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

1866. From Ambassador for Assistant Secretary Gordon. Reftel: Deptel 1363.2

Appreciate sense and spirit of your thoughtful message in reftel.
My immediate reaction is that approach you suggest likely to have only limited value for two reasons.

There is considerable indirect evidence that many military have convinced themselves that in removing Illia government they would be fulfilling basically identical role in Argentina that armed forces performed in Brazil in ousting Goulart. I am aware how different two situations really are and of our official view of legality of transfer of power there, but fact that new Brazilian regime harps on its revolutionary character has easily led local military to regard any differences of legal form that may be required here as only ones of form and to believe that they would be acting with identical spirit of renovation, of anticommunism, anti-corruption, anti-inefficiency and of unreserved support for pro-Western foreign policy. They have followed closely US aid to Brazil since Goulart departure and press here has publicized, perhaps excessively, enthusiasm of US investors for new regime in Brazil.

Hence indications of so different a US response are I fear being received either with considerable incredulity or as last example in long [Page 303]history of US favoritism toward Brazil over Argentina, already a subject of considerable current comment here. It is not easy to convince them that, so far as treatment by US would be distinct, the difference would stem from quite different situations in two countries preceding change in government.


I have met considerable comment that no foreigner can understand depth of Argentine national frustration and of desire that country get moving to catch up on 35 wasted years. Therefore they feel that regardless of effect on external opinion of actions, they must make decisions and take actions necessary to initiate this process. They refer to it as deeply felt private problems which only Argentines can understand or solve. In this sense I think they have looked longingly at successes of Castelo Branco, at Franco’s progress in Spain in recent years and at de Gaulle success in France as showing what an intelligent authoritarian regime of the sort they plan to have can accomplish.

There is evidence that belief that only Argentina can solve basic problems of Argentina, a nationalistic attitude with a considerable history, it widely shared, even outside golpe circles. We must move cautiously to insure net positive result.

There are two points of lesser importance to be made:
Belief is spreading, with considerable justification, that favorable evolution Argentine trade surplus so far this year will make refinancing avoidable, so this reference not particularly helpful point.
Also believe military would consider OAS meeting in BA of some importance to prestige of Illia government but of no significance to Argentine nation in finding solutions to many grave problems with which they believe it to be confronted and with which they purport to be wholly preoccupied.
Wish to note that in June issue of respectable Look-type magazine called Atlantida there is article on coup plans which gives some purported details about three plans. With respect to that of Army General Staff it states, “The opposition of the United States is expected and it is estimated that the opposition of the White House ‘to the new form of government will be of a duration of no less than 6 months.’” Part in single quotes claims to be from text of plan. This and other evidence which has reached us lead us to believe that US position is not only known but understood to be more than “pro forma.”
Given these negative factors and possible exploitation of our initiative by golpistas to arouse nationalist sentiments, I am not disposed to seek out Ongania, whom I believe to be decisive figure in implementing plans as now drawn up by military, to convey this message now but to see if occasion may arise naturally or wait until there is clearer evidence of crystallization of program for golpe action [Page 304]justifying taking risk of charge of interventionism. There is of course other possibility that more impatient and incautious military figures may seek or find opportunity to create situation in which he is forced to move outside contingencies now foreseen by him in order to maintain prestige and/or unity of armed forces. In this latter case our position has only remote chance of influencing course of events for potential instigators such pressure play are so emotionally committed that US representations to them would be counter productive. This position does not preclude Embassy military and other officials following line you propose, with exclusion points mentioned in paragraph 3 above in conversations where they may use it without giving appearance of taking initiative. There will, we think, be such opportunities in days ahead.
Suggest it might help remove any possible belief in Argentine military circles that at least Pentagon supported golpe idea that we keep running into from time to time, if senior Pentagon army officer could find occasion to make contrary clear to General Shaw who is member Ongania group.3 Could base remarks not on intelligence reports but on public comments by you and by Embassy here, as to tension in Argentina.
Leak, attributable to legislative source, if to anyone, that consideration being given to requiring cutting off military aid to de facto governments might be of minor value in situation here though again possibly counter-productive. However, I should think such an inflexible provision would be so harmful to US interests generally that we would want to take no initiative which would appear in any way to endorse it. Therefore, I do not recommend that such leak be attempted. To best of my recollection no sanction of even as much as six months for this reason has ever been enforced.
Our basic line here has been that US could contribute best to maintenance legality by helping in such small ways as available to us in improving GOA’s performance record. Still believe this more likely be profitable than necessarily somewhat imprecise predictions of future consequences, though vagueness, diffusiveness, illogicality and deviation from facts characteristic of golpista rationale is most discouraging. Hard to pinpoint issues which are in fact crucial to them. [Page 305]Even with this qualification, however, believe we must continue do what we can on positive side. For example:
While IBRD decision will help, believe evidence of US willingness to consider help for Somisa also valuable because of army interest in plant and in development heavy industry. Project could not go forward without Illia’s full backing, which it now has, on domestic and foreign financing. Therefore any sign of progress helps government. However, statement by Pugliese in present political atmosphere will be heavily discounted and carry far less weight than US release. Urge reconsider.
Also would help if could be some evidence of action on AIFLD housing loan. With proper handling here, US approval could improve atmosphere in some circles.
Shortcuts to permit earlier action than would result from normal procedures on release of silo fund loans also could help. Our recommendations went to Washington in TOAID A–531 of June 7.4
We are working hard with some prospects of success to shortcut usual bureaucratic delays and secure early announcement of decrees approving new large investments by Ford and Dupont.
We are also feeling our way toward making recommendations to Illia government in several fields outside area of direct US interest or involvement, though political factors at moment, including within UCRP, are so fluid and complex that this is not simple.5
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 15 ARG. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. No time of transmission appears on the telegram.
  2. Document 128.
  3. General Shaw was approached on June 14 by General William P. Yarborough, the Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Special Operations, Department of the Army, who indicated that a coup d’état in Argentina “could affect our assistance programs, including those concerned with military.” According to Yarborough’s account, Shaw “implied clearly though subtly his belief that interruption US assistance would not be great disaster for Argentina.” (Telegram 1405 to Buenos Aires, June 15; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 15–5 ARG)
  4. Not found.
  5. Martin reported on June 15 that the Embassy had received information that the military would give the Illia administration “time to produce concrete results,” possibly as late as September. The Ambassador concluded that the situation had improved enough to allow his departure the following day for a vacation in the United States. (Telegram 1908 from Buenos Aires, June 15; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–9 ARG) The Department cabled its concurrence. (Telegram 1406 to Buenos Aires, June 16; ibid.)