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The National Security Archive at George Washington University

CONSORTIUM NEWS - Edited by Robert Parry


April 10, 2004

Declassified Docs & Audio Prove US Support for 1964 Brazil Coup

Brazil Marks 40th Anniversary of Military Coup; Declassified Documents Shed Light on US Role (3/31/2004 - National Security Archive)

From the National Security Archive: "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 US policy deliberations and operations leading up to the overthrow of the Goulart government on April 1, 1964. The documents reveal new details on US 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] McCone...[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 US 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 US role, Gordon recommended the arms be delivered via "unmarked submarine to be off-loaded at night in isolated shore spots in state of Sao 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...and 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 US 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 US 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 US 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 US 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 US 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 US policy makers anticipated. On April 2, CIA agents in Brazil cabled that "Joao 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.

[Read the source...]

AP coverage of the story, as published in the Miami Herald on 4/3/2004:

Papers show U.S. support of coup Documents published in Washington this week reveal Washington's hidden hand behind the coup that toppled Brazil's president 40 years ago.

Declassified US government documents published this week by a Washington-based research group point to US preparations in aid of Brazilian coup plotters in 1964 as well as a CIA "miscalculation" about possible resistance against a coup, experts said Friday.

Six documents and one audiotape were released by the National Security Archive to the group's website to coincide with Wednesday's 40th anniversary of the coup, which led to a 21-year military dictatorship in Brazil. The group is a nongovernmental foreign policy documentation center.

A CIA cable from Brazil, dated March 30, predicted a military coup "within the next few days." The cable added, "The revolution will not be resolved quickly and will be bloody."

The coup started the next day. It was over by April 4, when leftist President Joao Goulart flew to Uruguayan exile. No blood was shed.

"The CIA was probably harking back to events in 1961, when the military was deeply divided over the issue of Goulart assuming power," said political scientist David Fleischer, who teaches at the University of Brasilia. "But, just as there was no violence in 1961, there was none in 1964. It was a CIA miscalculation, not for the first time and not for the last."

Gaudenico Torquato, a historian at the University of Sao Paulo, said, "They got it wrong. At that time, the US was involved in the feverish competition against communism known as the Cold War. That colored their judgment."

The documents also show members of the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson engaging in active preparations to aid Brazil's military coup plotters.

US Ambassador Lincoln Gordon, in a March 27, 1964, cable to the State Department, requested a naval task force and deliveries of fuel and arms to the coup plotters "to help avert a major disaster here."

Gordon confirmed preparations to aid the plotters, but added that "details of Operation Brother Sam have been known for many years."

"Preparations were made but it proved unnecessary to set the operation in motion," he told Associated Press. Secretary of State Dean "Rusk made it clear that the US would only intervene under certain circumstances. He wanted to make sure there was broad political support in Brazil for the military before advising any intervention."


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