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National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 71
Edited by Carlos Osorio <>
Director, Southern Cone Documentation Project
Phone: 202  / 994-7061
20 June 2002

Research and editing assistance: Kathleen Costar, National Security Archive
Research and translation assistance:  Dr. Ariela Peralta, SERPAJ Uruguay, CEJIL USA

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Newly declassified documents detail the Nixon administration's broad-gauged efforts to prevent a victory by the leftist “Frente Amplio” in the Uruguayan presidential elections of 1971. The documents show that Nixon was aware of – and may in fact have been complicit in – Brazilian efforts to influence the election results. Six weeks ago, an Associated Press report by Ron Kampeas, citing a newly declassified document from the Nixon collection at the National Archives, first revealed that during a meeting with then British Prime Minister Edward Heath President Nixon admitted, “Brazil helped rig the Uruguayan elections.”

    Responding to these new revelations, the National Security Archive’s Southern Cone Documentation Project today releases 15 additional documents pertaining to U.S. policy toward Uruguay during this period. The documents show that the U.S. was concerned that leftist groups not succeed in Uruguay as they had in Chile the previous year with the election of Socialist candidate Salvador Allende. This concern was shared by Brazil as well as Argentina, whose military intelligence components were carrying on close consultations on – and had previously had an agreement to intervene in – Uruguay's political affairs. The U.S. Embassy recommended overt and covert activities to counter Frente publications and also suggested cooperation between Brazil and Argentina to support Uruguay's internal security operations.

    Brazilian President Emílio Garrastazu Médici visited Washington on December 7-9, 1971, two weeks after the Uruguayan elections with the outcome still uncertain. Garrastazu Médici held several meetings with President Nixon, the National Security Council adviser Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State William Rogers and the soon to be Deputy Director of the CIA, Vernon Walters. In several of the memos reporting conversations with the Brazilian President, Richard Nixon mentions Brazil’s help in influencing Uruguay’s elections. Henry Kissinger highlights Garrastazu Médici’s support of the "Nixon Doctrine" in Latin America. Under the doctrine, a nation like Brazil, was to be a surrogate regional power acting in U.S. interests. 

    Uruguay held its elections on November 28, 1971. “Frente Amplio” leaders complained of U.S. and Brazilian-supported harassment of its candidates and campaign. On February 15, 1972, the electoral tribunal announced the victory of Juan María Bordaberry of the incumbent Colorado Party with 41% of the vote, only a few thousand votes more than the Blanco Party candidate who received 40%. To the Embassy’s relief, the “Frente Amplio” ended up in a distant third with only 18% of the vote.

The Historical Context

Since the mid-60’s Uruguay, known then as the “Switzerland of Latin America,” had seen its exemplary democratic tradition and high standard of living decay in face of a crumbling economy, government corruption and social upheaval. Washington established an AID Public Safety office in Uruguay in 1964 to assist the local counterinsurgency operations of the police. In 1969, amidst a growing political crisis and a strong Tupamaro guerrilla challenge, U.S. Public Safety assistance, particularly training, was doubled.

    The crisis quickly escalated into a violent conflict in 1970. As the U.S.-trained officers came to occupy key positions in the police, the claims of torture grew. A. J. Langguth in his book Hidden Terrors (Pantheon Books, 1978, p. 286) tells how older police officers were replaced “when the CIA and the U.S. police advisers had turned to harsher measures and sterner men.” He also describes that under the new head of the U.S. Public Safety program in Uruguay, Dan Mitrione, the United States "introduced a system of nationwide identification cards, like those in Brazil… [and] torture had become routine at the Montevideo [police] jefatura.”

    Between mid-1970 and early 1971, the Tupamaros kidnapped Mitrione and an American agronomist, as well as a Brazilian and a British diplomat, and requested in exchange the liberation of 150 guerrilla prisoners. After negotiations with relatives and foreign governments the majority of the victims were freed unharmed, but the Uruguayan and U.S. governments as a matter of policy refused to negotiate with the kidnappers. The Tupamaros killed Mitrione and his body was found in early August 1970. Violence between the U.S.-supported police and the Tupamaros spiraled upward.

    The year of the presidential elections found Uruguay’s political class in disarray. The traditional Colorado and Blanco parties were losing prominent members to a new leftwing coalition called the “Frente Amplio”. A Department of State memorandum for National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger on the Uruguayan presidential elections depicted Uruguay's society at the time of the elections in these terms: “The most important opposition issue is the widespread sense of malaise and lack of national direction. There is a growing disaffection, especially on the part of middle class youth, caused by lack of opportunity. The Tupamaros phenomenon is itself largely a middle class revolution against a system which is seen to offer no hope for meaningful participation.”

    In this context, the U.S. viewed with deep concern how the “Frente Amplio” quickly gained substantial support for the upcoming November 28 elections only months after its creation in February 1971. Some estimates of voters’ preferences at the beginning of the year placed the Frente – a coalition of Communists, socialists, Christian Democrats and dissidents from the major parties – running close behind the Colorados and ahead of the Blancos.

    The U.S. government considered traditionally democratic Uruguay to be a role model for Latin America and feared a repeat of the leftist “Unidad Popular” victory in Chile the year before. In mid-1971, Washington's main goal for Uruguay was "to lessen the threat of a political takeover by the Frente,” which was then perceived as a greater threat than the Tupamaro guerrillas.

    By this time, the U.S. was involved in supporting a full-scale counterinsurgency sweep including the transformation of the police intelligence component into a national security agency, the National Directorate of Information and Intelligence (Dirección Nacional de Información e Inteligencia-DNII). In September 1971, the Uruguayan government launched a DNII-led joint military and police force in countersubversive operations against the Tupamaros. Former police officers have declared that death squads were run from the DNII.

    In 1972, the Colorado party winner, President Bordaberry, gave free hand in the counterinsurgency effort to the military. The military crushed the Tupamaros guerrillas, then repressed university students, labor unions, as well as the political opposition. The military dissolved Congress in 1973 and eventually deposed Bordaberry in 1976. U.S. security assistance to Uruguay, then dubbed a "prison state," continued uninterrupted until 1977.

The Documents

CIA covert operations to prevent and later destabilize the Allende government in Chile are widely known. Only recently, however, has it become possible to document how the U.S. government tried to stop an electoral victory by the “Frente Amplio.” Significant State Department and Agency for International Development (AID) documents on Uruguay have been declassified periodically by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, and have also been made available at the State Department reading room.

    The documents presented here come from the microfiche collections at the State Department Reading room, and from Record Groups 59 and 286 at the National Archives. The National Security Archive also reviewed the Nixon Tapes (declassified in 2001) and the recently declassified files pertaining to Nixon's National Security Council VIP Trip.

Note: The following documents are in PDF format. 
You will need to download and install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.

Document 1
August 20, 1971: Secret Department of State telegram to U.S. Embassies in Brazil and Argentina 
Source: Department of State Subject Numeric Files 1970-73, National Archives
The Department of State asks the Embassies in Argentina and Brazil for their estimate on the reaction of those governments to a strong showing of the Uruguayan “Frente Amplio,” both before and on the elections.
Document 2
August 25, 1971: Secret U.S.Embassy Preliminary Analysis and Strategy Paper - Uruguay 
Source: Microfiche on Human Rights in Uruguay 1971-1983, Department of State Reading Room
In this analysis, the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo responds to the instructions of a National Security Council inter-agency group to draft a strategy “to increase support for the democratic political parties in Uruguay and lessen the threat of a political takeover by the Frente.” Known as the Country Analysis and Strategy Paper for the fiscal year 73 (CASP FY-73), the Embassy makes recommendations in five areas: psychological, economic assistance, political, labor and security. 

    The Embassy recommends that the U.S. “[c]ollaborate overtly and covertly with those media elements which compete with those of the Frente. A team of professional journalists well-versed in psychology could study Marcha [a Frente publication] and its attraction for the Uruguayan intellectual and could improve a media product that could effectively combat this noxious weekly.”

    In the security area, the analysis suggests that “[i]t is especially desirable that such neighboring countries as Argentina and Brazil collaborate effectively with the Uruguayan security forces and where possible we should encourage such cooperation.”

    Two sections of the analysis have been excised - one at the beginning under the "U.S. Interests" subtitle and one after numeral 6 in the "Recommended Courses of Action" of the "Political" area.

Document 3
August 25, 1971: Confidential CIA Foreign Broadcast Information Service’s (FBIS) Trends 
Source: CIA Chile Declassification Project Tranche I (1973-1978), State Department Web Site
In this document, the Central Intelligence Agency highlights Fidel Castro’s declarations that an alliance of Brazil and Paraguay, with CIA support, orchestrated the recent coup in Bolivia. Castro also argues that the coup aimed to intimidate leftist voters in Uruguay in the upcoming presidential elections. Although the CIA titles the report “Trends in Communist Propaganda,” it classifies the information in it as "Confidential."
Document 4
August 27, 1971: Secret cable to the State Department from U.S. Ambassador Lodge in Argentina 
Source: State Department Subject Numeric files 1970-73, National Archives
Responding to an August 20 State Department inquiry about the intervention of Brazil and Argentina in the Uruguayan elections, the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires reports that Brazil and Argentina have held many intelligence consultations and are keeping a close watch on Uruguay. Argentina has no plans to intervene in the elections but would support a coup to reinstate current president Pacheco if the leftist “Frente Amplio” won. Argentina has attempted to strengthen the Pacheco regime with economic and counterinsurgency support. An Argentine interrogation team, for example, “was dispatched to Montevideo when Tupamaro [leader] Raul Sendic was captured.” In closing, Lodge reports that Argentina was involved in the August 20 coup in Bolivia.

[Note: The National Security Archive carried out a thorough search of the Brazil and Uruguay documents in Record Groups 286 and 59 at the National Archives but was unable to locate the response from the Embassy in Brazil.]

Document 5
October 26, 1971: President Nixon conversation 
Source: Finding Aid on Conversation No. 601-36/602-1, Nixon Tapes Finding Aids, National Archives
The finding aid for President Nixon's audio tapes at the Oval Office shows that Nixon discusses U.S. foreign relations and human rights issues in several countries. Under the topic “Brazil,” Nixon talks about Brazilian president Emílio Garrastazu Médici, Uruguay and Chile. Unfortunately, it was impossible for the National Security Archive’s researchers to hear anything intelligible on this tape.
Document 6
November 9, 1971: Limited official use telegram to the State Department  from U.S. Ambassador Charles Adair 
Source: Department of State Subject Numeric Files 1970-73, National Archives
In this telegram, with copies sent to the U.S. AID Office of Public Safety and the embassies in Brazil and Argentina, the Ambassador reports that "Frente Amplio presidential candidate Liber Seregni linked U.S. and Brazilian ‘advisors’ to weekend attack on himself and Frente Amplio bus caravan.”
Document 7
November 13, 1971: Secret Department of State memorandum for National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger 
Source: Country Files-Latin America  box 128, Henry A. Kissinger Office Files, Nixon Presidential Materials, National Archives
The State Department reports that Brazilian president Garrastazu Médici has proposed a work agenda of 25 points for his expected visit to Washington on December 7-9, 1971, including eight "Inter-American questions." Garrastazu Médici wants to discuss Uruguay, as well as "communist infiltration and subversive action in Latin America." In response, the U.S. proposes a trimmed down 9-point agenda. Listed under item 8 is “Hemispheric Problems: a) Cuba, Chile and Uruguay.”
Document 8
November 27, 1971: Secret Department of State Memorandum for National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger 
Source: Department of State Subject Numeric Files 1970-73, National Archives
An information memorandum from the State Department explains that recent polls show that the Colorado and Blanco party candidates are likely to prevail over the estimated 25 percent support for the Frente candidate. However, the Embassy worries that there is still a high degree of uncertainty over the 25 percent of the voters that do not express preference or that are undecided. Additionally, the Frente candidate running in the municipal elections could win in the capital, Montevideo. The report highlights Brazil and Argentina’s possible intervention and how it is in the U.S. interest to promote stability in Uruguay, if only to preserve good relations between the two regional powers.
Document 9
Circa early December 1971: Secret Memorandum from Henry Kissinger to President Nixon 
Source: Country Files-Latin America  box 128, Henry A. Kissinger Office Files, Nixon Presidential Materials, National Archives
President Nixon is scheduled to meet twice with Brazilian President Emílio Garrastazu Médici - for an hour and a half on December 7 and for 45 minutes on December 9. In a background paper Kissinger informs Nixon that "Médici supports the Nixon Doctrine concept." "[Y]ou will want to agree on the importance of consultations… particularly on hemispheric matters, noting that Brazil can play a special role in the hemisphere in furthering our mutual interests,” says Kissinger. He also notes that the Brazilian President “will probably express concern about the leftward drift in the hemisphere and give you his assessment of the situations in Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Bolivia.”
Document 10
December 7, 1971: Confidential telegram from U.S. Ambassador Charles Adair to the Secretary of State
Source: Department of State Subject Numeric Files 1970-73, National Archives
The U.S. Ambassador in Montevideo makes a roundup of the latest charges linking the U.S. with attacks on “Frente Amplio.” He comments that the “[l]eftist press has repeatedly attempted in past attribute U.S. Embassy responsibility for attacks against 'Frente Amplio' and support of one or another of traditional parties and of ‘repressive forces’ (police). This latest charge and others which will surely follow are evidently efforts to blame failure in elections upon us.”
Document 11
December 7, 1971, 6:51 pm: Conversation between President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State William Rogers 
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials, Conversation 16-36, National Archives 
The U.S. President and the Secretary of State exchange views about the Brazilian President whom Rogers just met:

Rogers: “Yeah, I think this Médici thing is a good idea. I had a very good time with him at lunch and he…”
Nixon: “He’s quite a fellow, isn’t he?”
Rogers: “He is. God, I’m glad he’s on our side.”
Nixon: “Strong and, uh, you know…(laughs)…you know, I wish he were running the whole continent.”
Rogers: “I do, too. We got to help Bolivia. He’s concerned about that. We got to be sure to…”
Nixon: “Incidentally, the Uruguayan thing, apparently he helped a bit there…”

Document 12
December 7, 1971: Secret memorandum for Henry Kissinger
Source: Country Files-Latin America  box 128, Henry A. Kissinger Office Files, Nixon Presidential Materials, National Archives
In preparation for an afternoon meeting on December 8 between Kissinger and Garrastazu Médici, an NSC staffer, Arnold Nachmanoff,  reports that “Médici was extremely pleased with his meeting with the President.” According to Nachmanoff, “the discussion focused largely on relations with Brazil and the Brazilian military, and hemispheric problems,” particularly Cuba, Chile and Uruguay. General Vernon Walters’ notes taken at the meeting are mentioned but not included in the memorandum. President Nixon brought Gen. Walters, U.S. Defense Attaché in France, to help with his talks with Garrastazu Médici. In earlier taped conversations, Nixon explains that he wants Walters to attend not only for his Portuguese skills, but also because of his deep knowledge of Brazil (1). The formal memorandum of conversation (memcon) remains classified. The National Security Archive is filing a Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) request for this and other memcons pertaining to the presidential meetings.
Document 13
December 9, 1971: Tape-recorded conversation between Richard Nixon, Emílio Garrastazu Médici and Vernon Walters at the Oval Office 
Source: Finding Aid on Conversation No. 633-6, Nixon Tapes Finding Aids, National Archives
Both records of this conversation – a memcon and the actual tape record – remain classified. The National Security Archive has filed Mandatory Declassification Review requests for both of them.
Document 14
December 10, 1971: Secret memorandum for Henry Kissinger on his conversation with Brazilian President on December 8 
Source: Country Files-Latin America  box 128, Henry A. Kissinger Office Files, Nixon Presidential Materials, National Archives
During the meeting with Garrastazu Médici Dr. Kissinger says, “In areas of mutual concern such as the situations in Uruguay and Bolivia, close cooperation and parallel approaches can be very helpful for our common objectives.” In addition, he “commented that as Brazil plays a stronger leadership role, it may find itself in a position similar to that of the U.S. – respected and admired, but not liked.”
Document 15
December 20, 1971: Secret memcon from Henry Kissinger on a meeting between the U.S. President and British Prime Minister Edward Heath 
Source: VIP Visits boxes 910-954, Nixon National Security Council Materials, National Archives
The two leaders meet in the Bahamas and discuss various political and geopolitical issues. In passing, President Nixon mentions Uruguay. Nixon is worried that Great Britain's withdrawal from the Caribbean could affect the region economically and the governments might start moving to the left. Nixon asks Heath not to withdraw and ponders whether the U.S. can fill the void. Then “[t]he Prime Minister asked about the situation in Cuba. 'The man Castro is a radical,' the President replied 'too radical even for Allende and the Peruvians. Our position is supported by Brazil, which is after all the key to the future. The Brazilians helped rig the Uruguayan election... There are forces at work which we are not discouraging."


1. Vernon Walters and Emílio Garrastazu Médici had known each other for a long time. Garrastazu Médici was head of the Black Eagles military school during the 1964 coup deposing Joao Goulart and then became military attaché in Washington (64-65). In 1967, he became head of the Brazilian equivalent of the CIA, the “Serviço Nacional de Informaçoes (SNI)” and in 1969 he was selected as president by a military junta. Walters was the U.S. military attaché in Brazil between 1962-67 and would be appointed CIA Deputy Director on March 2, 1972, less than three months after assisting the meeting between Nixon and Garrastazu Médici in Washington.