33. Memorandum From William G. Bowdler of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson1


  • Visits by Secretary Rusk and Senator Robert Kennedy to Latin America

The main developments in our Latin American relations this past week have centered on the visits of Secretary Rusk and Senator Robert Kennedy to several Latin American countries. Ellsworth Bunker brought you up-to-date on the Dominican picture yesterday.2 The only other significant development is that of President Frei’s reported decision to put an end to the copper strike, now in its fourth week. This may involve military intervention in the mines.

Secretary Rusk’s trip. Secretary Rusk’s brief visits to Venezuela, Argentina and Uruguay, on his way to the Rio Conference, went very well.3 The Communists and extreme leftists carried out some of their usual propaganda and pyrotechnic stunts but these did not directly affect the Secretary, except for one incident in Montevideo.

In Venezuela, the Secretary had a useful talk with President Leoni on the world situation. Leoni gave him a full airing of Venezuela’s complaints over our oil import restrictions. This was to be expected. As we told you last night, the Venezuelan Foreign Minister misread part of their conversation as an invitation by you to President Leoni to visit the United States. This may have been a deliberate attempt to display U.S. support for Venezuela, despite its decision not to attend the Rio meeting.

The visit with the Argentines was particularly cordial. President Illia showed special interest in the Vietnam problem and expressed support for our position. He stressed the necessity for the Latin American countries to promote the objectives of the Alliance for Progress and to rely on self-help measures. He reported that he had already spoken to the Chilean and Uruguayan Presidents about the Alliance along these lines, and planned to continue the dialogue with other Presidents. Secretary Rusk compared notes with the Argentine Foreign Minister on [Page 86] key issues at the Rio meeting and found a large measure of agreement. Secretary Rusk was so encouraged by his talks with the Argentine President and Foreign Minister and by what his economic team found on Argentine self-help measures, that he has asked that we consider moving ahead with some assistance projects being held in abeyance pending Argentine self-help performance and satisfactory settlement of the termination of the oil company contracts.

Secretary Rusk was in Montevideo for only three hours. An otherwise productive round of talks with President Beltran and Foreign Minister Vidal Zaglio was marred by an incident at an unscheduled wreath-laying ceremony. A 25-year old man broke through police lines and managed to get close enough to the Secretary to spit at him, but did not hit him.

Senator Kennedy’s trip. Senator Kennedy has visited Peru, and today completes his tour in Chile.4 From press and Embassy reports, the Peruvian visit was quite successful. Large, enthusiastic crowds turned out to meet him, and he was not the target of any anti-U.S. demonstrations. On the touchy issue of nationalization of the International Petroleum Company (IPC), he took a correct public position, despite his sharp disagreement with the Administration’s position on the handling of the IPC case with the Peruvian Government. He said that this is a matter for the Peruvian people to decide. He also acknowledged that under international law, a country is within its right to expropriate foreign property, provided it makes prompt, adequate and effective compensation.

After his departure from Lima, two pro-nationalization magazines carried accounts of what he is alleged to have said on the IPC case at a private party. No one from the Embassy was present, so we do not have an official account. The thrust of these stories is that he, in effect, encouraged nationalization, pointing out that other Latin American countries had done this before without any significant long-term damage to their relations with the U.S. He is also alleged to have made some unflattering references to the Rockefeller family (IPC is an ESSO holding) and to have said that the Peruvian Ambassador in Washington advised him not to mention the IPC problem. This latter remark is already causing the Ambassador some trouble at home.

Ambassador Jones brought these stories to Kennedy’s attention in Santiago and he has authorized a statement reaffirming his public position on expropriation and describing the use of remarks he made in a private conversation as “an irresponsible distortion of my position.” The text of the statement is at Tab A.5

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So far we have only press reports on Kennedy’s five-day visit to Chile. He seems to have received a warm public reception, without incident, except in his speaking engagements with university groups. The themes he has stressed—e.g., the importance of the Alliance for Progress, praise for Frei’s revolution-in-liberty program, the vital role which young people have to play—have gone over well and created no problems for him or for us.

He seems to have been adroit in handling questions about the Bay of Pigs and our action in the Dominican Republic. The press reports that he described our Dominican intervention as a mistake, but he has taken strong issue with questioners who cast our intervention as “American imperialism”. The press has him saying more than he should about changes in his program in Brazil resulting from recent events there. The Brazilian Embassy has informally protested to State over his alleged remarks.

At the University in Santiago, a group of extremists tried to prevent him from speaking. Opposing students shouted them down. At Concepcion, he ran into stronger opposition as “pro-Communist” students used eggs and stones and saliva to disrupt his talk. The larger projectiles reportedly did not hit him, but he was spat upon.

We will have a more complete and accurate report of the Chilean leg of the journey as soon as the Embassy reports are received.6

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Latin America, Vol. IV, 3/65–8/66. Secret.
  2. According to the President’s Daily Diary Johnson met Bunker twice on November 16. (Johnson Library) For a memorandum from Bunker to the President, November 15, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXXII, Document 144.
  3. The Secretary’s itinerary in South America was: Venezuela (November 13–14); Argentina (November 15–16); Uruguay (November 16); Brazil (November 16–24); and Paraguay (November 24). Rusk was chairman of the U.S. Delegation to the Second Special Inter-American Conference, which met in Rio de Janeiro, November 17–30.
  4. Kennedy’s itinerary in South America was: Peru (November 10–13); Chile (November 13–18); Argentina (November 18–20); Brazil (November 20–30); and Venezuela (November 30–December 1).
  5. Attached but not printed.
  6. The Embassy reports on Kennedy’s trip were transmitted in: telegram 751 from Lima, November 11; telegram 761 from Lima, November 13; telegram 670 from Santiago, November 19; telegram 747 from Buenos Aires, November 23; telegram 1351 from Rio de Janeiro, December 2; and telegram 602 from Caracas, December 1. (All in National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, LEG 7 KENNEDY)