300. Despatch From the Ambassador in Brazil (Kemper) to the Department of State1

No. 999


  • An Evaluation of the Café Filho Government in the Light of United States Policy


Although the Café Filho Administration had certain political advantages when it assumed office, the President has failed to provide the leadership needed to exploit the initiative which consequently is passing to the pro-Vargas forces, who have regrouped and are making a new bid for power. President Café Filho’s decision to act as a caretaker instead of a leader also has prejudiced seriously the possibility of carrying out fully the administration’s program for economic reform, forcing the Minister of Finance to operate largely [Page 634] within the limits of his ministerial powers. The United States probably could not have prevented this failure to assume effective leadership by large scale economic assistance, but is nonetheless being increasingly blamed, by Administration as well as opposition sources, for the Government’s inability to solve Brazil’s pressing economic problems. A climate of opinion is thus being created which is prejudicial not only to pending negotiations but also to basic United States-Brazil relationships. There is still an opportunity, however, for the United States to improve the climate and to bolster the Café Filho government by a sympathetic attitude and occasional concessions, and this opportunity should be seized to provide support for elements favorable to us and to impede the return to power of elements inimical to the long-range interests of the United States.

[Here follows a detailed analysis of internal Brazilian developments.]

From the United States standpoint, the most serious development is the growing inclination to place the blame on the United States for not having moved rapidly and generously with respect to financial aid and to ascribe to this lack of outside aid the responsibility for the Administration’s failure to supply courageous leadership. This viewpoint is beginning to take root among Brazilians who are normally our staunch supporters. Officials of the Government are discouraged and are tending toward a frame of mind which may prejudice the attainment of United States objectives and aid the election of individuals who may pose future serious problems for United States policy.

For obvious reasons these Brazilian officials ignore the fact that a policy of conciliation, caretaking, and drift would have been made easier by the availability of large-scale United States credits to alleviate immediate difficulties. It is entirely conceivable, for example, that even the limitation of bank credit and the cut in imports imposed successfully by Gudin could not be maintained if liberal United States financing were available. Also, without a secure political position looking toward the 1955 election, massive United States aid might in the long run have worked to the advantage of any irresponsible left-wing administration taking office in 1956.

Regardless of the arguments, the fact remains that President Café Filho’s Government, with the exception of Minister Gudin, by now has lost most of its original political momentum, as well as public confidence in its ability to proceed in placing Brazil on the road to economic and political stability. This has permitted a regrouping of the former hard-core supporters of the Vargas Government. Their consequent resurgence as a political force has tended further to limit the Administration’s field of maneuver. Furthermore, the adverse economic effects of the Vargas Administration’s last acts [Page 635] (particularly the minimum wage revision and the coffee policy) are only now beginning to be fully felt, and the present Government is being blamed for the consequent economic suffering of the public. Consequently, there is little opportunity now for progress toward solution of basic economic problems, such as revision of the excessively nationalistic petroleum legislation.

The resurgence of the pro-Vargas group has now reached a point at which most conservative politicians seem to feel that the best result which can be expected from this year’s presidential election would be the nomination and election of a “candidate of national union”; in brief, a coalition candidate who would be supported by virtually all the political forces, thus avoiding the political strife which is normal in an election campaign. In advancing the “national union” hypothesis, its proponents assert that the alternative would probably be a coalition of the former Vargas supporters with left wing political forces and the more short sighted members of the industrial community, which would be virtually assured of electoral victory. Such a situation, they continue, might set off a move by the military, probably headed by junior field-grade officers and designed to prevent a return to the practices of the Vargas Administration by seizing the Government by force. In such a case, they say, the only alternative would be a military dictatorship or, in the event of a split in the Armed Forces, civil strife.

In considering the present state of affairs, it appears rather clearly that once President Café Filho made the basic decision not to supply positive leadership, there remained little possibility of utilizing the Administration’s term in office for the accomplishment of major political and economic objectives. In view of the President’s personal character and the reluctance of his supporters to risk public protests, it is doubtful that the United States, even during the initial weeks of the regime, could have materially stiffened the political resolution of the present government or have achieved through it any immediate substantial improvement in Brazil’s chaotic politico-economic situation. There has existed, however, and still does exist a chance for the United States to display its helpful intent, to aid the Administration in holding a moderately progressive course, and to strengthen its public prestige.

In spite of its weaknesses, the Café Filho Government is fundamentally well disposed toward the United States, which scarcely could be said of its predecessor, and has tried to place its nation’s welfare above personal interests or petty political ambitions. We still have an opportunity to strengthen it politically, principally by displaying a sympathetic understanding of its problems and a willingness to make occasional economic concessions which can be exploited by it to domestic political advantage. It would be a [Page 636] misfortune of the first magnitude if we should fail to recognize and seize this opportunity, thus unwittingly weakening those Brazilian elements favorably disposed to us and contributing to the return in 1956 of the inefficient, opportunistic, and inimical forces which they replaced.

For the Ambassador
William C. Trimble
Minister-Counselor of Embassy
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 732.00/1–2455. Confidential.