311. Telegram 7174 From the Embassy in Peru to the Department of State1

7174. Subject: Peruvian Change of Government: Why? Why Now? Where Now?

Summary: On a preliminary basis, Mission elements agree that army leaders decided to move Velasco aside and replace him with Morales Bermúdez primarily becasue of Velasco’s increasingly eratic behavior and personal rule (or mis-rule). We believe key army commanders in effect forced Morales Bermúdez to act and gave little importance to the fact that the non-aligned conference was taking place in Lima. We think Morales Bermúdez as President will continue the Peruvian revolutionary process, but his approach will be more orderly and prudent. End summary.

1. This message contains the preliminary assessment of all interested elements of the Mission as to why the armed forces obliged former President Velasco to step down, why the prime actors did not wait until the nonaligned conference had closed in Lima, and what we may expect during the early days, at least, of the Morales Bermúdez presidency.

2. Why remove Velasco? Velasco’s leadership over the last months of his presidency was increasingly erratic. He took the decision to nationalize Marcona while his Minister of Mines was out of the country. There is much evidence that he and those radicals who probably urged him to take this step did not think through the implications, and were surprised when they learned of the possible consequences, particularly in the economic field. Velasco dramatically (and quixotically) nationalized Gulf Oil de Peru, a grandstand play with no economic justification, supposedly for “moral” reasons.

3. Velasco’s impromptu press conferences had long since become an embarrassment to his more sensible followers. Sipping Pisco, Velasco made outrageous charges against U.S. diplomats and offended other countries ranging from Chile to the USSR. He gratuitously and fulsomely congratulated the Viet Cong for their victory over U.S. imperialism.

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4. Velasco crossed the line between being strong-willed and being obstinate and petty. He tongue-lashed every minister but Morales Bermudez. He sinned against the sacred Latin rule of diplomatic asylum by refusing to accede to the request of the Agrentine ambassador that an asylee in his Embassy be granted safe-conduct. He ordered wholesale deportations of journalists and political opponents of right and left.

5. Velasco lost control of himself on more than one occasion, and the leadership below him knew it. Some even feared he might order some military move against Chile, which his top generals did not believe would be in Peru’s best interest even if it were militarily prepared to do, which they further believe it was not.

6. Why remove Velasco now? We have been speculating on the form and timing of the transfer of power from Velasco to Morales Bermudez, which appears to have had several almost inexplicable aspects. Why, for example, did the coup come when it did, on the last day of the NAC, in a manner which must inevitably be embarrassing to the GOP before its new third world associates, despite the GOP’s efforts to put the best possible face on it? Second, why did Morales Bermúdez leave Lima for a tour of the South if he had this move in mind? It would appear that he would have been better placed at the center of things in Lima, rather than announcing his move from Tacna, where he would have been most vulnerable had Velasco been able to rally support.

7. One scenario which so far occurs to us appears to provide answers to the foregoing questions. [3 lines not declassified] army discontent with Velasco’s rule and rumors to the effect that high-ranking generals were urging Morales Bermúdez to move to oust Velasco. This same report said that the commanding generals of all the military regions met with Morales Bermúdez to urge him to act, and that after the meeting, the commander of the third military region, General Luis La Vera Velardi and his chief of staff, General Briceno, stayed behind and told the Prime Minister that if he did not do so soon, they would overthrow Velasco themselves. [3 lines not declassified] reported that the Peruvian Investigative Police (PIP) learned at 10:00 a.m. August 29 that La Vera had announced the revolt of his troops against Velasco and their support for Morales Bermudez.

8. Against this background, we speculate that La Vera presented Morales Bermúdez with a fait accompli. Possibly La Vera may have told him that he (La Vera) had obtained the support of the other regional commanders and would move, with or without Morales Bermudez. Presented with this ultimatum, the Prime Minister may have made his decision. (Another variation of this scenario may have been that Morales Bermúdez was in the plotting at an earlier stage and went to the South to allay the suspicions of Velasco and his supporters.) The timing of the [Page 842] coup in relation to the NAC may have been attributable to the fact that the regional commanders, in particular La Verga, are more immediately aware of discontent in the countryside and to have awarded higher priority to the removal of Velasco than to embarrassment before the Third World. They (and possibly the Prime Minister) may also have reasoned that, precisely because a coup during the NAC was so unlikely, it would therefore have the best chance of success.

9. The assistant army attaché has a report that Morales Bermúdez finally made up his mind to move against Velasco some weeks ago, while visiting La Paz for its anniversary celebration. If so, the exact timing may have resulted simply because Morales Bermúdez path crossed that of La Vera in the South in connection with the celebration of Tacna’s return to the “Patria.” It is now (the 29th) or never.

10. Whither the revolution; from the first announcements of the change of government on August 29, the Army Commanders have stressed their adhesion to the principles of the Peruvian Revolution. Morales Bermúdez re-stated his loyalty to the revolution in his first public address in Tacna that day. We believe that Morales Bermúdez is a revolutionary but we also assess him as a prudent and careful man. He has attitudes and work habits one associates with Finance Ministers, and he has twice served as Finance Minister, under Belaunde and Velasco.

11. Even if Morales Bermúdez were farther toward the center of the political spectrum than we believe he is, however, he would not at least initially be able to wrench the revolution very far to the right of its current course. There are radical generals, such as Rodriguez Figueroa, who move up as Morales Bermúdez does so. They will continue to influence policy. When Morales Bermúdez conducts meetings, he lets everyone have his say, and we believe the radicals will continue to speak up.

12. If Morales Bermúdez is really a centrist, the revolution may move in the direction over time. However, for the coming months, we anticipate that the Peruvian Revolution will continue on much its present course, but that affairs will be conducted more prudently and in a more orderly fashion.

13. Relations with the United States should improve, particularly if Morales Bermúdez is disposed (and is able) to resolve the Marcona problem. However, this improvement will be related to the greater degree of order and prudence we expect from the new president; we would be surprised if Peru were significanly to moderate its Third World stance, as the appearance of Morales Bermúdez and members of his cabinet before the NAC on August 30 seems designed to demonstrate. In short, while we believe the transition from Velasco to Morales Bermúdez will be beneficial for both Peru and our relations with this [Page 843] country, we do not at this point foresee a significant deviation from the course Velasco charted.

  1. Summary: The Embassy reported that Morales Bermúdez would continue Velasco’s policies but in a more orderly fashion.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D750301–0719. Secret; Immediate; No Foreign Dissemination. Repeated to La Paz, Quito, Santiago, Mexico, Bogotá, Brasilia, Caracas, USCINCSO, and DIA. In telegram 7130 from Lima, August 29, the Embassy informed the Department of the coup, stating that there was no resistance to it. (Ibid., D750300–0269)