94. Memorandum From Viron P. Vaky of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1 2

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  • Bolivia

CIA has an idea about Bolivia which is worth considering; they will probably raise it with you.

They suggest that we make a quick approach to General Torres to let him know that we are not automatically his enemy; we know he has his problems but if he acts relatively reasonably we could establish a sensible modus vivendi. The purpose of this would be to give him an alternative to far-out radicalization; if we wait to see what he does he may assume our passivity to be opposition. He may then come to believe he may as well radicalize anyway to legitimize himself and reason that the left extremists are the only elements that will support him.

The assumption underlying this suggestion is that Torres is not unredeemable (as, for example, Allende might be). This may not be a bad assumption, as a close reading of his biography indicates (see attached). He is an enigma. He started out as a conservative; he planned the campaign that finished off Che Guevara; only recently has he become publicly a left-wing statist. In truth he is probably an opportunist interested in power, who may see left-wing populism as the best road to power now.

In any case, the argument goes, we would have nothing to lose by making the first approach to Torres. If he is a dedicated leftist and anti-US he will rebuff us. If he is interested primarily in power, knowledge that he may be able to get our support (or avoid our enmity) might just moderate his attitude and make us a force he may wish to placate or even eventually cater to, depending on how he sees his interests. If we do not make the pitch early, we may lose an opportunity because we can be sure that the leftists—labor and students—will lose no time in trying to sew him up.

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What intrigues me about this argument are suggestions that Torres is trying to keep his independence. Despite 20 extreme demands presented to him by extremist labor groups yesterday as the price for their support, it is not clear that he has yet accepted them. Most interestingly, he is reported in a press report to have said that his government will respect the previous Government’s agreement to pay compensation for the Gulf properties—a straw in the wind if true.

We could signal this approach in one of two ways—a very prompt recognition (or announcement of “continuing relations”) or a quick, private contact.

I favor the latter.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 770, Country Files, Latin America, Bolivia, Vol. 1, 1969–1970. Confidential. Sent for information. “Action” was handwritten on the memorandum. Kissinger wrote “I agree with pvt. [private] contact. HK” on the memorandum. In an October 14 note to Haig, Vaky stated that on October 9 Torres asked for a continuation of relations. Vaky asked the Department of State to respond affirmatively. Vaky also asked the Department to make an approach to Torres along the lines his October 8 memorandum to Kissinger. Vaky concluded: “I think this little gambit will pay off.” Haig initialed the note. On October 13, the Department made the approach to Torres. (Telegram 168190 from the Department of State, ibid.)
  2. Vaky suggested the United States quietly give assurances to General Torres that if he acted reasonably, the United States could work with him.