178. Information Memorandum From William G. Bowdler of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson in Texas1
- Political Crisis in Bolivia
President Barrientos is facing the most serious political crisis of his two years in office. It stems from the publication of the “Che” Guevara diary, a copy of which was surreptitiously furnished to Fidel Castro by someone in Bolivia.2
Since the diary was kept under lock and key by the Army, the finger pointed there, bringing into question the loyalty and discipline of the Armed Forces. This produced a political chain reaction of protest by opposition groups, a police crackdown, threats of strikes and student disturbances, unrest in the Armed Forces, and finally, replacement of the civilian cabinet with a mediocre military one.3
In the midst of all this, Barrientos’ Interior Minister Antonio Arguedas took off for Chile where he announced that he had been the one that passed the Guevara diary to Castro. The circumstances of his “fleeing” Bolivia, his public statements, and his desire to come to the United States rather than go to Cuba which has been desperately trying to get him, all cast serious doubt on the bona fides of the Arguedas story.4 It sounds to me as though he agreed to be the scapegoat for his old friend Barrientos in order to take the heat off the restive Armed Forces. Incidentally, Arguedas is due to arrive in the United States on Saturday, August 4.[Page 395]
Barrientos still confronts a difficult situation at home. The shift to a military cabinet has not really satisfied the Armed Forces and is being severely criticized by civilian elements. Fearing a congressional investigation of the diary episode if he allows Congress to convene on August 6, Barrientos seems inclined to delay its opening. There are also indications that ambitious officers in the Army would like to use the crisis to dump Barrientos.
Ambassador Henderson talked to Barrientos yesterday about our interest in seeing him complete his constitutional term. He gave him our impression that allowing Congress to convene on schedule and going back quickly to a civilian cabinet would help him hold to this objective. Barrientos agreed, but was vague on the timing.
So far, Barrientos has weathered the storm and probably has a better than even chance to see it through. Given the internal nature of his problems, there is little we can do but give him continued moral support. This we are doing. It is definitely in our interest that he remain in power, because it is doubtful that anyone else could make as good a showing in managing that difficult country.5
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Bolivia, Vol. IV, January 1966–December 1968. Confidential. The memorandum indicates it was received at the LBJ Ranch August 3 at 11 a.m.↩
- The Embassy at La Paz reported publication of the Che Guevara diary in Presencia on July 9. (Telegram 5629 from La Paz, July 10; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 6 CUBA)↩
- On July 19 the Embassy in La Paz reported that “public criticism of armed forces for leak of Che Guevara diary has dragged their prestige to new low, putting irresistible pressure on them to find scapegoat.” (Telegram 5812 from La Paz; ibid., POL 15–1 BOL)↩
- At a meeting of the Interdepartmental Regional Group for ARA, the group concluded that the Barrientos government was in serious danger from a military coup and danger from students and labor should he prorogue the Congress. The Group agreed it was in U.S. interest for Barrientos to remain in power. They recommended the U.S. Ambassador persuade Barrientos to return to a civilian cabinet and maintain a functioning Congress. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA Files: Lot 70 D 122, IRG/ARA Action Memos, 1968)↩
- [text not declassified]↩