123. Editorial Note.

Ambassador C. Burke Elbrick’s kidnapping took place during a time of political uncertainty in Brazil. On August 30, President Artur da Costa e Silva had a stroke and was unable to govern. A triumvirate of military leaders bypassed Vice President Pedro Aleixo and took power. The leadership, headed up by Admiral Augusto Rademaker, consisted of General Aurelio de Lyra Tavares and Air Marshall Marcio de Souza e Mello. (Telegram 7076 from Rio de Janeiro, September 1; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–9 BRAZ; telegram 7605 from Rio de Janeiro, September 15; ibid.)

The Chief Ministers of the Government of Brazil met on September 4, 1969 to discuss the Elbrick kidnapping. On September 5, Brazilian Foreign Minister Magalhaes Pinto informed Deputy Chief of Mission William Belton that Brazil had agreed to the kidnapper’s demands. (Telegram 7206 from Rio de Janeiro, September 5, 0255Z; Ibid.) At 2 p.m. on September 5, the Brazilian Government received a note from Elbrick to his wife stating that he was unharmed. Attached to Elbrick’s note was a message from the kidnappers stating that they would send a list of fifteen prisoners to be released upon publication of their note. (Telegram 7249 from Rio de Janeiro, 1815Z; ibid.) The next communication from Elbrick to his wife, along with a list from the kidnappers of the fifteen prisoners to be released, was received at 3:45 p.m. The kidnapper’s list suggested the prisoners could be sent to Mexico. Belton advised Magalhaes Pinto that Brazil would have to make the arrangements with the Government of Mexico. (Unsigned chronology of the events of the kidnapping with typed entries for the events of September 4, 5, and 6, and handwritten entries for September 7; ibid., Office of Brazilian Affairs Files: Lot 75 D 224, POL 23–8, Kidnapping of Ambassador Elbrick)

In a telephone conversation between Belton and Dean, which Dean later relayed to Charles A. Meyer, Magalhaes Pinto in turn requested that the United States use its good offices to procure Mexican cooperation. (Telcon between Belton and Dean, September 5, 4:30 p.m. and Memorandum from Dean to Meyer; both are ibid.)

However, in telegram 7262 from Rio de Janeiro, September 5, Belton stated that some Brazilian military officers were unhappy with the decision to negotiate with the kidnappers. Belton requested a high level message of appreciation from the Secretary of State or the President to shore up the resolve of the Brazilian Government. (Telegram 7276 from Rio de Janeiro, 2153Z; ibid., Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–9 BRAZ) Later that evening, Secretary Rogers authorized Belton to send a message to Magalhaes Pinto thanking Brazil publicly for the efforts being made to secure the safe release of Elbrick. (Telegram 150915 to Rio de Janeiro, September 6, 0037Z; ibid.) The Mexican Government assented to accepting the prisoners early on September 6. (Telegram 4897 from Mexico City, 0309Z; ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 787, Country Files, Latin America, Mexico, Vol. I, January 1969–31 December 69)

Early on the morning of September 6, Embassy and intelligence reports indicated that some Brazilian military leaders objected to the release of the 15 prisoners. These men wanted to reconsider the decision to accede to the kidnapper’s demands. (Telegram 7286 from Rio de Janeiro, 0715Z; ibid., Box 771, Brazil Through August 1970; Backchannel Message TDCS–314/12994–69 [text not declassified] 0745Z and TDCS–314/12995–69, 0808Z are both ibid.) Magalhaes confirmed to Belton later that morning that some military men wanted to reconsider the prisoner-release deal, and Belton immediately contacted three of the leading military ministers to express his concern. (Telegram 7287 from Rio de Janeiro, 1207Z; ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–9 BRAZ) Dean reported to Meyer that it looked like the deal would hold. (Memorandum from Dean to Meyer, 10:30a.m.; ibid., Office of Brazilian Affairs Files: Lot 75 D 224, POL 23–8, Kidnapping of Ambassador Elbrick.) At 11 a.m., Belton reported back to Dean by telephone that the Brazilian ministers had met and decided to go ahead with their original decision to meet the kidnapper’s demands. At 12:10 p.m. he reported that a plane had been designated to transport the prisoners to Mexico after stops in Recife and Belem to pick up prisoners located there. At 2:30 p.m., Belton notified Dean by phone that the Brazilian Air Force plane bearing the prisoners had taken off and would probably arrive in Mexico early the next morning. (Memoranda from Dean to Meyer, 11 a.m., 12:10 p.m., and 2:30 p.m.; ibid.)

Late on September 6, the Embassy received word of a third note from Elbrick to his wife, along with a message from the kidnappers acknowledging the government’s claim that the 15 prisoners had left for Mexico. Elbrick would be released as soon as the kidnappers had received confirmation of the prisoners’ arrival in Mexico. (Telegram 7303 from Rio de Janeiro, September 7, 0230Z; ibid., Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–9 BRAZ) A fourth and final note was received following the arrival of the prisoners in Mexico on September 7 acknowledging their arrival. (Telegram 7324 from Rio de Janeiro, 2331Z; ibid.) Elbrick was released at approximately 8 p.m. September 7. Nixon thanked President Diaz Ordaz of Mexico on September 8 for Mexico’s help in releasing Elbrick. (Memorandum of Conversation, September 8; ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 787, Country Files, Latin America, Mexico, Vol. 1, Jan 1969–31 Dec 1969)