GUATEMALA: Red Gunrunning

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In the troubled, filibuster-studded history of Central America, many a rusty rifle and Gatling gun has been ferried ashore through a moonlit surf from a ghostly schooner with no greater consequences than to give a dictator a mild scare or O. Henry an idea for a light-hearted story. Last week guns were again going ashore—but in a different, deadlier contest. Two thousand tons of arms and ammunition, more than all Central America has received in the last 30 years, were pouring out of the holds of a Swedish ship into Communist-infiltrated Guatemala. They were Communist weapons, almost certainly from Czechoslovakia's famed Skoda works. More were thought to be on the way, in two more freighters.

Furtive Voyage. Listed on the manifest as "steel rods, optical glass and laboratory supplies," the arms, in 15,000 cases, were loaded on the freighter Alfhem in the Baltic port of Stettin, now a part of Poland. Once through the Skagerrak and out of the foggy Baltic, the vessel acted like a ship carrying hot cargo. First she laid a course south for Dakar, French West Africa, but radioed orders changed the destination to Curaçao, in the Dutch West Indies. Nearing Curaçao, the Alfhem was again diverted, this time to Puerto Cortes, Honduras. Finally the ship's master learned his true destination: Puerto Barrios, Guatemala.

Guatemala's Defense Minister José Angel Sánchez was down from Guatemala City to superintend the unloading, and the dock was cleared of idlers. Day after day, on cars of the U.S.-owned International Railways of Central America, the crates rolled up to the capital, 197 miles away. Armed guards rode each car. One night a stick of dynamite exploded without serious damage under an arms train, presumably set by anti-Communist Guatemalan exiles who had come over the Honduras border, 15 miles away. Tracing the fuse, soldiers wound up in a gunfight. One sergeant and one saboteur were killed.

Just what the cars carried was the secret of President Jacobo Arbenz, his fellow colonels, and the Red gun merchants. But the weapons were thought to be mostly rifles, automatic arms, mortars and light artillery, all of them with overflowing quantities of ammunition.

Up & Coming Protégé. Guatemala's Foreign Minister Guillermo Toriello had ready reasons for buying Communist arms. Since 1949 the U.S. has refused to send any military equipment there—even, Toriello complained, "pistols for the police [or] small-caliber ammunition for the use of a hunting and fishing club." (The State Department explained that it had refused because of the "obvious uncertainty as to the purposes for which those arms might be used.") Through depletion, Guatemala's 6,000-man army had become worse supplied than the armies of Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Now it is the best armed.

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