70. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 80/90–68



This estimate treats the question of revolutionary development in Latin America more broadly and over a longer period of time than has been customary in previous estimates.

There are many defensible definitions of the word revolution, and many traditional applications of that word to events in Latin America, where in the past 40 years there have been more than a hundred successful golpes, insurrections, and other violent or irregular changes of government. Our subject here is not simply the sudden overthrow of regimes but the pressures in Latin America for fundamental change. In an effort to assess the potential effects of those pressures, we define revolution as a series of developments which, in a relatively short time, produces profound and lasting change in a nation’s political, economic, and social institutions. Among other movements to bring about such change, we survey the current status and future prospects of the several Communist insurgencies.

Some of the judgments we reach in this paper are quite specific and apply to the next year or two. Some, considerably more general, pertain to the next four or five years. Still others describe emerging trends which will be felt in the area over more than a decade.


The focus of attention in most discussions of this subject has been on insurgency movements supported by Castro. Such movements are still active in three countries: Colombia, Guatemala, and Venezuela. In all three cases they are relatively small, have attracted little sympathy among the local populace, and are encountering strong responses by the security forces. In no case do insurgencies pose a serious short-run threat to take over a government, though they are troublesome, difficult to deal with, and likely to remain an unsettling factor on the political scene.
Even over a much longer period, we do not believe that these, or similar insurgencies which may become active, will be the main engine of revolution in Latin America. The factors and forces which bring revolutions will be more complicated and will vary widely from country to country in form and character.
Because discontent has not yet become organized and acute, and because there is a lack of appealing radical leadership, revolution seems unlikely in most Latin American countries within the next few years. Over a longer period, however—certainly within the next decade—we see conditions developing throughout the area which will be much more conducive to revolution. Whether and when these conditions actually produce revolutionary changes will depend upon fortuitous combinations of factors within individual countries.
The establishments which now control the seven largest Latin American countries (Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, and Chile) are much stronger than any proponents of revolutionary violence. Though the government of such a country might be displaced during the next year or two, the change almost certainly would not be revolutionary. In Chile, the government which comes to power in 1970 may follow revolutionary policies. In a number of the smaller countries, there is greater likelihood of a sudden overthrow of government and also more chance that a revolutionary government might come to power. (See Annex B for a discussion of six smaller countries which are particularly lacking in stability.)
Elements on the political left will be in the forefront of most future revolutionary movements, but we do not believe that the Communist organizations in Latin America have, or will develop, the strength to play the central role. We do not rule out the possibility that they might attempt on their own to seize power in one or more countries, but we think it far more likely that they would make common cause with other stronger revolutionary elements, settling temporarily for an influential voice in a new government and hoping to progress from there.
While we do not conclude that Castro-style insurgency is of no importance, we do believe that the forces which undertake future revolutions will develop and operate primarily in the cities. They will require—or wish to have—mass support, and such support will be more readily obtainable in the cities than in the countryside. The influx of people from countryside to city in Latin America is striking, and most of it swells the population of the slums. In 1940, there were five Latin American metropolitan areas with more than one million residents; in 1960, there were nine. We estimate that in 1970 there will be 18, and in 1980, 26.
The inhabitants of these urban slums—and particularly the young people born in them—will, we think, provide a key source of [Page 172] revolutionary raw material. The source of revolutionary leadership will vary from country to country; the personal qualities of the individuals will be of much more importance than the class or profession they represent. Some may be from the military—perhaps younger officers or noncommissioned officers; others from the Catholic priesthood; others from the university-intellectual community; and still others from new versions of existing political parties.
Varied as they may be in other respects, we believe that revolutionary movements will have one important common feature: a nationalistic, independent attitude with strong overtones of anti-US sentiment.

[Omitted here are the Discussion section, Annex A, and Annex B of the estimate.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Job 79–R01012A, O/DDI Registry. Secret; Controlled Dissem. According to a note on the cover sheet this estimate was prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency with the participation of the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense and the National Security Agency. The United States Intelligence Board concurred in this estimate on March 28. The estimate superseded NIEs 80/90–64 and 80/90–66 (Documents 24 and 38).