76a. Editorial Note
In June 1971, U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia Ernest V. Siracusa expressed concern to Washington that failure to support opponents of the anti-American and left-leaning military regime of Bolivian President Juan Jose Torres might leave the door open for communists to gain yet another foothold in the Americas. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) shared the Ambassador’s concerns. In response to a White House request for a political action program to arrest the leftward trend of the Torres regime, a proposal was submitted to the 40 Committee for $410,000 in covert funding for the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) and moderate military leaders, who opposed the Torres regime. Funds were designated for organizational expenses and a propaganda campaign utilizing Bolivian print and radio news media.
In July 1971, the 40 Committee met to consider the proposal. Responding to Under Secretary of State U. Alexis Johnson’s concern that the U.S. Government might be sponsoring a coup, Attorney General John Mitchell stated that his understanding of the proposal was that a coup was inevitable, and thus covert support should be targeted, as soon as possible, to pro-U.S. individuals or groups. Although the majority of the 40 Committee voted to approve the covert action proposal, Under Secretary U. Alexis Johnson indicated that he would demur on a decision until hearing Ambassador Siracusa’s opinion on the matter. In a message to Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Charles A. Meyer, Ambassador Siracusa indicated that he opposed covert funding at $410,000, characterizing it as “coup money,” and suggested that the injection of such a sum into the MNR would be difficult to keep secret. Instead, the Ambassador suggested that more benefit might be derived from increasing economic assistance (specifically, economic aid) to the Torres government to stabilize it, thus preserving U.S. influence with the regime. Notwithstanding Siracusa’s opposition, the covert funding was approved.
In August 1971, Arnold Nachmanoff, of the National Security Council Staff, informed Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger that the CIA had transferred funds to an ex-military figure involved in coup plotting, and another dissident officer. The money was meant to discourage a reportedly imminent coup and to “cement relations” with Bolivian military figures. Nachmanoff questioned the wisdom of having the CIA directly pass funds to opposition figures, and suggested that disclosure of the incident might open the U.S. Government to claims that it was intervening in Bolivian affairs. He indicated that no more direct transfers to Torres’s opponents would occur without explicit permission from Washington. Two days later, General Hugo Banzer Suarez took control of the Bolivian Government in a coup, and the remaining funds approved for support of Torres’s opponents were not needed.