510. Telegram From the Embassy in Peru to the Department of State 1

7661. Subject: Preliminary Analysis of Coup Motives.

Embassy telegram 7578 of September 27 [28]2 reported drastic deterioration in political atmosphere which reduced confidence in democratic machinery and produced air of expectancy on possible coup. [Page 1059] It also contained one clear report of a coup threat. It is our preliminary view that military move was basically motivated by a determination to prevent an APRA victory in the election scheduled for next June. The total disarray of all other political parties which split along factional lines, culminating in the division of Belaunde’s Accion Popular Party into warring factions, one headed by him and one headed by Vice President Seoane, served to dramatize the fact that the single, unified and disciplined party remaining was APRA. The fact that APRA leaders were increasingly confident of victory and insisted that Haya de la Torre would be their candidate served to ignite the fears of those in the military determined that Haya would never become President of Peru.
In the above conditions, military golpistas could take preventive action now, utilizing a pretext, or they could wait to see what happened. Apparently their preference was to execute a preventive coup rather than risk nullifying the results of an election which probably, as viewed at this time, would have resulted in an APRA victory.3
The political confusion and divisions which erupted out of criticism of the La Brea y Parinas settlement, and general public believe that the government had not been fully honest in what it revealed about this settlement, provided a pretext which was seized by the golpistas.
Factors which helped create the atmosphere in which the military golpistas could find pretext to move were such things as the unrelenting, bitter attack on the government and its financial and economic policies made by Pedro Beltran and his La Prensa newspaper, as well as by El Comercio newspaper, once a staunch supporter of Belaunde, which was bitter in its attack on the government over the La Brea y Parinas issue. The ineptness of APRA leadership which forced resignation of the Hercelles cabinet and thus contributed to the atmosphere of political crisis also helped bring on the coup which APRA did not want.
There are undoubtedly many conservative Peruvians who will welcome this move and some may have been involved in it. Such people have been increasingly hostile to the general trend of the Belaunde government and to many of the measures taken by the Hercelles cabinet under its special powers such as the imposition of a land tax, the tax on profits, the abolishment of bearer shares, and the reform of the tax collection system.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–7 PERU. Confidential; Immediate. Repeated to Buenos Aires, La Paz, Quito, Santiago, USCINCSO for POLAD, DOD for DIA, and USUN. Rostow forwarded a copy of the telegram to the President on October 3; a notation on his transmittal memorandum indicates that Johnson saw the telegram. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Peru, Vol. III, 10/67–11/68)
  2. Document 507.
  3. In telegram 7651 from Lima, October 3, the Embassy reported that Juan Velasco Alvarado, commanding general of the army and chairman of the Joint Command, had emerged as the leader of the coup d’état. The Embassy considered Velasco “highly nationalistic and suspicious of U.S. policies,” “ambitious, self-confident, not easily influenced, highly respected, extremely competent and intelligent,” a “strong anti-Communist” and “firmly anti-APRA.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–9 PERU) In telegram 7705 from Lima, October 4, the Embassy offered a “preliminary evaluation” of the new military government. (Ibid.)