141. Memorandum for the President’s File, Washington, December 7, 1971, 11:30 a.m.1 2

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SUBJECT: Meeting with President Emílio Garrastazú MéDICI of Brazil on Tuesday, December 7, 1971, 11:30 a.m. in the President’s Office, The White House

President Médici of Brazil
Major General Vernon A. Walters (interpreter)

President Nixon opened the conversation by apologizing for the bad weather that made it necessary to hold their welcoming ceremony indoors. He then said that when the program of visits to the United States was being prepared, he had felt it important that there be a visit from the President of Brazil as soon as convenient for President Médici’s schedule. Brazil was an old and trusted friend, and it was half of South America. He was delighted to welcome President Médici here.

President Médici said that he was happy to be back here. He had been military attaché here. (He added that he thought this was thanks to General Walters’ having talked to President Castello Branco.) While here he had learned a remarkable lesson on one occasion when he went to visit the U.S. Army Intelligence School at Ft. Holabird, Maryland. He had been the only visitor. The Commander, an intelligent man who had been in Brazil but did not believe in the Brazilian Revolution of 1964, had said to General Médici that the United States was the richest country in the world and the leader of the free world. This was due to three things: First, the fact that Americans had welcomed and in fact actually been developed by foreign capital, largely British and French, in the 19th century. Second, the American people were a hard working people, and thirdly, they trusted their government and their leaders. President Médici said that this had made a profound impression upon him and he had endeavored to practice this philosophy during his presidency.

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President Médici added that General Walters was a living witness to what had happened in Brazil in 1964. He himself had carried forward the ideals of that revolution. He had been fortunate in that his two predecessors had prepared the tremendous infrastructure for the social program that he was carrying out. He had the additional advantage (with which General Walters was equally familiar) of having become President without owing anyone anything. He had in fact been most reluctant to accept the presidency, and had only done so when his son said to him “Dad, if you refuse the presidency and fail to accept this challenge you will pass for a coward, and you will be ashamed when you look yourself in the face in the morning when shaving.” He said that that had decided him to accept. President Nixon asked how old President Médici’s son had been at that time. President Médici answered that he had been 31. President Médici then said that he owed nothing to anyone when he took over the presidency, to which he was elected by the Congress. He had had the courage to divide the cabinet in two parts, keeping one part and firing the other. He had also adopted as a principle never to make appointments below the top level. He had learned this from his own experience as Chief of the National Intelligence Service (the Brazilian CIA). Every time he had brought irregularities or graft to the attention of President Costa e Silva, the President would call in the cabinet minister and tell him what the subordinate had done. On innumerable occasions the cabinet minister had replied “Yes, Mr. President, but you are the one who appointed him.” President Médici had been determined that this would not happen to him. On only one exceptional occasion had he appointed a man below the top governmental level. General Walters would remember, President Médici continued, that only a few years ago there had been a very hostile climate towards foreign investment in Brazil. He had been determined to change this, and had done so in the light of the three lessons he had learned at Ft. Holabird. Today foreign investment was flowing into Brazil and the Gross National Product was growing at a very satisfactory rate. The country was stable, foreign investment was welcome, and with it know-how was coming in. Brazil’s internal market was no longer sufficient to cope with her growing industrial production and his government was engaged in an aggressive export promotion drive.

President Nixon said that he was pleased to hear this. He was well aware of the progress which Brazil had recently achieved and felt that this was in large part due to the kind of leadership that President Médici and his colleagues were giving the Brazilian people. There were those who called it [Page 3] the Brazilian Miracle. President Médici replied that it was not really a miracle; it was merely the result of honest administration, favoring foreign investment and above all stability.

The President then asked President Médici what he thought of the situation in the rest of South America. He was concerned at the situation in Argentina, in Chile, and in Uruguay. President Médici replied that the situation for the future of Latin America looked pretty bleak to him outside of Brazil. Argentina was living under a situation where the Congress was shut, the law courts were suspended, and the universities likewise in many cases closed. This kind of a situation, combined with a 60% inflation this year, could not last. In reply to a question from the President, he said that he simply did not know why this was so. He would receive President Lanusse in March and would talk to him with the same frankness with which he was talking to President Nixon. It was a matter of great concern to him. With regard to Uruguay, it was true that the “Broad Front” had been defeated and the traditional parties had led the election, but if one looked at the other side of that coin one would see that the Communists and their friends, who had polled 5% of the votes in the preceding election, had polled 20% this time. Bolivia was in desperate straits. He believed that if the present Bolivian government did not succeed it would be the last moderate government in Bolivia, which would then fall into the arms of the Communists and become another Cuba or Chile. For this reason, Brazil had been giving assistance to Bolivia. They had also been helping Uruguay. The President said that he was aware of the aid to Uruguay but had not known about the assistance to Bolivia; be was very happy to hear about it.

President Médici continued that he felt that both the US and Brazil should do everything in their power to assist the other countries of South America. He did not believe that the Soviets or the Chinese were interested in giving any assistance to these countries’ Communist movements; they felt that Communism would come all by itself because of the misery and poverty in these countries. President Médici said that be was concerned with the situation in Chile.

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President Nixon said that in the U.S., assistance programs were determined by Congress, and this varied with the feeling in the Congress. To be quite frank, there were those in the U.S. of liberal bent who did not like him (President Médici) and felt that Brazil was not “democratic enough.” They were anxious to reduce assistance, particularly military assistance, which was now being given on a modest level. They also wanted to remove the contact between the U.S. military and the local military in the various countries of South America. He asked how President Médici viewed this problem. President Médici said that he was aware of these criticisms. He felt that continued U.S. assistance was essential. President Nixon then asked about the contact between the military of the host country and the U.S. military, and President Médici replied that such contact was indispensable. It was the only way to assure stability. He did not favor any reduction of either the assistance or the contact between the Brazilian Armed Forces and the U.S. Armed Forces. He then told the President that he had been concerned about the situation developing in Brazil’s neighbors, and he had called in the Armed Forces Ministers and asked them what their requirements were. They had replied and asked for quite a good deal. He had then called in the Ministers of Planning and Finance and showed them the requests, and they had replied that if the President granted them, this would have a serious impact on the social and educational programs. He had then asked these same two ministers to study and see what could be made available in extra budgetary resources to permit a modest increase in the Armed Forces. He would give roughly half of what was made available to the Army and divide the other half between the Air Force and the Navy. There would be no trouble, as the other services accepted the preponderance of the Army. In this respect he was better off than President Nixon in deciding who got what. After all, the Brazilian Army bad only 150,000 men for a country of 100 million population -- less than a third of the Italian Armed Forces and Italy had only half of Brazil’s population. By far the largest recipient of budgetary funds was the Ministry of Education, and this in a “Brazilian military dictatorship.” He said that this minimum of armed forces was necessary for internal stability. He had told the Armed Forces Ministers that he would grant only what was really essential.

President Nixon then asked whether President Médici felt that U.S. military assistance and cooperation and contact should continue with [Page 5] other South American countries. President Médici replied emphatically that he felt it should continue. It was after all the only way to ensure the stability that was essential to economic development.

The President then returned to the subject of those in the United States who do not find the Brazilian Government democratic enough. Was President Médici popular with the people? President Médici indicated that he would prefer to have General Walters answer. General Walters recalled that on one occasion recently in Rio de Janeiro, when President Médici had unexpectedly attended a football game, the 90,000 spectators had given him a standing ovation. No one knew he was coming and no one had packed the stadium. President Médici said that this was correct. He believed that the people really supported what he was trying to do -- to continue the work of the 1964 Revolution that had changed the face and the destiny of Brazil. He had indications of this all the time. In reply to a question from the President regarding the strength of the Communist party in Brazil, he said that it was now weak and disorganized. The only results that the terrorists had been able to achieve had been to teach thieves to steal valuable things. In the old days they would break into a house and steal a chicken or a jewel; now they robbed banks. If they were successful they kept the money; if they failed and were caught they were doing it all for the Party. President Médici felt sure that Brazil would enjoy tranquility in the years ahead.

President Médici added that he felt real sympathy for President Nixon who had to deal with the problems of the whole world, now including the India-Pakistan War. He said that it was important to safeguard Asia and Europe but we should not lose sight of the situation in Latin America which could blow up at any time.

The President replied that he was always mindful of the problems of the problems of the hemisphere. The whole world was looking at us and we should be an example to them.

President Médici then made it clear that he blamed India for the outbreak of war and added that he had received an Indian mission asking him for food. The Indians had told him that they only had enough food to feed one-third of their population properly. “Imagine,” said President Médici “a country in that situation resorting to war.” The President said that [Page 6] we shared the Brazilian view in this respect.

The President then said that in respect to the U.S. surcharge on imports, there was no question that this was temporary, and it would eventually be removed. We were trying to settle this problem on a world-wide basis and hoped to do so by the end of the year, but if this was not possible then he would give consideration to exempting the Latin American countries from it. We had to try and negotiate with the others first, or they would accuse us of discrimination against them. President Médici indicated that he was very pleased to hear this.

The President then said that in the light of the trips he was about to undertake to Peking and Moscow he felt it was important to consult with our major friends and allies. This process had started with the Canadians the night before, and he would meet with the French, British, Germans and Japanese. He had very much wanted to talk to President Médici who represented the largest country in South America and an old and faithful friend of the United States. He said that he was going to both places without any illusions. They were tough Communists and believed in what they were doing. He in turn believed in our free way of life. President Médici said that he shared the President’s belief. President Nixon continued that we would talk with them but would not be taken in by them. President Médici said that this was the right way to view this.

The President then said that there was one thing that he wanted President Médici to know and that was that any rumors that the U.S. was about to change its policy towards Cuba were entirely unfounded; as long as he was where he is now that would not happen. Castro, whom he had met when the Cuban leader came to the U.S. in 1959, had impressed him as either a Communist or under Communist discipline. He had written this in a memorandum but no one had paid attention to it. Castro was actively engaged in exporting subversion. The internal situation in Cuba was very bad. He again assured President Médici that there would be no change in U.S. policy in respect to Castro and asked how President Médici felt about this. The Brazilian President said that he completely agreed with President Nixon and felt that Castro was trying to export the misery of his own peasants.

The President then asked what President Nixon thought of Castro’s extended visit to Chile. President Médici said that he felt sure that Castro had been waiting in Chile for the result of the Uruguayan [Page 7] elections and if the Frente Amplia had won he would have flown at once to Montevideo to wave the banner of the revolution.

President Médici then said that in 1972 Brazil was celebrating the 150th anniversary of its independence, and that if the President could see his way to visit Brazil he would be most welcome. The President then asked what the date was, and President Médici answered that it was on the 7th of September. But he realized that this was an election year in the U.S. and the President would be most welcome any time he could come after the 23rd of April (when the President of Portugal would be coming to Brazil bringing the body of the First Emperor of Brazil, Pedro I, who had proclaimed Brazilian Independence from Portugal. Brazil alone had won its independence without a war with the Mother country). He warmly renewed his invitation to the President, saying that Brazil was one country where he would be most welcome.

The President thanked him without making an actual commitment.

President Médici said that he would leave a written memorandum with the President of the various points that were on his mind. The President thanked him and said that he would study it and that all that had passed between them would be strictly private and kept in his own files and not circulated around. The President added that, inasmuch as they had started their talk late because President Médici had had to drive instead of fly from Camp David, this time would be added to their talk on Thursday. He was looking forward to seeing President Médici at dinner and would try and have him meet some people who would by interested in investing in Brazil. He then accompanied President Médici to his car.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1025, Presidential/HAK Memcons, Memcons—The President and President Médici, Dec. 7–9, 1971. Top Secret; Eyes Only. The conversation took place in the President’s office. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon, Walters, and Médici met from 11:13 a.m. to 12:38 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary). Médici visited Washington from December 6 through December 9. On December 5, Nixon discussed his upcoming meeting with Médici in a conversation with an unknown participant. There is a presidential recording of this conversation ibid., White House Tapes, Conversation No. 16–2, White House Telephone.
  2. President Médici stated that his administration had successfully worked to change the anti-foreign investment stance of the pre-1964 Brazilian Governments, and President Nixon praised his leadership. In addition, both Nixon and Médici agreed that the United States should not change its policy toward Cuba.