The Ambassador in Paraguay (Beaulac) to the Secretary of State
[Received June 21.]
Sir: Supplementing my telegram no. 269 of June 14 2 p.m.,4 I have the honor to report that I called on President Higinio Morinigo this morning in order to give him an opportunity to present his version of recent events. It was not necessary for me to ask the President any questions. He proceeded immediately to tell me the story which I shall summarize below.
The President started out by saying that there was evidence that behind Benítez Vera’s rebellion was a plot to overthrow the Government, the leaders of which included Colonel Victoriano Benítez Vera; his brother-in-law, General Juan B. Ayala, Ambassador to Washington; Minister of Finance, Agustín Avila; Acting Chief of Staff, Colonel Bernardo Aranda G.; Dr. Gómez Freire Esteves, who was Minister of Interior under Colonel Franco;5 and Justo Pastor Benítez, a Liberal politician who is credited with having drafted the present Constitution of Paraguay and who frequently, from his place of residence in Brazil, criticizes the present Paraguayan government as undemocratic. In connection with the foregoing, the close connection between Benítez Vera, Aranda, and Avila, and between Avila and Freire Esteves have already been reported. It is perhaps not without interest that Benítez Vera is reported to have dined in Buenos Aires the night before his departure for Asunción with Manuel Ferreira, wealthy Liberal opponent of the present regime and systematic critic of the present government and of the Cavalry Group.
The President told me that Benítez Vera had told General Amancio Pampliega, Minister of War and President of the Paraguayan Special Mission to the Perón inauguration,6 that his companions at Campo Grande had called him back, and requested permission to return to Asuncion from Buenos Aires ahead of the rest of the delegation. Pampliega refused to grant this permission. Benítez Vera thereupon committed his first act of insubordination by obtaining the use of an Argentine military plane to carry him from Buenos Aires to Formosa. The President said that he obtained the plane by pleading illness of one of his children. From Formosa he came overland as far as Clorinda where he crossed the Paraguay river to Ita Enramada where he arrived at one a.m. on June 7. General Pampliega had meanwhile reported Benítez Vera’s unauthorized departure to the President by [Page 1179] telegram. Benítez Vera failed for some time to report his presence either to the President or to the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.7 Finally (I am not sure on which day) he called the President by telephone and asked for an audience. The President told him to meet him at his house. He came to the President’s house where he complained against General Machuca. The President reprimanded him for having left Buenos Aires without permission and charged him with insubordination. Benítez Vera then charged Machuca with inciting Benítez Vera’s subordinates to rebel against his authority. He said his subordinate officers did not accept Machuca as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and that he was going along with his officers. The President then asked him whether he was presenting the President with a fait accompli. Benítez Vera admitted that that was the case. The President then ordered him to return to his Division, keep his men in quarters, and refrain from using arms. The President then called Lieutenant Colonel Enrique Gimenez, told him of Benítez Vera’s rebellious attitude, and instructed him and officers loyal to him to take orders only from him, the President, directly. In order to remove Benítez Vera’s apparent cause for rebellion, the President himself assumed direct command of the Armed Forces. He then contacted heads of military units in Asuncion and other places, told them of the situation as he knew it, and received from them pledges of loyalty.
Meanwhile Lieutenant Colonel Dario Cantero, commanding the Second Cavalry Regiment, who was loyal to Benítez Vera, was captured by his own men. When Benítez Vera heard this he called the President on the telephone, said that a rebellion against his, Benítez Vera’s, authority had occurred, and asked the President for reinforcements. He said that two of the regiments had declared against him. The President told him that he would send him no reinforcements and that what had happened was a logical consequence of his own rebellious attitude.
Benítez Vera then opened fire against the Second Cavalry Regiment. This started the battle. The President ordered units in Asuncion to surround Campo Grande in order to isolate the fight while he tried to stop it. He succeeded in telephoning some of the officers opposing Benítez Vera even though all telephone communications went through Benítez Vera’s headquarters, and instructed them to maintain their positions. He promised them support.
Finally, when Benítez Vera realized that he was not going to receive reinforcements he gave up and asked permission to come into town. He came to the President’s house and tried to talk to the President. The President told him he had nothing to say to him and ordered him [Page 1180] to his home to await the results of an investigation. Instead, Benítez Vera, with several other officers, went to the Brazilian Embassy where they sought and obtained asylum.
The Paraguayan government has not accepted unreservedly the Brazilian Embassy’s contention that the officers were entitled to asylum. Notes have been exchanged on the subject and will be given to the press. The Paraguayan government maintains the right to request their extradition in the event they are allowed to leave the country.
Conditions are still unsettled at Campo Grande. The Liberals and communists are working on the younger officers in an effort to undermine discipline. The President has refrained from declaring martial law even in the capital. He has merely prohibited street demonstrations.
At this point I told the President that there was considerable popular criticism of the Government because of alleged indecisive and equivocal action in handling the situation. I said it was being alleged, for example, that Colonel Aranda, all during the night of June 8–9, was actually cooperating with Benítez Vera, and it was presumed that he was doing so under the President’s instructions since he was in and out of the President’s house all during the time. The President said that the report was true but that the President and other military leaders did not know what Aranda was doing until after the fighting had stopped. He said Colonel Aranda had been Acting Chief of Staff for many years, he had the whole machinery in his hands and no one else had it, and it was necessary to work through him. He said, incidentally, that he had intended to remove Aranda shortly, in any case, and had told Machuca so before the recent incident. He said he had advised Machuca to keep his head in handling Benítez Vera and Aranda; that he, the President, would get them out without any fuss. He implied that Machuca was hot-headed and clumsy in his effort to get rid of Benítez Vera.
I said that it was obvious that Aranda, Benítez Vera, et al, with the military machinery apparently in their hands, had been defeated because they lacked moral strength. I then suggested that the Paraguayan government improve its own moral position by making a prompt and categorical declaration that complete political liberty would be reestablished in Paraguay. I said, with particular reference to his statement that the communists and Liberals were trying to undermine discipline in the Army, that so long as the Liberals were deprived of their right to participate in politics they were justified in resorting to subversive tactics. I said that it seemed to me that the Government’s best defense against subversive tactics was to end the period of political repression which had already lasted too long.[Page 1181]
The President said that he had always planned to grant complete political liberty but that he had to proceed cautiously. He admitted that the deposed military group had been trying to sabotage the program through indirect methods. He said he had no objection (no hay inconveniente) to making the kind of categorical declaration of political freedom that I had suggested.
The President was worried and at times during our conversation he showed considerable emotion. His explanation of his own role was not entirely convincing, although he may have been sincere in the impression he tried to give that he had temporized with Benítez Vera in order (1) to gain time to gather forces with which to oppose him and (2) to prevent bloodshed, if possible.