241. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Brazil 1

292127. Subject: Developments in Brazil: Significance of Institutional Act (IA–5).

We are now proceeding on assumption that by early January situation in Brazil should have clarified sufficiently that USG will be [Page 535] able to establish kinds of policy guidelines and make necessary operating decisions which will undoubtedly be required by then. In previous messages Country Team has been asked to provide its assessment and recommendations on these matters by first week in January and to consider whether DCM, who will become Chargé later in January, and AID Mission Director, and perhaps others, should come to Washington for short consultation.
While we have been furnishing you with highlights of reactions and thinking in United States, including in USG, we thought you might also find useful some preliminary comments as to how we perceive overall Brazil situation now, eleven days after promulgation of IA–5. We recognize that both you and we are by no means fully informed on details of what happened during first important hours following congressional vote of December 12, that we do not and may never know all of pressures that were exerted and by whom, nor what the realistic alternatives were. We also realize that new phase is only beginning to unfold and that it too early to say how exceptional powers will be used by Costa e Silva. Finally, we realize that Brazil’s needs and performance cannot be measured against North American or northwest European standards of constitutional democracy, nor even easily expressed in Anglo-Saxon terms.
But, by whatever measuring standards one might be expected to apply, political development has been dealt a hard blow and human rights, as defined by minimum international standards, have already suffered to some extent and remain under serious threat. There is no arguing arbitrariness of IA–5 and powers it gives Costa e Silva. Looks to us that he can do almost anything he wishes to almost anyone in country with only a small handful of men having power to do much about it—and they are far from an appealing lot. Moreover, proximate circumstances which brought IA–5 into being would indicate an almost paranoiac overkill response to provocation presented. Seems almost incredible to us that threats to government or country’s well being, or prevalence of subversion and corruption, were such as to warrant gross breaching of constitutional restraints and political and civil rights—or that, if so, there weren’t wiser, more civilized and lawful ways of dealing with them.
It has become almost cliché to refer to Brazilian military establishment as being different from that of its hispanic neighbors. Undoubtedly this has been true for practically all of Brazil’s modern history. Acting almost supra-Government, Brazilian military entered political arena infrequently and then only to save country when it appeared to be in last extremity. Under leadership of Castello Branco, armed forces provided backbone as impressive effort was made to establish a governmental system that would offer best blend of democratic, [Page 536] popular participation in a free society and authoritarianism believed needed to ensure Brazil’s order and progress. Clearly, constitution of 1946, modeled after U.S., had failed and permitted the near chaos of early 60’s.
But, staying in power after ‘64, Brazilian military found themselves with responsibilities that go with governing. And in Brazil, like so many developing countries, there was certain to be widespread dissatisfaction with government’s performance in many sectors, lacking as it did capital and human resources—and commitment of the society—to do all that needed doing, simultaneously. Natural consequence was criticism of military, and in Brazilian context, and in eyes of military itself, such criticism was to military like insult to flag or to nation’s honor. Thus military reacted in name of patriotism and country against criticism, revealing that in this respect at least they have something in common with fellow professionals in other LA countries.
To us this appears to be important watershed in Brazil’s political development. IA–5 of December 13 was throwback to its two predecessors of April 1964 and October 1965, but in our view has far more significance than either. Given near chaos and disorder which preceded and passion of moment that followed Goulart’s ouster, April ‘64 Act could be understood. Even October ‘65 Act could be justified by Castello to some extent as he said to us morning after Act was promulgated—and later demonstrated in fact—that he only assumed powers not to use them. Moreover, neither of these Acts was as extreme as one of December 13, and both had clearly specified expiration dates. Even so, as you know, in retrospect we believe we erred after October ‘65 Act in not drawing back further from our close association and public identification with Castello Government.
Perhaps Brazil’s misfortune has been that Costa e Silva became its president twenty-one months ago instead of one of others more favored by Castello Branco. With all laws, powers and constitutional provisions apparently needed to lead his country and govern effectively he has brought it to present state. Thus, the watershed: unable to succeed with kind of open democracy Brazil attempted from 1945 to 1964, country has now also lost its chance—at least for present—to move ahead even under strongly guided semi-authoritarian democracy.
In our view, therefore, prospects are not good. For foreseeable future military would appear be unwilling see Brazil buffeted by pressures resulting from free expression in even semi-open society. Nor, unless they change, can military accept criticism inherent to their role as government of developing country. Some Brazilian mutation of harsh authoritarian regime, therefore, and possibly some succession of such regimes, appears be in offing.
But, as stated in previous messages, and this of highest importance, U.S. interests and objectives in Brazil are virtually same now as they were eleven days ago. In the new circumstances we will undoubtedly have to adapt ourselves to revised ways of serving them. We await your further thoughts and recommendations as to how best to proceed and make foregoing available to you, not as representing full consensus in Washington nor to signal kind of analysis or recommendations we want. Rather, foregoing represents preliminary views of only small number of U.S. officials who have consulted on matter, and of several consultants outside Department who have had significant experience in Brazil, and does not reflect dissent of several who believe, stated at its most extreme, that we are greatly overemphasizing importance of recent developments in Brazil and that this episode will find its way into Brazilian history without greatly affecting period immediately ahead. We hope you will find these comments helpful and in your analysis and recommended policy lines will address more important questions raised.
Merry Christmas.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–9 BRAZ. Confidential; Limdis. Drafted by Kubisch on December 24 and approved by Vaky.