269. Editorial Note

On September 4, 1964, the Johnson administration closely monitored the official tabulation of votes for the presidential election in Chile. The Department of State received hourly updates from the Embassy in Santiago and forwarded the telegraphic reports to the White House. (Memorandum from Chase to Bundy, September 4; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Latin America, Vol. II, 6/64–12/64; telegrams 366, 367, 368, 369, 370, and 371 from Santiago, September 4; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 14 Chile) Although the initial returns suggested the eventual outcome, the actual result was surprisingly decisive. With 87 percent of the electorate participating, Eduardo Frei Montalva, the candidate of the Christian Democratic Party, received 56 percent of the vote; Salvador Allende Gossens, the Popular Action Front (FRAP) candidate 39 percent; the Radical Party candidate, Julio Durán Neumann, finished third.

President Johnson addressed the importance of the Chilean election at a news conference on September 5. The election, he said, served [Page 592] as a reminder of the strength of democratic institutions throughout Latin America; it was a victory for democracy as well as a defeat for communism, i.e. “those who are hostile to freedom.” The President suggested that some credit should go to the Alliance for Progress, whose ideals and programs Frei had endorsed during the campaign. Johnson was careful to point out, however, that the election “was an internal matter in which the people of Chile were the only judges of the issues.” (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963–64, Book II, page 1040) Frei expressed his appreciation for these remarks on September 7, when Ambassador Cole delivered an oral message of congratulations from President Johnson. Frei also praised the Embassy for its role during the campaign, citing “its discretion and cooperation.” (Telegram 383 from Santiago, September 8; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 14 Chile)

In a September 2 memorandum the CIA argued that various elements of the covert political action program—the financial and organizational assistance given to Frei, the effort to keep Durán in the race, the propaganda campaign to denigrate Allende—were “indispensable ingredients of Frei’s success.” “Frei’s chances of winning the election,” the Agency concluded, “would have been considerably more tenuous, and it is doubtful if his campaign would have progressed as well as it did without this covert U.S. Government support.” (Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, Chile, 1964–1967) The day after the election Cole reported that the combined effort of U.S. agencies “contributed significantly to the very satisfactory Frei victory on September 4.” (Telegram 372 from Santiago, September 5; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 14 Chile)

The 303 Committee also discussed the Chilean election at its meeting on September 10. The official minutes of the meeting record the discussion as follows:

“Mr. Bundy indicated that a vote of commendation should be extended to those responsible for the successful outcome of the Chilean election. Those present concurred wholeheartedly. Mr. McCone remarked that the voters, themselves, in Chile deserved some commendation for the high numbers of the electorate voting (86%) and the very few votes that were invalidated (six-tenths of 1%). Ambassador Thompson indicated that there were those who felt that President Frei could still prove a difficult personality. Mr. McCone commented that certain U.S. business leaders with direct interests were immensely pleased and felt that they could negotiate any problems arising during the Frei administration. Mr. McCone added that it was the present analysis of his area specialists that without the large scale covert support provided for the campaign, Frei would have gained, at most, a bare plurality. This was the first clear majority in a Chilean election in 22 years.” (Memorandum for the Record by Jessup, September 11; Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, 303 Committee Files, September 24, 1964)