237. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Brazil1
Washington, December 17, 1968, 0038Z.
288130. Subject: Developments in Brazil.
- This message is first effort to assess serious impact of recent Brazilian developments on our current relations, gives initial policy guidance, and asks Embassy to focus on problems of deepest concern to us and on matters requiring decision over coming days and weeks.
- For the moment, at least, Brazilian regime appears to have stripped itself of any disguise as military dictatorship, although possibly more akin to collegiate than one-strong-man type. Fifth Institutional Act and actions in immediate aftermath are harsh, not only in Brazilian context but also in comparison to some of hemisphere’s other military regimes. We note that extra constitutional measures have no fixed expiration date and that measures against human rights are strong.
- Would appreciate your looking for and commenting especially on
following in your messages to come:
- Appearance of national leader or leaders who are both rational enough to understand serious problems in current situation and influential enough do something about them. Costa e Silva would obviously not seem qualify. Will he reassert himself? Will some other leader or group of leaders emerge? Or are we going to have to deal with likes of Gama e Silva, Portella, and Siseno Sarmento?2
- Reappearance of moderation in handling of critics and press. We consider Brazil’s press to be one of country’s most important democratic institutions and believe it will provide one of the first signs of regime’s relaxation, if such is to happen. The posture, comment, and continued independence of the church and its leading spokesmen also have highest importance.
- Clarification of regime’s support—or lack thereof. We unable at this moment identify any major non-military group supporting recent actions. If this true, we must consider how long military will be able remain united and govern effectively.
- We are clearly unhappy with events and do not intend sound happy.
This is matter of basic policy which all members country team
instructed observe. On other hand, following factors lead us to
avoid expressing excessive unhappiness officially and publicly:
- Brazil is a big country of special importance to us on world scene, and there is no need to elaborate on range and significance of our interests there which have not changed materially as a result of last few days’ developments although ways and means of serving them may have. Brazilians are aware of their role and not likely appreciate lectures from U.S.
- Despite current degree of repression, Brazilian traditions of moderation run deep, and we must allow that they will begin reassert themselves shortly. In addition, arrests and censorship may begin to stop in few days and may be uncoordinated acts of lower level officials and not established central Government policy.
- A major problem facing us is to avoid pushing Brazilian leaders into further irrational acts affecting our relations now and in future while, at same time, not leading Brazilian democrats and others in hemisphere to believe we complacent. There probably no way of fully achieving these irreconcilable goals, but we must endeavor strike best balance.
- Current Brazilian actions can make it extremely difficult for us to initiate or maintain our cooperation on many fronts. This is a question of fact. We do not think it would be productive for us to remind Brazilians of this in terms that could be considered threatening. On other hand, neither would we wish lessening of U.S. assistance and cooperation to come as surprise. Delicate balance also needed to arrive at equilibrium between these extremes. Among programs and activities that need prompt consideration are such things as remaining 52,000 tons of PL 480 wheat for this calendar year, authorization and negotiation of AID and PL 480 assistance for 1969, deobligations on authorized but unsigned AID project loans, ongoing AID activities, A–4 aircraft request, destroyer escorts, submarines, press release on civil aviation agreement, soluble coffee mediation efforts, Peace Corps activities, Clear Sky, and Fernando de Noronha agreement. You will no doubt know of others. As you consider and recommend position we should take on these and similar matters, and obtain Washington approval, [Page 527]we will be giving expression in specific terms to over-all policy stance we want to assume.
- In addition, you should consider desirability of mounting highly selective approaches on part of five or six top USG representatives in Brazil individually and privately to 20–30 influential Brazilians. These could be certain cabinet ministers, business leaders, key military figures, political leaders, plus labor, church, university and cultural leaders. On an unofficial basis, they could be told of our true feelings about developments, and the word would thus get around in Brazil without our publicly shaking our finger at the GOB. It has been suggested that USG official could make his points by referring to questions being asked in United States about what is really happening in Brazil and natural consequences thereof.
- It would also be possible here for high ranking USG official to meet on a background basis with selected members of U.S. and foreign press giving our true reaction on a nonattribution basis. Thus word would get out in stories to Brazil and third countries that USG was distressed, without naming names or using quotes. U.S. Ambassadors in other LA countries could also be asked to present our views to their host governments and some governments in turn might possibly exert salutory influence on GOB. Embassy views requested on these thoughts.
- Embassy should also consider how best to refer in Brazil to Ambassador’s Washington consultation and how to use his farewell calls in Brazil to achieve desired results. He will be discussing this and other aspects this message on his return tomorrow.
- Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 1 BRAZ–US. Secret; Priority; Limdis. Drafted by Proper and Kubisch on December 16 and approved by Vaky. Repeated to Brasilia, Sao Paulo, Recife, CINCSO, CINCLANT, and USUN.↩
- Reference is to Luís Antônio da Gama e Silva, Minister of Justice; Jaime Portela de Melo, Head of the Military Cabinet; and Siseno Sarmento, Commander of the First Army.↩