104. Memorandum for the 40 Committee1 2

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  • Bolivia


On 22 June, the Chairman of the 40 Committee instructed CIA to submit a proposal for a covert action program to cope with the unfavorable political trend in Bolivia. In accordance therewith, it is proposed that a political action program designed to unify the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) and moderate military leaders be launched as soon as possible. The purpose of this program would be to create a viable opposition capable of exerting pressure against President Juan Jose Torres’ drift to the left and, beyond that, serving as a moderate political alternative in the formation of any future governments. This proposal has not been coordinated with other U.S. departments or agencies or with the U.S. Ambassador. It is generally agreed, however, that the [Page 2] deterioration of the internal political situation in Bolivia has recently become more marked and rapid and is reflected in the worsening of bilateral relations. The cost of this program is calculated to be $410,000 over the next six months.


It is proposed that [text not declassified] opposition elements to promote and guide the creation of a unified and viable counterbalance to the increasingly leftward drift of the Torres Government. [text not declassified] in contact with high-level, key personalities representing the MNR; the young military dissidents led by [text not declassified] and the higher echelon active duty military officers opposed to Torres. [text not declassified] We propose that this next step now be taken and that we exploit the existing relationships for the more positive objective of promoting an acceptably moderate and unified opposition to Torres.

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On 22 June, President Nixon approved extraordinary military and economic assistance to Bolivia. This approval authorizes:

A. Military. An immediate input of up to $1 million in MAP training, ammunition and civic action equipment, as part of an offer of a MAP materiel program totaling $7 million, the remainder to be furnished over the next three to four years, should there be some continuing promise of an improvement in the political climate.

B. Economic. Continued technical assistance and routine preparation for new bilateral loans, but withholding of approval of loans until satisfactory progress is demonstrated on compensation issues and GOB political posture. No initiatives for or against Bolivian loan requests will be taken before international agencies.

Our covert action program is designed to supplement overt U.S. actions now under consideration and pursues the identical objective of attempting to stem the leftward swing of the Torres Government.

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Funds will be used primarily to meet organizational expenses involved in mobilizing and focusing the opposition, MNR and moderate military, and to defray the costs of a propaganda campaign targeted at Torres’ increasing dependence on leftists and at leftist influence on his government. We envisage an organizational effort by both the MNR and moderate military elements concentrated in La Paz but extending to the regional level. Money will be expended to cover the various aspects of developing an opposition organizational structure. An effective propaganda campaign calls for the expenditure of funds for the purchase of newspaper space, radio time, equipment and supplies, plus payment of salaries for writers and the cost of establishing and maintaining a distribution mechanism. Money will be passed in cash to a very limited number of contacts of [text not declassified] whose reliability has been satisfactorily established.

The moderate opposition in Bolivia is impoverished. Lacking resources, the moderate opposition to Torres will continue its efforts toward viability and unity but will have far less chance to attract support or to implement programs designed to initiate and maintain pressure on Torres.

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Ambassador Siracusa on 7 June in La Paz Telegram No. 3022 reviewed the current situation and found it could deteriorate so rapidly in Bolivia that, with minimal effort, the Soviets could become heir to another Communist foothold in Latin America. He felt that the United States Government must do something soon to bolster moderate forces. The Ambassador’s conclusion—which we share—was that U.S. inaction might well leave the door open for an eventual extremist takeover—clearly an unacceptable alternative.

Failure to support the moderate opposition movements in Bolivia would not discourage completely their determination to organize and oppose Torres. With only limited resources, however, they would have much greater difficulty in structuring an effective organization. Lack of funds would severely restrict any intent to launch and sustain an effective propaganda campaign.

An attempt to oust Torres in the next few months, if not sooner, seems inevitable. Lacking the necessary resources, the [Page 6] moderate opposition may in desperation feel compelled to move prematurely. Defeat would probably strengthen the hand of Torres and, as well, could precipitate total takeover by leftist extremists. We feel that a minimum consequence of an abortive coup attempt by the moderate opposition would be a marked rise in extremist influence within the government. This is, again, an unacceptable alternative. We believe that we have the contacts necessary to counsel patience and that, over a period of time, we can develop these relationships to the point where we can exert a more positive influence. It is doubtful, however, that we will ever be able to control opposition forces sufficiently to prevent ill-considered actions, such as a rash and premature move to oust Torres, under any and all circumstances.


This is a high risk operation in a country which offers greater potential for covert action than perhaps any other in the Hemisphere. While there are security risks inherent in implementation of the proposed program, there are a number of techniques which can and will be employed to reduce the dangers [Page 7] to what we believe can be an acceptable level. It is inevitable that suspicions will grow in Bolivia that the MNR is receiving support. Since a major facet of the program calls for propaganda designed to put and maintain pressure on the Torres Government, it will be evident that the opposition (in the main the MNR) has found support as soon as this campaign is activated. The U.S. Government will be the logical culprit in the minds of Bolivians. Moreover, we fully expect the CIA to come under fire and accusations of CIA involvement seem inevitable. Since the CIA has been accused regularly (and falsely) of innumerable plots and activities in Bolivia, one more accusation should not cause excessive public reaction.

We cannot control the flood of rumors and the expected accusations. We can, however, protect our covert relationships through the employment of sound security practices. All contacts [text not declassified] in this program will be strictly clandestine in nature. We shall employ professional techniques necessary to protect our relationships to the maximum extent possible. In short, we are going to have to tolerate rumors and accusations in the conduct of clandestine operations run under very tight security conditions.

  1. Source: Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, Box 19, File Bolivia, 1973–1980. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Sent to Meyer, Crimmins, and Fischer on July 6. The covert assistance plan is discussed in Document 105.
  2. This memorandum proposed a covert action program to aid the moderate political opposition to the Torres regime.