181. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Brazilian Affairs (Burton) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Mann)1


  • The Position of the Military in Brazil

Regarding your query on the above at the noon inter-agency meeting (the meeting on the contingency paper)2 today, may I offer the following comment.

I believe that it is reasonably clear that a substantial proportion well in excess of a majority among the military officers in Brazil are heavily oriented toward the maintenance of orderly democratic processes. However, I do not think that there has been up to now any really substantial capability or will to mount a coup to overthrow Goulart. The military already had one unhappy and unsuccessful experience in attempting to disrupt orderly democratic processes when they unsuccessfully tried to block Goulart’s succession to the presidency in 1961 and had to settle for a parliamentary arrangement which was subsequently discredited and abandoned. In this sense, I think that there has been a lot of confused thinking on the subject of a deteriorating military capability to overthrow Goulart. I submit that this capability has been deteriorated and ineffective since the ill-fated fiasco of 1961, even before Goulart understandably started making appointments and promotions to protect himself against similar future actions.

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On the other hand, the military can be a restraining force against extremists and undemocratic excesses. I think it is generally recognized that the Army Attaché in Brazil, Colonel Walters, feels most strongly that Goulart is bringing about a political erosion in the military. Yet, Colonel Walters just last August acknowledged to me that if Goulart attempted to move toward dictatorship in violation of the constitution, there would, at the very least, be shooting. While Goulart has shown a great penchant for generating acute political tension and crisis at periodic intervals, past history indicates a considerable tendency on his part to retreat and compromise—to avoid ultimate explosion. For this reason the military should be viewed as a potential politically strong restraining force against Goulartist undemocratic excesses. Our chief worry should be that the military might be confused and immobilized by continuing slick and subtle political maneuverings by Goulart.

I might add that there is in the military a very considerable reservoir of good will toward the United States and sympathy toward U.S. objectives and policy; evidence of this erupted in many quarters at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. For this reason and because of the considerations set forth above we have taken the position that the cultivation of the Brazilian military has high political importance and we have therefore, for example, pushed forward a program of defense lending for C–130’s. 3

I believe that the above is a reasonably accurate reflection of the thinking of Ambassador Gordon, except that he might possibly speak with more vigor in view of past difficulties and delays we had to surmount before we got implementation of his C–130 recommendations.

I understand that you have recently been exposed to various opinions on the Brazilian military in connection with a recent general discussion of military assistance. This memorandum is intended to be responsive to such comment as well as to the question you raised on the contingency paper.

Please let me know if there is any additional information you would like on the subject of the military in Brazil.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA/BR Files: Lot 66 D 418, DEF—Defense Affairs, 1964. Confidential. Drafted by Burton.
  2. The parenthetical comment was handwritten by Burton. An inter-agency group met on January 8 to consider a draft contingency plan for Brazil; no substantive record of the meeting has been found. The draft, prepared in ARA/BR, addressed four contingencies: Extreme Leftist Revolt; Democratic Revolt Against Excesses of Regime; Removal of Goulart by Constructive Forces; and Gradual Extreme Leftist Takeover. It recommended that the United States avoid association with “rightist coup plottings,” although covert contact with such groups was necessary for intelligence collection and “the exercise of a moderating influence, where appropriate.” In the event of an “interim military takeover,” the United States should assume a “constructive friendly attitude” while pressing for a “quick return to constitutional democratic processes.” (“A Contingency Plan for Brazil,” December 11, 1963; ibid., Central Files 1961–63, POL 23–9 BRAZ)
  3. Negotiations on the sale of C–130 aircraft to Brazil were completed in June, when the Brazilian Air Minister signed a memorandum of understanding. (Telegram 2799 from Rio de Janeiro, June 10; ibid., DEF 12–5 BRAZ–US)