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Guatemala (Situation)

Volume 529: debated on Monday 21 June 1954

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I desire to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs—whose return to the House after his labours in Geneva we all welcome—a Question of which I have given him Private Notice, whether he has any statement to make about the situation in Guatemala.

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman and to the House.

The situation in Guatemala is confused. Her Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires at Guatemala has informed us that the airport at Guatemala City was bombed and machine gunned by a single aircraft on 18th June. There have also been reports of attacks by two aircraft on the National Palace on the same day. Her Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires was assured by the Guatemalan Minister for Foreign Affairs on 19th June that internal order would be maintained, and that the Guatemalan authorities would do everything in their power to protect British lives and property.

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the Security Council considered this matter on 20th June. The United Kingdom delegate made it clear that in his view the Security Council could not remain indifferent to this situation. Basing himself on Chapter 8 of the United Nations Charter, he supported the view of the two Latin American members of the Council that the Organisation of American States should deal with the matter. This the Soviet representative alone of all the members of the Council did not accept.

He exercised his veto.

After discussion a resolution was, however, passed calling for the immediate termination of any action likely to cause bloodshed and requesting all members of the United Nations to abstain in the spirit of the Charter from giving assistance to any such action.

No, I cannot say that I have. I have only read the reports which have seen in the Press. Two of them ate said to have been brought down in Mexico.

Have we any clear idea of what is happening in Guatemala, whether this is some kind of a civil war or whether it is aggression by neighbouring States, or what is at the back of it?

I should be rather reluctant to pronounce upon it at this stage. It seems likely that a military clash will occur shortly. So far as we have been able to ascertain, the military forces on both sides are likely to be about equal in number—6,000 on the one and 5,000 on the other—but these are only reports and I would not like the House to take them as certain. I think we must reserve judgment, on the whole, in a matter of this kind until we have a little more information.

Will my right hon. Friend take all necessary steps to safeguard British lives and property?

Her Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires has already raised the matter with the Guatemalan Foreign Secretary and we will do what we can.

Since Guatemala is a member of the United Nations, and this is evidently an invasion of the territory of a member of the United Nations, can the Foreign Secretary tell us why the British Government did not support a United Nations inquiry into the situation?

I thought that the action taken by our representative was absolutely correct. The Security Council could not divest itself of responsibility and it has not done so. If the Soviet veto had not been exercised, the action proposed would still have been taken under the authority of the Security Council and a report back would have had to be made to the Security Council.

Is it not a fact from all the accounts in the newspapers—which, at any rate, add something to the meagre account given by the Foreign Secretary—that the invasion is claimed to have taken place by forces who have had their spokesmen in Honduras? Therefore, would it not be proper for the British Government either directly to make representations to the Honduras Government to refrain from supporting such action or to propose that such representations should he made to the Honduras Government through the United Nations?

I do not think it would be proper, or a good habit for us to get into, to make representations based on newspaper reports of somewhat doubtful authenticity. So far as the situation is known, I think that the action has been perfectly correct so far. We shall have to see how it develops. The United Nations is clearly interested in the matter and the Security Council must remain seized of it. As far as our information goes, at any rate the leader of this incursion into Guatemala is himself a Guatemalan and many, if not all—I cannot tell in detail—of those invading the country are Guatemalan exiles. Something of this kind is not unique in Central American history.

Are the Government going to propose methods by which the undertakings of members of the United Nations not to give military assistance to anybody in this fight can be made effective?

That was exactly the terms of the resolution passed only yesterday by the Security Council. As to giving effect to those undertakings, that will have to be gone into carefully.

Order. We are to have a foreign affairs debate on Wednesday and cannot go on with this now.