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Cryptonym: ESSENCE

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ESSENCE was probably Lionel Sisniega Otero, Secretary General of CEUA in August 1954. ESSENCE was a Guatemalan anti-Communist student leader.
A circa December, 1953, CIA draft report mentioned that ESSENCE was a CEUA representative, who had "become the mainspring of our PP activity in Guatemala."

A Record and Routing Sheet in January of 1954 described ESSENCE as "an anti-Communist Guatemalan student leader."

A cable on March 25, 1954, using ESSENCE as a source, mentioned that Lionel Sisniega's father had been arrested by police in Guatemala City. Sisniega was described as an exiled law student and CEUAGE administrator.

A cable on June 12, 1954, stated that ESSENCE was one of the principal targets of police searches, and his home had been searched as part of this operation. A telegram on June 29, 1954, mentioned that ESSENCE had many men ready though they were without arms at that time. CIA cables sometimes spell his name as "Sisniego" or "Sisniegos".

A cable on August 5, 1954, stated that a crowd of around 15,000 people gathered in the cathedral plaza to hear the speeches of Carlos Castillo Armas, Colonel Elfigo Monzon, Lionel Sisniega Otero and others. Sisniega was described as a student leader, and he called for a general strike to force the junta to be reduced to only Castillo Armas. A cable on August 11, 1954, mentioned that Sisniega (Secretary General of the CEUA), along with other CEUA leaders, had a meeting with Mylkes, David Phillips, and stated their intention to withdraw CEUA support from Castillo Armas. They were unhappy about a perceived lack of action against Communists in Guatemala. A telegram on August 24, 1954, mentioned that ESSENCE was among a group of leading anti-Communists, along with ZPSEMANTIC, Coronado Lira, and Mario Sandoval. The telegram also noted that they were somewhat ambivalent towards Calligeris (Carlos Castillo Armas).

An article in June of 2004 described Lionel Sisniega Otero as one of the coup leaders in the 1954 overthrow of President Arbenz in Guatemala. It also added that Sisniega was the director and announcer of Liberation Radio.


Circa 12/01/53: Draft: Individual PP, Guatemala..."One of the CEUA representatives proved to be a vacillating type with whom little could be done but the other, who was subsequently given the cryptonym ESSENCE, has become the mainspring of our PP activity in Guatemala. 2. Over the course of the months following this first meeting, ESSENCE has organized an entity known as Organizaciones Anti-Comunistas Unidas (OAU) which now groups together the Comite Civico Nacional (CCN), the Comite Nacional Feminino (CNF), Comite Obrero Anticomunista (COA), and the Comite Juvenil Anticomunista (CJA). It is also believed that other groups will become associated with the OAU through infiltration by ESSENCE sub-agents. These probably will include the Partido Unificacion Anticomunista (PUA), the Partido Unificacion Democratico (PUD), and the Partido Independiente Anticomunista del Oriente (PIACO). The entity known as Organizaciones Anti-Comunistas Unidas (OAU) is dominated by the CEUA which, in turn, is dominated by ESSENCE through sub-agents ESSENCE-1 and ESSENCE-2. ESSENCE himself takes no part in the overt operations of OAU or of the CEUA. The CEUA, also known as ESSENCE-A, has engaged in overt white propaganda activities...and has organized a distributing mechanism covering Guatemala. Within the overt organization, ESSENCE is building up a secret and selected organization known as ESSENCE B which will be controlled by ESSENCE by ESSENCE-3. This organization will engage in covert anti-government and anti-communist black propaganda...The direct action group now known as ESSENCE-C will be headed by ESSENCE-5 working under the direct instructions of ESSENCE. A courier group for maintaining liaison with exiled groups will be known as ESSENCE-D and the couriers will be trusted members of ESSENCE-A operating under the control of ESSENCE-1 and ESSENCE-3..." (CONTINUED BELOW) - - - Better print document: Pages 32-35: https://www.cia.gov/readingroom/docs/DOC_0000923959.pdf


Circa 12/01/53: Draft: Individual PP, Guatemala..."The anti-communist news bulletin, known as ESSENCE-E, will appear to he the official organ of ESSENCE-A. Control is exercised by ESSENCE through ESSENCE-6. This newspaper or news bulletin has now come out under the name El Rebelde...It is also planned to organize a radio program which will be known as ESSENCE-F and will be handled by ESSENCE through ESSENCE-7. It is planned that this radio program shall appear to be financed by means of advertisements solicited from local businessmen. Key Personnel: The key individuals first met by Donald O. Hediger, who operated under the direction of the Chief of Station, Guatemala, were (REDACTION) and the individual now known as ESSENCE...Modus Operandi: On one occasion, 15 September 1953, 106,000 anti-communist stickers, labels, and flyleaves were released in Guatemala City and in 123 outlying towns and fincas. These propaganda items were prepared by ESSENCE and his group and printed in local shops..."

Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954: Guatemala Current Section: Abbreviations and Cryptonyms

Page xv: ..."ESSENCE, Guatemalan anti-Communist leader..." - - - 01/11/54: Routing and Record Sheet: From: Chief, Western Hemisphere Division: Comments: "Two PBSUCCESS reports which may be of interest. ESSENCE is an anti-Communist Guatemalan student leader..." https://www.cia.gov/readingroom/docs/DOC_0000914272.pdf


02/25/54: Cable from LINCOLN to Director: Slugline RYBAT PBSUCCESS: RE: GUAT 119 (IN 21229) IMMEDIATE ACTION: "1. Having full knowledge situation described ref message and perceiving no disadvantage subsequent change, assuming GUAT would establish contact on this basis, LINC had presumed compliance with its request. Therefore 14-day delay is considered two weeks additional operational time lost. Avoid in future by querying more rapidly any doubts. 2. Razmara was being held WSBURNT (Guatemala) pending possibility Hegarty could replace him. Due security reasons, Hegarty has been assigned WSHOOFS (Honduras), ETA 24 Feb. 3. Necessity changing Hegarty as above creates serious replacement problem as no other KUGOWN (Psychological and Paramilitary Staff) officer is available. Only immediate solution appears as follows: A) Examine possibility transferring all or some Vaivada (Ross Crozier) agents to other cutouts and assigning him to ESSENCE disregarding KUFIRE (Intelligence) status. B) Determine whether anything can be done to improve Razmara cover to minimize security hazard. C) Present an alternative to above. 4. Presume you fully cognizant vital importance ESSENCE to PBSUCCESS and will give matter urgent attention. 5. If Razmara must leave WSBURNT, LINC desires he assume duties KUGOWN C/O, DTFROGS (El Salvador) for Fage. Please advise if cover permits." - - - 03/25/54: This cable mentioned that the father of Lionel Signiega (exiled law student and CEUAGE administrator) had been arrested by police in Guatemala City. Source was ESSENCE: https://www.cia.gov/readingroom/docs/DOC_0000916943.pdf


04/21/54: Air dispatch from LINCOLN to COS, Guatemala: Subject: KUGOWN: Comments on HGG-A-887: "1. It is time (actually long past time) that LINCOLN expressed appreciation to Tranger, Razmara, ESSENCE and the many subordinates of ESSENCE for the vigorous, valiant and profitable manner in which they have been and are conducting their operations...The ESSENCE complex and its works are of a somewhat elusive variety, so that the officers concerned with it probably do not have the immediate, tangible satisfactions that go with the pursuit of a more highly structured operation. But the atmosphere in the country and the spirit of the people that have plainly been created by the ESSENCE operation, elusive though it may be, is an indispensable stepping-stone to the success to which we all aspire. LINCOLN recognizes the primary role of the ESSENCE operation in the psychological conditioning of the Guatemalan people and there is not now nor will there be any inclination to forget that...This is particularly true in view of the fact that difficulties are being encountered in getting CEUAGE and El Combate into the country. The maintenance of at least one overt organ is essential. in this connection, you are requested to procure from ESSENCE his detailed recommendations for more effective infiltration of CEUAGE and Combate into Guatemala. We note that ESSENCE has, in the past, taken exception to some of the methods of infiltration as being insecure and as jeopardizing other operations. Has he any recommendations for more secure entry and distribution of these publications?...11. For the period 15 April to 15 May, LINCOLN again will make available to you $25,000 for ESSENCE activities. As previously stated, this sum is set so that ESSENCE activities will not suffer at all for want of money..."


06/12/54: Cable from Guatemala City to Director: Slugline RYBAT PBSUCCESS: "1. Govt apparently using curtailment civil liberties and news blackout to cover nation wide search, seizure and suppression of opposition. Following is summary of Razmara 10 June report from ESSENCE and ESSENCE-1. A. Many Calligeris (Carlos Castillo Armas) partisans in capital with reports, seeking guidance, funds, looking for SEMANTIC (probably Domingo Goicolea Villacorta) or his replacement. B. ESSENCE one of principal objects police search. (REDACTION) sole remaining ESSENCE CEUA contact arrested (REDACTION) June, talked freely before release (REDACTION) June. Last saw ESSENCE 8 June and presumably reported his presence in GUAT to police. C. Black member (REDACTION) (as RCVD) arrested, can blow ESSENCE organization in BOND (Puerto Barrios), CAESAR (Quetzaltenango), EDDIE (El Quiche). Can also blow ESSENCE-1 who was previously clean and principal free agent ESSENCE complex. D. ESSENCE home searched yesterday, also homes of (REDACTION) 'and others.' E. ESSENCE refugees from provinces report reign of terror, insist action must come soon or opposition in provinces will be destroyed. Calligeris sympathizers desperate, losing faith, may set off isolated uprisings all over country to detriment of awaited united move. 2. Do not expect fulfilment any assigned KUGOWN (Psychological and Paramilitary Staff) tasks (eg HULA 912, 751). Devoting all efforts to protection remaining...assets. If necessary will advise ESSENCE seek political asylum and send Razmara adjoining country. Will keep you advised..."

Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954: Guatemala Current Section: 260. 6/29/54-Telegram From the CIA Station in Guatemala to Operation PBSUCCESS Headquarters in Florida

06/29/54: Telegram from Guatemala Station to Operation PBSUCCESS Headquarters in Florida: "999. 1. (REDACTION) 2. (REDACTION) his only ambition is obtain cease fire and end of 'useless' slaughter. 3. He sending plane to Zacapa in attempt land there (REDACTION). I warned him that plane might be shot down and it would be advisable to waggle wings etc if approached. 4. He preparing (REDACTION) asking for cease fire and immediate start discussions with Calligeris (Carlos Castillo Armas). 5. My impression is that govt here so completely shaken they will make only half hearted attempt to establish any conditions. 6. ESSENCE has many men ready though they without arms at moment. However irregulars from Via Canales area may start moving in immediately. 7. Saw some of Salama prisoners. They horribly beaten. Several were assassinated by guards. 8. (REDACTION) stated that STANDEL-1 (Colonel Carlos Enrique Diaz) had forced him into deal with help certain army officers which had obliged him play cagey game and arrange for inside coup. (REDACTION). Believe nobody desirous of occupying hot seat at this moment..."


08/05/54: Cable from Guatemala to Director: Slugline PBSUCCESS: "Beginning 1700 hours 4 Aug public demonstration favor Castillo Armas held in capital. Estimated 15000 people gathered cathedral plaza to hear speeches of Castillo Armas, Monzon, Lionel Sisniego Otero and others. Castillo Armas loudly cheered, Monzon booed. Sisniego student leader asked for general strike to force junta be reduced to one man, Castillo Armas. Petition from several civic anti-commie groups demanding junta be removed to one man read aloud. People becoming emphatic in demands that Monzon be dropped from junta no violence. Strike not called. Entire city normal. Source: Station personnel."


08/11/54: Cable from Guatemala to Director: "1. IDEN in unsolicited visit with Mylkes, Langevin (David Phillips), leaders CEUA, Lionel Sisniegos, Jose Tohron, Mario Lopez evening 10 August stated their intention to unequivacably withdraw CEUA support Calligeris (Carlos Castillo Armas) and make public announcement they not responsible for govt failure to take firm steps against known commies (many of whom still hold high public office). 2. At our request Secretary General CEUA, Sisniegos, has agreed to delay action for 5 days. Although Calligeris still public hero his liberation supporters rapidly becoming disillusioned because lack even token commie reprisal. For example: Public knowledge several self-admitted Arbenz tortures remain unpunished. 3. View above suggest reemphasize to JMBLUG (John S. Peurifoy) necessity Calligeris taking firmer stand to bolster diminishing prestige. Any change govt next 60 days would make PBHISTORY (note: CIA project to gather and analyze documents from the Arbenz government in Guatemala that would incriminate Arbenz as a Communist) excellent propaganda target for any nationalistic Calligeris successor..."

Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952-1954: Guatemala Current Section: 284. 8/24/54-Telegram From the CIA Station in Guatemala to the Central Intelligence Agency

08/24/54: Telegram from Guatemala Station: ..."K. ZPSEMANTIC (probably Domingo Goicolea Villacorta), Coronado Lira, Mario Sandoval, ESSENCE, and other key anti Communists and govt figures facing dilemma concerning their future actions. One hand do not wish jettison Calligeris (Carlos Castillo Armas) who still popular hero. They consider supporting him desirable but only up to point where they can continue doing so without sacrificing anti Communist cause and their reputations. On other hand, break with Calligeris would play into army and possibly Communist hands unless this accompanied by successful movement which would control country..."


06/17/2004: Article by Sergio de Leon of the Associated Press: Headlined: Guatemalans Divided 50 Years After Coup: "GUATEMALA CITY - The CIA-directed overthrow of President Jacobo Arbenz happened 50 years ago Thursday, yet Guatemalans are still at odds over whether it prevented the Central American country from becoming 'the first Cuba in America' or destroyed a 'position of dignity and sovereignty against the new imperialism.' The coup and its consequences were 'the beginning of a polarization that lasted up until recently,' historian Ruben Lopez said...But Lionel Sisniega Otero, one of the coup leaders, referred to Arbenz's ouster as a 'liberation,' because he said communism was a real threat to the country. 'It's definite that if we had continued on the same path we were headed in ... Guatemala would have been the first Cuba in America,' he said. In the 1950s, Guatemala found itself caught in the middle of the Cold War during which the United States and its allies launched anti-communist campaigns throughout the world. Guatemala posed no threat to the United States, but U.S. leaders at the time feared the country risked becoming a bastion of communism in the Americas, said Jorge Lujan, professor of history at the Guatemala Valley University. The CIA began its operation to overthrow Arbenz, dubbed PB Success, in 1954. The agency broadcast propaganda from Honduras through clandestine transmissions of 'Liberation Radio' and helped military opposition figure Carlos Castillo Armas lead an invasion of Guatemala on June 17. The Americans flew planes overhead and distributed arms and propaganda inviting people to join in 'the liberation.' Sisniega, who was director and announcer of Liberation Radio, contends that the only support the CIA gave were arms and two airplanes. 'Nobody told us what to say or how to manage things,' he said.


09/20/2012: Obituary to Lionel Sisniega by Jose Elijah on elpais.com website: Headlined: Leonel Sisniega, recalcitrant Guatemalan coup leader: Sponsored by the CIA, it contributed to the overthrow of progressive President Jacobo Arbenz: "Leonel Sisniega Otero (Guatemala City, 1925), one of the historical leaders of the most recalcitrant anti-communism in Guatemala, died last Monday, a victim of cancer. Sisniega Otero is one of the key figures in Guatemalan history in the second half of the 20th century and reached its peak after the coup that, sponsored by the US CIA, overthrew the progressive government of President Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán. He was known, and always boasted of it, as 'the voice of liberation', as the Guatemalan far right euphemistically called the invasion of troops initiated in Honduras under the command of Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas, which ended a period, 1944- 1954, known in this Central American country as the democratic spring. He kept, until the end of his days, an acetate disc with the messages that, in his professional announcer voice, the rebels sent to the population to join the conspiracy against a government branded by the US State Department as 'communist'. From that period, Sisniega Otero and his then inseparable co-religionist, Mario Sandoval Alarcón, recently returned from Spain, made a parallel, with rims of sainete, between the 'liberation' and the Spanish Civil War and promoted parades imitating the gestures of the Falangists. Both had the writings of José Antonio Primo de Rivera on their nightstand and Francisco Franco as the undisputed hero...The last coup d'état co-led by this vocational conspirator occurred on March 23, 1982, when a group of young officers overthrew the corrupt and bloodthirsty government of Romeo Lucas García and placed the ineffable General Efraín Ríos Montt at the head of the State, who led a bloody dictatorship between 1982 and 1983 and currently under house arrest accused of crimes against humanity..."

Gavin McDonald

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