12. Editorial Note
In the summer and fall of 1969, the Nixon administration began to look closely at military assistance programs to Latin America. An apparent catalyst for this investigation was the meeting of President Lleras Restrepo of Colombia with President Nixon in Washington on June 12 and 13, 1969, following which Henry Kissinger sent a June 13 memorandum to the Secretaries of State and Defense informing them of Lleras’ interest in F-5 aircraft and requesting their recommendation on how this might be handled. (National Archives, RG 59, S/S Files: Lot 73 D 288, Box 838, NSC/USC) The NSC Interdepartmental Group for Latin America and the NSC Under Secretaries Committee took up the study of the sale of jet military aircraft to Colombia and the implications of such a sale for other Latin American countries, particularly Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and eventually Venezuela.
In this study Elliot Richardson, Chairman of the NSC Under Secretaries Committee, reported that Congressional restrictions, such as the Conte Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act, inhibited the ability of the U.S. Government to provide F-5-type fighter aircraft to meet Latin American nations’ minimum modernization goals. In their frustration to get firm U.S. commitments for the sale of F-5s, the committee reported, Latin American governments were beginning to purchase French Mirage jets, which the Nixon administration could not prevent. Richardson reported that his committee was trying to achieve some modification to the Conte Amendment so that the administration could respond “more satisfactorily in the future to purchase requests for modest numbers of weapons like jet military aircraft,” and the committee recommended specific steps in dealing with the requests of Colombia, Brazil, and Chile. (Memorandum from Richardson to President Nixon, August 13; ibid.)
On October 3 Richardson approved the recommendations of a State-AID-DOD Congressional Liaison Task Force to push for revisions of the Conte-Long and Symington Amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act in the pending mark-up of the foreign assistance bill in the House Foreign Affairs Committee (and later in the Senate); not to press at that time for changes in the Conte-Long Amendment to the Foreign Military Sales Act; but to be prepared where appropriate to use the Presidential waiver, which allowed the sales if “important to the national security.” (Memorandum from the State-AID-DOD Congressional Liaison Task Force to Acting Secretary Richardson, September 22; ibid., S/S Files: Lot 83 D 276, NSC/U-DM 15)
Following an NSC meeting on October 15, at which President Nixon said that he “wanted the United States to continue to provide [Page 34] [military] assistance and work carefully with the Latin American military, but in ways which would reduce or lower our profile,” Kissinger asked the Under Secretaries Committee to take this factor into consideration during its current study of military missions in Latin America. (Memorandum from Kissinger to the Chairman of the Under Secretaries Committee, October 20; ibid., S/S Files: Lot 71 D 175, Box 130, NSC/Mtg 10/15/69) Regarding the October 15 NSC meeting, at which the participants discussed the report of Nelson Rockefeller, then Governor of New York, on his trip to Latin America, see Document 122. Subsequently, in an October 29 letter to General Earle G. Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Rockefeller clarified the recommendation in his report for a change in Latin America to the “concept of mobile military missions from the permanent mission concept.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Agency Files, Box 223, Department of Defense, Volume V 12/l/69-1/31/70)
Another Latin American question related to debt service, and Rockefeller’s report recommended the use of local currency payments in lieu of dollar payments. At the October 15 NSC meeting, President Nixon asked Secretary of the Treasury Kennedy to consult with George Woods, former President of the World Bank, Nathaniel Samuels, and John Hannah, and then give him his views on the recommendation. (Memorandum from Kissinger to Kennedy, October 20; ibid., RG 59, S/S Files: Lot 80 D 212, NSSM-15) In an October 29 memorandum to Kissinger, Kennedy reported the views of Woods, Samuels, and Hannah, and suggested, among other things, that the Rockefeller recommendations were much too specific and that “it would be much better to bring these matters up at a later time with the individual countries involved.” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Agency Files, Box 289, Treasury, Volume I)
In NSDM 31, November 5, Kissinger reported that the President wanted to adopt the Rockefeller recommendation on debt service, directed Secretaries Rogers and Kennedy to consult with Woods in implementing it, and indicated that on November 10 when the Rockefeller report was released, President Nixon would announce that he had “directed an immediate study of this recommendation with a view to its adoption as may appear appropriate.” (Ibid., RG 59, S/S Files: Lot 83 D 305, NSDM-31) Despite Secretary Kennedy’s caution, as expressed in a November 6 memorandum, President Nixon made these announcements on November 10. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Agency Files, Box 289, Treasury, Volume I) For text of the President’s announcement, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon, 1969, pages 921-922.