231. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Transmitting the Response of the President of Brazil to a Letter from the President of the United States


  • Foreign
    • Leitao da Cunha, Brazilian Ambassador to the United States
  • United States
    • The President
    • Walt W. Rostow, Special Assistant to the President
    • Covey T. Oliver, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs

Ambassador Leitao da Cunha took the occasion of his meeting with President Johnson to present a letter from Brazilian President Arthur da Costa e Silva2 and to speak on the following subjects: [Page 515]

The President of Brazil wishes the President of the United States to know that he has given the most careful and friendly attention to President Johnson’s letter to him of July 26, 1967.3 The President of Brazil assures the President of the United States that Brazil intends to continue its relations with the United States at the traditional level of close friendship. The President and Government of Brazil, moreover, have great confidence in President Johnson personally.
The President of Brazil understands the problems faced by the Executive Branch of the Government of the United States in the matter of supersonic military aircraft; and, as already communicated to President Johnson’s Ambassador to Brazil, Brazil will abstain until October 1967 from further steps toward acquisition of such aircraft. The President of Brazil, however, must express his concern about the basic problem of aircraft modernization in Brazil. Brazil’s Air Force equipment is today obsolete. In the period 1947–52, Brazil’s Air Force equipment was equivalent in modernity, although much less numerous, to the equipment of the United States Air Force. But from 1952 on, Brazilian Air Force aircraft have become increasingly obsolescent. Today Brazil’s military aircraft are approximately 20 years out of date, and Brazil’s Air Force pilots are not able to receive training on modern equipment. It is essential that Brazilian pilots have opportunities to train on updated equipment in order that Brazil should be able to meet any national or international emergencies that might arise. With the obsolescent equipment now in use, the Brazilian Air Force encounters morale and recruiting difficulties.
The Ambassador then emphasized the essentiality to Brazil of the M–16 semiautomatic rifle.4 The Ambassador stressed that modern small arms of this sort are essential for the defense of Brazil’s Air Force bases. At the present time, he told President Johnson, these bases and other installations in Brazil are being defended by troops armed with 1909 bolt-action, Mauser rifles that themselves were only slight modifications of the 1898 model Mauser. Thus, Brazil’s small arms are nearly 60 years behind the times.
The Ambassador alluded to the difficulties that Brazil is encountering in getting delivery of Hughes helicopters. His implication [Page 516] in this instance was that the difficulties lay with the supplier, and he acknowledged that the United States Government was having similar difficulties with the supplier as to helicopters needed for Viet Nam.
The Ambassador developed for President Johnson the concept of cyclical swings in national conduct as to nationalism. He stated that the swing in Brazil today, in a new administration following one that was not at all nationalistic, is toward “latent nationalism.” This “latent nationalism” can be moderated by intelligent and understanding collaboration between the leaders of Brazil and friendly countries, especially the United States. If not moderated, this “latent nationalism” could lead to incidents or events not typical of the general history of relations between Brazil and the United States.
The Ambassador closed his presentation with a return to the problem of supersonic military aircraft. He stated: “Fundamentally, Brazil is not interested in acquiring supersonic military aircraft elsewhere; but, if there is no reasonable opportunity to acquire such aircraft from the United States, Brazil will have to look elsewhere, including France, from which country Brazil has even received a suggestion that a Mirage factory be set up in Brazil.”

President Johnson said that the United States Government would certainly bear the President of Brazil’s views very much in mind, in the first place because of President Johnson’s very high regard for President Costa e Silva. (At this point, the President expressed to the Ambassador a degree of personal esteem for the President of Brazil that was obviously moving to President Johnson’s listener.) President Johnson expressed his gratitude to the President of Brazil for his letter and for the additional message brought by the Ambassador of Brazil. As to aircraft, both the letter and the message show that Brazil is once again acting with reason and moderation. President Johnson said that he believes that the United States Government can find some answers to Brazil’s needs. Although we are having great difficulties within the United States at the present time, the President of the United States is trying to find answers to the underlying problems so that policy may be stabilized. The President of the United States wishes to avoid, however, a chain reaction about military assistance matters involving supersonic aircraft.5

As to the M–16 semiautomatic rifle, the President of the United States very clearly understands Brazil’s needs and regrets that the rifles could not have been supplied “yesterday.” The President of the [Page 517] United States is hopeful that by working additional shifts and the like, the suppliers in the United States can meet both the needs of the United States and its allies in Viet Nam and some of the needs of Brazil.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 BRAZ–US. Secret. Drafted by Oliver and approved by the White House on September 1.
  2. Dated August 24; attached but not printed.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 230.
  4. In telegram 392 from Rio de Janeiro, July 17, Tuthill maintained that “the sale of M–16 rifles is of critical importance to achievement of our overall policy objectives in Brazil.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 19–8 US–BRAZ) In a memorandum to Rostow, July 26, Bowdler reviewed the difficulties involved in meeting the Brazilian request for the rifles, including supply requirements for the Vietnam war. Bowdler recommended that the United States supply the rifles over a 2-year period as long as delivery did not cause “domestic problems” or interfere with contracts with other foreign countries. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Brazil, Vol. VII, 3/67–9/67)
  5. In a January 20, 1968, memorandum to the President, Rostow reported that Costa e Silva had decided to purchase F–5 aircraft instead of the French Mirage. Rostow commented: “No civilian president could have withstood the pressures he faced in the campaign to buy the French aircraft.” (Ibid., Vol. VII–a, 8/64–11/68)