59. Telegram From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson in Texas1

CAP 67582. As you requested, I had a good meeting this morning with CIA, State and DOD on the whole guerrilla problem in Latin America.

This is the boxscore:

Country by Degree of Urgency Number of Active Guerrillas Hard Evidence of Cuban Involvement
Bolivia 60–100 Yes: Cuban military officers among ranks, arms and training.
Guatemala 300 Yes: Arms deliveries via Mexico.
Venezuela 400 Yes: Arms, training, Cuban military personnel captured during infiltration mission, Cuban admission of operation.
Colombia 800 Yes: But only training in Cuba.
Dominican Republic dormant Yes: Training, funds and special agents.
Ecuador dormant Yes: But only training in Cuba.
Peru dormant Yes: But only training in Cuba.
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To understand these figures it is necessary to appreciate that each organized guerrilla can tie up 10–20 government soldiers. We do better in Viet-Nam only because of airpower, mobility, firepower, etc.

These are some further insights into the situation in each country:

Bolivia:

We have put Bolivia on top of the list more because of the fragility of the political situation and the weakness of the armed forces than the size and effectiveness of the guerrilla movement. The active band numbers probably 50–60 but may run up to 100. CIA believes that “Che” Guevara has been with this group. There are indications that six other bands, totalling 100–200 men may be organizing in other parts of the country. President Barrientos is hard pressed in coping with the active band. If other fronts were successfully opened, the situation could get out of hand. The 17-man mobile training team we have in Bolivia expects to have another ranger battalion trained by September 1.

The active movement has 8 top Bolivian Communist Party leaders in it who were trained in the Soviet Union. The owner of the farm which the guerrillas used as their training camp belongs to a man (Roberto Peredo) who visited Moscow in 1966. We know of six Cuban military officers in this band. We also know that they have radio contact with Cuba using the same procedures taught by the Soviets.

Guatemala:

The guerrillas are divided into two organizations. The FAR—250 men—has the backing of Castro. Last summer when President Mendez Montenegro took over, the guerrillas were making steady progress. With the death of FAR leader Turcios and strong pressure by the Guatemalan military. The guerrillas have been scattered and are on the defensive.

In September 1966, Mexican authorities uncovered an arms smuggling channel to Guatemalan insurgents. Documents found showed that over 4000 weapons had been sent. A Cuban Embassy officer was caught red handed passing money to the smugglers.

Venezuela:

This is Cuba’s primary target. After 1963 the guerrilla movement came to a virtual standstill while the Venezuelan Communist Party debated whether to pursue the peaceful or violent approach. The party split and Douglas Bravo led the activist faction into resumed guerrilla activity. Since mid-1966 his group (150–250 men) and the MIR group (100 men) have stepped up their campaign. Leoni responded by organizing 9 new ranger battalions which we are helping to train and equip.

Soviet-manufactured AK–13 weapons have been captured in Venezuela from guerrillas known to have landed from Cuba in July [Page 145]1966. The boat and motors used are known to have come from Cuba. In May 1967 a Cuban/Venezuelan group landed from a Cuban fishing vessel. The Venezuelans escaped into the mountains, but two Cubans were captured and two killed.

Colombia:

There are two guerrilla units operating, one responsive to Cuba and the other to the USSR. After a long inactive period, they resumed operations last February. So far the operations have consisted of sporadic hit-and-run raids. The Colombian armed forces, which are well-trained and disciplined, are putting pressure on them. President Lleras has moved quickly to improve intelligence collection, strengthen coordination between services and mount social programs in guerrilla areas. There is no Cuban presence in Colombia, but there is hard evidence of Colombians being trained in Cuba. The guerrillas do not represent an immediate threat to Lleras.

Dominican Republic:

There are no active guerrillas although there are indications that the Communist MPD and 14th of June Movement would like to open a front. The Dominican armed forces are keeping a close watch on their activities. Balaguer has given strong support to our efforts to help him develop special anti-guerrilla units. In recent months Dominican authorities have obtained documents from Cuban-trained agents showing that Cuba is furnishing money and training for guerrilla activities.

Ecuador and Peru:

Cuba tried to start guerrilla activities in these two countries about two years ago. The movements were quickly put down, but they remain as potential trouble spots. Cuba continues to train nationals from both countries.

I have collected a full folder of background material which you may want to review.

I told my working group to make a careful review of what we were now doing in each country and meet with me again in one week to discuss additional measures which we might take to strengthen the anti-guerrilla capabilities of these countries.2

W.W.R.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Latin America, Vol. VI, 6/67–9/67. Secret.
  2. According to a June 24 note, the President told Jim Jones to “hold this, I want to talk to him [Rostow] about this tomorrow.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA Files, 1967: Lot 70 D 150, Latin America Miscellaneous 1967) Rostow was in the delegation that met Johnson on June 25 for the second Glassboro meeting with Soviet Premier Alexei N. Kosygin. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) No evidence was found indicating whether Johnson talked to Rostow about Cuban subversion at Glassboro.