68. Memorandum From William G. Bowdler of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson 1

SUBJECT

  • Covey Oliver’s Trip to Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia

The trip was a highly successful venture from the standpoint of public relations and personal contacts. On the substantive side, Covey achieved a considerable measure of understanding of the need for cooperative action to meet a crisis situation in Haiti and for a new mechanism for discussing and defining Latin America’s military role and equipment needs. Covey was unable, however, to get President Belaunde to reduce military expenditures by any meaningful amount or to postpone purchase of unnecessary military equipment. Covey will be sending you a full report.2 Here are the highlights:

Inter-American Cultural Conference

The meeting approved programs to carry out the Summit directives in education, science and technology. The Latin Americans pledged sufficient funds to finance, with our matching contribution, a $16-million effort the first year.

Venezuela

President Leoni would like to visit Washington, but it seems doubtful that he can do so this year.

The security forces have made great strides in the past four years with our help. I visited the police Central Command Center and the Armed Forces Joint Operations Center and was impressed by their organization and skill. The ten Venezuelan Ranger Battalions, for which you authorized fast delivery of equipment, are all in the field. Insurgency has not been eliminated but is at one of its lowest points in years.

Bolivia

The visit gave President Barrientos a boost and us the opportunity to examine Bolivia’s economic situation at first hand. The economic outlook is generally good, but Barrientos faces a temporary budget [Page 167]problem resulting largely from increased expenditures from the counter-guerrilla effort and the drop in tin prices. He is prepared to trim his budget and impose new revenue measures but still needs modest assistance from us.

Liquidation of the Guevara guerrillas has given the Bolivians pride and much needed self-confidence. The security situation looks reasonably good. I was impressed by dedication and quality of our country team in La Paz. The AID Mission is particularly impressive.

Peru

Covey did not get very far with President Belaunde on reducing the share of the budget for military expenditures or postponing the acquisition of additional military equipment. Belaunde is the prisoner of a strong-minded military, an opposition-controlled Congress bent on currying the military’s favor and his own weakness as a political leader. Peru is one case where the Symington–Conte–Long amendments clearly apply. But this would probably provoke a crisis of confidence in Peru which would end up with the military ousting Belaunde. Rather than make a formal finding of applicability, it is better to turn the faucet on bilateral assistance to a trickle.

Despite our problems on aid, it is evident that there is vitality in the Peruvian economy. Control of insurgency is good. These factors make Peruvians pass off our curtailment of aid with a shrug of the shoulders.

Colombia

President Lleras was pleased to get your invitation to make a visit. He accepts, leaving the dates to be worked out. From his conversation with Covey Oliver and what we know of Lleras’ performance during the past 18 months, it is clear that Lleras is a rare combination—for Latin America—of good executive, smart politician, knowledgeable economist, and statesman with a broad grasp of hemispheric and world problems. He is getting the Colombian economy back on its feet. With a smart mix of force and economic assistance he is making steady headway in curbing insurgency.

WGB
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Latin America, Vol. VI, 10/67–4/68. Confidential. According to telegram CAP 80618 from Rostow to the President, March 1, the President saw the memorandum. (Ibid., Name File, Bowdler Memos)
  2. Rostow forwarded Oliver’s report to the President on March 5. (Ibid., Country File, Latin America, Vol. VI, 10/67–4/68)