521. Telegram From the Embassy in Peru to the Department of State1

8336. Subj: Call on New President, General Velasco.

General Velasco received me very cordially on my first official visit since reestablishment diplomatic relations. He had press photographer present to record event. I told President I was happy to assure him that my government wished to continue the close and happy relations which had always existed between our two countries; that as Ambassador I was happy to have this opportunity to greet him personally as well as in the name of my government. I added that I hoped to continue working with his government as I had with past Governments of Peru in the best interests of Peruvian-American relations.
I informed the President that I had already had the opportunity to call on the Minister of Foreign Affairs and on the Prime Minister2 and that I hoped to call on the other members of his cabinet within the next days and weeks. I told him that we had some urgent and important bilateral problems such as IPC, Cerro de Pasco, fisheries conference, Investment Guarantee Agreement, etc. I added that I had discussed the IPC case at some length with both the Prime and Foreign Ministers and assumed they would be informing him of our conversations on this subject. I expressed the hope that, if at any time in the future I needed to discuss these matters directly with him, he would be good enough to receive me. He assured me that this was the case and that his “door was always open to me”.
President Velasco then spoke about the revolution and the reasons why he and the military had felt it necessary to move. He said the country had gotten into a mess, that the people were desperate, particularly those in the highlands. He mentioned particularly the area around Puno where there was near starvation. He referred to the desperate condition of Indian population and said “something must be done” for them. This was not one of those military coups in which the country was prosperous and the participants would benefit. On the contrary, the position of Peru had been desperate and he and his “team” had felt it necessary to save Peru from disaster. They did need help [Page 1080] and understanding from the United States and he hoped that some assistance would eventually be forthcoming. He said if they failed they would not only be hanged but the country would fall into either chaos or a Castro-type of government. The President said his government had an overall plan of general improvement but that it could not be revealed all at once since it was more prudent to proceed one step at a time. He referred to the chaotic situation of Peruvian universities which he said were centers of subversion and political agitation rather than of higher education. He also referred to what he considered were unsatisfactory conditions within Peruvian labor unions but did not elaborate. Finally, he referred to the press and insisted that he had said from the beginning and sincerely felt that freedom of press was essential. However, two periodicals Caretas and Expreso had exceeded bounds of correct behavior by insulting and attacking personally members of the junta. This, he said, could not be tolerated and that they must learn respect for the uniform. Hence the paper and magazine have been closed down and will not be permitted to reopen until November 15, which would require Caretas to miss one of its fortnightly issues. He expressed appreciation for attitude of daily newspaper El Comercio which supported the junta (he assured me without their having requested it to do so) and even for La Prensa which although it had criticized the government on many issues he felt was the kind of constructive criticism which the junta could accept. When the various reforms have been accomplished, the military junta would look forward to holding elections and turning the government back to a civilian administration. At that time he and his comrades in arms would very happily go back to their homes. In response to my question, he said he could not fix even an approximate date for this event.
Finally he mentioned that the last and decisive meeting of his group which led to the coup had been held at 7:00 p.m. on the night of October 1. He said the decision had been very tightly held and that this group consisted of “only six officers”. He said the commanders of the five military regions had been informed except for the date and the hour when the coup would commence. With obvious relish he recalled he had seen me, the Mayor of Lima, Luis Bedoya Reyes, and the publisher of La Prensa, Pedro Beltran, at a dinner party the night of October 1 shortly after the decisive meeting on the coup. It seemed to please him that none of us suspected what he had just decided to do.
At end of interview I informed President of agrement, of Fernando Berckemeyer as Peruvian Ambassador in Washington, saying that I had handed written communication to this effect to Chief of Protocol that same morning. Velasco expressed his pleasure at this news and his confidence that Berckemeyer would serve Peru well in this important post.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15–1 PERU. Confidential.
  2. A report on Jones’ meeting with Mercado is in telegram 8201 from Lima, October 30, and a report on his meeting with the Peruvian Prime Minister, General Ernesto Montagne Sanchez, is in telegram 8337 from Lima, November 6. (Ibid., PET 6 PERU and POL 15–1 PERU, respectively)