157. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Read) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1


  • Report on Bolivia

Enclosed is a report on Bolivia prepared by the Latin American Policy Committee during the past two weeks. The Committee, chaired by State, includes representatives of DOD, AID, CIA and USIA. The report outlines actions that are now underway and that will be carried out during the next thirty to sixty days. Such actions are designed to prevent possibility of serious political, economic and social disturbances in Bolivia.

[Page 353]

In our estimate, Bolivia is now in the process of making a promising, albeit precarious, transition. The Department deems the situation sufficiently serious, however, to warrant the preparation of contingency plans.2 A draft plan has been prepared and will be considered by the Latin American Policy Committee during the coming week, prior to its scheduled transmittal to your office on June 25.3 In addition, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] is preparing biographic data on Bolivians who have or could assume key roles in the government. This biographic data will be forwarded to you on completion.

The Department’s Director of Bolivian and Chilean Affairs departed for La Paz June 17 to discuss implementation of the enclosed report with the Ambassador and the Country Team.4

Benjamin H. Read5

[Page 354]




This paper considers the short-term outlook for Bolivia and United States actions over the next 30 to 60 days. It has been approved in substance by the Latin American Policy Committee.

[Omitted here are a “Background” section on political events leading up to the crisis in Bolivia’s mines and a “Current Developments” section dealing with the events of May and early June 1965.]

Aims and Outlook

Our short-term aim is to take advantage of GOB willingness to bring stability to the mining areas, in order to gain what progress we can for COMIBOL and the increased political stability for Bolivia which could grow out of successful action. This is the first time in more than a decade, and perhaps the last time for a long while, that a Bolivian government has a chance to bring law and order to the mines. We seek to attain these ends, however, without unduly jeopardizing the status quo, since any change now in the situation which finds the Armed Forces in power could have unpredictable consequences. We also seek to achieve these goals without decreasing the financial incentive for the government to take a variety of actions which would improve the development and long-term stability of the country. With the expulsion or voluntary exile of many communists and extreme leftists, and the split within the PCB, communist influence is now weaker than it has been for some time. To keep the extreme left from regaining its organized base in the mines, GOB policies affecting them must be sound and workable. Meanwhile, with no viable alternative to the Junta now on the Bolivian political scene, the principal danger to the Junta lies from within; Barrientos and Ovando must be given strong encouragement to stick together. These are the principal problems lying immediately ahead. Beyond that are our longer-term goals. These involve getting the Armed Forces to retire from running the government before they fail, seriously damage their influence, or are torn asunder. To accomplish this, a viable political alternative to the Junta government must be present within a year or so. That alternative may be General Barrientos as a civilian candidate for the Presidency, especially if the mine rehabilitation scheme goes well.

The entry of government troops into the potentially most rebellious mines on June 11 and 12 without bloodshed was a great victory for the government. If the Junta successfully completes the operations [Page 355] in which it is now engaged, its prestige will be greatly enhanced. If something goes wrong, that is, if it stops now or fails in the attempt— and we do not think the Junta is out of the woods yet—its claim to the reins of government will be jeopardized and it will face bloody skirmishes with its enemies. We are cautiously optimistic that the Barrientos–Ovando relationship will hold together for a while. We do not think anything has happened to change the underlying causes of differences between the two; they both reached the brink and, looking over it, retreated from it; realizing that the abyss below represented, in all likelihood, a suicidal split in the Armed Forces and the removal from the Bolivian scene of the only force for order and stability, given present political and economic conditions. Their relations probably will come under more intense strain, as the COMIBOL reorganization progresses, and the question of whether and when to call for elections becomes again a divisive issue for the Junta. Elections originally were called for May, postponed until September, delayed until October, and most recently postponed indefinitely.

Action Agenda

The following special actions are underway to carry out U.S. objectives:

Advice to the GOB, directly from Embassy/USAID and through the Triangular Operation’s Advisory Group, on COMIBOL policy and operations. U.S. financial and recruiting assistance to obtain competent non-Bolivian nationals to manage individual mines.
Undertake a $1 million P.L. 480 Title IV wheat program to stock COMIBOL commissaries with cheap flour for the miners.
Prepare special projects, as requested by the recent GOB mission to the U.S., which increasingly can absorb unemployed miners and which manifest GOB and U.S. desire to assist the mining areas. Embassy/USAID to make initial recommendations by June 17.
Internal Security
Report by CINCSO and the MilGroup in La Paz by June 16 on whether Bolivian force levels should be increased, whether additional needs for military hardware exist, and whether the discipline and reliability of the Armed Forces can be improved by any short-term measures.
Insure stepped-up delivery of the two T–28D aircraft is arranged for June 17.
Improve GOB capacity to deter and control riots through the supply of a limited number of personnel-carrying armored cars.
Encourage the GOB to intensify its drive to collect weapons from the miners and to insure their destruction so that they do not get back into circulation.
Reiterate through various channels to key leaders the importance attached by the U.S. to Junta unity.
Continue discussions with governments of countries adjoining Bolivia on the significance of developments there to the hemisphere and to their national interest.
Seek to influence union elections and developments, including action by American trade union contacts.
Increase through all official U.S. sources the quality and quantity of political biographic data on individuals who may become important in the near future.
Complete contingency plans to deal with possible emergencies.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Bolivia, Vol. III, Memoranda, December 1964–September 1965. Secret.
  2. In a telephone conversation with President Johnson on June 5, McNamara stated that he was “worried” about a blowup in Bolivia. (Ibid., Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and McNamara, Alpha Series, June 5, 1965, 4:50 p.m., Tape 6506.01, PNO 4) In a telephone conversation earlier that afternoon, Johnson told Mann that “he wanted to have a Task Force composed of high level people from CIA, State, Defense,” to develop contingency plans for Guatemala, Colombia, and Bolivia. The President said “he would like to have a Task Force which meets regularly and to which he could look for advice and information.” (Ibid., Mann Papers, Telephone Conversations with LBJ, May 2 1965–June 2, 1966) On June 8 Helms reported that Vance said he was going to phone Vaughn and “have him proceed immediately to set up a task force or task forces to develop contingency plans on Colombia, Guatemala and Bolivia.” (Central Intelligence Agency, DCI Files, Job 80–B01285A, Helms Chrono as DDP and DDCI)
  3. Transmitted to Bundy on June 24, the paper provides extensive coverage of seven possible contingencies for Bolivia. These included assassination of Barrientos, of Ovando, forced removal of either Barrientos or Ovando by pressures applied by the other, the onset of a political crisis in which the United States would be required to side with Barrientos or Ovando, Communist-supported disorder erupting in Bolivia and threatening the lives and property of non-combatants, non-Communist political elements seeking to topple the Junta by an armed coup, or fighting erupting between the Barrientos and Ovando factions in the Bolivian military. In general the plan recommended supporting Barrientos, if possible, and seeking peaceful means—through unilateral and multilateral channels (such as the OAS)—to disarm any crisis. Direct use of U.S. forces was recommended only in the case of a Communist-supported coup, and only with close consultations with key OAS members. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 1–1 BOL)
  4. Dentzer reported on his impressions about Bolivia based on his trip in a June 25 memorandum to Vaughn. (Ibid., POL 15 BOL)
  5. Initialed for Read in an unidentified hand.