24. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 80/90–64



The purpose of this estimate is to review, with respect to each Latin American country:2

The internal conditions which favor or hinder Communist political or subversive activities.
The strengths, capabilities, and policies of indigenous Communist elements, and the policies of their overseas patrons (the USSR, Communist China, or Cuba).
The strengths and capabilities of the internal security forces.

These matters are reviewed in 21 annexes, each relating to one of the countries under consideration. These annexes are introduced by a summary estimate in general terms.

[Page 65]

The Estimate

Each of the 21 countries under consideration has its own distinctive character and internal situation. Each is exceptional in some respect. The appropriate annex should therefore be consulted as regards the situation in any particular country.3
Throughout Latin America there is a rising popular demand for radical change in existing conditions—economic, social, and political. The intensity of this demand varies from country to country and within most countries. Backwardness is not in itself a spur to revolution, but rising consciousness of deprivation is. Nowhere as yet is this demand explosive, but the longer it is frustrated and suppressed the more likely it is to become so. The direction that political change may take remains open. It could as well be democratic or Peronist4 as Communist. But everywhere the rising demand for change is accompanied by an intensification of nationalistic emotions. Because the predominent foreign presence in the region is that of the US, Latin America ultranationalism has a predominantly anti-Yankee character.
This situation manifestly offers a fertile field for Communist political and subversive activity. Communists have been working to exploit it for about 40 years. Their efforts have been hindered by countervailing factors, most notably by the ignorance and apathy of the masses, by the existence of strong non-Communist leftist movements in some countries, and by the strongly anti-Communist attitude of the military, who still exercise ultimate political authority in almost all countries.5 But the rising demand for revolutionary change, only partly [Page 66]a result of Communist agitation, will operate to ultimate Communist advantage—unless the Communists are forestalled by fundamental reforms carried out by strong and stable non-Communist regimes.
We doubt that present efforts to reform Latin American society will have any fundamental effect over the short run in most countries. Rapid population growth will continue to press upon the limited resources available for consumption and capital investment. Thus the pace of economic and social development is not likely to be rapid enough to satisfy the rising expectations of the masses. The unwillingness or inability of traditional political parties and institutions to provide effective remedies will continue to enhance the appeal of charismatic leaders disdainful of the slow pace of evolutionary reform, and will afford the Communists recurrent opportunities to associate themselves with popular political and revolutionary movements.
Communism in Latin America is preponderantly an urban phenomenon. The Communists have made little impression on the rural masses, the bulk of the population, principally for want of contact and opportunity. In recent years, however, they have begun to make special efforts to reach and organize the peasantry, notably in Mexico, Peru, Chile, and Brazil.
Among the urban Communists there are two sorts with generally different characteristics: i.e., labor leaders and intellectuals. The Communist leaders with labor backgrounds tend to be older men, pragmatic, calculating (i.e., “opportunistic”), predisposed toward political organization and action reinforced by politically-motivated strikes and mass demonstrations. The Communist intellectuals, on the other hand, tend to be doctrinaire revolutionaries, at least verbally addicted to revolutionary violence, although they have little or no contact with the masses whom they would lead to revolution. This last consideration hardly deters the student element in this category, who tend to be highly “adventuristic.”
In Latin America organized labor is composed largely of skilled workmen who enjoy a privileged status and are more interested in differentiating themselves from the masses than in leading the masses to revolution. This factor has limited the appeal of communism among industrial workers. By and large, the Communists have not been successful in their efforts to gain control of organized labor. Nevertheless, they have been able to gain strong influence or control in some unions, and to use this labor leadership to exert political influence, or to make expedient deals with power seekers or power holders. Often, however, Communist “control” of important labor organizations reflects only their skill in political machinations. In such cases they cannot rely on the rank-and-file to follow their lead when a direct economic interest is not evident.
The Communists’ most striking success has been among middle class students and intellectuals. These are the people most acutely aware of the shortcomings of the societies in which they live and most impatient to transform them. They are well aware of the powers of resistance of the vested interests and consider existing democratic institutions ineffectual as a means of achieving rapid and radical reform. They are attracted to communism by its promise to cut this Gordian Knot, and by the expectation of being able to play an important role in the new dispensation. Even the non-Communist intellectuals tend to think in terms of a Marxist analysis of the situation—i.e., to attribute national shortcomings to “federal” class rule and to “Yankee imperialism.”
In many Latin American countries the Communists are much divided amongst themselves, by personal factionalism, ideological sectarianism, and disputes over tactics. From the beginning there has been a general division between those who would pursue a “hard” line—immediate revolutionary violence—and those who prefer a more expedient “soft” line—patient organization and agitation in preparation for an eventual revolution. A generation ago this difference was expressed in terms of Trotskyism and Stalinism. Trotskyist elements still survive in many Latin American countries. Nowadays, however, essentially the same difference tends to be defined in terms of the Sino-Soviet controversy, or of the influence of Fidel Castro.
For purposes of analysis, it is possible to distinguish between the attitudes of the USSR, Communist China, and Castroist Cuba toward revolution in Latin America, but the reservation must be made in advance that these distinctions are blurred in practice and are not universally applicable. The essential point is that Communist action in Latin America depends on the willingness of indigenous individuals to act, at whatever personal risk they are disposed to accept, and consequently on their own tactical and doctrinal predilections. The USSR, Communist China, and Cuba can incite, encourage, advise, and render some degree of clandestine aid from the outside; the decision to act, and in what manner, is local and personal. The CPSU does exercise a measure of control over the established Communist party organizations, but the “Chinese” and “Cuban” factions are merely obtaining ideological justification and material support where they can find it, for actions which they are moved to take for their own reasons. They are not under Chinese or Cuban control.
The Soviet leaders, and the Communist parties responsive to them, certainly desire to exploit every opportunity to impair US interests in Latin America and to reduce US influence there. To those ends they have worked to stimulate already existing tendencies toward anti-US nationalism and to identify the US with the unsatisfactory [Page 68]status quo. But the Soviets almost certainly regard the Latin American Communist parties as presently incapable of seizing and holding power in their respective countries—and as not surely subject to Soviet control if they should do so. Thus, in the Soviet view, Communist seizure of power in Latin America remains a distant objective, not a present potentiality. An intermediate Soviet objective is to facilitate the coming to power of nationalistic regimes disposed to turn to local Communists and to the USSR for support in their defiance of “Yankee imperialism.”
The Soviets generally prefer to pursue their objectives in Latin America by political means. On the international plane, this means Soviet cultivation of good relations with selected incumbent governments through offers of trade and aid, and Soviet encouragement of an independence in foreign policy verging toward neutralism. In domestic politics, it means Communist party pursuit of legal recognition and of collaboration with other parties in popular fronts, as in Chile. But the Soviets and local Communists also consider it imperative to prevent the success of any democratic reform movement in Latin America. To this end, the Communists have collaborated on occasion with the most ruthless dictatorships and have sought by violence to frustrate democratic reformist regimes, as in Venezuela.
The Chinese and their ideological adherents scorn Soviet “opportunism” in Latin America and hold that revolutionary ends can be achieved only by revolutionary violence. But the Chinese are not “adventuristic.” They too recognize that the Communist revolution in Latin America is a distant objective, to be patiently prepared for, not an immediate potentiality. As a practical matter, the Chinese are more interested in gaining the adherence of the Latin American Communist parties for their own immediate purposes in their present struggle with the Soviets for the leadership of the international Communist movement. But the Latin American enthusiasts for the Chinese line are considerably less sophisticated about this matter than are the Chinese. They take their Chinese texts literally because they are themselves motivated toward early violent action.
The Cubans, like the Chinese, advocate violent revolution, but they are more “adventuristic.” They hold that their own experience proves that even a premature and abortive revolutionary attempt would be a positive contribution to the cause, in that it would provoke regressive measures which would arouse the population against the government and so hasten the day of the successful revolution. This idea has appeal for undisciplined and “adventuristic” elements who want immediate action. Castro’s efforts to foment revolutionary action in Latin America have suffered severe setbacks during the past year— e.g., the reverses suffered by the FALN in Venezuela and by Leonel Brizola in Brazil. Nevertheless, he will continue to provide training [Page 69]and other aid to potential revolutionaries in anticipation of future opportunities.6
Factional conflicts among pro-Soviet, pro-Chinese, and pro-Cuban elements have tended to disrupt and discredit the Communist movement in Latin America. Nevertheless, all seek in one way or another to destroy the position of the US in Latin America and eventually to revolutionize the continent. All three Communist lines can be pursued simultaneously in a given country, thus catering to diverse disaffected elements. Moreover, these distinctions do not always apply. The USSR approves of violent resistance operations in countries in which political action is impossible, as has been the case in Venezuela, although Cuba is the active agent in such cases. (The USSR has a strong presence in the Cuban agency charged with fomenting and supporting such operations.) On the other hand, Communist China and Cuba pursue a primarily political approach in countries such as Mexico, where that is obviously the more expedient course.
On the basis of a country by country review, the Communists’ chances for gaining control of any Latin American country in the foreseeable future seem slight.7 Yet the same could validly have been said of Cuba in 1957. There is a real danger inherent in the situation, and that danger will persist for at least a generation.
The danger in Latin America results less from the Communists’ ability to convert people to communism than from the ability of a few dedicated Communists to exploit for their own purposes the widespread tendency toward anti-US nationalism. Both the traditional order and the potential democratic order are under sharp attack by radical ultranationalists as well as by Communists. Many of these ultranationalists also seek dictatorial power, for the gratification of personal ambitions, but also in order to transform their societies without hindrance by vested interests. By their appeal to nationalistic emotions, they can gain a wider acceptance in Latin America than can the Communists. But an ultranationalist regime could become Communist through dependence on the aid of local Communists and of the USSR [Page 70]in its defiance of “Yankee imperialism.” This is in some part the explanation of what happened in Guatemala under Arbenz and in Cuba under Castro. The significance of the local Communist parties in this context is that they provide a continuity of organization and purpose unusual in Latin American political life and a link with the USSR as a world power believed to be able to provide aid and protection in the event of a hostile confrontation with the US.

[Omitted here are Annexes A through U.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Job 79–R01012A, O/DDI Registry. Secret; Controlled Dissem. According to a note on the cover sheet this estimate was prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency with the participation of the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense and the NSA and FBI. The United States Intelligence Board concurred in this estimate on August 19.
  2. Excluding Cuba, but including British Guiana and Surinam. The current estimate with respect to Cuba is NIE 85–64, “Situation and Prospects in Cuba,” dated 5 August 1964. [Footnote in the source text; for text of NIE 85–64, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, Vol. XXXII, Document 281.]
  3. As an indication of the range of variation within the region, consider the following extreme cases:

    Area (sq. mi.): Brazil, 3,300,000; El Salvador, 8,000. Population: Brazil, 78,000,000; Surinam, 335,000. Density: Haiti, 420 per sq. mi.; Surinam, 6. Literacy: Uruguay, 88 percent; Haiti, 10 percent. GNP: Brazil, $14.4 billion; Surinam, $101 million. Per capita: Chile and Venezuela, over $700; Haiti, $71.

    Three countries have predominantly white populations: Costa Rica (98%), Argentina (97%), and Uruguay (90%). Nine are predominantly mestizo: Paraguay (95%), Honduras (90%), Chile (88%), El Salvador (78%), Panama and Venezuela (70%), Nicaragua (68%), Colombia (57%), and Mexico (55%). Five have large, generally unassimilated Indian populations: Bolivia (55%), Guatemala (54%), Peru (50%), Ecuador (40%), and Mexico (30%). The Dominican Republic is predominantly mulatto (70%); Haiti is almost 100% Negro. The populations of Brazil, British Guiana, and Surinam are too variegated to permit classification in these terms. [Footnote in the source text.]

  4. That is, an authoritarian regime catering to nationalistic and working class interests. [Footnote in the source text.]
  5. The anti-Communist attitude and effectiveness of the military have been most recently demonstrated in Venezuela and Brazil. But there is another side to this coin. In times not long past, such military figures as Arbenz, Batista, and Pérez Jiménez found it convenient to use known Communists in order to undermine democratic opposition, in some cases to longterm Communist advantage. [Footnote in the source text.]
  6. In 1963 about 4,600 Latin Americans visited Cuba, of whom most presumably received some formal indoctrination. Several hundred probably received training in the techniques of guerrilla warfare and urban terrorism. [Footnote in the source text.]
  7. Possible exceptions are British Guiana and Chile. If the Jagan regime is still in power when British Guiana becomes independent, the Communists would be likely to gain control of that country. The forthcoming election on the basis of proportional representation is designed to unseat Jagan, but the possibility of his winning cannot be excluded. If FRAP should win the presidential election to be held in Chile in September 1964, which is at least possible, the Communists would gain great influence in the government, but not immediate control of it. [Footnote in the source text.]