220. Memorandum of conversation, December 16, between President Kennedy and President Betancourt and other U.S. and Venezuelan officials1

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  • Conference Between President Kennedy and Venezuelan President Betancourt—Military Assistance


  • The President
  • Ambassador Chester Bowles
  • Mr. C. Allan Stewart, Chargé d’Affaires ad interim
  • Mr. Robert F. Woodward, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs
  • Mr. Teodoro Moscoso, Assistant Administrator for Latin America of the Agency for International Development
  • Mr. Richard Goodwin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs
  • Mr. Harold Linder, President of Export-Import Bank of Washington
  • Mr. Fernando van Reigersberg, LS staff interpreter
  • President Romulo Betancourt of Venezuela
  • Dr. Marcos Falcón Briceño, Foreign Minister of Venezuela
  • Dr. Andres German Otero, Minister of Finance of Venezuela
  • General Antonio Briceño Linares, Minister of Defense of Venezuela
  • Dr. Jose Antonio Mayobre, Venezuelan Ambassador to the United States
  • Dr. Alejandro Oropeza Castillo, Governor of the Federal District of Venezuela
  • Dr. Manuel Perez Guerrero, Chief, Office of Coordination and Planning, Venezuelan Government

The meeting convened at 5:15 p.m. on December 16, 1961, at Los Nuñez, President Betancourt’s residence in Caracas, Venezuela. Several unrelated matters were discussed at this conference, including the subject covered in this memorandum.

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Military Assistance to Venezuela

Minister of Defense Briceño Linares was asked by President Betancourt to discuss military equipment needs. General Briceño Linares said that the equipment of the Venezuelan armed forces was obsolete and worn out and that, in view of the Castro menace and increasing arms smuggling, it was vital that new equipment be obtained on long credit terms to make the Venezuelan armed forces more efficient. The Air Force is flying F–86’s and some European-made airplanes but [Typeset Page 525] would need new equipment. The same applies to the Army, which is also in great need of new barracks.

President Kennedy invited General Briceño to visit Washington to discuss his needs with the Pentagon. He asked what Venezuela needed and the Minister said he was preparing a list.

President Kennedy indicated that there has been considerable Congressional curtailment of funds for military assistance to Latin America as a result of previous use of some of these funds in Latin American countries under dictators who procured weapons which they utilized to keep themselves in power. President Kennedy expressed the opinion that Castro did not present a great overt aggressive threat to Venezuela because, if his forces attacked Venezuela, the OAS and US would come to Venezuela’s defense in a matter of hours. He did think, however, that Venezuela might justify its military needs to provide internal security against such things as guerrilla warfare and arms smuggling.

General Briceño said unassessed intelligence in possession of his Government indicated that Panama, through the collaboration of the Panamanian National Guard and a “prominent Panamanian family”, was becoming a dangerous center for smuggling of arms, some of which were coming into Venezuela. This information has been uncovered by the Venezuelan military and additional studies are being made. When asked whether Iron Curtain Country weapons were being encountered, General Briceño replied that most of them were surplus weapons emanating from the United States and from many European countries.

President Kennedy stated that some way should be found of halting arms smuggling and added that if General Briceño could devise a plan for so doing and present it during his Washington trip it would be very helpful. The President said that it might be possible to take some Caribbean-wide measures to counter this smuggling. This might include the creation of Caribbean defense machinery.

President Betancourt stated that a special fund administered by the armed forces had been heavily drawn upon for the purpose of lending money to the military for housing and additional new funds were needed. He inquired whether funds that are appropriated under the Mutual Security program could be assigned to this housing fund. President Betancourt pointed out that, in general, Venezuela does not want more equipment but only wishes to replace that which is becoming useless. The change would be for conventional and more modern equipment without seeking anything fancy. He said the Venezuelan aircraft were antiquated and that ships which go out on Unitas maneuvers thereafter require expensive overhauling abroad. The purchase of these ships in Europe [Facsimile Page 3] during the dictatorship was accompanied by huge graft payments with the result that Venezuela got stung. Venezuela has only one submarine, although three crews have been trained and a morale problem is thereby created.

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General Briceño also mentioned the need for an additional submarine.

President Kennedy replied that it would be very difficult to provide a submarine at the present time.

President Kennedy said he would look forward to seeing General Briceño in Washington and would put him in contact with the Defense Department. He asked again that General Briceño attempt to devise a solution to the arms smuggling problem.

General Briceño, as a parting shot, mentioned the gift of aircraft to Yugoslavia and President Kennedy said the aircraft obtained helped the Yugoslavs very little.

President Betancourt thanked President Kennedy and expressed his satisfaction over a very fruitful meeting.

The meeting concluded at 7:00 P.M.

  1. Military assistance. Secret. 3 pp. DOS, Presidential Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 66 D 149.