239. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Brazil1

289961. Ref.: State’s 288130, Rio’s 14464.2

Given the serious consequences for U.S.–Brazil relations that will inevitably follow if Costa e Silva and the military continue on path assumed over past few days, we are searching actively for some way or means to try and turn them back, even partially, from such a course. We recognize risk of a counterproductive result if we are too unskillful or untimely in our efforts. We also realize marginality of our influence and likely sensitivity of key figures in power, especially now.
Nonetheless, the stakes are high. A misguided and repressive military dictatorship would have grave consequences for Brazil and would set in motion a serious erosion in U.S.–Brazil relations which we must make every effort to avoid. We know that it may be necessary to endure such an erosion temporarily in order for us to remain free of identification with the Costa e Silva government and that our very long term interests in Brazil may best be served by working with what have become the disaffected groups in the country.
But we obviously must not resign ourselves too readily to such a regime as an inevitable consequence of what has happened in recent days. Almost all agree that Costa e Silva and the military overreacted in near cosmic terms to the provocation presented. Is it too late for them to redress the balance? Can a look by key Brazilians at U.S.–Brazil relations for the future play a part in turning the military juggernaut around, or at least in getting them to repair some of the damage already done? Is there still time to head off possibly worse acts yet to come?
These thoughts were behind para 6, reftel. We think following script is about right, subject to minor variations to accommodate to characteristics of person spoken to, and offer it for your urgent appraisal:
“Brazilians know that the United States thinks of its relationship with Brazil as a very special one, both as to the world as a whole and certainly within the hemispheric community. What Brazil does and how she does it is of very great significance. So far the changes made recently have not been taken in U.S. public opinion as marking a [Page 531] definitive and irrevocable transition from democratic norms. There is still time and a good opportunity to avoid the congealing of public opinion in the U.S.A. along lines that would make it very difficult for any administration in this country to continue those degrees of cooperation and mutual assistance that the needs of the Brazilian people and our own deep friendship for them make desirable. Responsible people in both countries are surely aware of forces in the world that would like nothing better than to see relations between these two great countries of the Western Hemisphere decline to the merely correct, or even deteriorate farther, in a downward spiral. The one (script user) who speaks these words does not mean to threaten, intrude, or preach. As one personally committed to the transcendental cause of that unexpressed ‘Alliance within an Alliance,’ he feels he must say them in the hope that it is not too late for Brazilians to be able, as they always have before, to pull back from rigidities and to face their problems with elegance, compassion, wisdom and good spirit. North Americans do not suggest what might be done, not only because we do not so conduct ourselves with Brazilians, but also because we know that no one better than the Brazilians themselves can find hopeful and salutary ways out.”
Style of approaches would be calm, friendly and frank—no histrionics, no threats and no tutelary or directive nuance. Uniformity of line by all U.S. officials that express it is highly important especially since also desirable use officials representing various U.S. agencies.
If you think some special person (such as General Walters, who is now in the United States) would be able to assist you in such an effort, let us know and we will try and make necessary arrangements. Your views requested on this point.3
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL BRAZ–US. Secret; Priority; Limdis. Drafted by Oliver, Vaky, and Kubisch and approved by Oliver.
  2. Documents 237 and 238.
  3. In telegram 14524 from Rio de Janeiro, December 20, the Embassy concurred with the Department’s assessment of the situation, but stressed the possible consequences of any precipitate action. In particular the Embassy recommended against sending a special emissary, which “would be viewed as interference Brazilian affairs and would be distinctly counterproductive. If emissary were a military figure would be interpreted by one & all as USG support for recent GOB moves and encouragement further movement to the right, no matter what he might say after arrival.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL BRAZ–US)