- Observing Our Hermanos de Armas: U.S. Military Attachés in Guatemala, Cuba, and Bolivia, 1950–1964
The time period covered was a formative one for American (that is, Norte Americano) foreign policy in Latin America; basic Cold War strategies for the region were being worked out which would remain in effect for the duration. One such was the use of indigenous military forces as proxies to effect regime change in countries whose policies seemed communist inspired and threatening. The year 1954 saw the Central Intelligence Agency prompting the Guatemalan army to precipitate the overthrow of the government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in Guatemala. The CIA attempted to mimic that success at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in 1962 with disastrous results, partly because it thought it had a deeper understanding of the Cuban revolution than it really did. Finally, in 1964, the United States helped the Bolivian military execute a golpe de estado against the democratically elected, middle-class government of the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario, even though the U.S. had helped establish that regime in the 1950s. These are the events around which Kirkland builds his analysis of the activities of U.S. military attachés. [End Page 279]
The core of Kirkland's study is an analysis of U.S. military attaché activity and training within the Army and Air Force. His purpose is to assess the effectiveness of attaché reporting and its impact on policy formation in Washington. His methodology for the former is to examine attaché reports and for the latter to study relevant intelligence reports, National Intelligence Estimates, and the like. His conclusions are that attachés vary in their effectiveness, often based more on their individual experiences in the military than on the training provided, but that they usually fulfill the tasks assigned. The problem seems to be in the use to which their information is put in higher circles. This analysis would be of some interest to students of military institutional effectiveness.
Of much more interest to this reader are the narratives Kirkland provides of the actions of the attachés themselves in these sensitive places during these volatile times. The air attaché in Guatemala, Maj. Manuel Chavez, had superb access to the military there mostly because his Hispanic background enabled him to converse through the appropriate cultural filters. But, he was rotated to other duties before the coup and was recalled at the last minute: too late to provide the intelligence the United States could have used to manage the coup better. The attachés in Cuba dropped the ball on Fidel Castro; they underestimated his power and failed to impress Washington with the weakness of the Batista military. Col. Edward Fox, the U.S. air attaché in Bolivia, was so well connected in the Bolivian military as a close friend of the eventual coup-maker, General René Barrientos, that he could not provide objective analysis to his superiors. The serendipitous roles of individual players and their impact on the intelligence the U.S. had available turned out to be critical in the process of early Cold War interventions in Latin America. In these times of new preemptive policies in other, less amenable, parts of the world, Kirkland provides us with a small, but pointed lesson on the importance of good intelligence to decision making.