188. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Brazil


  • Alexis Johnson, Robert Adams, Ralph Burton, Gen. Goodpaster, Gen. Crawford, Richard Helms, Desmond FitzGerald, J.C. King, McGeorge Bundy, Gordon Chase

The group discussed the situation in Brazil with particular reference to Ambassador Gordon’s message of March 27, 1964 (copy attached).2


General—The group agreed that it would be preferable if we could waffle through to the next election. However, this is obviously not the primary consideration; we don’t want to watch Brazil dribble down the drain while we stand around waiting for the election.

The group discussed the present situation vis-à-vis Goulart and the Brazilian military. It is not at all clear when and at what point we can expect the military to act against the regime. Mr. Bundy said that the shape of the problem is such that we should not be worrying that the military will react; we should be worrying that the military will not react. Mr. Adams thought that the military would certainly react if Goulart started firing any of the plotting army commanders. The group [Page 419] agreed that, in any event, all the plotters in Brazil should react on the same signal.3

Mr. FitzGerald wondered whether we will have a problem in deciding when to move in favor of the anti-Goulart forces; how far will we have to let Goulart go? Others felt that this would not be a serious problem; there would be plenty of signals we could act on.

Ambassador Gordon’s Request—The group discussed Ambassador Gordon’s requests for action by Washington.
Submarine Delivery of Arms—The group agreed that this was a puzzling request. Mr. Johnson wondered why the Brazilian Army would need a drop of this relatively small size; the military must have plenty of arms.
Petroleum—The group agreed that the request for POL was legitimate. Noting that the 2nd Army in the Sao Paulo area is the most likely to be anti-Goulart, [1½ lines of source text not declassified]. This would be used if an anti-Goulart move takes place. It was noted that the Army must have the ability to march from Sao Paulo to take over Rio; such action, by the way, would probably end the fight.
Task Force—The group questioned Ambassador Gordon’s request for the early detachment of a naval task force for maneuvers in the South Atlantic. Mr. Bundy noted that “… the punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime …”. Gen. Goodpaster also did not clearly understand how this particular move would be helpful to the anti-Goulart forces at this time.
Public Statement—The general consensus was that there should not be a high-level public statement of concern about the deteriorating situation in Brazil. The group went on to discuss the possibility of stimulating an appropriate editorial in the N.Y. Times or The Washington Post. The group agreed, however, that this would have to be handled carefully since the editorial could easily come out in an unsatisfactory way (e.g., “Once again, the State Department has misunderstood the deep revolutionary forces in Latin America …”).
—The group agreed that we are better off to let the Belo meeting go on on April 21, and then do what we can [Page 420] to make it a flop. Mr. FitzGerald noted that if we try to stop the meeting and are successful, the meeting might be held in a place where our capabilities for making it a flop are not as great as they are in Belo.
Action Items—The group agreed that the following action should be taken:
[4 lines of source text not declassified]
Mr. Burton will explore the possibility of getting the N.Y. Times to publish a satisfactory editorial calling attention to the situation in Brazil; among other things, he will try to determine what the N.Y. Times has said about Goulart in the past. Mr. Bundy will explore the possibility of getting an appropriate editorial from The Washington Post.4
State will send a cable to Ambassador Gordon which, inter alia, will say (a) that we are taking action with respect to petroleum; (b) that we are still not clear as to the rationale behind the Ambassador’s requests for a submarine drop and for a task force appearance; (c) that we want the Ambassador to review our economic and financial relations with Brazil and give us his recommendation on action we should take; and (d) that we question the desirability of a high-level public statement at this time. The cable will also instruct Ambassador Gordon to keep a high level of security in his contact with anti-Goulart forces. We don’t want to hamper him in making contact, but want him to use a cut-out. Above all, we don’t want to turn off our hearing aids.5
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Brazil, Vol. II, Cables, 3/64. Top Secret; No Distribution. Another copy of the memorandum indicates it was cleared by Bundy. (Memorandum from Chase to Bundy, March 30; ibid.) The meeting was held at the White House. FitzGerald also drafted an account of the meeting, portions of which are summarized in footnotes below.
  2. Document 187.
  3. According to FitzGerald “there was considerable discussion concerning the need on the part of the anti-Goulart plotters to come to agreement concerning the nature of Goulart actions which would trigger a revolt. Mr. Burton referred to a recent State cable from Ambassador Gordon in which seven possible triggers were mentioned. It was pointed out that Goulart has the capability of weakening the conspiracy by dismissing or reassigning certain of the key military members of the conspiracy. There was some speculation as to whether such dismissals would result in counter-action by the conspirators.” (Memorandum for the record, March 28; National Security Council, 303 Committee Files, Subject Files, Brazil)
  4. Although The Washington Post did not print an “appropriate editorial,” The New York Times published the following assessment: “The political situation is close to chaos. President Goulart is a curious combination of stubbornness and weakness. He has proved in recent years that he loves power, needs power and will do almost anything to hold on to it.” (New York Times, March 31, 1964, p. 34)
  5. [text not declassified] (Memorandum for the record, March 28; National Security Council, 303 Committee Files, Subject Files, Brazil)