106. Backchannel Message From the Ambassador to Bolivia (Siracusa) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Meyer)1 2

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1. As we indicated earlier we see serious difficulty in limiting the objectives and activities of Torres’ political opposition, particularly the dissident military and the MNR who are obviously planning a coup. They clearly aspire to attempt to overthrow Torres and seize power, not just to pressure him into a more moderate stand. In our estimation $410,000 is coup money. Perhaps if it were dribbled out, bit by bit, just to pay bills for publicity, for instance, we could exercise more control toward limiting objectives. However, the necessity for more frequent contact would also increase the risks.

2. It may be that some money put into the private sector, which is organized and has already taken some overt political action, could contribute to the limited objectives cited in the plan. There is also the possible advantage that political money spent by the private sector would not be so suspect with regards to source because, in all Bolivia, it alone does have some money. We see no way, however, that the fact of a large, new infusion of money in the hands of one faction or another of the MNR, of the dissident military officers (also apparently in several, disunited groups), and whatever other opposition political groups, would not become apparent throughout the politically aware community in Bolivia and to the Torres Government. We doubt that such a secret could be held. We also believe that it would be generally assumed and believed that such money could only come from the U.S.—there is no other source from which [Page 2] these people could get such money and everyone knows it. To argue that the CIA gets blamed for everything anyhow does not address the real problem of what would happen to our posture and position in Bolivia if the politically sophisticated, and in this we would include at least some members of the Bolivian Government, became convinced because of an obvious infusion of money from somewhere that the USG is supporting an attempt to overthrow the government. This would give hard reality to what is usually only latent suspicion re the CIA. What the government’s response might be is anyone’s guess but obviously there are punitive steps open to it such as, at the very least, ejection from the country of members of this Embassy staff. [text not declassified]

3. We are preparing for transmission today in regular State cable series a review of the activities of the political opposition in an attempt to demonstrate the continuing confusion and absence of unity in the opposition. Everyone is plotting, and there are plots within plots which include even the private sector. The plotting is designed to overthrow Torres, not simply to influence him, and money that might become available to the plotters would be used not just to strengthen the opposition but for a run for power. Two things are unclear as to the plotting; first, whether and to what extent some of the apparently diverse plots may be consisted; and, timetable, which appears to be anything from several weeks to several months.

4. The uncertainties in the political situation, particularly among the opposition, are so great that in our estimation there is no satisfactory assurance that we would get anything better than Torres himself, recognizing all the deficiencies of the Torres Government of which we are all aware and the risks involved in his continuing in power. In our estimation any successor government to Torres, even of the right, if such a government could hold itself together and govern, would believe it necessary to take an [Page 3] “anti-imperialist” stance and seek ways to demonstrate that it is not a puppet of the U.S. Moreover, among all the various plots of which we are aware, there is not one which this Embassy could at this time pick to back with confidence.

5. Given these uncertainties we believe there is less risk and possibly more benefit in trying to go ahead with a more positive approach to the Torres Government itself. The recently approved special MAP program for Bolivia will probably have accomplished the invaluable first objective of retaining our influence here with the military and, to the extent that it helps him, improving somewhat our influence with Torres himself. Rather than engage in at this time an admittedly high risk adventure, we would prefer to follow up the military input with some positive economic help. We should not be overly bound by Hickenlooper-type timetables regarding the IMPC and Matilde problems. We should give Torres the benefit of the doubt as to intent to compensate and eventual fulfillment, relying upon the provisions of the expropriation decrees, the President’s personal assurances, and the precedent of the Gulf case in which compensation will be paid. We should therefore promptly and urgently approve the agricultural and private investment fund loans and push forward with others such as funds for the municipalities and a new housing project which would put thousands of people to work, just now being transmitted to the Department. (If this proves technically unfeasible, then I would go for politically justified security assistance.) I believe that if our military flank is secured and with Torres’ desperate need for resources to help the economy we would have a better chance of gaining and keeping influence here by these positive help in all of the fields dear to the Bolivians’ hearts, we can compete a lot better if we too are pocutive (sic) activists instead of Hickenlooper negativists. If this should fail, we could always review the other course; but it is very likely that even without our help [Page 4] someone will try something, and they might succeed. It they did we would not be responsible for them and could adapt our policy to the circumstances. If they are the good people they will fall heir to the good things we have initiated for Torres. And if they fail, or are preemptively cut off at the pass, this does not necessarily assure as the project seems to assume, that Torres would inevitably be thrust further into the arms of the left. As long as our skirts are clean and there Is ample open evidence of our effort to help him, we will retain a good chance to have influence with him.

  1. Source: Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, Box 19, Bolivia, 1973–1980. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Siracusa sent a letter with a similar argument to Meyer on July 14. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files, POL 23–9 BOL)
  2. Fearing the repercussions if U.S. covert assistance to President Torres’s opponents was revealed, Ambassador Siracusa argued against such assistance. Instead, he thought overt U.S. Government military and economic assistance would maintain U.S. influence with Torres.