D.C., 31 March 2004 - "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 today 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] 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 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 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 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
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 "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.
Note: Documents are in PDF format. You
will need to download and install the free Adobe
Acrobat Reader to view.
White House Audio Tape, President Lyndon B. Johnson discussing the
impending coup in Brazil with Undersecretary of State George Ball,
March 31, 1964
audio clip is available in several formats:
Windows Media Audio - High bandwidth
Windows Media Audio - Low bandwidth
MP3 - (4.7 MB)
In this 5:08 minute White House tape obtained from the Lyndon Baines
Johnson Library, President Johnson is recorded speaking on the phone
from his Texas ranch with Undersecretary of State George Ball and
Assistant Secretary for Latin America, Thomas Mann. Ball briefs
Johnson on that status of military moves in Brazil to overthrow
the government of Joao Goulart who U.S. officials view as a leftist
closely associated with the Brazilian Communist Party. Johnson gives
Ball the green light to actively support the coup if U.S. 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 orders.
In an apparent reference to Goulart, Johnson states "we just
can't take this one." "I'd get right on top of it and
stick my neck out a little," he instructs Ball.
State Department, Top Secret Cable from Rio De Janiero, March 27,
Ambassador Lincoln Gordon wrote this lengthy, five part, cable
to the highest national security officers of the U.S. government,
including CIA director John McCone and the Secretaries of Defense
and State, Robert McNamara and Dean Rusk. He provides an assessment
that President Goulart is working with the Brazilian Communist Party
to "seize dictatorial power" and urges the U.S. to support
the forces of General Castello Branco. Gordon recommends "a
clandestine delivery of arms" for Branco's supporters as well
as a shipment of gas and oil to help the coup forces succeed and
suggests such support will be supplemented by CIA covert operations.
He also urges the administration to "prepare without delay
against the contingency of needed overt intervention at a second
State Department, Top Secret Cable from Amb. Lincoln Gordon, March
Ambassador Gordon updates high U.S. officials on the deterioration
of the situation in Brazil. In this cable, declassified on February
24, 2004 by the LBJ Presidential Library, he reiterates the "manifold"
need to have a secret shipment of weapons "pre-positioned prior
any outbreak of violence" to be "used by paramilitary
units working with Democratic Military groups" and recommends
a public statement by the administration "to reassure the large
numbers of democrats in Brazil that we are not indifferent to the
danger of a Communist revolution here."
CIA, Intelligence Information Cable on "Plans of Revolutionary
Plotters in Minas Gerias," March 30, 1964
The CIA station in Brazil transmitted this field report from intelligence
sources in Belo Horizonte that bluntly stated "a revolution
by anti-Goulart forces will definitely get under way this week,
probably in the next few days. The cable transmits intelligence
on military plans to "march toward Rio." The "revolution,"
the intelligence source predicted, "will not be resolved quickly
and will be bloody."
State Department, Secret Cable to Amb. Lincoln Gordon in Rio, March
Secretary of State Dean Rusk sends Gordon a list of the 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
loaded with petroleum, oil and lubricants from Aruba to Santos,
Brazil; assembling 110 tons of ammunition and other equipment for
pro-coup forces; and dispatching a naval brigade including an aircraft
carrier, several destroyers and escorts to conduct be positioned
off the coast of Brazil. Several hours later, a second cable is
sent amending the number of ships, and dates they will be arriving
off the coast.
CIA, Secret Memorandum of Conversation on "Meeting at the White
House 1 April 1964 Subject-Brazil," April 1, 1964
This memorandum of conversation records a high level meeting, held
in the White House, between President Johnson and his top national
security aides on Brazil. CIA deputy chief of Western Hemisphere
operations, Desmond Fitzgerald recorded the briefing given to Johnson
and the discussion on the progress of the coup. Defense Secretary
reported on the movements of the naval task force sailing towad
Brazil, and the arms and ammunition being assembled in New Jersey
to resupply the coup plotters if necessary.
CIA, Intelligence Information Cable on "Departure of Goulart
from Porto Alegre for Montevideo," April 2, 1964
The CIA station in Brazil reports that the deposed president, Joao
Goulart, left Brazil for exile in Uruguay at l pm, on April 2. His
departure marks the success of the military coup in Brazil.