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

14464. Subject: Conversation with FonMin Magalhaes Pinto.

Had private meeting with FonMin Magalhaes Pinto and Secretary General Gibson Barboza tonight. As conversation proceeded [Page 528] it became evident FonMin’s primary interest was in how USG would handle aid programs. I told him that no recognition problem exists, and USG was not cutting aid. However reaction in Washington to recent events had been very strong. Although we did not wish aggravate situation by strong public statements, general feeling when I left was that A–4 issue and aid questions should be put in freezer until we had better indication of whether Brazil would revolve towards restitution of basic democratic rights (Minister readily agreed no such rights existed any longer). Told him USG would fulfill its contractual obligations but would take “wait and see” attitude on future AID programs and those presently under negotiation.
FonMin then gave lengthy exposition of events leading up to institutional act. Gist was that pressures had been building up for some time. Marcio Moreira Alves didn’t represent more than ten or fifteen percent of problem, but his case was poorly handled and poorly resolved. Result was that it attracted all attention. After vote it became clear that military wanted President to take action.
FonMin stated (and other sources have confirmed) that President resisted. First night he told military there would be no solution that day. By second day it became clear that if he didn’t act he would be “passed over” (ultrapassado). Thus he chose least bad course of action, which was issuance of fifth institutional act.
Minister said President’s intention is to use massive powers he has firmly but moderately. Greatest fear of military was subversion, which would also affect economic development. Some of this was imaginary but some represented solid facts. President’s intention is to resist radical groups and avoid image of military government.
FonMin stressed fact that neither institutional act nor complementary act closing Congress had termination date. Admitted “frankly” that absence of termination dates reflected desires of two groups: radicals who saw it as opening to continue harsh action for extended period, and liberals who saw it as opportunity to abandon extraordinary powers at first opportunity. FonMin could assure us President desired no dates in order be able terminate acts just as soon as he can neutralize radicals. He presently under pressure from military and unable make public statement to this effect but “USG should have confidence in him.”
According FonMin, President hopeful Brazil can shortly present better image. It impossible make public announcement but he hopes convene Congress on normal constitutional date, which is March 1. Reconstitution of political sector not difficult task. Congress will function, but it will of course not have powers it previously had. Press presents much more difficult problem, but demands of censors will be reduced. President desires return full freedom of press as soon [Page 529] as possible “but dust of institutional act has not yet settled.” Biggest problem is that military hold press responsible for student agitation. It clear FonMin was at loss to explain just how press freedom can now be restored.
FonMin stressed that “President has taken situation in his hands.” Asked that I tell Secretary Costa e Silva “will proceed on democratic road soonest but needs comprehension of USG.” Specifically, FonMin said it would be useful if USG acts “with greatest prudence.” Any condemnatory attitude in present excited atmosphere could permanently damage US–Brazil relations. Minister did not find it “useful to stop matters presently under consideration.” Freezing them at this moment, he claimed, could lead to nationalistic reaction in army against US.
At this point I told FonMin yesterday’s statement by Finance Minister Delfim Neto (Rio’s 14456)2 had been made without any consultation with us and was distinctly unhelpful. GOB was now pressing us for early action on AID programs on which it had previously dragged its feet. Attempts to use aid for political purposes could force a decision on USG which would not be in interest of either our countries.
FonMin claimed Delfim had spoken without consulting him. Said he believed Delfim had talked by telephone directly to Washington with “official of IDB or State Department official in charge of economic affairs.” FonMin assured me he would speak to Delfim and other economic ministers tomorrow and urge them not to take precipitous action which could create political difficulties.
FonMin was clearly being good soldier and putting best light on bad situation. Will comment further in subsequent message.3
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, AID(US) BRAZ. Confidential; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to Brasilia.
  2. In telegram 14456 from Rio de Janeiro, December 18, the Embassy reported that Delfim Neto had publicly stated that the United States would not restrict economic assistance to Brazil as a result of IA–5. (Ibid.)
  3. Not found.