318. Memorandum From William G. Bowdler of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson 1

SUBJECT

  • Colombian Congressional Elections

Last Sunday2 Colombia held congressional elections. Going into the elections, the National Front Government (FTN)—a coalition of the Liberal and Conservative parties which have alternated in power since [Page 695]1958—appeared to be in deep trouble.3 An FTN defeat could have produced a fragmentation of the political party structure with very serious consequences for our interests in Colombia.

With 90% of the vote tabulated, the FTN—to everyone’s surprise— has scored an impressive victory:

  • —It increased its margin of the popular vote to 57% and gained an equally large edge in congressional seats.
  • —It has left the opposition in disarray, with the non-communist left badly beaten and the far right under former dictator Rojas Pinilla, although somewhat strengthened, still far short of being able to challenge the FTN.
  • —It virtually assures the FTN candidate—Liberal Carlos Lleras— clear sailing in the May 1 presidential elections.
  • —It substantially improves the FTN chances of being able to get a 2/3 working majority in the Congress so that it can govern within the terms of the FTN agreement rather than under a state of siege decree, as it has so often had to do in past years.

The FTN victory for us means:

  • —improved prospects for more stable, efficient and progressive government in Colombia over the next four years.
  • —continued good performance on our Program Loan agreement.
  • —continued cooperation with us on major international issues.4

WGB
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Colombia, Vol. II 6/65–9/66. Confidential. A copy was sent to Bill Moyers.
  2. March 20.
  3. In a March 18 memorandum to Rusk, Gordon concluded: “Although the final results could go either way, it appears that the opposition coalition will probably win about 51% of the votes cast, as well as a majority of the seats in the congress. Under these circumstances, a post-election coup by the military against the opposition is a possibility, although not a probability. Should the opposition win more than 55% of the votes cast, a military coup would become somewhat more likely.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA/CV/C Files: Lot 69 D 407, POL 14 Elections)
  4. Two handwritten notes on the memorandum by Komer and the President read: “Good news, contrary to early press reports. RWK” and “Congratulate Covey Oliver. L.”