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199. Telephone Conversation Among the Under Secretary of State (Ball), the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Mann), and President Johnson 1

President: Hello?

Ball: Hello? Oh, Mr. President, this is George Ball.

President: Yes, George.

Ball: Tom Mann is on with me.

President: Hi, Tom.

Mann: Hi.

Ball: A quick run-down of the situation in Brazil. We had a meeting this morning with Bob McNamara and Max Taylor and General O'Meara, who's come up overnight. And we decided, on the basis of the information that had come in this morning, to go ahead and start a naval task force out but with no commitment so that it will be steaming down in that direction. It couldn't get into the area before April 10th and in the meantime we can watch the developments and see whether it should go on or not. But it could be done in a way that doesn't create any kind of public stir. The second thing is: I've located some navy tankers in Aruba, and the big thing that they're going to need if they have a successful revolt down there, at some point probably, is some gasoline, both for motor vehicles and for the aviation. The tankers are going to be loaded, but again they can't be down there till around April the 8th to the 13th. But this is a precautionary move that we're taking. Third is: they're getting together a shipment of ammunition, but this will have to wait before we start moving it because it will probably have to be moved by plane and that can only be done after the situation is clarified and we would, clearly decide to make a commitment in the situation. Now, what is actually happening on the field is very confused. We've just had a teletype conversation [Page 437]with Linc Gordon in Rio.2 It seems clear that the state just north of Rio, which is Minas Gerais, is in revolt. Both the army and the civilian authorities of the state seem to be acting together and the army has apparently moved in and authorities blocked the road from Rio so that the First Army in Rio couldn't move up and stop the revolt. We're waiting for some clarification of the situation in Sao Paulo, which is the key to the matter. There has apparently been no movement in Sao Paulo but there is some expected at almost any moment and we should know within the next few hours what's happening. The hope there would be that the Second Army would move and block the road from Rio down and isolate Rio. And in the meantime they have drafted an impeachment, in Congressional circles, of Goulart, but there has been no action taken on it. But they've listed all the offenses against the constitution which they allege. And there is a lot of bickering around to see what could be done presumably in the way of forming some kind of a rump civilian government which would have a claim to legitimacy. The anti-Goulart government—governors are apparently going to meet Wednesday3 and, on the basis of the information that Gordon has, there is a significant number of the governors who are prepared to move against Goulart, about 9 of them altogether, which is a very impressive number.

President: How many do they have?

Ball: The total number of states there is about, how many altogether? Nineteen.

President: Twenty?

Ball: No, 21 they tell me, but these are the big ones, these are the important states. Now, we have instructed Gordon not to make any more contact with the Brazilians until we see how the situation develops. I think there has to be some more movement in Sao Paulo to make sure that this thing is going to move, since we don't want to get ourselves committed before we know how the thing is going to come out. He feels that on the basis of the momentum that's been started so far that it can wait for 12 hours before anything has to be, or overnight, before we have to take any decision on whether we should or shouldn't move. And I think that we can see the developments and then make a judgment on it. I gather you're planning on coming back [unintelligible] tonight.

President: Yeah, I’ll be in there about 8:30.

[Page 438]

Ball: Right. We may have another meeting this afternoon with McNamara,4 but in any event we'll be changing the information, but I did want you to know that—

President: I think we ought to take every step that we can, be prepared to do everything that we need to do, just as we were in Panama, if that is at all feasible

Ball: Right. Thank you, Mr. President. We're canvassing all the possibilities to make sure we're not—

Gordon's outfit, or McCone's, or you all's, or McNamara's, and we just can't take this one, and I'd get right on top of it, and stick my neck out a little.

Ball: Right.

Mann: Well, we're doing that.

Ball: Well, this is just our own feeling about it, and we've gotten this well organized I think now, I wanted you to know—5

President: All right. [Omitted here is a short discussion of Panama.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of telephone conversation among President Johnson, Ball and Mann, Tape F64.21, Side B, PNO 3. No classification marking. Ball and Mann were in Washington; the President was in Texas. This transcript was prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume. Before telephoning the President, Ball called Rusk: “B said he and Mann were thinking of calling the President and wondered if the Sec had. Sec had not. Sec asked if there was anything new after the call to Rio. B said not much; it is quite fluid, indefinite; Minas seems to be in revolt. Sec asked if Linc were playing it carefully. B mentioned the cable that went out.” (March 31, 3:31 p.m., National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Calls 3/20/64–4/9/64) Ball's account of both conversations is in the Johnson Library, Papers of George W. Ball, Brazil, 3/30/64–4/21/66.
  2. The text of the teletype conversation (2:30 p.m.) is ibid., National Security File, Country File, Brazil, Vol. II, 3/64.
  3. April 1.
  4. In a telephone conversation at 4 p.m., Ball briefed McNamara on the situation in Brazil. The two men agreed that “nothing further could be gained at this time so the 5:00 meeting scheduled for today was canceled.” (Johnson Library, Papers of George W. Ball, Brazil, 3/30/64–4/21/66) Rusk held a meeting on Brazil at 5 p.m. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, U. Alexis Johnson Files: Lot 90 D 408, Date Books, 1964) No substantive record of the meeting has been found.
  5. Bundy called Ball at 6:40 p.m. to explain that “the President would prefer to be brought up to date on the Brazil situation in the morning unless there was some reason for a meeting tonight.” (Johnson Library, Papers of George W. Ball, Brazil, 3/30/64–4/21/66) In a March 31 memorandum to the President, Bundy and Dungan reported that they would be kept informed by the Situation Room and would notify the President of any developments. (Ibid., National Security File, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. I)