162. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Visit of General Rene Barrientos Ortuno, President-elect of the Republic of Bolivia.
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  • The Secretary
  • Gen. Rene Barrientos Ortuno, Pres.-elect of Bolivia
  • Jaime Berdecio, Minister of the National Economy—Bolivia
  • Julio Sanjines, Ambassador of Bolivia
  • Lincoln Gordon, Assistant Secretary—ARA
  • Douglas Henderson, Ambassador—La Paz
  • Patrick F. Morris, Country Director—BC

The Secretary opened the meeting by congratulating the President-elect on his successful electoral campaign. He indicated that he and President Johnson had followed developments in Bolivia with a great deal of interest and were happy to see a return to a constitutional government in that country. He said that General Barrientos’ election victory was impressive.

General Barrientos thanked the Secretary and said that Bolivia was a democratic country; that he had won the election but now he had to win at successfully governing his country. He said that Bolivia made common cause with the United States in upholding the democratic processes, improving economic conditions and in countering communism.

The Secretary asked the General what he considered his three most important problems. The General answered that the first was tin; Bolivia must increase its production and at the same time must receive adequate prices for the tin it sells. The second most important concern of his Government is transportation; Bolivia must construct a road network so as to integrate the national territory. The General and Ambassador Henderson described to the Secretary the road projects which were either under way or under consideration for United States assistance. General Barrientos said that the third area of importance was the connecting of Bolivia with outside world by better means of transport. He said that on his way to the United States he had stopped in Peru and talked to President Belaunde about the necessity for a road from the Peruvian port of Ilo to the Bolivian border near Lake Titicaca. He said the Peruvians have agreed to request assistance from the Inter-American Development Bank to construct this road. He said that this road was of primary importance for Bolivia.

The Secretary then asked about Bolivia’s food production capacity. He wanted to know whether Bolivia was dependent upon large food imports or whether it was comparatively self sufficient. It was explained to the Secretary that a large segment of the indigenous population lived from subsistence agriculture with potatoes as a staple; that in recent years Bolivia had become self-sufficient in rice and sugar, but that it was a net importer of wheat and wheat products.

The Secretary then asked about educational problems. Ambassador Henderson explained that the United States Government was [Page 368] assisting the Bolivians in defining their educational needs through a contract with Ohio State University.

General Barrientos explained that there was a need for technical education especially in the agricultural sector since campesinos who were taught to read and write but who were not taught how to be better farmers usually became migrants to the cities. He said it was absolutely necessary to educate the campesino in practical agriculture so that they would stay on the land.

The Secretary asked about health problems and was informed that tuberculosis and silicosis were serious problems in the country especially in the high lands. The high incidence of tuberculosis was related to malnutrition. It was also explained that the anti-malaria campaign begun initially by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1949 has been very successful, continuing under the Bolivian Government with some assistance from the United States.

The Secretary asked General Barrientos about the kind of cabinet he thought he would have. The General answered that he hoped to have a competent cabinet composed of men dedicated to the solution of the nation’s problems. He said he hoped to avoid choosing representatives of various political groups in order to satisfy partisan demands. He said that he realized that he would have problems with the political groups by doing this but that his main interest was in satisfying the people, not political parties.

The Secretary said that President Kennedy set an example by choosing people on the basis of their reputations. He said that he did not know personally practically anybody in his first cabinet except his brother Robert Kennedy who became Attorney General.

The Secretary then asked about Bolivia’s relations with its neighbors. The General answered that Bolivia was on good terms with all of the neighboring countries with the exception of Chile. He said that there was a very deep feeling that Bolivia should have access to the sea.

The Secretary asked whether or not joint economic projects developing contiguous border areas might not be an indirect way of lessening tensions so that an eventual solution could be worked out.

Ambassador Henderson asked General Barrientos whether some kind of regional development wasn’t the answer. General Barrientos responded that the northern part of Chile was very poor; that regional development projects would only improve the economic condition of that area and would make Chile more determined to keep it than it is now.

The Secretary said that accelerated economic growth in border areas have proved to be one way of lessening the possibility of border problems. He used the Saar region as a specific example.

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General Barrientos said that he thought the Bolivian situation was different since Bolivia was seeking access to the sea.

Ambassador Sanjines then described a plan of providing Bolivia with a port within an enclave of ten square kilometers between the present cities of Tacna and Arica. He said he did not believe that there was need for a corridor from Bolivia to the sea, if Bolivia could have a port on the ocean which was duly recognized as Bolivian territory, this would be sufficient. He said with air transport becoming more and more important such an enclave was sensible since one would be able to take off from La Paz and land on Bolivian territory on the Pacific Ocean.

The Secretary suggested that such a port might be multi-national or perhaps an Alliance for Progress port.

The Bolivian Ambassador insisted that the only way that Bolivia would be interested was if the Bolivian flag would fly over the territory.

The Secretary concluded the meeting by emphasizing President Johnson’s dedication to the Alliance for Progress and his specific interests in agriculture, education and health. He said that the President had a passion for performance; that he was interested not in just words but deeds. He wanted to see concrete accomplishments under the Alliance as the result of United States assistance as well as the result of the efforts of the various countries themselves.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 7 BOL. Confidential. Drafted by Patrick F. Morris (ARA/BC) and approved in S on July 27. The meeting was held in Rusk’s office immediately following a meeting between Barrientos and Gordon that focused on the status of negotiations with the Export-Import Bank, the delay in U.S. disbursements for a loan for COMIBOL, and U.S. supplying Bolivia with helicopters under the MAP program. (Ibid.)

    President-elect Barrientos visited Washington July 19–23, in a private capacity, primarily to address the International Platform Association, a public speaking group, on July 22. He had lunch with President Johnson at the White House on July 20 and according to the President’s Daily Diary, there was an exchange of gifts, followed by luncheon in the State Dining Room at 1:50 p.m. (Johnson Library) No further record of discussions has been found. In telegram 7236 to La Paz, July 14, the Department had instructed the Embassy to inform Barrientos not to expect substantive discussions nor concessions during his trip. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 7 BOL)