95. Memorandum from the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1 2

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  • Bolivia

The Bolivian situation appears somewhat more hopeful than a few days ago. General Torres appears more and more to be a Latin caudillo in the classic mold.

He used nationalist, populist rhetoric and the support of left-wing labor and student groups to drive to power. He has now moved to reunify the military and maintain it as a cohesive institution. He has been able to do this apparently by pointing out to his military that they need him and that disunity will pave the way for extremist labor and student elements to control the situation. This in turn has enabled him to use military support to withstand the extreme demands of his leftist supporter

We, therefore, seem to have in Torres, not an ideologue, but a pragmatic, ambitious leader in the mold of Peron and “Tacho” Somoza who knows how to use and control power centers. His rhetoric and appeal is necessarily in the nationalist and populist vein, but it appears that what we have in Bolivia is a Peruvian situation rather than a Chilean one. At any rate this seems to be the trend, and it would be worth testing to be sure.

Some interesting signs are the following:

  • —Torres’ cabinet is a moderate-left one, most of them holdovers from the Ovando government. It is less radical than the cabinet Ovando initially installed over a year ago.
  • —Torres has stated his government will respect the agreement to compensate Gulf which his predecessor made.
  • —The leftist labor groups called off a pro-Torres demonstration, when they heard of the new cabinet, in protest that it was “too reactionary.” A CIA report states the [Page 2] labor groups are afraid the military is uniting behind Torres to keep him from yielding too much to labor.

Torres has made the customary bid for continuance of relations to foreign missions. In a note to our Embassy yesterday the Foreign Minister states that the new government is installed under the “mandate of the Armed Forces.” Since this is the same“mandate” which underlay the Ovando regime, this permits us to adopt the legal fiction that this is a change of administrations not a new government. Hence the question of recognition would not arise and we would “continue” relations.

How warm or cool those relations should be is, of course, the key tactical question. If Torres is in fact the practical leader sensitive to power that he appears to be, letting him know quickly and clearly that he could have our support if he acts within reason may help him steer a moderate course. If he deduces we are going to ostracize him he may turn to radical leftist support as the only way to keep himself in power and give his regime legitimacy. If he is, on the other hand, committed to a radical course, we will have lost nothing by testing him and we will know more clearly what he is up to.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 770, Country Files, Latin America, Bolivia, Vol. 1 1969–1970. Confidential. Sent for information.
  2. Kissinger predicted that Torres’ government would be more like the Peruvian Government, as opposed to the prospective Allende government in Chile. Kissinger argued that if the U.S. Government signaled it would support him, General Torres might pursue a moderate course.