541. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Venezuelan Requirements for Additional Military Equipment
- President Johnson
- Mr. Walt Rostow
- Assistant Secretary Gordon
- Assistant Secretary Solomon
- Mr. Neil A. Seidenman, Interpreter
- President Leoni
- Sr. Ignacio Iribarren Borges, Foreign Minister of Venezuela
President Leoni said that the Venezuelan Government had reason to believe that there would be an intensification of communist aggression in the northern region of Latin America, meaning, he said, Guatemala, Colombia and Venezuela. Besides the need to combat in Venezuela any step-up in guerrilla activities, there was also a need to guaranty peaceful elections. This posed a need for Venezuela to strengthen its military forces in order to provide for the safety of peaceful, democratic processes. Therefore, Venezuela will have to undertake [Page 1127]additional outlays from its Treasury to meet defense needs. Ambassador Tejera-Paris has recently approached U.S. authorities, including the Defense Department, in order to present Venezuela’s requirements in military equipment for these purposes. President Leoni stressed that what he was talking about would be outside of presently existing agreements with us. The principal interest involved here is a foreshortening of the period of delivery of military equipment. Failure to obtain the necessary equipment in a brief period of time would necessitate obtaining this equipment elsewhere. This was something that the President of Venezuela believed could not be postponed inasmuch as it was of vital importance to the country. He suggested that the President might use his good offices to help Venezuelan authorities solve the problem. Venezuela would make payment as soon as it could, but again he stressed that this was to be outside of present arrangements. President Leoni noted that Venezuela’s present dollar commitment for arms and equipment being purchased from the United States and Europe amounted to approximately $12 million.
President Johnson asked precisely what kind of equipment he wanted. President Leoni said that there was no need for rockets or supersonic aircraft, of course, but only equipment and matériel necessary for maintaining internal security: ammunition, transportation vehicles, communications equipment, etc. He stressed, however, that the principal need here is for a brief delivery time, and not the 18 to 24 months normally required under present arrangements. The desirable delivery time would be three months.
President Johnson stated that our problem is: first, we do not want to be the arms merchants of the world; second, that Congress has forced us to reduce our program for financing military programs in Latin America to 85 million, including sales and grant;2 thirdly, we do not want the communists to take over Venezuela. Therefore, we want to help if Venezuela wants to buy equipment. Fourthly, the problem that we are grappling with in Vietnam is causing a great drain on our military supplies. The enemy there is building up to try to overrun us in one area and to keep them from doing this we are pouring everything over there; this means ammunition, helicopters and other types of equipment, but if we have an available surplus in any of the items that Venezuela needs, we can sell them to her. This is why we would have to know exactly what items Venezuela would need.[Page 1128]
President Johnson noted that he knew Ambassador Tejera-Paris very well. He had even been at the President’s ranch the week before, together with his charming wife.3 He said that he would go over this with the Ambassador. If we have the equipment available to sell, and if Venezuela wants it, they can have it, and we will do everything we can to help. The President said that if there was a problem of slowness in deliveries he would find a way to clear this up upon his return to the United States.
The President reiterated his desire to cooperate with the Venezuelans in the work of facing the trials they are going through. He reiterated our support for Venezuela’s cause in the OAS against Cuba, which he said he hoped they would pursue with aggressiveness; we want to be of help in the matter of military equipment if we can—because we don’t want Venezuela to have to wait one minute to chase the communists.4
- Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 IA SUMMIT. Confidential. Drafted by Seidenman and approved in the White House on April 28. The memorandum is part 2 of 3; parts 1 and 3 are Documents 540 and 50, respectively.↩
- Reference is to an amendment, sponsored by Senator J. William Fulbright (D–Arkansas), to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1966, which set a ceiling of $85 million per fiscal year for military assistance and sales to Latin America, not including support for military training or the Inter-American Peace Force in the Dominican Republic. (80 Stat. 803)↩
- President Johnson entertained most of the Latin American diplomatic corps at his Texas ranch on April 1. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary)↩
- On May 12 Venezuela announced the capture of a guerrilla landing party led by officers of the Cuban army near the village of Machurucuto, 130 miles east of Caracas. Documentation of U.S.-Venezuelan efforts to seek retaliatory measures against Cuba under the OAS charter is in the regional compilation. In telegram 6106 from Caracas, May 17, the Embassy reported that a “US-Venezuelan agreement to provide equipment for 10 new anti-guerrilla battalions, pursuant to President Johnson–Leoni agreement at Punta del Este is in jeopardy,” due to DOD concern for the limitations set by the Fulbright amendment. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 19–4 US–VEN) The agreement was signed on May 18. In a May 19 memorandum to the President, Rostow commented: “This is a nice end to a move initiated by you at the Latin American Summit.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Venezuela, Vol. III, 12/66–12/68)↩