criticism, he deprived the country's illiterates of the vote. Trucking unlettered Indians to the polls and showing them where to put the cross has long been the favorite way of Guatemalan Presidents, including Arbenz and his dictatorial predecessors, of getting into office or staying there. In refusing ballots to citizens who cannot read or write, Castillo Armas freely surrendered a traditional weapon for keeping power.

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