43. Memorandum From William G. Bowdler of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1


Hal Hendrix2 is right about the Presidential image in Latin America, although I think he may overstate it.

Goodness knows, the President has paid more personal attention to Latin America than probably any other President—the record of speeches, ceremonies, lunches, dinners, visits, boat rides, special delegations, personal letters, congratulatory messages, funeral planes, etc., is ample evidence.

These are his principal image problems:

  • —He does not project the sparkling intellectual image of Kennedy—young, scholar, pretty wife, small children, Catholic, etc.— which so appeals to the Latins.
  • —He had the distasteful—but necessary—job of sending troops into the DR and of fighting the nasty war in Vietnam with all the “egghead” criticism that it has brought.
  • —A very personal observation—I have for some time detected a growing cynicism among AID and USIA personnel toward the Alliance and the President which translates itself into lack of drive and imagination.

What I would do about it:

  • —The Summit meeting and the trip is the single most important thing the President can do.
  • —A trip by Lynda later on this year would project an image of youth, charm, good looks and stylishness.
  • —One or more taped television interviews with carefully chosen, well-known Latin American newsmen in the President’s office, with a trip around the White House; the same might be done on the distaff side. (Len Marks should be able to arrange these.)
  • —A Coordinator for the Alliance for Progress separate from the Assistant Secretary of State, but who will naturally work closely with him. The Alliance needs a figure of prestige who is close to the President and who can devote time travelling around visiting projects, conferring with Latin officials and instilling enthusiasm into our rank and file. The Assistant Secretary is too busy running the show back here to do the necessary missionary work the Alliance requires. The economics of the Alliance is in good hands—what it needs is a spiritual leader who will mirror the President. The change of the guard in ARA provides the opportunity to do this.3
  • —Len Marks needs to get the word to his staff in Latin America not to miss a chance to weave in the LBJ image in their operations.
  • —It might be useful to have the AID and USIA directors in the South American countries congregate in Venezuela at the end of the President’s trip for him to give them a pep talk.4

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Agency File, Alliance for Progress, 9/1/66 (1 of 2). Secret.
  2. Harold V. Hendrix was Latin American correspondent with the Scripps Howard Newspaper Alliance.
  3. Reference is to the upcoming departure of Gordon, who had accepted the presidency of Johns Hopkins University. On January 20 Johnson called Senator Fulbright to discuss Gordon’s replacement: “I want to get a good man that can move forward and be progressive; and I have nobody to reward, as you know, in the State Department and never have had; and I’ve just looked at them, and I’m telling you the Foreign Service from the Latin American standpoint is awfully weak. As a matter of fact, it’s weak everywhere, Bill.” (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of telephone conversation between President Johnson and J. William Fulbright, January 20, 5:30 p.m., Tape F67.03, Side A, PNO 1) On May 24 Johnson announced the nomination of Covey T. Oliver, Ambassador to Colombia, to be Assistant Secretary. Oliver was confirmed by the Senate on June 8 and took office on July 1.
  4. Rostow wrote the following instructions to Bowdler on the memorandum: “Go and have a talk with Len Marks about this problem & your suggestions.” Bowdler noted on March 4 that this was “done.”