439. Action Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Commercial sales of Stockpiled Tin and Their Impact on Our Relations with Bolivia

On December 14, 1970, I sent you a memorandum (attached at Tab A)2 on this subject recommending a further suspension of tin sales of no more than 90 days because

  • —A resumption of tin sales at this time would tend to push the Torres Government in Bolivia to the left.
  • —Some additional time might permit the conclusion of an accord with Torres similar to that which had been concluded with his predecessor, President Ovando, before the latter’s overthrow.

You disapproved the recommendation, noting that radicalization of the Torres Government will occur in any event if it is to happen, and indicating that tin sales or their absence will not be a major consideration. I agree fully that radicalization of the Torres Government, should it come about, will arise primarily from the internal dynamics of the Bolivian situation rather than anything we may or may not do.

However, two factors lead me to request that you reconsider your decision. They are:

  • The Bolivian situation has deteriorated markedly since the date of my last memorandum on this subject. There have been increasing reports from the Embassy and CIA of plots against the Torres Government, a growth in general lawlessness and the increasing inability of the [Page 1080] Government to control it, and the rising influence of leftist student, peasant and worker groups. This past weekend moderate elements in the Armed Forces bungled a coup attempt as they did last October. The probable result of this unsuccessful coup will be more influence for student and peasant groups, and an accelerated move to the left by the Torres Government.
  • The importance of the timing of renewed tin sales in avoiding blame for the leftist shift in Bolivia. My earlier memo was not sufficiently clear on the point that, while I agree that what we do will not decisively affect the internal situation in Bolivia, I am concerned that the Administration will be blamed—however unjustly—if the Torres Government moves sharply to the left, or is overthrown and replaced by a more radical government, immediately after we have resumed tin sales. Obviously there is no guarantee that the situation will be any better at the end of an additional 90 days, but if the Torres Government is overthrown by leftist forces or turns sharply left on its own, the U.S. at least cannot be accused of having pushed it there because of an untimely resumption of tin sales.

If a move to the left does take place in this period, we could, of course, go ahead with tin sales subsequently without taking the blame. On the other hand, if the Torres Government stabilizes somewhat, the additional 90 days can be used to work out an arrangement with Torres similar to that we had with Ovando to minimize the negative impact of a resumption in tin sales.

As my earlier memo noted, an additional 90-day suspension of tin sales would not significantly affect the commodities disposal program legislation. Hearings on tin disposal in the House Subcommittee on Stockpile Disposal subsequent to my memo indicated that there was considerable understanding of our political problem with Bolivia among Committee members who did not push for immediate resumption of sales.


That you approve a delay in the resumption of tin sales by no more than 90 days, with the understanding that State will undertake a program to prepare the Bolivian Government and people for the resumption of tin sales at the end of that period.3

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Agency Files, Box 267, Office of Emergency Preparedness, Volume II 11/69-12/71. Secret. Forwarded to Kissinger under cover of a January 21 memorandum from Nachmanoff. A stamped notation reads: “The President has seen.”
  2. Document 437.
  3. The President initialed the Approve option. A January 27, 1971, memorandum from Kissinger to Rogers and Lincoln informed them that on January 25 the President had approved a further delay in the resumption of commercial sales of stockpiled tin for a period not to exceed 90 days. Kissinger noted that the President had instructed the State Department to take all feasible steps with the Bolivian Government to reduce the political costs and risks to American citizens and property when sales were resumed, and had asked the State Department and OEP to consult with Congress regarding the administration’s position on tin sales. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Agency Files, Box 267, Office of Emergency Preparedness, Volume II 11/69-12/71)