Jerry P. Shinley Archive:Subject: Maurice Gatlin and Guatemala '53 - '54
Maurice Gatlin and Guatemala '53 - '54
Date: Mon, 14 June 1999 08:07 AM EDT
Note: NO refers to the FBI New Orleans Field Office. References to FBI documents are from the FBI files on Maurice Brooks Gatlin, Sr., #64-29230
Gatlin entered the stage of the Guatemalan drama in May, 1953, when he arranged to meet a Guatemalan exile, Colonel Roberto Barrios y Pena at the FBI NO Field Office. The Colonel revealed the following about his personal background to the FBI:
... he participated in the October 20, 1944, revolution in Guatemala, at that time serving on the staff of the Guatemalan Army. On February 12, 1947, he resigned from the Guatemalan Army to join an anti-Communist political group which was in opposition to the existing government. He stated that in 1950 this group, known as the "Anti-Communist Force," staged small uprisings in Guatemala, all of which failed. He stated that he was presently in exile from Guatemala and that there was a price of $20,000 on his head if he returned to that country.-
Colonel Barrios was the grandson of General Justo Barrios, who was president of Guatemala from 1880 to 1885. The city of Puerto Barrios, on Guatemala's Atlantic coast, was named for the General. The Colonel's anti-Communist activities were funded by dictator Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic. (p. 124. Schlesinger, Stephen and Kinzer Stephen. _Bitter Fruit_. New York: Anchor Books, 1990)
Everyone else involved was a bit perplexed as to why Gatlin had chosen to involve the FBI in his introduction to the Colonel, and Barrios left angry. The Colonel had been interested in meeting with Guatemalans represented by Gatlin. After Barrios' departure, Gatlin revealed that the Colonel "planned to overthrow the government of Guatemala by force of arms, in the 'next few weeks.'" Gatlin waitied until he was certain that Barrios and his companion were gone before leaving himself.
That is how the FBI version of the meeting ends. According to a CIA document dated June 26, 1953, the following also occurred:
After leaving the FBI offices, BARRIOS and GATLIN met with a Mr. DUNBAR, who occasionally represents the United Fruit Co. in New Orleans. They asked for one million dollars from the United Fruit Co., in support of BARRIOS' intended revolutionary movement in Guatemala, but they were unsuccessful in obtaining any commitment.-
BARRIOS and GATLIN visited the air base near Pontchartrain, (type of base not further identified, although it is known that there is a large naval air base on this lake), Captain DAVIS showed them two large transport planes, each of which had two 75mm. recoil-less rifles and two projectiles. DAVIS told BARRIOS that the planes were those which had been promised him and that he would make arrangements for BARRIOS to get the planes out of the United States.-
Two paragraphs of this memo, addressed to the FBI, have been withheld. The source of the above version of events has not been revealed. The CIA asked the FBI for any additional information on the revolutionary activities of Barrios and the identity of Captain Davis. A notation on the FBI copy of this document states that the CIA was providing a copy to Customs, suggesting that Barrios's activities did not have the approval of the CIA.
On June 25, 1953, the FBI was contacted by a retired Army officer, whose name has been withheld for privacy reasons (referred to here as P-1). P-1 said that Gatlin had approached him with a shopping list of armaments which included three P-38 fighters and three P-51 fighters, along with ammunition. Gatlin said he was acting on behalf of an unnamed Colonel (undoubtedly, Barrios y Pena) who was planning an anti-Communist revolution in Guatemala. Gatlin asked P-1 if he knew General Claire Chennault. P-1 replied that he did, and concluded that Gatlin assumed that P-1 could obtain the weapons through Chennault. P-1 was inclined to throw Gatlin out of his office, but decided to play along to learn what Gatlin was up to. Gatlin offered P-1 oil and mineral concessions in Guatemala after the revolution. Gatlin proposed to introduce P-1 to the Colonel, and P-1 asked the FBI whether he should go ahead with the meeting. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Customs had jurisdiction over Neutrality Act cases. NO had to contact the Bureau in Washington to get permission to hand P-1 over to Customs. The permission was obtained, but nothing substantial came of the Customs investigation, possibly because of the clumsiness of the hand over of P-1 to Customs. One person, name withheld, mentioned in connection with the scheme, was described by Customs as a known gun-runner who had taken weapons to Cuba.
Gatlin attempted to draft the FBI directly into Colonel Barrios' anti-Communist crusade. On January 13, 1954, "GATLIN stated he was requesting the FBI to offer the services of its Laboratory to make 100 twelve inch long playing records of Col. PENA's speeches for distribution throughout Guatemala to 'aid the fight.'" Gatlin estimated the cost to the Bureau to be about six hundred dollars. "The jurisdiction of the FBI was carefully pointed out to GATLIN and he was informed that such a request appeared to be entirely divorced from the purposes and aims of this organization. GATLIN replied that 'being faced with an enemy in its own backyard' the FBI should not consider matters like jurisdiction. At his continued insistence, he was advised that his request would be made known to this Bureau but that he should expect no favorable action to be taken. No further action re this matter is contemplated by this office."
On March 3, 1954, Gatlin requested a short-wave transmitter from the FBI to permit Barrios to communicate with his contacts in Central America. He did not want to deal with the FCC, because it was "infiltrated with a bunch of Communists." Gatlin also provided the FBI with a mass of information and supposition about Latin American affairs. "At this point, it was pointed out to Gatlin that all the information furnished by him concerning Latin American countries was under the jurisdiction of the Central Intelligence Agency and/or the State Department. He stated that he did not care to deal with the Central Intelligence Agency because as far as he was concerned, they were on probation, and that their predecessor, OSS, was thoroughly infiltrated by Communists." The NO office made the following evaluation:
In summary, it may be stated that Gatlin is prone to distort information and report as fact his own conclusions. His modus operandi is to telephone this office and state as a fact such conclusions and then decline to furnish specifics on the telephone or come to the office for interview. When agents thereafter contact him in his office it is invariably found that the information upon which his conclusions were based either does not support the conclusion or is not susceptible to independent verification. He is an egotistical individual who fancies himself to be an expert on Latin American affairs and he characterizes himself as the "unofficial ambassador" to Guatemala. Discreet inquiries concerning his reliability merely reflect he is untrustworthy, sly, shrewd and unscrupulous, but the fact remains that he is member in good standing of the Louisiana Bar and is a practicing attorney. The New Orleans Office in the future intends to refer GATLIN to the Central Intelligence Agency representative, with whom he is acquainted and to whom he has furnished some information. Every effort will be made to avoid contacts with him, but it is expected he will continue to call this office as in the past.-
Besides, agents had noticed "loose wires" in Gatlin's office and home, raising the alarming possibility that Gatlin was recording his conversations with Hoover's boys.
The Bureau in Washington agreed with NO's decision to avoid contact with Maurice. "Under no circumstances should Gatlin be interviewed at his home, office, via telephone, or any other situation where he might possibly make recordings..." (Does the Bureau's horror of being recorded suggest the FBI records may not accurately reflect everything said during an interview?)
The Bureau's refusal to provide material assistance, and other slights, prompted Gatlin to prepare and distribute a petulantly toned "final report," dated March 11. "We have been able to accurately forecast well in advance every event of major importance in the Caribbean area," Gatlin modestly claimed. Gatlin seemed to single out the FBI for particular scorn:
Example: Agency "X" refused to consider certain vital information because they have no "jurisdiction" over it. (Our belief is that every American has "jurisdiction" concerning the welfare of our country.)-
Example: At least three agents had no knowledge that a Conference was to be held at Caracas, and had only a hazy idea of where Caracas is. One agent thought that Costa Rica was the Capital of Puerto Rico; another had never heard of Ciudad Truxillo.-
Another copy of Gatlin's "final report" was provided to the FBI by Victor A. Johnston, director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Johnston had obtained the report from an "old friend" in Houston.
Gatlin was well informed about the corporate sponsors (withheld) of Castillo Armas, and claimed to have met him in New Orleans in 1954 before the uprising. Gatlin provided John Moors Cabot, Assistant Secretary of State, with the following sage observations in a letter dated November 27, 1953:
You are further advised that I know, from the same source, the hour of the day, but not the exact dates (but between stated dates) that an invasion attempt will be made, and the location of the two points where the invasion will be made. This particular invasion, incidentally will be of great detriment to our country, regardless of whether it is sucessful or not. If not sucessful, the people will lose all hope of deliverance; if successful, the people will know that is was backed by certain financial interests in this country, and they will be further alienated from us.-
Now Mr. Secretary, you have served in the nation involved, and you know the character of the people as I do. They have been conditioned to hate us, but if we understand them and concede their equality, and if we let the change that is an absolute necessity be made strictly by them, they can become a valuable ally, rather than a transcontinental barrier controlled by our enemy as they now are.-
History records that Gatlin's advice was ignored.
Colonel Barrios y Pena's role in the June 1954 uprising included firing off a letter from New Orleans to President Arbenz. The letter, dated May 18, warned Arbenz that he did not have the "right to take the country to civil war. If you survive, the spilled blood will fall on you and your family." The Colonel made the letter public in New Orleans on June 19, 1954, while the uprising was still in progress. Barrios y Pena had no comment to questions about whether he favored the sucess of Castillo Armas or whether he felt that Castillo Armas had "the welfare of the people of Guatemala at heart."
(New Orleans Times Picayune; June 20, 1954; p. 2)
The Colonel left New Orleans to return to Guatemala on November 15, 1954. Gatlin announced that the Colonel's new role would be "good-will ambassador ... to promote solidarity of the Western Hemisphere against Communism." Barrios y Pena left a cache of documents behind with Gatlin. "These documents will prove the activities in favor of international communism of many of the well-known figures of our hemisphere."
(New Orleans Times Picayune; Nov 16, 1954; p. 11)
In September of 1954, the FBI received word from an INS investigator that Gatlin was claiming authorship of a speech placed in the Congressional Record on August 18 by Louisiana Congressman George S. Long. Long was the dentist brother of the more famous Huey and Earl Long. Gatlin purportedly passed the speech to Long through a third party. The speech touched on the recent events in Guatemala and offered fulsome praise for Colonel Barrios Pena, "a man of such background, vision and patriotism as to be an asset to all upon whom he bestows his talent and understanding."
Sent via Deja.com http://www.deja.com/
Share what you know. Learn what you don't.
Back to the top
Back to Jerry Shinley Archive menu
Back to Jim Garrison menu
Back to JFK menu
Dave Reitzes home page