154. Telegram From the Embassy in Bolivia to the Department of State 1

966. At President’s request, had four hour interview at his home with him and MinEconomy Berdecio March 28. Barrientos in apparent good health, disposition good, not suffering much pain from wound. (From other reports we understood Barrientos had been extremely anxious and depressed that wound might have caused permanent nerve damage. Since securing medical advice that no permanent damage will result, his attitude has improved remarkably. We are now reasonably sure wound not self-inflicted, though many politicians choose to believe it was.)

Barrientos said wished to inform me of fundamental change of policy and tactics to be followed by him and entire junta, In extended meeting night of March 27, well into morning March 28, junta agreed [Page 347] it imperative armed forces remain united to protect their existence.2 This required that Barrientos resign as candidate, which he agreed to do. Also required that Ovando stop flirting with political parties, which Ovando agreed to do. Junta would henceforth devote itself to substantive governmental accomplishments.

President explained logic of new position by admitting that his efforts to get political parties work together had failed. His efforts increase his own popularity had also failed. Since a political solution through conciliation not possible, a solution would have to be imposed. This means junta will remain in power for indefinite period, devote itself to governing effectively, without trying to win favor of all sectors of population. Admitted has made error in neglecting economic issues while trying achieve political compromises, but said he now could not be criticized for having failed try achieve political consensus.

Political and economic issues are, under the new “tough line,” to be faced forthrightly. For instance, if miners give trouble, GOB will go in and seize mines. Army is now in process taking over refineries in face of YPFB strike. Said Communists active in sabotaging economy, and GOB would deal with them forcefully, though would not make indiscriminate arrests or use documents mentioned Embtel 957.3 Juan Lechin Oquendo of PRIN is apparently to be among junta’s first targets for neutralization. Barrientos said junta would do whatever necessary to get country straightened out and on road to recovery.

President said trouble could ensue as result implementation new policy and junta would need military support.4 He argued that best method of avoiding a shooting situation is for armed forces present formidable appearance. Simplest way in his view would be through [Page 348] use armored personnel carriers. Felt they would so intimidate possible demonstrators that bloodshed could be avoided. Barrientos added that junta does not trust most of police officer corps, thus could not rely on police to handle serious public order problems.

I limited my response to Barrientos to saying I would present his request to Washington, but at same time warned him APCS are not type of equipment which provided Latin America through MAP under current policy. (Country Team recommendations will follow.)5 Also, while assuring him US wants to assist his government, asked him realize that our requesting performance of GOB before extending further assistance was not evidence of plot against junta. He agreed that four months had been lost with little or no performance, and our position not unreasonable.

Much of this extended conversation spent reviewing major economic issues such as COMIBOL, budget, railroads, Lloyd. Barrientos assured me he now prepared come to grips with these issues. Conversation also included some observations political scene, in which Barrientos said he less concerned by Falange plotting, believed Falange being led on by PRIN. He expressed some reservations about Siles and MNR as troublemaking element, and indicated he felt political parties largely limited their activities to conspiracy.

Comment: On March 28 ARMA found great relief expressed by general staff officers that divisive forces pressing on junta had been eliminated, a reaction which would tend confirm new line taken by Barrientos and junta. Believe we can expect a few more decisions from junta on economic and administrative problems. Though Barrientos may have lost some ground by having to agree to withdraw as candidate, he remains as junta president and could reconsider candidacy if public clamor for him became intense. Apparently junta has made no decision on further postponement elections at this time.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 15 BOL. Secret; Limdis. Repeated to USSOUTHCOM for POLAD.
  2. In a meeting between State and CIA representatives in Washington on March 31 FitzGerald remarked that although Barrientos and Ovando “don’t like each other, the truth is they are necessary to each other and recognize it.” Ovando and Barrientos “say harsh words about each other from time to time, but often have a beer together at night.” (Memorandum from Carter to Hughes, April 2; Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, ARA/CIA Weekly Meetings, 1964–1965)
  3. In telegram 957 from La Paz, March 26, the Embassy reported that the junta planned to arrest “300 Communists and leftists” and exile them to Paraguay as political asylees. The documents in question were three letters from the Italian Communist Party to Lechin regarding $25,000 that it allegedly sent him.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 15 BOL)
  4. At the same March 31 meeting between State and CIA officials (see footnote 2 above), Vaughn remarked: “You don’t have to go down many notches economically in Bolivia to be at the disaster point.” Vaughn said that “we have been hard, we have demanded performance in return for aid. He questioned, however, whether Barrientos can deliver.” The group decided to send an observer to Bolivia to “give Barrientos advice on current economic and political problems—particularly the question of whether or not to have elections, as scheduled.” (Memorandum from Carter to Hughes, April 2; Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, ARA/CIA Weekly Meetings, 1964–1965)
  5. Not further identified.