167. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

SUBJECT

  • Insurgency in Bolivia

During the past few days there have been two significant developments in Bolivia’s efforts to deal with communist guerrillas:

1.
Bolivian security forces have discovered caches of documents belonging to the guerrillas. These include passports, identity cards, codes and photographs. The documents have been turned over to us for analysis.2 A preliminary reading from CIA shows rather conclusively that “CheGuevara travelled to Bolivia via Spain and Brazil in late 1966 using false documents.3 The other passports and ID cards are expected to give the identity of additional Cubans active in the Bolivian guerrilla movement. I will send you the CIA report as soon as received.
2.
After a series of defeats at the hands of the guerrillas, the Bolivian armed forces on August 30 finally scored their first victory—and it seems to have been a big one. An army unit caught up with the rear-guard of the guerrillas and killed 10 and captured one, as against one soldier killed. Two of the dead guerrillas are Bolivians and the rest either Cubans or Argentines. CIA believes that several of the captured false passports they are now analyzing may have been used by the Cubans to get to Bolivia.

The Bolivians want to use the information on “Che” Guevara in the trial of Regis Debray, a young French Marxist intellectual, who is close to Fidel Castro and strongly suspected of being on a courier mission when he was caught in guerrilla territory in Bolivia last April. It is not in our interest, or the Bolivians’, to have the U.S. appear as the sole authenticating agent for the documents. Tomorrow in the 303 Committee we will consider how best to handle the authenticating aspect.

The victory of the Bolivian army over the guerrillas should do much to bolster the morale and determination of the Bolivian troops [Page 378]and their officers. The second Bolivian Ranger battalion which we have been training since June will give them added capability to pursue the guerrillas. The new unit will go into operation late this month.

Walt
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Bolivia, Vol. IV, Memoranda, January 1966–December 1968. Secret. The memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. As reported in telegram 408 from La Paz, August 25. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–7 BOL)
  3. This information was based on an early CIA assessment of the documents captured by Bolivian anti-guerrilla forces in late August. ([text not declassified] Central Intelligence Agency, DDO/IMS Files, [file name not declassified])