298. Information Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1


  • Ed Korry Reports on Chile

When Ed Korry called on you before going to Chile,2 you told him that he is an Ambassador with a built-in “self-starter” who did not need to be pushed from Washington. The attached report3 demonstrates the accuracy of your remark.

After observing the Chilean scene for three months, he concluded that Frei was being out-maneuvered by the Chilean Communist Party, with potentially serious implications for Chilean democracy and for us. He decided to discuss the situation with Frei, which he did on January 3 with good results.

Ed’s analysis runs like this: Since taking office, Frei knowingly played along with the “opening to the left” tactic (i.e., diplomatic and trade relations with Moscow and friendly dialogue with the Chilean Communist Party), of which his Foreign Minister and Ambassador Tomic are leading advocates. He did this to curry Communist support to put through his “Revolution in Liberty” program. In the process he shunned cooperation with democratic forces to the right of the PDC (i.e., the Radical Party) and increasingly blamed them for hindering passage of that program. This alienated the Radicals and blurred the sharp distinction between those who believe in democratic principles and those who do not which emerged so clearly in the 1964 elections and won Frei the presidency. In the ideological confusion, the Chilean Communist Party smartly out-maneuvered Frei by: making a formal alliance with the Radicals; maintaining their coalition relationship with the Socialists; and establishing a working intimacy with key members of Frei’s own party. As a result, the Communists were pushing the government into an isolated position in which Frei seemed to be unable to control his party and was forced to lean more heavily on the discredited Right for survival.

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Ed thinks our policy has been partially to blame for this state of affairs because we have over-emphasized economic support of Frei’s program—which Ed fully supports—in the mistaken assumption that economic performance would produce the political results we seek. He thinks the US Ambassador should be providing more political assistance.

A chance trip with Frei on January 3—three days before the Christian Democratic National Convention—gave Korry the opportunity to express his concern to the President. Frei welcomed the discussion and apparently responded to Ed’s counsel. At the Convention, Frei had a head-on collision with the wing of his party which wants a further shift to the left and which won control of the party leadership last July. Frei won and forced the radical directorate to resign. He also unequivocally attacked the Communists.

I think Ed’s analysis is dead right. The “self-starter” came into play at a critical moment.4 Time will tell whether Frei will be able to reestablish a clear-cut distinction between the Communists and anti-Communists and win back the confidence of the democratic forces which elected him in 1964. We are fortunate to have Ed in Chile as Frei moves toward the crucial national election of 1970.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Chile, Vol. V, 8/67–11/68. Secret. A notation on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it.
  2. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Johnson met Korry for a brief “courtesy call” on October 4, 1967. (Johnson Library) No substantive record of the meeting has been found.
  3. Airgram A–327 from Santiago, January 10; attached but not printed. Another copy is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL CHILE–US.
  4. The CIA later claimed its share of credit: “We wish to point out that the Ambassador’s awareness of the situation and the information he used in carefully stirring Frei to action were largely the result of our intelligence effort in Chile” and “the result of close briefings provided the Ambassador by Station personnel.” (Memorandum from Broe to Helms, January 24; Central Intelligence Agency, DDO Files, [file name not declassified])