460. Letter From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Mann) to the Ambassador to Uruguay (Coerr)1

Dear Wym:

As you will have gathered from our telegram 480 of June 12,2 I am concerned by the present lack of leadership and drift in Uruguay. All of the danger flags seem to me to be flying high and I wonder whether there is anything that we can do to help the Uruguayans get things back on the track before we are faced with the prospect of a coup. I take it we still have some time.

Specifically, I have been wondering whether it would be productive or counter-productive for you, quietly and on a personal rather than an official basis, to plant the idea with your close personal friends that maybe the democratic elements in Uruguay might like, on their own initiative, to begin thinking in terms of amending the constitution so as to do away with the plural executive and restore the single executive. I understand from Hank [Hoyt] that one way to do this would be to obtain a two-thirds majority in both houses of congress, followed by a majority plebiscite vote in favor, as was done in 1951.

This is, of course, all very delicate and your judgment will be better than mine. It depends to a large extent on your judgment as to whether we would stir up any hornets nests by making such a suggestion, that is to say, whether any great body of opinion in Uruguay is still wedded to the side of a plural executive and whether out of such discussions this could emerge as a Uruguayan rather than U.S. idea. All of this is, of course, none of our business, but it does seem to me that it is difficult to think in terms of meaningful reforms and dynamic leadership which will be needed to get things going again in Uruguay unless it is constitutionally possible to have leadership. This would be only a first step to be sure, but it might be an indispensable step to make democracy work in Uruguay.

This was really the question behind my telegram 480. I don’t know whether the idea is any good at all but would appreciate having your views on this or any other thing we can do to help. If you think it would be wise, given the propensity for all Embassy messages to leak through the Foreign Office in Montevideo, for me to talk with Juan [Page 969] Yriart, I could undertake to do so. Another problem is that I don’t know whether Yriart has any political influence in Uruguay.

Hank reminds me that we have four congressional leaders who are coming up to look at our electoral processes in the fall. I don’t know whether it would be wise for me to ask questions, for example, of a group of this kind who are relative strangers. In any case, I would not wish to do anything without your concurrence.

Meanwhile, we are going to do everything we can to keep the dike of democracy up in Uruguay. But if the general situation continues to deteriorate, I suspect we will find ourselves in the same position as the little Dutch boy who was looking at more holes than he had fingers.

With best wishes,


Thomas C. Mann 3
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA/APU/U Files: Lot 67 D 468, Letters (Official–Informal) from and to Embassy Montevideo. Secret; Official–Informal. Drafted by Mann.
  2. Document 459.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.