"I think we ought
to take every step that we can, be prepared to do everything that we need
to do," President Johnson instructed his aides regarding preparations
for a coup in Brazil on March 31, 1964. On the 40th anniversary
of the military putsch, the National Security Archive posted recently declassified
documents on U.S. policy deliberations and operations leading up to the overthrow
of the Goulart government on April 1, 1964. The documents reveal new details
on U.S. readiness to back the coup forces.
The Archive's posting
includes a declassified audio tape of Lyndon Johnson being briefed by phone
at his Texas ranch, as the Brazilian military mobilized against Goulart. "I'd
put everybody that had any imagination or ingenuity
[CIA Director John]
[Secretary of Defense Robert] McNamara" on making sure the
coup went forward, Johnson is heard to instruct undersecretary of State George
Ball. "We just can't take this one," the tape records LBJ's opinion.
"I'd get right on top of it and stick my neck out a little."
Among the documents are
Top Secret cables sent by U.S. Ambassador Lincoln Gordon who forcefully pressed
Washington for direct involvement in supporting coup plotters led by Army
Chief of Staff General Humberto Castello Branco.
"If our influence
is to be brought to bear to help avert a major disaster here-which might make
Brazil the China of the 1960s-this is where both I and all my senior advisors
believe our support should be placed," Gordon wrote to high State Department,
White House and CIA officials on March 27, 1964.
To assure the success
of the coup, Gordon recommended "that measures be taken soonest to prepare
for a clandestine delivery of arms of non-US origin, to be made available
to Castello Branco supporters in Sao Paulo." In a subsequent cable, declassified
just last month, Gordon suggested that these weapons be "pre-positioned
prior any outbreak of violence," to be used by paramilitary units and
"friendly military against hostile military if necessary." To conceal
the U.S. role, Gordon recommended the arms be delivered via "unmarked
submarine to be off-loaded at night in isolated shore spots in state of São
Paulo, south of Santos."
Gordon's cables also confirm
CIA covert measures "to help strengthen resistance forces" in Brazil.
These included "covert support for pro-democracy street rallies
encouragement [of] democratic and anti-communist sentiment in Congress, armed
forces, friendly labor and student groups, church, and business."
Four days before the coup,
Gordon informed Washington that "we may be requesting modest supplementary
funds for other covert action programs in the near future." He also requested
that the U.S. send tankers carrying "POL"-petroleum, oil and lubricants-to
facilitate the logistical operations of the military coup plotters, and deploy
a naval task force to intimidate Goulart's backers and be in position to intervene
militarily if fighting became protracted.
Although the CIA is widely
known to have been involved in covert action against Goulart leading up to
the coup, its operational files on intervention in Brazil remain classified
to the consternation of historians. Archive analyst Peter Kornbluh called
on the Agency to "lift the veil of secrecy off one of the most important
episodes of U.S. intervention in the history of Latin America" by completely
declassifying the record of CIA operations in Brazil.
Both the Clinton and Bush
administrations conducted significant declassifications on the military regimes
in Chile and Argentina, he noted. "Declassification of the historical
record on the 1964 coup and the military regimes that followed would advance
U.S. interests in strengthening the cause of democracy and human rights in
Brazil, and in the rest of Latin America," Kornbluh said.
On March 31, the documents
show, Gordon received a secret telegram from Secretary of State Dean Rusk
stating that the Administration had decided to immediately mobilize a naval
task force to take up position off the coast of Brazil; dispatch U.S. Navy
tankers "bearing POL" from Aruba; and assemble an airlift of 110
tons of ammunition and other equipment including "CS agent"-a special
gas for mob control.
During an emergency White
House meeting on April 1, according to a CIA memorandum of conversation, Secretary
of Defense Robert McNamara told President Johnson that the task force had
already set sail, and an Esso tanker with motor and aviation gasoline would
soon be in the vicinity of Santos. An ammunition airlift, he reported, was
being readied in New Jersey and could be sent to Brazil within 16 hours.
Such U.S. military support
for the military coup proved unnecessary; Castello Branco's forces succeeded
in overthrowing Goulart far faster and with much less armed resistance then
U.S. policy makers anticipated. On April 2, CIA agents in Brazil cabled that
"João Goulart, deposed President of Brazil, left Porto Alegre
about 1pm local time for Montevideo."
The documents and cables
refer to the coup forces as "the democratic rebellion." After General
Castello Branco's takeover, the military ruled Brazil until 1985.
This article is reproduced from www.nsarchive.org
with the permission of the National Security Archive.