117. Information Memorandum From the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Vaky) to Secretary of State Rogers1 2

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  • Relations with Brazil

One of the two or three most important problems facing us in Latin America now concerns our relations with Brazil. For many years our policy towards that country has taken account of its special importance in the Western Hemisphere. Motivated by a wide range of geopolitical, strategic and economic interests in Brazil—which contains half the land area and population of South America—our policy has been relatively constant despite variations in the form and quality of Brazil’s governments. We have displayed more generosity toward, interest in, and involvement with Brazil than with most other countries in Latin America. As a consequence U.S. investments there tend to be greater, military cooperation closer, and AID programs larger and more complex than elsewhere.

On December 13, 1968 President Costa e Silva issued the Fifth Institutional Act as an extra-Constitutional measure suspending the Congress, censoring the press, and cancelling many individual legal protections. This act, known as IA–5, was forced upon the President by hardliners in the Brazilian military, which has been the effective holder of power in Brazil since 1964. Since the action did not involve a change in Government, the question of a break in relations did not arise. Our official public posture was expressed as “being very much interested in the Brazilian situation and following developments there closely.” Subsequently a Departmental spokesman stated that our AID programs in Brazil were “under review.” Privately we have expressed our dismay at developments to key Brazilian officials and we have utilized Voice of America and other channels to see that U.S. press and public criticism was widely known in Brazil.

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Our appraisal so far is that IA–5 represented a regressive and unnecessary act by the GOB; that jockeying for power among military leaders in Brazil is proceeding at such a rate that the tenure of President Costa e Silva is by no means secure; that there is no assurance that the GOB will move back toward more democratic government in the foreseeable future; that overt condemnation of the GOB by the U.S. could well trigger more authoritarianism, nationalism, and anti-Americanism in Brazil; and that our long range purposes and objectives in Brazil have not changed materially as a result of IA–5, but that ways and means of serving them have been made more difficult. In addition, we recognize that our public posture to the effect that our AID programs are “under review” cannot be maintained indefinitely without jeopardizing valuable economic programs and provoking an angry reaction in the military in Brazil. We have no reason to believe that incurring the wrath of the controlling military group in Brazil would be in our interest, although further oppression of the population by the military could alter this view.

Under the Charter of Punta del Este, the American republics agreed that to achieve economic and social development it was necessary that “comprehensive and well-conceived national programs of economic and social development, aimed at the achievement of self-sustaining growth, be carried out in accordance with democratic principles.” Previous U.S. administrations have made much of this and the “self-help” commitment under the Charter in their testimony in support of requests for AID funds for the Alliance for Progress in past years. As Brazil drops its democratic trappings and becomes an unabashed military dictatorship—thereby adding significantly to the growing percentage of the Latin American population under military government—the need for re-examining our attitudes toward individual countries and the Alliance becomes clear.

The political situation in Brazil continues to be unstable. However, during coming days and weeks, as it clarifies and we receive further recommendations from our [Page 3] Embassy there, we will need to make decisions about key elements in our economic and military assistance programs. These decisions must be based upon a sound conceptual approach to Brazil in the light of the new circumstances. They will also have the effect of defining the kind of relations we want to have with the Brazilian government over the period ahead. In addition, these decisions will tend to signal to other countries in the Hemisphere the attitude the new Administration here at home intends to take toward military governments in Latin America.

We will be bringing these matters to your attention at the appropriate time, but I did want to alert you now to the serious and far-reaching nature of the Brazilian problem.

  1. Source: National Archives, Office of Brazilian Affairs Files: Lot 75 D 277, Originals, Memos & Memcons, 1969. Confidential. Drafted on January 23 by Kubisch and Lippincott. Copies were sent to Richardson and U. Alexis Johnson. A note in an unknown hand after the subject line reads: “For your 12 appointment with Ambassador Tuthill.” A record of the Rogers-Tuthill conversation has not been found.
  2. Vaky discussed political repression and the potential for future anti-Americanism in Brazil.