253. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Mann) to Secretary of State Rusk1


  • Presidential Election in Chile
[Page 565]

This memorandum will inform you of the status of the presidential race and indicate US Government activity concerning this important election.2


On September 4, two months before our own elections, a critical presidential election is scheduled in Chile. The two leading candidates are Salvador Allende, an avowed Marxist leader of a Communist-Socialist coalition, and Eduardo Frei. Frei heads the Christian Democratic Party, a somewhat left of center reform party close to the Catholic Church. In the 1958 election Allende came within 32,000 votes of winning a plurality and becoming president.

At this point in the campaign, most observers rate Frei slightly ahead, but the race will be extremely close and many things could happen in the four months before the election. The democratic forces are presently split, with Radical party candidate Julio Duran back in the race after the results of a congressional bi-election in March shattered his coalition of rightist parties and indicated he stood almost no chance of being elected. Also working against Frei is a Chilean tolerance for native Communists, who have long been on the public scene, and a long-standing anticlerical feeling which hurts the Church-identified Christian Democrats.

Discussion of U.S. Action Program

Clearly, the September election will be determined by factors which are deeply rooted in the political, economic, and social fabric of the Chilean scene and by the campaign abilities of the major contenders. Given the consequences, however, if this major Latin American nation should become the first country in the hemisphere to freely choose an avowed Marxist as its elected president, the Department, CIA, and other agencies have embarked on a major campaign to prevent Allende’s election and to support Frei, the only candidate who has a chance of beating him. Chief elements in this campaign are the following:

Providing covert assistance through secret CIA channels to Frei’s campaign chest and for other anti-Allende campaign uses. [less [Page 566] than 1 line of source text not declassified] has been approved by the Special Group and earmarked for these purposes, and additional funds will be sought as necessary.
Providing AID loans in CY 64 amounting to approximately $70 million, principally in program budget loans to maintain the level of the government investment budget, thereby keeping the economy as a whole active and unemployment low. $60 million of this aid has already been extended.3
Examining means to alleviate the rising cost of living through efforts to increase the supply and lower the price of major foods. We are making available $20 million of PL 480, almost half of which is wheat. In addition, we are reviewing our on-going PL 480 Title III food distribution program through voluntary organizations to expand it wherever possible; the current FY 64 program costs $12.5 million and touches an estimated 2 million people, 1/4 of Chile’s population.
Assisting U.S. business groups with information and advice through David Rockefeller’s Business Group for Latin America—a blue ribbon group of American companies in Latin America—in their support of a Chilean business group helping Frei and attempting to hold down prices.
Organizing a political action and propaganda campaign through CIA contacts in coordination with or parallel to Frei’s campaign. This includes voter registration drives, propaganda, person-to-person campaigning in the cities and rural areas, and arrangements to provide some Italian Christian Democratic organizers to Frei as advisers on campaign techniques.
Encouraging the GOC and IMF to avoid rupturing their standby stabilization agreement, a break which would have damaging financial and psychological consequences. An IMF team presently is completing a review in Chile, and a Chilean team sent by President Alessandri will arrive in Washington on May 4 for discussions with the Department.
Attempting discreetly through normal U.S. contacts with the non-political Chilean military and police to encourage their rising awareness of the subversion which would take place under an Allende government.
Continuing USIA placement in Chile of unattributed material, giving special care to low-keyed efforts which do not expose U.S. Government involvement.
Encouraging, through covert ties and private U.S. organizations, effective anti-Allende efforts by Chilean organizations including the Roman Catholic Church, trade union groups, and other influential bodies, such as the anti-clerical Masons.

We are attempting to insure that extraordinary caution is observed in this action campaign to conceal official U.S. government interest, and we have rejected several ideas which have seemed to entail undue risks or excessive American involvement.


I plan to strengthen our Embassy in Chile in the four months prior to the election by adding to the present staff there next week a top-ranking political officer with an excellent record on the Cuban desk, Robert Hurwitch.4

I also plan to raise with Ambassador Cole, who recently arrived in the U.S. by ship on two months’ leave from post, the desirability of interrupting his vacation to return to Chile soon for a ten-day period. I am aware of the background concerning his two months’ leave, but I am concerned about possible reactions in Chile and the U.S. to so long an absence in relation to this critical election.5

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Chile, Vol. I, 1/64–8/64. Top Secret. Drafted by Dentzer.
  2. Bundy forwarded this memorandum to the President under a May 13 covering memorandum that noted the importance of the upcoming Presidential election in Chile. “In essence, the problem we face is that a very popular and attractive candidate, named Allende, who has thrown in his lot with the Communists, has more than a fighting chance to win. We have a coordinated Government-wide program of action to strengthen his opponent and support actions in Chile which will work to the advantage of those now in power. It is a highly fluid situation and one in which there may have to be further action as we get into the summer. I have been very much encouraged by the determination and unity which all Departments of the Government are showing on this one, and we will be watching it very closely, but I do think you ought to know about it yourself.” (Ibid., Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. IV)
  3. On April 3 the United States and Chile signed an agreement to provide $55 million in program loan assistance in CY 1964. For an account on how the funds were utilized, see United States Senate, Committee on Government Operations, Subcommittee on Foreign Aid Expenditures, United States Foreign Aid in Action: A Case Study, Washington, 1966, p. 31.
  4. Hurwitch was given the rank of first secretary in the Embassy’s political section. Although he reported to Santiago in May, Hurwitch did not officially assume his position until July 5.
  5. Later that afternoon Mann told Rusk that “he would like to talk about Chile and a number of problems.” A meeting was set for 6 p.m. (Rusk to Mann, May 1, 12:14 p.m., National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Calls 4/20/64–5/22/64) According to Rusk’s Appointment Book Rusk met Mann at 6:35 p.m. (Johnson Library) No substantive record of the conversation has been found.