ECUADOR 1960 to 1963

A Textbook of Dirty Tricks

from the book

Killing Hope

by William Blum


If the Guinness Book of World Records included a category for "cynicism", one could suggest the

CIA's creation of "leftist" organizations which condemned poverty, disease, illiteracy, capitalism,

and the United States in order to attract committed militants and their money away from legitimate

leftist organizations.

The tiny nation of Ecuador in the early 1960s was, as it remains today, a classic of

banana-republic underdevelopment; virtually at the bottom of the economic heap in South

America; a society in which one percent of the population received an income comparable to

United States upper-class standards, while two-thirds of the people had an average family

income of about ten dollars per month -- people simply outside the money economy, with little

social integration or participation in the national life; a tale told many times in Latin America.

In September 1960, a new government headed by José María Velasco Ibarra came to power.

Velasco had won a decisive electoral victory, running on a vaguely liberal, populist,

something-for- everyone platform. He was no Fidel Castro, he was not even a socialist, but he

earned the wrath of the US State Department and the CIA by his unyielding opposition to the two

stated priorities of American policy in Ecuador: breaking relations with Cuba, and clamping down

hard on activists of the Communist Party and those to their left.

Over the next three years, in pursuit of those goals, the CIA left as little as possible to chance.

A veritable textbook on covert subversion techniques unfolded. In its pages could be found the

following, based upon the experiences of Philip Agee, a CIA officer who spent this period in


Almost all political organizations of significance, from the far left to the far right, were

infiltrated, often at the highest levels. Amongst other reasons, the left was infiltrated to channel

young radicals away from support to Cuba and from anti-Americanism; the right, to instigate and

co-ordinate activities along the lines of CIA priorities. If, at a point in time, there was no

organization that appeared well-suited to serve a particular need, then one would be created.

Or a new group of "concerned citizens" would appear, fronted with noted personalities, which

might place a series of notices in leading newspapers denouncing the penetration of the

government by the extreme left and demanding a break with Cuba. Or one of the noted

personalities would deliver a speech prepared by the CIA, and then a newspaper editor, or a

well-known columnist, would praise it, both gentlemen being on the CIA payroll.

Some of these fronts had an actual existence; for others, even their existence was phoney. On

one occasion, the CIA Officer who had created the non-existent "Ecuadorean Anti-Communist

Front" was surprised to read in his morning paper that a real organization with that name had

been founded. He changed the name of his organization to "Ecuadorean Anti-Communist Action".

Wooing the working class came in for special emphasis. An alphabet-soup of labor

organizations, sometimes hardly more than names on stationery, were created, altered,

combined, liquidated, and new ones created again, in an almost frenzied attempt to find the right

combination to compete with existing left-oriented unions and take national leadership away from

them. Union leaders were invited to attend various classes conducted by the CIA in Ecuador or in

the United States, all expenses paid, in order to impart to them the dangers of communism to the

union movement and to select potential agents.

This effort was not without its irony either. CIA agents would sometimes jealously vie with each

other for the best positions in these CIA-created labor organizations; and at times Ecuadorean

organizations would meet in "international conferences" with CIA labor fronts from other

countries, with almost all of the participants blissfully unaware of who was who or what was what.

In Ecuador, as throughout most of Latin America, the Agency planted phoney anti-communist

news items in co-operating newspapers. These items would then be picked up by other CIA

stations in Latin America and disseminated through a CIA-owned news agency, a CIA- owned

radio station, or through countless journalists being paid on a piece-work basis, in addition to the

item being picked up unwittingly by other media, including those in the United States.

Anti-communist propaganda and news distortion (often of the most far-fetched variety) written in

CIA offices would also appear in Latin American newspapers as unsigned editorials of the papers


In virtually every department of the Ecuadorean government could be found men occupying

positions, high and low, who collaborated with the CIA for money and/or their own particular

motivation. At one point, the Agency could count amongst this number the men who were second

and third in power in the country.

These government agents would receive the benefits of information obtained by the CIA

through electronic eavesdropping or other means, enabling them to gain prestige and promotion,

or consolidate their current position in the rough-and-tumble of Ecuadorean politics. A

high-ranking minister of leftist tendencies, on the other hand, would be the target of a steady

stream of negative propaganda from any or all sources in the CIA arsenal; staged demonstrations

against him would further increase the pressure on the president to replace him.

The Postmaster-General, along with other post office employees, all members in good

standing of the CIA Payroll Club, regularly sent mail arriving from Cuba and the Soviet bloc to the

Agency for its perusal, while customs officials and the Director of Immigration kept the Agency

posted on who went to or came from Cuba. When a particularly suitable target returned from

Cuba, he would be searched at the airport and documents prepared by the CIA would be "found"

on him. These documents, publicized as much as possible, might include instructions on "how to

intensify hatred between classes", or some provocative language designed to cause a split in

Communist Party ranks. Generally, the documents "verified" the worst fears of the public about

communist plans to take over Ecuador under the masterminding of Cuba or the Soviet Union; at

the same time, perhaps, implicating an important Ecuadorean leftist whose head the Agency was

after. Similar revelations, staged by CIA stations elsewhere in Latin America, would be publicized

in Ecuador as a warning that Ecuador was next.

Agency financing of conservative groups in a quasi-religious campaign against Cuba and

"atheistic communism" helped to seriously weaken President Velasco's power among the poor,

primarily Indians, who had voted overwhelmingly for him, but who were even more deeply

committed to their religion. If the CIA wished to know how the president was reacting to this

campaign it need only turn to his physician, its agent, Dr. Felipe Ovalle, who would report that his

patient was feeling considerable strain as a result.

CIA agents would bomb churches or right-wing organizations and make it appear to be the

work of leftists. They would march in left-wing parades displaying signs and shouting slogans of a

very provocative anti-military nature, designed to antagonize the armed forces and hasten a coup.


The Agency did not always get away clean with its dirty tricks. During the election campaign,

on 19 March 1960, two senior colonels who were the CIA's main liaison agents within the

National Police participated in a riot aimed at disrupting a Velasco demonstration. Agency officer

Bob Weatherwax was in the forefront directing the police during the riot in which five Velasco

supporters were killed and many wounded. When Velasco took office, he had the two colonels

arrested and Weatherwax was asked to leave the country.

CIA-supported activities were carried out without the knowledge of the American ambassador.

When the Cuban Embassy publicly charged the Agency with involvement in various anti-Cuban

activities, the American ambassador issued a statement that "had everyone in the [CIA] station

smiling". Stated the ambassador: "The only agents in Ecuador who are paid by the United States

are the technicians invited by the Ecuadorean government to contribute to raising the living

standards of the Ecuadorean people."

Finally, in November 1961, the military acted. Velasco was forced to resign and was replaced

by Vice-President Carlos Julio Arosemana. There were at this time two prime candidates for the

vice-presidency. One was the vice-president of the Senate, a CIA agent. The other was the rector

of Central University, a political moderate. The day that Congress convened to make their choice,

a notice appeared in a morning paper announcing support for the rector by the Communist Party

and a militant leftist youth organization. The notice had been placed by a columnist for the

newspaper who was the principal propaganda agent for the CIA's Quito station. The rector was

compromised rather badly, the denials came too late, and the CIA man won. His Agency salary

was increased from $700 to $1,000 a month.

Arosemana soon proved no more acceptable to the CIA than Velasco. All operations

continued, particularly the campaign to break relations with Cuba, which Arosemana steadfastly

refused to do. The deadlock was broken in March 1962 when a military garrison, led by Col.

Aurelio Naranjo, gave Arosemana 72 hours to send the Cubans packing and fire the leftist

Minister of Labor. (There is no need to point out here who Naranjo's financial benefactor was.)

Arosemana complied with the ultimatum, booting out the Czech and Polish delegations as well at

the behest of the new cabinet which had been forced upon him.

At the CIA station in Quito there was a champagne victory celebration. Elsewhere in Ecuador,

people angry about the military's domination and desperate about their own lives, took to arms.

But on this occasion, like others, it amounted to naught ... a small band of people, poorly armed

and trained, infiltrated by agents, their every move known in advance -- confronted by a battalion

of paratroopers, superbly armed and trained by the United States. That was in the field. In press

reports, the small band grew to hundreds; armed not only to the teeth, but with weapons from

"outside the country" (read Cuba), and the whole operation very carefully planned at the

Communist Party Congress the month before.

On 11 July 1963 the Presidential Palace in Quito was surrounded by tanks and troops.

Arosemana was out, a junta was in. Their first act was to outlaw communism; "communists" and

other "extreme" leftists were rounded up and jailed, the arrests campaign being facilitated by data

from the CIA's Subversive Control Watch List. (Standard at many Agency stations, this list would

include not only the subject's name, but the names and addresses of his relatives and friends and

the places he frequented -- anything to aid in tracking him down when the time came.)

Civil liberties were suspended; the 1964 elections canceled; another tale told many times in

Latin America.


And during these three years, what were the American people told about this witch's brew of

covert actions carried out, supposedly, in their name? Very little, if anything, if the New York

Times is any index. Not once during the entire period, up to and including the coup, was any

indication given in any article or editorial on Ecuador that the CIA or any other arm of the US

government had played any role whatever in any event which had occurred in that country. This is

the way the writings read even if one looks back at them with the advantage of knowledge and

hindsight and reads between the lines.

There is a solitary exception. Following the coup, we find a tiny announcement on the very

bottom of page 20 that Havana radio had accused the United States of instigating the military

takeover.{2} The Cuban government had been making public charges about American activities in

Ecuador regularly, but this was the first one to make the New York Times. The question must be

asked: Why were these charges deemed unworthy of reporting or comment, let alone





1. Philip Agee, Inside the Company: CIA Diary (New York, 1975) pp. 106-316, passim. Agee's

book made him Public Enemy No. One of the CIA. In a review of the book, however, former

Agency official Miles Copeland -- while not concealing his distaste for Agee's "betrayal" -- stated

that "The book is interesting as an authentic account of how an ordinary American or British `case

officer' operates ... As a spy handler in Quito, Montevideo and Mexico City, he has first-hand

information ... All of it, just as his publisher claims, is presented `with deadly accuracy'." (The

Spectator, London, 11 January 1975, p. 40.)


2. New York Times, 14 July 1963, p. 20. For an interesting and concise discussion of the political

leanings of Velasco and Arosemana, see John Gerassi, The Great Fear in Latin America (New

York, 1965, revised edition) pp. 141-8.


This is a chapter from Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II by

William Blum

Killing Hope