230. Telegram From the Embassy in Brazil to the Department of State 1

816. For the Secretary, pass White House for President Johnson, pass Defense Department for Secretary McNamara.

Subject: Conversation with President Costa e Silva re Supersonic Aircraft.

I saw Costa e Silva today, Foreign Minister Magalhaes Pinto and Counselor Herz [garble] were also present.

I told President Costa e Silva that I had returned to Washington last week under instructions from the USG in order that I could be fully informed on problems which existed for the American Government in connection with the economic and military aid programs and [Page 512] the purchase by Brazil and other countries of supersonic aircraft.2 Two days before seeing Costa e Silva I had discussed matter in full detail with Andreazza, who is Minister of Transport but who is quite clearly one of Costa e Silva’s authorized channels for discussions with me. At that time Andreazza stated that he felt request for postponement of decision of supersonic aircraft for sixty days to be an acceptable request and stated that he would recommend such a position to Costa e Silva.

It was quite evident today that Andreazza had in fact done his duty. As soon as all of the basic points of the talking paper had been covered and after Costa e Silva had read President Johnson’s letter, he said explicitly that he would agree to take no action until after October 1, 1967. He made it quite clear, however, that this was not an easy decision for him to make. He stressed the overall dangers of guerrilla activity in Latin America and the indications of an increased tempo in Brazil. He mentioned the bombing of the Peace Corps office two days ago as a symbol of this unrest. He stated that the government has arrested eleven men in the area where the states of Minas Gerais, Sao Paulo and Goias come together. These men had a supply of military equipment and bombs and were fabricating additional weapons. He said that every indication was that this was the same group that had attempted to assassinate him in Recife last July. He pointed out the relationship between this group and the Recife assassination attempt (which in fact did result in the killing of an admiral and two other persons) was not yet publicly known and asked that we hold this information close. He stated that he fully expects a stepping up of terrorist activity as a result of the LASO conference. [He indicated] that in a huge country like Brazil, Brazilian forces must have modern equipment and increased mobility. Speed could easily be of the essence in handling internal difficulties. Secondly, Costa e Silva stressed the question of morale in the Brazilian Air Force. He went over the well-known ground of the obsolescent nature of most of the equipment in the Brazilian Air Force. He stressed that the loss of morale was a constant worry to him.

Costa e Silva also repeated his well-known concern at the tendency of some people in the United States to think of Brazil as just an [Page 513] other Latin American country. He asked for example how one could consider the security problems of Ecuador and Brazil on the same basis. He reverted to his war time experience when he said American equipment was shipped in such volume to the Brazilian forces that it couldn’t be handled, at least temporarily. Since the war he and the Brazilian military have wished to strengthen bi-lateral relationship with the United States in the field of military equipment so that at a time of crisis, Brazilian military would be able to effectively use increased supplies of modern equipment. He stressed that only reluctantly would he go elsewhere for modern equipment, but he also once more repeated that if he couldn’t get such modern equipment in the United States he had no choice but to go elsewhere. He also spoke scornfully of an armaments race as far as Brazil is concerned.
Despite these concerns, however, Costa e Silva stated that he recognized President Johnson’s political problems at the moment and he wished to be helpful. He said that he would write a personal letter to President Johnson outlining his thoughts and describing in some detail the nature and timing of his needs re equipment.
I felt it would be useful for President Costa e Silva to be able to read and to ponder over the talking points as approved by President Johnson. Accordingly, we prepared a slightly modified version of the talking points in order to remove one or two minor points which we felt might be unnecessarily irritating to Costa e Silva. A copy of this modified version was left with Costa e Silva and is being air mailed to the Department.3
Costa e Silva noted particularly point three which states that USG is prepared “to authorize Northrop to begin contract talks after October 1.” He stated that he was unhappy to see that the first planes could only be received after July 1, 1969. He felt that the first deliveries should be not more than 20 months after the commencement of talks. In fact, this would only move date back to June 1, 1969 but it was clear that he wants earliest possible deliveries. He indicated that French deliveries could be made much earlier.
Costa e Silva said several times that in any case the purchase of advanced equipment, including supersonic planes, did not represent a serious drain on Brazil’s economy. In the case of French Mirages, he said that the French had indicated a willingness to accept payments over an eight to ten year time span. (Comment: William Sweet, who apparently represents Northrop on this deal in Rio, states that the Canadians can match the French in financing of the F–5s provided of course that the United States will authorize export.)
Throughout conversation which lasted more than an hour, Costa e Silva was serious but always friendly. It was quite clear that he recognized the seriousness of the political issue in the United States and he was anxious to avoid complicating problems for President Johnson. The seriousness with which he considers the question, however, and his determination to resolve it via modernization of the Brazilian forces was evident throughout. He wants to stick with the United States as his source of supply and training but he will go elsewhere if this cannot be done.
Comment: I feel that President Johnson’s letter and talking points enabled us to pull this out of the fire at last possible moment, Costa e Silva clearly responded to what he felt was President Johnson’s personal interest in matter and perceptive approach to it. It’s now up to us after October 1.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, AID(US) BRAZ. Confidential; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to Brasilia.
  2. On July 26 Tuthill met President Johnson “to discuss the Mirage airplanes that Brazil wants to buy from France.” (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) In a July 25 memorandum to the President, Rostow explained that the meeting would allow Tuthill “to tell Costa e Silva that he personally discussed this problem with you.” Although no substantive record of the meeting has been found, Johnson evidently gave Tuthill the letter for Costa e Silva. Rostow also recommended that Johnson review the talking points for the Ambassador’s meeting with the Brazilian President. A draft letter and the talking points were attached to the memorandum. (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Brazil, Vol. VII, 3/67–9/67) The final letter from Johnson to Costa e Silva, July 26, is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 BRAZ.
  3. Not found.