221. Telegram From the Embassy in Brazil to the Department of State1

993. Subject: Talk with President Castello Branco on Second Institutional Act.

Taking advantage of All Souls’ holiday, President asked me to meet him Tuesday2 morning for almost two-hour private conversation on above and related subjects. President started by inquiring about Mrs. Gordon’s recent trip on Sao Francisco River, his own similar voyage forty years ago, problems of internal road and rail transport and coastal navigation in Brazil, comparisons with French transportation system as he saw it in 1936–38. Thence talk moved to disastrous United Front experience in France, perspicacity of de Gaulle in those days compared with now, refusal of old French generals to listen to him, etc. Castello then said that such topics were agreeable to discuss on a holiday morning, but were not reasons for which he had asked my call.
Turning to second Institutional Act, President said he had spent some time Monday afternoon reviewing foreign press comments. He mentioned Washington Post sympathetic attitude but also harsh condemnation by New York Times and Herald Tribune, several Paris papers, and comments elsewhere in Latin America. He said he was not surprised at sharpness of some foreign reaction, recognizing that close acquaintance with Brazilian history and contemporary reality was essential to understanding of what had happened.
He then made brief exposition of immediate background of the Institutional Act (partly overlapping Embtel 988)3 saying that substantial portion of Congress and several Supreme Court justices had mistaken his desire to return to constitutional normality as willingness to return to the prerevolutionary past. Kubitschek’s misunderstanding had been even greater. In eyes these groups, April revolution had not signified a serious change of direction for Brazil; it was rather a mere change of persons in power which could easily be reversed. As early as October 15, Castello had become convinced that this misunderstanding must be corrected, either through congressional acceptance of the government’s proposed new legislation on federal-state relations and restriction of Cassados or through issuance of second Institutional Act. Strenuous endeavors were made to bring home to Congress the significance of the choice, but in considerable measure due to Kubitschek and Lacerda influence, an adequate number of congressmen had not been persuaded. He then requested my own observations.
Prefacing with request permission to speak personally and with complete candor, I replied at length. I said that he knew our official public position to be that these were internal political matters, but had some reason to suppose that my own reactions were widely shared by Washington authorities. I said the initial impact on me had been both shock and sorrow. I had been shocked at extent of arbitrary powers assumed through the act and sorrowful at fact that it symbolized a major setback in his own effort, which American authorities had followed with great sympathy, to bring about full constitutional normalization without jeopardizing basic purposes of revolution. I appreciated that in the immediate circumstances the alternative might have been even worse, and I understood the adventitious factors of Kubitschek’s return and Lacerda’s agitation, but I could not help regret that the situation had gotten to the point where such a choice was necessary. I [Page 490] referred to missed opportunities during the last twelve months to begin building a serious political base for revolution and to develop adequate domestic propaganda and internal public relations designed to give a broad sense of public participation and enlist the support of various influential groups. Where governors or candidates had done so, I remarked, they had generally been successful in recent state elections, as in cases Parana, Para, Maranahao, and Goias, but federal government had failed to take such measures on nation-wide basis.
Then quoting National Archives motto that “What is past is prologue,” I said I could summarize present view by saying this was a lost battle but not necessarily a lost war. For future, I saw both constructive possibilities and also very serious dangers. I then specified a number of critical issues.
The first concerned the use that would be made of the extraordinary powers, which in themselves were obviously juridically barbarous. It seemed to me clear that, despite the widespread acceptance in the country for the Institutional Act, ranging from enthusiasm to relief to passivity, tension between the hard line and the moderate line of the revolution was certainly not ended. (A) It was still visible in question whether governors-elect Negrao de Lima and Israel Pinheiro would be installed in office. (B) It would also be reflected in the extent of new cassations. (C) Then there was sensitive and important issue of restrictions of press freedom. On this point (although I had not yet seen Deptel 696),4 I said was well aware of irresponsibility of much of Brazilian press, having myself frequently been victim of distortions or misrepresentations, but President must be aware that foreign opinion regarding Brazil was formed by reporting of newpapermen and nothing could antagonize them more rapidly than restrictions on press freedom. Castello interrupted at this point to indicate his concurrence.
Second important issue for future, I continued, was that of his own tenure in office, referring to press reports his possible resignation on January 31. Mildness of some of foreign reaction to Institutional Act, I said, must be attributed to his own demonstrated record of moderation and personal confidence which he had inspired abroad.
Third critical issue concerned positive side of revolution, including success of Juracy’s effort to build political base and development of effective internal public relations emphasizing positive goals of modernization and constructive reform as well as opposition to corruption and subversion. Here too Castello interrupted to express [Page 491] concurrence, saying this required team effort and he was now reconstructing ministerial team with this as well as other points in mind.
Turning then to grounds for worry about future, I said that essential concern was that situation might slide into outright military dictatorship. Persons familiar with Brazilian history knew that historic political role of armed forces had been to intervene to place nation back on tracks of order and progress when it was threatened with being derailed, in effect exercising “moderating power” contained in the imperial constitution until 1889, but not themselves to govern. Now there seemed to be some indication of desire by armed forces to assume governmental responsibility itself. Men drawn from military career had of course played large part in Brazilian politics historically and at present, but I saw an important distinction between “civil military” types such as Juracy, Ney Braga, Jarbas Passarinho,5 and Castello Branco himself, and others whose essential view was that all problems could be resolved by force alone, rather than by persuasion and enlisting of public support or a judicious mixture between persuasion and force. If this latter type won control, I could see no reason to expect Brazil to be exempt from universal rule that force breeds counterforce. I felt that radical left in Brazil, as illustrated in nomination of Marshal Lott,6 had been deliberately trying to precipitate military dictatorship in hopes of securing power through long-run broadly based united front movement of protest and reaction.
President listened attentively to this long exposition, interrupting at several points but not dissenting. He remarked that few people outside Brazil had understood depth of corruption and subversion which had been tolerated under Kubitschek and then actively stimulated under Goulart. He cited a statement of Luis Carlos Prestes, Secretary of Brazilian Communist Party, in late 1963 to affect that “We already have the government but do not yet have the power.” Thence effort to neutralize armed forces by subversive organization of NCO’s. This led to digression in which we compared Goulart regime to recent Indonesian experience under Sukarno, perhaps only two historic examples of deliberate “superversion” of national institutions in mistaken view that Communists could always be controlled.
I then asked President his general impression of my reactions to institutional act. He replied that they were reactions of a good and close observer, but he thought too pessimistic. I said that this was good news and asked why. He replied for two reasons: (a) My combination of American and university backgrounds may have made me too perfectionist on some points of juridical principle, and (b) he was convinced that a military dictatorship could be and would be avoided. He then proceeded to describe two types of military dictatorships, the classical Latin American type of simply ruling by force and enjoying fruits of power and more recent Nasserist type, with socialist overtones and drumming up of popular support through intense nationalism. He thought Brazil would resist implantation of either type. I raised question whether certain of Lacerda’s writings and some thinking among younger officers might not be signs of incipient Nasserism in Brazil. President thought this was possible but unlikely, especially if effective work now done to build political base for revolution. He expressed confidence in success of Juracy’s efforts in this regard. Although saying it would be work of months and not merely days or weeks. He thought November would be critical month in laying out basic guidelines of this effort and its success should be readily visible by about next March.
President then changed subject to University of Brasilia, saying that he was returning there early Wednesday in order to deal at firsthand with that crisis. Juracy had reported to him talk with Vice President Lowry of Ford Foundation which I had arranged last Saturday.7 I repeated Lowry’s concern that present crisis threatened major loss to Brazil of non-Communist professors, especially in sciences where talent scarce and jobs easily obtained elsewhere. This was in addition to adverse foreign reaction to mishandling an admittedly extremely difficult problem of faculty and student subversion at Brasilia.
In conclusion, President raised subject of forthcoming Rio Conference and visit of Secretary Rusk. He expressed keen desire for long private talk with Secretary, apart from protocol visits and any social affairs such as projected Roberto Campos dinner. He thought that perhaps Saturday afternoon or Sunday November 20 or 21 would be best indicated time.
Throughout this long talk, I was seeking to appraise President’s general frame of mind in face of last week’s critical developments. He was somewhat tired and still reflecting some of extreme tension to which he had been subjected but basically well composed [Page 493] and apparently conscious of heavy responsibilities he still faces and prepared to come to grips with them. I did not request, and he did not offer, specific commitments on any of points outlined above, but I believe they may have some real weight in decisions of coming weeks.8
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–5 BRAZ. Confidential; Priority; Limdis.
  2. November 2.
  3. Telegram 988 from Rio de Janeiro, November 2, reported on a discussion the previous evening between Castello Branco and Vernon Walters. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–5 BRAZ)
  4. In telegram 696 to Rio de Janeiro, November 1, the Department suggested that Gordon “make Juracy and others see heavy cost GOB would pay abroad for restricting press freedom in Brazil.” (Ibid., PPB 9 BRAZ)
  5. Braga and Passarinho were the outgoing governors of Paraná and Pará, respectivly.
  6. Kubitschek, had been nominated for Governor of Guanabara as the candidate of the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB). His candidacy was subsequently voided by the Superior Electoral Tribunal.
  7. October 30.
  8. In telegram 1046 from Rio de Janeiro, November 7, Gordon reported having an “extremely encouraging” talk about the situation in Brazil with Juracy Magalhães on November 6. Since Castello Branco had described Gordon as “deeply worried but excessively pessimistic,” Magalhães offered reassurance: the purpose of the Second Institutional Act was “to save Brazilian democracy, not to destroy it.” Magalhães was confident that world opinion would recognize this once certain events transpired, including: “the installation of the recently elected state governors; the rebuilding of a political party structure; the direct election next year of other governors and congress; and the moderation with which the arbitrary powers of the IA–2 (Institutional Act No. 2) will be used.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 15–1 BRAZ)