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

1124. Ref. Embtel 967.2

Depressing and dangerous situation described in recent messages has brightened notably over past several days as result well-conceived and executed GOB campaign to expound positive aspects and purposes of revolution. This campaign has also given important psychological boost to President’s prestige and image as being in command of situation, sorely lacking in weeks following October 3. Nevertheless it is not yet possible to have full confidence in continuation this prospect. In longer view, developments during past three months have obviously represented substantial retrogression in terms political objectives Castello Branco government (CBG). Institutional Act No. 2 (IA–2), however its powers may be used, stands not only as symbol of authoritarianism to outside world but also could tempt extremist political and military leaders to seize control of this ready-made dictatorial mechanism. Problem for United States policy is to assess to what extent and in what ways USG can use its resources and influence so that powers of government remain in moderate hands while danger of move toward extremism is reduced and constitutional legitimacy and the rule of law restored, in order to contribute to building of permanent political bases for stability plus progress.
At outset we should have no illusions regarding our ability greatly to influence course of political developments in Brazil, given its size and complexity and ease with which attempts to intervene in domestic politics could backfire.
Whenever opportunities are afforded (as in my recent conversations with President Castello Branco and Justice Minister Juracy Magalhaes)3 I intend to say frankly to political and military leaders of country that USG not only regrets arbitrary assumption of discretionary powers by CBG, but sees serious danger of slippage into undisguised military dictatorship unless way is found to reassert unequivocally [Page 496] hierarchical authority of President, military ministers, and major troop commanders over radical elements among middle-rank officers. At same time, Defense Attaché, who enjoys respect and brotherly affection of almost every top figure in Brazilian army has been authorized, under my close direction, to convey similar thoughts to selected influential senior and middle-level military commanders whose discretion can be trusted. Other appropriate senior Country Team officers, both civilian and military, will privately and discretely make known USG position.
There is risk that one or another of our interlocutors may resent this kind of talk and may therefore attempt to build our action into public issue of interference in internal affairs. However, this risk is acceptable since the message as such is unobjectionable. Risk of not making clear our views is that it could lead to miscalculated assumption there is no limit to USG toleration of arbitrary abuse of power by GOB. (Brastel 624 shows this assumption already present to a degree.) Defense Attaché reports many officers now beginning to show interest in USG views on Brazilian developments about where IA–2 could lead them. Our encouragement needed to stimulate especially military to think hard before taking further rash initiatives in political area.
Reftel noted first real test of new situation is installation of Guanabara Governor-elect Negrao de Lima December 5. Although tension continues on this issue, with Negrao’s testimony to IPM5 on Communist Party Nov 15 or 16 being a delicate passage, odds now seem much better than ever after unequivocal stand taken by President, that this crisis point will be passed relatively calmly.
We may be able exercise some salutary influence in this situation. We are making clear that USG watching it closely as one test of GOB intentions, although this is clearly internal affair, we are reminding selected contacts that US Congress, which controls purse strings on foreign assistance, is responsive to negative US public opinion attitudes on issues such as this.
Additionally Embassy and USG should treat Negrao as any of other governors-elect, although without making contrived public issue of it. For instance, I intend to have program officer of AID mission seek appointment with Negrao for purpose of briefing him on Guanabara projects completed, under way and under discussion, and eliciting any ideas he may have on future areas of cooperative effort. Moreover, if Negrao should again express interest in going to US, as he did immediately following elections, we should respond by offering facilitative assistance, plus financial assistance if indicated.
Similar treatment should be provided to Governor-elect Pinheiro in Minas Gerais, although problem is less serious and immediate since President has already received Pinheiro and inauguration not due until January 31, 1966.
On longer-range problem of building permanent political base, CBG now seems to be headed in right direction of organizing new party to support revolution, getting political as well as technical talent in cabinet, and mounting sustained public relations campaign. Although abolition existing parties should theoretically facilitate task of building revolutionary party, other factors complicate task. Abrupt extinction of parties has left residue of confusion and ill feeling, parochial and personal differences and ambitions at state and municipal levels, which was one of reasons for proliferation of parties, will require time and patient effort to overcome. It is, however, noteworthy and encouraging sign of deep-seated Brazilian democratic orientation that while Mexican example of single-party institutionalized revolution is well known to Brazilians, no serious movement to follow this example has surfaced.
During past ten days, our early concern that Castello Branco might give up fight and precipitate succession prematurely has been resolved by his unequivocal declaration of intent to serve until March 15, 1967, and to use this time actively to pursue economic and political goals of revolution. One of these goals is ending of arbitrary powers of IA–2 at time of transmission of presidency, so that successor regime will be functioning on basis of a reformed and stabilized democratic political system. The Secretary should have the opportunity to stress importance of this point when he meets with Castello Branco during Rio Conference.6 We should take advantage of all high-level visitors to Brazil in coming weeks and months to express similar viewpoint, especially to WarMin Costa e Silva and to other political and military leaders.
Where local and personal bitterness appear to be holding up progress toward establishment of an effective party structure, and opportunities are afforded in conversations with the political figures involved, we intend discreetly make clear the importance USG attaches to this element of CBG program.
To give technical support to development of party and popular support base, we should through covert channels renew our offer to provide assistance to CBG in scientific opinion sampling. In this same area, continued encouragement should also be given to the government’s program, launched since his return by Juracy, to explain government’s programs and objectives to people. Radio-TV appearances by cabinet officials, state governors, and congressional spokesmen for administration have already begun to have positive effect.
Our post-institutional act view of AID strategy is fully covered in redraft of Brazil annex paper,7 prepared at White House request and sent Bundy via courier (copy pouched Kubish), supplemented by Embtel 1053.8 Subsequent CBG actions, including strong policy declarations in President’s Niteroi and Rio speeches of Nov 11 and 13, confirm our confidence in continuity CBG efforts for stabilization, development, and reform and make even more conclusive the choice of strategy and maintenance of aid negotiating timetable recommended in those documents.
We are also giving thought to alternative lines of action if situation takes sharp turn for worse in short or medium term future. These will be subject separate message.9
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–5 BRAZ. Secret; Priority; Limdis. Repeated to Brasilia.
  2. In telegram 967 from Rio de Janeiro, October 31, the Embassy described conditions leading to the Second Institutional Act, analyzed public reaction to its promulgation, and assessed political consequences for the “foreseeable future.” According to this assessment, Costa e Silva had emerged from the crisis in a “greatly strengthened position,” while Lacerda’s ability to influence events had been “diminished considerably.” (Ibid.)
  3. See Document 221 and footnote 8 thereto.
  4. Dated November 5. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 15 BRAZ)
  5. Military Police Investigation.
  6. At the meeting in Rio de Janeiro on November 20, Rusk assured Castello Branco that the concern previously expressed by Gordon was “by no means limited to the Ambassador. A cold reading of the terms of the Institutional Act could not but leave a shocking effect, especially to Americans trained to regard the constitution and its limitations on all branches of the government as the fundamental basis of organized national life. The reader not familiar with Brazil and with the President’s character and attitudes could easily be misled, since he had no way of knowing what the Institutional Act was not intended to be in practice.” (Telegram Secto 51 from Rio de Janeiro, November 23; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL BRAZ–US)
  7. A copy of the revised draft, November 4, is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Brazil, Vol. V, 9/64–11/65.
  8. Telegram 1053 from Rio de Janeiro, November 8, forwarded several revisions to the text of the Brazil annex paper. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, AID(US) BRAZ)
  9. Not found.