90. Report and Recommendations of the Washington Assessment Team on the Internal Security Situation in South America1

[Here follows a table of contents.]


  • Report of Assessment Team on Internal Security Situation in South America

Between November 15 and December 21, 1961, a special inter-agency survey team visited the ten South American countries to assess the internal security situations in these countries, and to report their views for transmittal to appropriate officers of the United States Government. The team consisted of the following members:

  • C. A. Boonstra (Chairman), Department of State
  • E. C. Townsend, Colonel, USA, Department of Defense
  • H. L. Downing, Colonel, USAF, Caribbean Command
  • H. O. Hardin, Agency for International Development
  • S. J. Papich, Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • N. L. Ferris, Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • [name not declassified] Central Intelligence Agency
  • [name not declassified] Central Intelligence Agency


The capabilities of nations in Latin America to maintain law and order in situations where violence is instigated, or supported, by Communist and Castro agents or sympathizers is vitally important to hemisphere defense. In late 1960 the American Embassies in these countries were instructed by a joint State-Defense-ICA directive to prepare detailed reports assessing the internal security situations. A follow-up in Central American and Caribbean countries was made by a traveling inter-agency assessment team in April-May 1961.

Scope of Survey

The South American Assessment Team (SAAT) was instructed to report on (1) the nature and extent of the Communist threat in each country; (2) the capacity of the police and armed forces of each country to maintain internal security, and the will of government and society to back them up; (3) any organizational changes needed in each country to improve the maintenance of internal security; (4) the capabilities of the U.S. agencies within the country to assist the local government in internal security, and to keep Washington informed; (5) prospects for exchange of intelligence information; and (6) requirements for U.S. advice, equipment and training.

Latin American problems are such that almost all actions by the local governments, and by the U.S. exert influence on the internal security situations. Particularly important are courses of action relating to economic and social development, now embodied in the Alliance for Progress, and those affecting education, health, and information. The survey team considered its specific assignment, however, as being the complex of police, military, and intelligence activities which bear directly on the suppression and control of subversion and politically-motivated violence.

Visits were made by the team to each of the South American countries, beginning in Venezuela and proceeding thereafter to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia. In each country the team consulted with U.S. personnel and reviewed pertinent documents.

General findings and recommendations are summarized in the first part of the report. The second part presents the individual country assessments. The review of intelligence activities, for which Mr. S.J. Papich of the Federal Bureau of Investigation had primary responsibility, [Page 204] comprises the third part of the report and is being forwarded separately through appropriate channels.2

Summary of Findings

In general the internal security forces of the South American countries have the capability, when there is a will to do so, for maintaining order and for suppressing outbreaks of violence in those principal urban centers where, so far, the strength of subversive forces has been concentrated. In none of the countries are the Communist parties capable at this time of seizing power, or of sustaining a large-scale campaign of organized armed struggle, through efforts involving only their own members and sympathizers.

The primary threats to internal security come from the capabilities of Communists and Communist sympathizers to utilize the forces of other political groups in advancing their programs. Unrest and disorder stemming from these diverse other sources provide opportunities for the use of violence, not in the previous pattern of palace coups, but in broadly based political and social movements. The Communists are able to cooperate with and to supply leadership to the extremists of the left, and to provoke violence on the part of the extremists of the right. Emphasis is placed on discrediting, outflanking, and outmaneuvering those internal security forces which the Communists cannot successfully combat. Their courses of action include the now-familiar techniques of pressure, infiltration, and division in weakening the will of governments for taking effective action, and of initiating violence principally in rural areas and on issues where the internal security forces are vulnerable.

Countries having already critical problems in internal security accompanied by violence that requires urgent attention are Colombia and Bolivia. Political and class divisions are developing in Peru and Ecuador which soon could place these countries in a similar category. Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina are maintaining internal security through a delicate balancing of political forces which involve risk of sudden deterioration. In Chile, where internal security is supported by relatively good police forces, Communist capabilities are being strengthened through constitutional processes and accelerated by a deteriorating economic situation. Uruguay, which is a relatively stable country in spite of being the base for much Soviet bloc activity, will find its problems serious if situations in Brazil and Argentina grow worse. Finally, Paraguay is unique among the South American countries in that its primary internal security threat is not aggression from within, but from exiles outside its borders who are motivated by highly diverse political objectives.

Even in those countries where internal security problems are the most serious, there is time still for the construction of forces adequate to [Page 205] deal with them. Recognition of the urgency to do something now is the principal problem.

Past military and intelligence programs of South American countries, and those for providing U.S. assistance, have been relatively small and slow-moving and have dealt principally with unrealistic requirements for defense against external aggression. Under previously prevailing priorities and attitudes, lags and obstacles were not considered of serious import. Such approaches are now incompatible with the urgent need to improve internal security capabilities.

Since much of the Communist threat is based on the exploitation of disorders developing from economic and social pressures, the foundation of the internal security programs must be the effort to remedy these underlying causes. To be successful, however, such programs must in themselves disturb the existing structures of nations and their societies, and they increase accordingly the need for internal security forces capable of assuring the stability essential to their implementation.

The fact that military strength has long been a principal supporting factor in South American governments is misleading with respect to the capability of these forces, during this period of rapid changes, to assure internal security. In most countries the armies are little more than professional officer corps controlling masses of poorly trained conscripts. Such forces have been effective frequently as a political factor, and when used on a mass basis, have been able to control principal cities and to repel attacks on garrisons. The value of such forces for internal security action against subversive forces, however, is highly questionable. Officers and enlisted men share few common objectives. The forces can be easily divided on political issues; they lack the training, light arms, communications, transport and small tactical units which would be necessary to control widely scattered disorder or guerrilla attacks. What is needed today is the shift of South American military effort away from the principal cities and from the traditional political role, to the establishment of small tactical forces stationed strategically where internal security is threatened.

This would require concurrently an increase in police capabilities within these principal cities. The South American countries best equipped today to use their Armed Forces effectively for internal security purposes are those with relatively strong police forces. Deficiency in day-to-day maintenance of public order in the populated areas provides an ideal climate for subversive action throughout the entire country. Those countries relying on strong armed forces with little emphasis on police thereby reduce their capabilities to move where needed against wide-spread subversive effort and indirect aggression.

Equally vital to internal security are adequate facilities for investigation and for intelligence collection. The internal security efforts of South American countries are deficient in these respects.

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To a large extent these situations exist because the will of government and society is such that the necessary improvements are not considered urgent or demanded. The U.S. is endeavoring now to stimulate will toward remedying basic causes of social unrest and civil disorder. There is required equally the stimulation of will to erect internal security structures capable of dealing with subversive activity and violence. This will require drastic modifications in the structure, equipment, and training of South American armed forces, in the strengthening of police forces, and in intelligence collection.

The first systematic United States effort toward development of internal security capabilities in the South American armed forces was made in the 1962 military assistance program, but because top-level approval still is lacking, the program is not yet fully in operation. In the interim there have been grants of several special “packages” of internal security equipment and training. Aside from this, any increase in internal security capabilities derived by the South American armed forces from past programs has been a fringe benefit.

Another benefit, often considered to be the principal U.S. asset derived from the past programs, is the existence of a generally pro-U.S., well-oriented, and reasonably well-educated officer corps. Influential officers are to be found within each country today who recognize the need for reconstruction of the armed forces to meet subversive threats of the type which in the future may appear. Although each of the countries for its own reasons will endeavor to support some conventional, prestige type forces, there exists today a far better opportunity than ever before to exert U.S. influence toward orienting these forces to the internal security concept.

Along with military aspects of internal security programs, most of the South American countries are studying the advisability of utilizing their armed forces on construction projects and other programs characterized as civic action. Such effort is commendable provided it does not detract from the internal security capability. The first, and most important, task is the transition from conventional forces to those trained and equipped primarily for internal security. The South American armed forces at present do not have the trained manpower to do this and simultaneously to divert their resources into widespread civic action. Initial emphasis should be given to those functions which serve areas where they provide simultaneously an internal security and construction force.

U.S. efforts to cope with internal security problems are hampered by lack of unity in working out programs at the country level and in Washington. This is strongly evident in the South American military assistance programs. U.S. military training missions to the South American countries are individually and independently established on service lines. At present, although one U.S. officer in each country has responsibility for coordination and for implementation of the military assistance [Page 207] program, he does not have command authority except over officers of his own service. Communications with the Canal Zone headquarters of the unified command, and with other agencies, and with Washington are limited by inadequate procedures and facilities. The result is a cumbersome, slowly moving effort lacking the unified command and influence needed for adequately coordinated assistance to the armed forces of the host country.

If U.S. military influence is to be used more effectively toward improving the internal security capabilities, what is most needed today is an adequate revision of the entire U.S. military program in South America including the basic bilateral treaties and the force structures agreed to therein, the command and support organization of the U.S. MAAGs and military training missions, the intelligence effort of the armed forces attaches, the legislation which hampers systematic planning of internal security assistance and a clear cut assignment of responsibility and authority as compared to the present diffused system.

To assist in strengthening police capabilities, the AID at present has police assistance and training programs in four of the South American countries. These programs are making a notable contribution toward internal security in proportion to the relatively small resources being utilized. The emphasis has been on organization, administration, records, investigations, and non-lethal tactics of riot control, all based on the public service concept.

Questions have been raised in the past as to whether police assistance and training is properly an AID function. The survey in South America indicated clearly that AID should continue to have responsibility for administering the police assistance programs. This, along with financial support for modest civic action programs of the military forces, provides to AID an important role in the overall internal security effort.

Intelligence capability is the third principal area of deficiency which can benefit by U.S. assistance. This by its nature is delicate and sensitive. Attachment of intelligence advisors to U.S. military missions, already underway, is a useful contribution. Training and assistance for the investigative branches of the police forces is another. Encouragement and assistance should be given to those countries which are trying to organize national intelligence systems.

The adequacy of U.S. intelligence collection, mainly to keep the U.S. informed, but also to support where desirable the internal security capabilities of the South American countries, is assessed in the separately distributed annex to this report.3

Finally, the several U.S. agencies administering internal security programs within South American countries require better coordination. The country team as presently constituted in the larger Embassies [Page 208] imposes too broad a span for the Ambassador to coordinate and control effectively the multitude of U.S. programs. For internal security programs there is need to fix responsibility in a small working group headed by a senior officer with responsibility and adequate authority. The size of working groups from that now required could be drastically reduced by the previously suggested simplification of the command structure for U.S. military personnel within the country.

An urgent need exists for coordinated inter-agency guidance to the Country Teams on internal security programs. At present there is no directive authorizing the Country Teams to carry on joint military planning with the host countries for such purposes. Restrictions continue to exist on the use for internal security of equipment delivered within the hemisphere defense programs of past years. Guidance is inadequate respecting sources of supply, types of equipment and policies to be followed in responding to requests for riot control equipment.

Recommendations for U.S. Action

All aspects of the U.S. military assistance programs including authorizing legislation, bilateral agreements, MAAG and Mission organization, and U.S. policy objectives should be revised to conform with the concept that maintenance of their own internal security is the primary contribution that South American armed forces can make to Western Hemisphere defense.
Responsibility and authority should be consolidated and specifically assigned in Washington to provide for the continuing direction, control and coordination of the internal security program for Latin America. Within the Country Team of each Embassy, responsibility and authority similarly should be consolidated and assigned.
AID, the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency should agree on a joint program for each country defining the weapons, tactics, and forces to be encouraged for use in control of mobs and violence and the means for assuring adequate stocks of riot-control equipment and appropriate police weapons.
Effectiveness and flexibility of military assistance should be improved by combining the Training Missions and Military Assistance Advisory Groups (MAAG’s) in each country into one unified command directly subordinate to Commander-in-Chief Caribbean Command (CINCARIB), by providing adequate communications systems, by systematic planning of internal security assistance, and by prompt and orderly implementation of agreed programs.
AID should give much higher priority in South America to the support of police assistance and training, both in country and regional projects.
The Department of Defense, CIA, and AID should increase and coordinate their efforts to improve intelligence capabilities of South [Page 209] American countries, particularly in the areas of intelligence advisors, intelligence exchange, police investigative personnel, technical equipment and training.
The USIS, the Department of Defense and AID should make a coordinated effort to foster a constructive information and indoctrination program for personnel of the South American armed forces and police forces.
Participation of South American military forces in civic action, and in economic and social development programs, should be encouraged only to the extent that such efforts contribute to, or do not interfere with, the reorganization and urgently needed training of forces for internal security.
AID, in addition to police assistance, should coordinate with the Department of Defense on civic action programs contributing to internal security, including in some cases the recognition of improved living standards for the armed forces as an economic and social need.

[Here follows Part II of the report.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.20/8-461. Secret.
  2. Part II is not printed. Part III was not found with the source text.
  3. Reference is to Part III.