49. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Luis Echeverria of Mexico
  • Foreign Secretary Emilio Rabasa of Mexico
  • Interpreter
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Deputy Chief of Mission, Robert Dean
  • Commander Jonathan T. Howe, NSC Staff

After brief amenities during which President Echeverria escorted Dr. Kissinger around the room showing him various art objects, the group was seated.

Dr. Kissinger: Your Foreign Secretary is very independent but very firm.

President Echeverria: Yes. I guess you will be going back directly to the United States. You will miss your vacation.

Dr. Kissinger: Three days after I returned last year the North Vietnamese started an offensive.

President Echeverria: I congratulate you profusely for solving such a difficult problem. It takes patience and perseverance in the midst of such a complex world.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, it was very complex. The Vietnamese have a very unique method of negotiation. They start with their document, make changes in the English version but don’t bother to make the same changes in the Vietnamese version of the documents.

President Echeverria: Next time you must watch them more closely.

Dr. Kissinger: One Vietnamese negotiation is enough for a life time. You have a long trip ahead.

President Echeverria: Yes, I will be visiting Canada, the UK, the EEC, France, the Soviet Union, and China. With Canada and the EEC [Page 158] we have economic problems because of the deficit trade balance. But politically we have good relations. You, of course, recall the friction with the USSR.

Dr. Kissinger: When you expelled the diplomats.

President Echeverria: The Ambassador was not here at the time. Only the six who are under him. We expelled the next five and these of course were people high up on the diplomatic list. When their Ambassador came back we said we were happy he had not been here. They had organized guerrilla units.

With China our relations have never been that way; that is, they have not been the way they are with Russia. We plan to export Volkswagen cars, cotton, and trucks to China and other products manufactured in Mexico. In Mexico some of the large institutions, that is the multinational corporations, perfectly understand our development plan. For example, we are exporting Volkswagens to Germany, China and the United States.

Dr. Kissinger: To Germany?

President Echeverria: Yes, the components and parts are manufactured here. This can be done more cheaply. In fact, right here in the garden I cut the ribbon to send off the first 1,000 out of the 10,000 Volkswagens we are sending. It is a model of development we wish to follow, like the charter we have proposed.

I would like, speaking as a friend, to base my comments on the following thoughts. We are neighbors of the United States, and we always will be. We have a border that is 3,000 kilometers long. We are friends in peace and allies in war. Mexico also has close relationships with Central America and Panama. It has also witnessed the emergence of another country—Cuba. The geopolitical considerations of that are very serious. The U.S. will never permit such a thing to occur again.

Due to our friendship as neighbors, friends and allies we can speak frankly. Other governments never speak with complete frankness. Others just do not. I have thought about what our history and geography means. We are smaller militarily and economically, but we have common problems in Latin America and in the world.

It is important, in fact we must insist, on the following proposals. First, an urgent redefinition, restructuring of organic policy, which would be begun by the United States and would create responses in Mexico and Latin America. I have many reasons for this. The economic situation in Latin American countries is difficult and the growth of population is great. Whether Communist or neo-fascist or some other anti-U.S. government, it will find these places receptive. This will mean that the United States will have to intervene. In Mexico we have witnessed this. The same thing has happened in Latin America and Central America when the United States does not take the lead.

[Page 159]

Secondly, the growth of population creates many difficulties for industrial development. We have proposed a charter to industrialized nations. It speaks mainly to the EEC and industralized nations. Couldn’t the United States take a broad view of this? The large transnational companies want investment. In Mexico they say there are not enough technically qualified people, college graduates, etc. But this is not so. We propose to develop an entrepreneur class, but a nationalistic one. This is not the same as expropriation, but rather using people in Latin America itself. These people will produce things needed by the United States—food, finished products produced at a lower price. Better than turning to Japan and Germany, we should develop the subcontinent. We should develop the place where we live.

In this document I mention policy which failed as historical background, not as a road to follow or a model. We have had the Kennedy era and the Roosevelt era and they are not the roads to follow. Rather, we want to transcend them and to learn a lesson from their defects.

In the countries in which I have been invited to, we have a number of problems, particularly with Canada and the EEC. Some of these have been overcome. France sent us an Emperor. Lincoln did not like that at all. When oil was nationalized things were very tense. But this was not so much true with regard to the United States, because the United States understood. This was a year and a half before the war and we could say that there were petroleum reserves in an allied country. Nelson Rockefeller at the time discussed whether companies should sell 49 or 51 percent of their interests to the government. In 1938 it became a complicated legal problem and led to expropriation. But the biggest problem was with England. My attitude is that we are living in a different world. President Nixon’s trips to China and Russia have helped create this world.

We foster non-intervention but encourage trade. In such a framework would it be possible for the United States to suggest a proposal that could be insinuated in a broad way? I am thinking of a friendly meeting in which President Nixon would come for twelve hours. I would invite all the American heads of state with the exception of one—Cuba. I would even include Canada. We could first meet in sports clothes for two or three hours in a friendly atmosphere and discuss other matters later. In this way we could have Allende and representatives of Peru or Ecuador and nothing would impede personal closeness.

After that, we could have a restructuring and it would be studied in the United States and not just Mexico. We recently proposed to UNCTAD that aid from the developed world to countries which were increasingly hungry should undergo a certain liberalization. This is something that transnational companies cannot do. It really requires a [Page 160] reorientation of government policy itself, of investment policy. The companies habitual interests are in the greatest portion as possible. So this is the idea behind the document. Western Europe and the EEC have an anti-Communist policy. They also have capital and technology which they can transfer. Let us do this in a liberal way—still keeping a certain margin of profit.

Unemployment, the demographic explosion, shortages of food, prosperity of companies, are all elements which become in a place the elements that ultimately require intervention of the United States. We defend growth of tourism, and it is 12 to 14 percent a year. They can see our products of industralization. Rather than being in a position where there is an emergency in Mexico, it is urgent for the rest of Latin American countries, and also for Asia and Africa. If in Mexico, based on proximity to the United States, we can develop the best possible model; it will be an example for the Asians and of Africans to keep in mind. When I visited Japan, I thought that they were operating in a very small commercial margin; the EEC is also very rigid. But Latin America is geographically close to the United States and any small problem between Latin America and the United States is exploited by all the others.

As you know, I went to see President Nixon and I spoke to the U.S. Congress. I spoke in a friendly way. Throughout Latin America, pressure groups want us to speak. In Mexico though, we have a friendly good neighbor policy. It is possible for my country to use its good offices to bring together diverse groups. Brazil also could serve in this way. In Chile the problem is not Allende, but poverty. Argentina has many unseen problems. Isn’t it time to have a greater closeness among heads of state of Latin America?

Of course, there is criticism of areas that tend to be pro-Communist in Central America and Latin America. And these should be of greater concern to the United States than Africa or Central Asia because it could bring communism about in America. All of America has a common destiny.

But there is the possibility of shared development. We have overcome the colonialism of transnational companies. They have made great investments and accomplish their management through outside people and wish to subordinate local interests where they can. But there needs to be more products of the local culture and education, a national development. There has been some in Venezuela and some parts of Central America and Latin America, but we need the possibility to finance locally, to give impulse to local entrepreneurs.

In these very interesting times, I go to China and the USSR. Also along with me go bankers, industrialists, representatives of businesses, even the most conservative business people. They meet with me two to [Page 161] three times a week and they are showing great flexibility. For a long time we have had no strike in Mexico. We have solved many problems in a tripartite arrangement of trade unions and entrepreneurs and government. There is a need, however, in a greater or lesser way, to bring in the participation of national interests which are deeply and radically anti-Communist. It is much more efficient than the action of government. They advertise and create employment, social security, broad popular housing and all of this is done within the philosophy of economic development. If these elements are not present, they favor subversive trends. We need industrial means and to export capital goods. We need to export.

We also need to reevaluate what U.S. industry would like to produce in neighboring countries in order to bring about decreases in prices. Here in Mexico, for example, they can produce things using less expensive parts. At the present time, there are 40,000 workers throughout the border area making parts for U.S. industry. This is a subject in the United States which is of grave concern to the trade unions. But in the United States these components would cost two to three times as much to produce, and the U.S. is just not competitive in such things as electrical terminals and some other types of things. We must keep this in mind.

If President Nixon accepts the invitation for a meeting, it can be before the emergence of problems in Central America. Even relative weaknesses, where there might be a problem of extra-hemispheric infiltration, may not have great quantitative meaning to the United States, but harmony of the continent continues to have importance.

U.S. delegations have been sent to Latin America to deal with the problems of creation of employment, creation of capital and the uses of resources. I insist, therefore, that we embark on a crusade to bring in local entrepreneurs so that workers will find new employment and there will be economic development of the subcontinent. But this needs to be coordinated by the United States. The U.S. needs to speak to the large consortiums. We need to do things which off hand do not appear to be great businesses. This should include political nonintervention. The countries are very sensitive to these things.

President Nixon and Dr. Kissinger are collaborators and we are very happy with our relationship of friendship. We talk as friends. You are very sensitive to our problems. So therefore we can talk as friends. In this way, many things come to light. For example, Mexico contributed to correcting the fiscal policy on mining. The year before last we discussed in a friendly manner with Anaconda the mines in the border area. Mexico and private industry have channelled private investments. Many companies have come to us, both to the private sector and to the Government of Mexico, to purchase particular articles. Today the [Page 162] Kimberly Paper Company wishes to sell part of its stocks to Mexico. They have an excellent labor policy, fiscal system, and have voluntarily adopted these good attitudes.

We have many problems such as the problem of the Panama Canal and the problem of the 200-mile limit with Ecuador which need to be dealt with. There are conflicting attitudes, but we feel these frictions can be worked out. The attitude adopted by the Soviet Union is disturbing. They know that Mexico will adopt an energetic attitude. When the Soviet Ambassador came to see us, he said that they hadn’t anything to do with what we accused them of. Lenin had told them not to interfere. I replied to him that Lenin taught universal revolution was necessary.

In England, Her Majesty has shown great interest in my visit. I will speak to important groups headed by the Rothchilds, both French and British. I have given you Volkswagen as an example of what important developments might be. The same is true with Anaconda and Dupont. In developing countries we need to be able to export; otherwise there will be a flight of the dollar and the cost of living rises. We insist, we hope, that we can structure this policy in a framework.

I apologize if I have been long-winded but these are things which I feel and see every day in my life. Relations are very good with Latin American countries and we can develop together. We can all meet together without any commitment whatsoever. This seems important to me. My trip to Canada and the USSR will be a very important one for Mexico. Half of my administration is completed; I am at the halfway point. The trip will be useful for these bearers of myths about the USSR, Cuba, and China.

Dr. Kissinger: We have used the same tactics.

President Echeverria: Mexico is mature enough to talk to any government. They know that I was Minister of Interior in the previous Administration. If my policy had not been respected, I would not have been a candidate for President. There are groups that want the government to use any large political movement. I will not go to Italy at this time, but I have been invited. When I do go, I will also see the Pope.

The U.S. has brought about a new era and it makes it possible to breathe freely. We can contribute also to a new form of citizenship. During the earthquake in Nicaragua, our Ministry of Health contributed large amounts of assistance, such as 30 technicians, 60 flights of food, and outstanding doctors. They also sent a very large group of construction workers to help in the rebuilding. Mrs. Hermosa came here to see my wife and expressed their gratitude.

All Presidents of Central America have come here. We have good relations. To Allende, I say where are your entrepreneurs? You are trying to export everything. I do not foster capitalization but rather [Page 163] development of Latin American capability. If we do this, we can surmount great pressures. As you can see, all of these thoughts I have expressed are woven together. Our policy is one of a friendly independence. We would like to publish the invitations to a short meeting of President Nixon with the Presidents of Latin American countries in Cozumel. If Mexico takes the initiative, no one will think it has a position of servitude or that it is based on orders of the United States. I think this because of the new trend for the United States.

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. President, I appreciate the comprehensive and lucid explanation that you have given. Let me talk about our views frankly (at this point Foreign Secretary Rabasa and DCM Dean left the meeting).

We do not have to operate as diplomats. I will tell you exactly what we think. The record of this conversation will be maintained in the White House and it will not be shown to the State Department.

First, let me talk about our general attitude. We not only accept but we prefer Mexican independence. Mexico is proud and self-reliant. We know that we cannot remake the whole world. It is impossible to have an international system in which all orders come from Washington. That would not be good for us or for others. We appreciate your independence. When you agree with us, it means something. When you disagree, we can speak openly.

Secondly, we agree that we need a new Latin American policy even though we do not put Latin America among the other underdeveloped countries. We must concentrate our efforts, therefore, and think about our special relationship, both geographically and historically. We must make a special effort. But it is difficult to know how to proceed. We are grateful to you for your suggestions through private channels to President Nixon.

Thirdly, we will deal with countries on the basis of their dignity. We will gear our actions to deeds. We have, for example, no objection to your trip to the USSR and the PRC. We have gone there. Why should not the President of Mexico go there? We believe your trip will contribute to the general atmosphere of an opening world, but we will, of course, make our judgment on the basis of what happens. In the Soviet Union many phrases, which in Latin America are necessary, take on a special significance in the USSR. In Latin America the President must speak for the Mexican people. In the USSR many phrases that are understood here take on a special significance. We must not encourage a feeling by the Soviets that they can make a grouping of Communist countries in Latin America.

President Echeverria: Yes, yes.

Dr. Kissinger: From my view point, whether a trip is useful depends on what is said. If a global view is expressed and an under[Page 164]standing of Communist words is shown, I believe it will be very constructive. In these days we especially encourage relations with China so that they do not feel isolated. We certainly have no objection if you want to tell them that. These are my general views.

Now, I would like to discuss specific items you have raised: With regard to Latin America, we have been very occupied with Vietnam, the Soviet Union, and China. But we are very prepared now to form the basis for a new relationship. We very much appreciate your recommendations. We know you are going on a trip and will discuss some of the principles you announced at Santiago. If when you return you communicate with the President, we will consider your recommendations very seriously.

In the 1950s and 1960s it was in the U.S. interest to help backward nations. It contributed to peace. But we learned by our experience with Europe and Japan, which were backward in the 1950s, that there is no automatic return gratitude in international relations. Quite honestly, when we now make decisions, we must speak not only of the present but must consider also the period ten to twenty years from now. We must consider how relations will develop. With the Common Market, very frankly, we should have worked out our economic relationships when it was organized. If there is no political and moral vision, then only purely economical self-interest becomes involved. It is a problem today with Europe and Japan and in a way it is your problem. What we need is political vision, not just economic.

We have difficulty with Latin America because it is imperative for leaders to make anti-U.S. statements in order to take pro-U.S. measures. (Echeverria laughs deeply.) So, I understand. But if it goes beyond a certain point, then it turns into a contest between the developed United States and the underdeveloped world. It faces us with a dilemma. It helps create a political structure which freezes a country into a posture against us. And, as I say, this does create a real dilemma. We want independence but also a structure in which we can get along together.

The President’s and your terms are the same now. Our President understands foreign policy. His successors may not.

Now as to your specific ideas concerning Latin American organization, we will be in touch with you again. With regard to the principles of the so-called Echeverria Doctrine, some pose no difficulty at all. All of them are discussable. You recognize I’m sure they could be used as an anti-U.S. club.

President Echeverria: Yes.

Dr. Kissinger: They will be positive if they lead to an understanding of the developed and the underdeveloped, dangerous if they are a charter for the underdeveloped to use against the U.S.

[Page 165]

I talked to the Foreign Minister in Acapulco about the U.S. attitude and told him that we would study them and let him know when he returned. When the White House tells you that, we will keep our promise. Provisionally, we could at least agree not to delay discussions if we sensed that the Mexican Government would take a moderate and understanding position. It is not necessary to agree. All we want is an understanding of our position. Then we can deal with substance. But if it is used as a weapon against the United States, then there will be endless procedural delaying tactics. Please forgive my frankness.

President Echeverria: I understand perfectly.

Dr. Kissinger: We could come to an understanding in May and then let substantive discussions proceed. I will let you have a definite answer.

With regard to the breakfast meeting in Cozumel, from what I have seen of Latin American Presidents they have strong personalities. Weak men do not reach those positions. A meeting of all of these men would have many unpredictable aspects. It would be the expectation of these heads of government, and our expectation, that they would leave such a meeting with the feeling it had been most productive. There would have to be a feeling beforehand that there would be results. When you visited the United States, we had some understanding on salinity beforehand. We knew that you would not leave without making satisfactory progress. If there were a meeting of Latin American heads of government, there would be two requirements: First, it can not be a contest between Latin America and the United States.

President Echeverria: No, no.

Dr. Kissinger: Secondly, we cannot have every President listing his grievances for local newspapers. I have noticed that Spanish lends itself to special rhetorical grandeur when translated to English. The meeting must be in a spirit of cooperation and produce some positive results. That has to be a basic requirement.

President Echeverria: The specific points we were thinking of were some restructuring of OAS and some discussion of aspects of this charter. Before the meeting, we would work discreetly. What we would do might appear superficial on the surface, but these would be steps forward, even if ever so slight.

Dr. Kissinger: The best way to proceed would be to get your views directly to us.

President Echeverria: Rabasa will come to Washington during the first fifteen days in May.

Dr. Kissinger: We could then work out a possible agenda, what position you would have and what position we would have. If our posi[Page 166]tions are compatible, then perhaps you could begin talking to others and then we could have some more consultations.

President Echeverria: Mexico wants to invite everybody.

Dr. Kissinger: But not yet.

President Echeverria: Yes, after May. Our Ambassadors would speak in their countries and state some of the points you thought necessary for an essential step forward to be dealt with. All Latin America will follow if it is accepted by President Nixon. To Panama, Chile, Peru, and Ecuador I would send a special envoy. This would not be to deal with problems but to see what could be done positively.

Dr. Kissinger: We will decide in May and see if the United States is receptive. After an agenda has been worked out, we will know better. We cannot do it in abstract. In principle, it is something we would want to discuss with you.

I would also like to make one other comment and then you may want to throw me out.

President Echeverria: If we speak frankly, it will promote a closer friendship.

Dr. Kissinger: I admire the method by which the President operates. For us, we deal with many other countries. We deal with Latin America at irregular intervals. Last year after you were here we made a big effort to build our Latin American relations around Mexico. On the salinity issue some efforts were made. We cannot have anything but a just solution with our close neighbor. If it takes a confrontation to settle it, it would be difficult to have good relations overall. The danger is that some of the comments of the Mexican President create the impression in the United States that the negative side of our relationship tends to be emphasized. It may be unfair, but it is the impression of some people.

We now have a big decision to make. We will give you the Brownell report as soon as you return and will discuss the Cozumel meeting and the ten principles. In one case we may be dealing with a friend who is very frank and independent. Or in another situation, it could be seen as a situation where the pressures are generally shaded against us.

If we go to the meeting as partners, not of course publicly, it will be an advantage for Latin America. But if we go as opponents, it would be difficult for us. Both of the Presidents have about three and a half years. Both want many of the same things. With regard to general objectives, our President agrees with many of the things you raise. There is an opportunity to work on them in a parallel way. Your trip in this way could affect the attitude.

President Echeverria: It is what I want the trip to be.

Dr. Kissinger: I hope you do not mind me speaking so frankly.

[Page 167]

President Echeverria: It is frank but very refined. There are great possibilities for the U.S. and Mexico. In the past there have been uncomfortable incidents between the Ambassador of the United States and the President of Mexico. I also speak frankly. It was not an intelligent relationship.

Dr. Kissinger: Even the present one?

President Echeverria: The present Ambassador demonstrates very great sensitivity. I am speaking of the past. I am told, however, that he is leaving because of his years. It will be a great loss.

Dr. Kissinger: We will send, in any event, someone very good.

President Echeverria: We are for a full channeling of things in a positive and well-taken manner. In preparing for the trip, I will refer to opening of the world. In itself, it will be a contribution to peace. If there is to be more understanding in the world, we must have an opening of peace. In the past year there has been a great opening.

Dr. Kissinger: I admire your stamina in undertaking a 28-day trip without rest.

President Echeverria: We have an incentive to struggle for a positive thing. We do not believe there will be any anti-U.S. incidents. There may be anti-Mexican incidents, however.

Dr. Kissinger: That is unlikely.

President Echeverria: There may be from the radical left.

Dr. Kissinger: But not in Moscow or the PRC.

President Echeverria: Of course, they never intervene.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, it will be very fascinating.

President Echeverria: Please transmit my most affectionate greetings to the President. Rabasa will see you in May and talk about what we can say on economic matters and reorganization of the OAS, even if superficial.

Dr. Kissinger: If there are specific ideas, we can discuss them in May.

President Echeverria: It is necessary to do something.

Dr. Kissinger: The President has asked me to send his warm regards to you and he, in any event, hopes to exchange views with you.

President Echeverria: If the meeting is held, the U.S. will be able to see the positive result of the independence of Mexican policy. We know perfectly well that we are neighbors and partners and allies. But it must not be something agreed to by an ally but something wider in scope so we can all coexist as neighbors on this continent. I hope you will see the result.

My trip is as if we had agreed on it beforehand even though we did not discuss it. I am certain my relations with Central America, Chile, [Page 168] and others will be helpful in putting into practice a program which will be to our common benefit.

Dr. Kissinger: It will be an advantage if as friends we can pursue policies in our mutual interests.

President Echeverria: Some may think bureaucratically and not operationally.

Dr. Kissinger: You were most kind to spend so much of your time with me. I know you have many things to do before you depart.

President Echeverria: We will tell you about it when we return. Your attitude stimulates me.

Dr. Kissinger: You will see many of my friends.

President Echeverria: We will share our impressions with you.

Dr. Kissinger: I look forward to it, and I appreciate all the courtesies you have given me. I had a most enjoyable time here.

President Echeverria: I hope you will return many times. Sunshine is good for us.

Dr. Kissinger: My staff will be concerned at the renewal of my energy.

(President Echeverria then engaged in light talk with Dr. Kissinger as he escorted him to the door of Los Pinos.)

  1. Summary: Kissinger and President Echeverría discussed U.S.-Latin American relations, Echeverría’s upcoming international travels, and a Mexican proposal for a charter on the economic rights and duties of states.

    Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Country Files, Box 788, Latin America, Mexico, Vol. IV, 1973. Secret. The conversation took place at the Mexican Presidential residence, Los Pinos. Jorden summarized the outcome of Echeverría’s March–April trip to Canada, Great Britain, France, Belgium, the Soviet Union, and China in an April 27 memorandum to Kissinger. (Ibid.) Echeverría had put forward his proposal for a global charter on economic relations between developed and developing nations at an April–May 1972 UNCTAD session. (United Nations Year Book, 1972, pages 273–274)