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Documents Shed Light on US Support for Brazilian Coup

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo Documents shed new light on US support for 1964 Brazilian coup By Jim Lobe
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 15, 2004
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      Documents shed new light on US
      support for 1964 Brazilian coup
      By Jim Lobe

      Washington, DC, Mar. 31 (IPS) -- A newly declassified
      audiotape and documents released Mar. 31, 40 years after the
      1964 coup that installed military rule in Brazil, show that
      then-US President Lyndon Johnson was directly involved in
      the decision to back the coup forces, if necessary.

      In a six-minute tape of Johnson being briefed by phone at
      his Texas ranch, the president is heard giving a top aide,
      Undersecretary of State George Ball, the authority to
      actively support the coup if US backing is needed.

      "I think we ought to take every step that we can, be
      prepared to do everything that we need to do," he told Ball
      on Mar. 31, 1964, the day before Brazilian President Joao
      Goulart fled the country.

      "We just can't take this one," he said, apparently referring
      to Goulart, whose populist rhetoric and alleged association
      with leaders of the Brazilian Communist Party had fostered
      fears that South America's largest country could turn into a
      giant Cuba.

      "I'd get right on top of it and stick my neck out a little,"
      added Johnson, who one year later would send thousands of
      Marines to intervene in civil unrest in the Dominican Republic.

      He then called for "everybody that had any imagination or
      ingenuity . . . [Central Intelligence Agency Director John]
      McCone . . . [Secretary of Defense Robert] McNamara," to
      ensure that the coup that was already in play in Brazil was
      successfully concluded.

      Goulart, a member of the Brazilian Workers' Party who was
      elected vice president under Janio Qadros, took power in
      1961 after Qadros resigned.

      Despite Goulart's democratic antecedents and his repeated
      efforts to reassure Washington that he was not setting
      Brazil on a radical path and had no intention of aligning
      the country with Cuba or the Soviet Union, US officials,
      still shaken by the Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962 --
      which brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the
      brink of nuclear war -- adopted an increasingly hostile

      Washington was represented in Brasilia by Ambassador Lincoln
      Gordon whose chief military attaché, Gen. Vernon Walters,
      was a particularly close friend of Brazilian Gen. Castello
      Branco, who would be declared president after Goulart’s
      ouster. Walters later became deputy director of the CIA and
      eventually US ambassador to the United Nations under Ronald

      In addition, the CIA had a heavy presence in Brazil at the
      time, and was implementing a number of covert operations
      designed to bolster the opposition to Goulart.

      As with the case of the US ambassador in Chile during the
      early 1970s when the CIA was actively trying to destabilize
      the government of President Salvador Allende, Gordon, who is
      now 92 years old, was reportedly kept in the dark about the
      agency’s specific operations.

      Much has already been revealed about US support for a
      military coup.

      In 1976, for example, secret documents uncovered by a
      graduate student at the University of Texas and later
      published in the Brazilian press offered some details about
      CIA operations and also confirmed that Washington had
      deployed an aircraft carrier task force that included
      destroyers and oil tankers off the Brazilian coast at the
      time of the coup, presumably to intervene either covertly or
      overtly on behalf of the coup forces, if Gordon deemed it

      At that time, Gordon, who could not be reached for comment
      for this article, admitted the deployment had taken place
      but insisted that it was "a contingency never put into
      effect. We feared the possibility of a civil war . . . and
      one side might need some outside help."

      The new documents and audiotape, which were officially
      declassified last month when they were obtained by the
      independent National Security Archive (NSA), include at
      least two of the documents -- including a lengthy cable from
      Gordon on the political situation as of Mar. 27, 1964 --
      that were disclosed in 1976.

      But, in addition to the audiotape, four of the documents,
      including two CIA memoranda and two State Department
      exchanges, have apparently not been revealed previously.

      "These documents reflect the degree to which the Johnson
      administration, starting with the president himself, was
      willing to intervene to ensure the success of this coup,"
      said Peter Kornbluh, the chief Latin American researcher at
      the NSA.

      "They shed new details about sending arms and ammunition via
      submarine and appropriating an Esso tanker to support rebels
      forces, if needed.

      "They make it more clear than ever before that the US was
      prepared to do a great deal -- overtly if necessary -- if
      the coup did not quickly succeed, to ensure that Goulart was
      indeed overthrown," he added.

      The first cable, which is perhaps the best known, was sent
      Mar. 27 by Gordon to top foreign-policy cabinet officials
      and provides a lengthy assessment of Goulart's alleged
      intention to "seize dictatorial power" with the Communist
      Party. It also recommends "a clandestine delivery of arms"
      for Branco's supporters, as well as a shipment of gas and
      oil to help them succeed.

      The ambassador also urges the administration to "prepare
      without delay against the contingency of needed overt
      intervention at a second stage."

      A follow-up cable sent by Gordon the following day
      reiterates the request for a secret shipment of weapons to
      be "pre-positioned prior any [sic] outbreak of violence" and
      to be "used by paramilitary units working with Democratic
      Military groups."

      A third document from the CIA, dated Mar. 30, is a field
      report from intelligence sources in Belo Horizonte that
      asserted "a revolution by anti-Goulart forces will
      definitely get under way (sic) this week, probably in the
      next few days," and would take the form of a march by
      military forces toward Rio.

      According to the source cited in the cable, the "revolution
      . . . will not be resolved quickly and will be bloody." In
      particular, the source anticipates fighting with other army
      units in Sao Paolo and a protracted military struggle in the

      The navy was seen as likely to favor Goulart, while "the air
      force is so divided that it will not be a problem in the
      early stages [and] eventually it should come to the aid of
      anti-Goulart forces."

      A secret cable dated Mar. 31 to Gordon from then-Secretary
      of State Dean Rusk provides a list of White House decisions
      "taken in order [to] be in a position to render assistance
      at appropriate time to anti-Goulart forces if it is decided
      this should be done."

      The decisions include sending US naval tankers from Aruba to
      Santos, assembling 110 tons of ammunition and other
      equipment for the anti-Goulart forces, and dispatching the
      naval task force to be positioned off the coast.

      The final document, dated Apr. 2, 1964, is from the CIA
      confirming Goulart's departure into exile in Uruguay on the
      same day and the success of the coup.

      While the new releases contribute more to what is known
      about the coup and the US role in it, the record remains far
      from complete, according to Kornbluh, who said the CIA has
      failed to disclose documents relating to its operations in
      Brazil, in contrast to those concerning its actions with
      respect to the military regimes in Chile and Argentina.

      "Declassification of the historical record on the 1964 coup
      and the military regimes that followed would advance US
      interests in strengthening the cause of democracy and human
      rights in Brazil, and in the rest of Latin America," he said.

      Dan Clore

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