127. Telegram From the Embassy in Argentina to the Department of State 1

1836. From Ambassador.

I find myself very puzzled about what might happen to Illia government. Week ago qualified local observers were noting increased tranquility and improved atmosphere for seeking political rather than military solutions to Argentina’s problems. Yesterday was generally agreed to have been most tense since Illia government took office with B.A. full of rumors of all sorts of dramatic events, all pointing in one way or another toward disappearance of Illia government, and all as of this morning unfulfilled. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] reports also alarmist but many of them are from golpeslanted sources.
During week several events took place which, added to others which have occurred over past several weeks, provide basis for this changed atmosphere, though no one of them was of major importance. This combination of disturbing developments gave ammunition to active golpistas, largely civilian, who are impatiently seeking to create situation which military will consider justifies removal of government. Long expected economic and political chaos or collapse of government has not materialized and crisis over March 67 elections may be avoided and is in any case some months away. Hence these frantic efforts to provide chaos through rumor and to pressure military into action which government cannot overlook and which might lead to confrontation in which military will be forced to use their power.
While some military leaders share this impatience, Ongania and to lesser extent Pistarini, will make decision. Basically I believe Ongania would prefer not to move but is profoundly unhappy about state of country twelve years after Peron was overthrown and about performance of this government. Therefore careful plans for takeover have been drawn up by military in cooperation civilian experts. He may have concluded move inevitable but if so I believe he will prefer wait for situation in which he can justify action as clearly necessary and in national interest and can avoid charge military manuevered into action by civilian golpista intrigues with their variety of good and bad motives. He is very close mouthed and I doubt if more than two or three [Page 299] people, if that many, know what he thinks about situation as of today. We are trying to find out but I am doubtful of success. He is well informed on U.S. Government position.
If military moves believe there will not be armed opposition though may be a few resignations in armed forces. Nor will there be serious civilian disorder. However, short period in power may see considerable strains as proponents of golpe, both civilian and military, have varying motivations and policy conflicts could soon become serious.
I am convinced that Illia will fight his removal to end. His skill at this should not be underestimated. Some of his colleagues are apt to be less cool and determined. Already there is considerable increase in activity and flexibility in economic field though no major shifts have occurred. President has held unprecedented series of long meetings over past three weeks with economic team and with ministries responsible for various areas of social and economic development. Wednesday2 he met for four hours with Pugliese and economic team and yesterday for another several hours. His veto action on dismissal law was strong and basically sound. Thursday Labor Minister Sola made radio speech which attacked general strike called for June 7 in stronger terms than old-timers here remember any labor minister to have used. At the same time Sola has resumed dialogue with labor confederation (CGT). Government has persuaded leaders to call off ten-day national teachers’ strike scheduled to start June 6. Currently there are rumors that President will in few days intervene Tucuman provincial government and University of B.A. Both measures military have urged.
Nevertheless, situation is sufficiently fragile that it is at mercy of accidents. Our radio and newspaper contacts and trustworthy personal friends feel nothing will happen now and that there is good chance of Illia staying until can be seen whether he can satisfy military on March election issue. This will come to head in September– December period. But, without knowing directly what Ongania and Pistarini think, this must remain a guess. Parenthetically, Ongania and wife attended large buffet supper given at Residence May 26 for Philadelphia Orchestra, ate at small table with Cantilo, UCRP President of Industrial Bank, gave President Illia an abrazo, and was quite cordial with me and other Embassy acquaintances.
Pouched today contingency paper on which we have been working for some weeks.3
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 15 ARG. Secret; Immediate. Repeated to Lima for Gordon and passed to the White House and USIA.
  2. June 1.
  3. On June 4 the Embassy forwarded a plan that considered a number of contingencies, including Situation F, in which the “present government is removed and replaced by a military junta which rules by decree.” In this event, the Embassy recommended consultation with other Latin American countries on the understanding that recognition would be withheld until the new regime promises to honor its international commitments, to respect civil liberties, and to hold free elections; U.S. recognition only after a majority of the “important Latin American countries” have taken similar action; suspension of all economic and military assistance until recognition; and a public statement that the United States regrets “that a country of this hemisphere has left the constitutional path” and will “wait and see what the implications may be with respect to US–Argentine relations and Argentine cooperation in the OAS and in the Alliance for Progress.” (Airgram A–950 from Buenos Aires; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 1–1 ARG–US)