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

14526. Joint Embassy/Defense Message. Subject: Developments in Brazil. Ref: State 288130.2

This telegram is first attempt to give our tentative views on matters raised para 3 reftel. Department will no doubt appreciate that in present fluid situation with various elements asserting their influence on a greatly altered power structure, precise answers are impossible.
Re paragraph 3(a), recent events have not essentially changed the names of those at the top of the GOB power structure. What has changed is the structure itself which in turn has altered the relationship of one leader vis-à-vis another. While we agree that Costa e Silva does not qualify as strong leader, he is probably as capable as anyone else who might take over in present circumstances. He clearly does not have the same autonomy he had before, nor is he likely to regain it. Moreover, his chances of finishing his term may have been reduced. Fact that he has publicly stated he in authority twice in as many days (Rio 14422 and 144353) interpreted by many as evidence of his precarious position.
Nevertheless Costa e Silva still President of Brazil. His freedom of action has been limited by radical military elements but fact that he holds top position gives him an advantage in any struggle that others do not enjoy. Certainly USG will have to cope more and more with likes of Gama e Silva, Portella and Syseno Sarmento, but, hopefully, more moderate elements will hold the marginal balance of power.
In responding to paragraph 3(c), the Embassy believes that a tug of war presently going on between radicals and more moderate elements in military. On its outcome will depend regime’s base of support. Principal issues being debated are how to deal with “subversion and corruption.” Only significant military group which opposes act outright is idealistic “hardline” group led by Col. Boaventura Cavalcanti, but it not in position swing much weight. Radical element which has throughout crisis been led by Generals Syseno Sarmento, Commander of First Army; Moniz de Aragao, Chief of Veterinary Service;[Page 533]Henrique Assumpcao, Syseno’s chief of staff; and Portella of military household favors extended congressional recess and prolonged and thorough application of institutional act. More moderate element, which appears to be headed by Generals Lyra Tavares, Minister of Army; Reynaldo, Commander Command and General Staff School; Newton Reis and Bina Machado, both sub-chiefs of Staff of the Army, apparently favors early restoration of constitutional rights. Specifically, they reportedly respond sympathetically to pleas for reopening of Congress March 1. Costa e Silva portrayed by various sources as leaning toward moderation but unable to show his hand at present. His initial moves are simply directed towards re-establishing the credibility of his position. A key figure in this situation is General Castilho, Commander of the Vila Militar, who has been variously portrayed as a Syseno or Lyra Tavares man. Castilho was clearly one of those who transmitted the pressure from the banks, but his personal loyalties in the current struggle have not yet been defined. Basically he favors the “hard” approach and is a man of personal courage who enjoys popularity among junior officers.
Aside from small number of perennial pro-government politicians who have been falling into line, only major non-military group to support recent actions has been conservative-business class, particularly in Sao Paulo. Essentially, this group believes new regime will follow policies which will be more efficient and will benefit private enterprise. However, there are some influential businessmen who do oppose GOB actions and are worried about political trends. It should also be noted that a part of the educated population as always is basically apathetic and knows relatively little about recent events because of censorship.
It difficult to speculate at this point on signs of moderation in handling critics and press. Some prisoners have been released, some arrests are still being made and cassation lists are expected. There are those who think Congress can be reactivated on March 1 and that press censorship can be eased. We agree with Brasilia (Brasilia 3271)4 that reopening Congress will be uphill battle. Yesterday, for example, Senate President Gilberto Marinho, Arena President Daniel Krieger, and hard-line Senator Dinarte Mariz tried to see President but were unable to. In our view most that can be expected is that some sort of emasculated Congress may begin to operate within the next few months, but even this appears to us to be an optimistic prediction.
Question of press even more difficult. Various government sources tell us plan is to ease censorship gradually. Suggestions of self-censorship have already been made. Control will then be maintained [Page 534] by threats of renewed censorship and economic measures (most newspapers are in debt to GOB which has newsprint monopoly). This may meet with some success but it is hardly much of an improvement over current situation. Furthermore, we believe that there are still journalists in Brazil who would be courageous enough to speak out in the face of these threats, and we have no reason to believe military activists would be willing to accept any significant criticism of what they have done. Thus, we view restoration of press freedom as a long term process. Implicit recognition of this made in yesterday’s press briefing when GOB5
Church has not yet assumed a formal position, but could be rallying point for opposition. Some prominent churchmen initially reacted with unequivocal opposition to recent developments. These include Secretary General National Conference Brazilian Bishops, Dom Aluisio Lorscheider, conservative Cardinal Jayme Camara of Guanabara and Archbishop Helder Camara of Recife, latter two of whom have issued strong public anti-government statements since December 13. Ultimate posture of church depends on future government conduct toward clergy and church prerogatives, but the prevailing tendency seems to be to speak out with greater unity in opposition to the act (Recife 1606).6
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–9 BRAZ. Confidential; Priority. Repeated to Brasilia, Recife, Sao Paulo, USCINCSO, USUN, CINCLANT, and Buenos Aires.
  2. Document 237.
  3. Dated December 17 and 18. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15–1 BRAZ and POL 2 BRAZ, respectively)
  4. Dated December 18. (Ibid., DEF 6 BRAZ)
  5. Dated December 20. (Ibid., PPB 3)
  6. Dated December 19. (Ibid., SOC 12–1 BRAZ)