193. Telephone Conversation Between Secretary of State Rusk and President Johnson1

Rusk:—Mann and group here, including CIA, on this Brazilian situation.2 The crisis is coming to a head in the next day or two, perhaps even over night. There is a snowballing of resistance to Goulart and therefore the thing may break at any moment. The armed forces, the governors, particularly in populated states of the east coast, seem to be building up real resistance there. I would like to send a message to Linc Gordon. I’d like to read it to you, if I may, and then also indicate that I’ve asked Bob McNamara to get some tankers ready for some POL supplies and things of that sort.

[Rusk reads a draft of Document 194.]

Rusk: Now the situation is that—

President: Are you through with the message?

Rusk: Yes.

President: What you—

Rusk: Now, the situation basically is that there is a very substantial build-up of resistance to Goulart. Now, if the governors of the key states of the east coast, such as Minas Gerais and Sao Paolo, and all those heavily populated states of the east coast who are anti-Goulart, should join together with the armed forces who are stationed in those key states, then I think this may be something that we will have to go along with and get in touch with. And we need to get Linc Gordon’s fundamental judgment. I tell him that this is the principle judgment that he has got to make in which he will earn his pay. He’s got to tell us his best judgment as to whether this is an opportunity which will [Page 428] not be repeated, and which, if not taken now, will give Goulart a chance to undermine his opposition, and take Brazil down the road to a Communist dictatorship. This message that I have read to you does not commit you in any way, it simply, basically asking him for information, to give him a certain atmosphere of our attitude here—

President: The effect though, what it says is get somebody legitimate and get him substantial and don’t let it go Communist.3

Rusk: That’s right. And I talked to Bob McNamara to lay on some tankers to get some POL supplies and other things on the way. And also General O’Meara has been ordered by Bob McNamara to come to New York, to Washington tonight to talk about contingency plans that might be needed in this situation. So I would like just to send off this in effect advisory telegram to Linc Gordon, our Ambassador, to see whether by morning or during the day tomorrow that we might want to make a decision here as to how we move in this situation.

President: Sure.

Rusk: That’s all right?

President: That sounds good. That’s fine.

Rusk: Now I have also, we had an unfortunate accident today. The House Foreign Affairs Committee put out a report on, that included some references to Brazil, a report that was prepared last January, that included a reference to the fact that we did not expect an early Communist takeover in Brazil.

President: Was prepared January ‘64?

Rusk: That’s right. Now I, background has impressed people tonight to have them say that a high State Department official said that the situation in Brazil had deteriorated in the meantime, since that report was issued, that we are deeply concerned about the prospects for representative and constitutional democracy in Brazil. Because if this report had gone down, goes down to Brazil without some sort of a correction, Goulart might take this as a blessing for the things he’s trying to do. So without any direct quote of you or me, I did do some back-grounding to try to counteract one or two sentences in this report, for its, because of its impact in Brazil tomorrow morning.

President: All right.

[Omitted here is discussion of Panama.]

Rusk: Right. Now, except for this Brazilian matter, I can call you early in the morning. There’s nothing here other than Brazil that would pull you back to Washington tomorrow rather than Wednesday. But I [Page 429] think this Brazilian matter just could blow over night, and I’ll be in touch with you about it, so that you can make your plans.

President: Fine. Call me, if not I’ll be coming back on Wednesday, but I’ll come any time I need to.4

Rusk: Oh, fine. Thank you, Mr. President.

President: Bye.

Rusk: Bye.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Rusk, Tape F64.21, Side B, PNO 1. No classification marking. Rusk was in Washington; the President was in Texas. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Rusk placed the call. (Johnson Library) The beginning of the conversation was not recorded. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.
  2. Rusk met at 6 p.m. with Mann, Burton, U. Alexis Johnson, Adams, and Ball; the meeting was joined in progress by Greenfield, Bundy, Noland, and FitzGerald. (Johnson Library, Rusk Appointment Book) They met to draft instructions to Ambassador Gordon in Rio de Janeiro and were still meeting when the telephone conversation between Rusk and Johnson began. During the discussion a decision was reached to have a Navy task force commence moving as quickly as possible. The CIA representatives’ suggestion that this task force “include an LSD loaded with a barge containing appropriate arms and ammunition, in case of a semi-clandestine arms drop, was accepted. Secretary McNamara was advised of this decision.” (Memorandum for the record by FitzGerald, March 31; Central Intelligence Agency, Job 78–03041R, [file name not declassified])
  3. According to FitzGerald, Rusk said that “the President instructed him that under no circumstances should Brazil be allowed to go Communist.”
  4. The President later told Reedy that Rusk “expects something could happen tonight. So I rather expect we ought to go on back to Washington as soon as we can without being emergency. I don’t see anything to be gained to be in Johnson City with the Hemisphere going Communist.” (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and Reedy, March 30, 1964, 9:35 p.m. CST, Tape F64.21, Side B, PNO 2)