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The Nixon Tapes:
Secret Recordings from the Nixon White House
on Luis Echeverría and Much Much More

by Kate Doyle

Research Assistance: Emilene Martínez Morales

Additional Research: Tamara Feinstein and Michael Gavin

Special thanks to John Powers and Ron Sodano of the Nixon Presidential Materials Staff at the National Archives for their guidance and suggestions.

Posted - August 18, 2003

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This new Electronic Briefing Book on the Nixon tapes is based on a collaboration between Proceso magazine and the National Security Archive and launched on March 2, 2003. The collaboration grew out of a shared desire to publish and disseminate to a wide audience newly-declassified documents about the United States and Mexico. Each month, Proceso magazine will publish an article by the Archive's Mexico Project director, Kate Doyle, examining new documentary evidence on a chosen topic. The series - called Archivos Abiertos (or, Open Archive), will draw from U.S. and Mexican declassified records on a range of issues that could include, for example: drug trafficking and counternarcotics policy, Mexican presidential elections, human rights cases, immigration, U.S. training of the Mexican military, NAFTA negotiations, the role of the press, peso devaluations, and state repression during Mexico's "dirty war." On the same day that Proceso's article appears in Mexico, the National Security Archive will post an Electronic Briefing Book on its web site, containing an English-language version of the article, a link to Proceso's web site, and all of the declassified documents used for the piece, reproduced in their entirety.

Sidebar - Playing the Right Games
Sidebar - Nixon Speaks
Sidebar - The Tapes
Link - Proceso Magazine

The Nixon Tapes:
Secret Recordings from the Nixon White House
on Luis Echeverría and Much Much More

by Kate Doyle

What do presidents talk about behind closed doors? If those men were Richard Milhouse Nixon and Luis Echeverría Alvarez, they most enjoyed discussing …themselves. They were both powerful leaders with egos to match and, according to tape recordings of two meetings they held in the White House in June of 1972, each saw in the other a kindred spirit.

Normally, we would not be privy to the substance of their conversations, and would have to be content with whatever public account they later gave of the meetings. Nor would we learn of Nixon's private feelings about Mexico and its President, shared with aides and visitors before and after he saw Echeverría. But while the two men talked, hidden microphones surreptitiously recorded their every word: five tiny devices hidden inside President Nixon's chair and two more embedded in a nearby fireplace.

The microphones, along with devices installed in other key offices as well as taps on White House telephones, had been planted in 1971 by Secret Service technicians. They were there at the suggestion of former President Lyndon Johnson (who had recorded his own telephone calls when he occupied the White House) in order to create an accurate record of the presidency that historians could use for years afterwards.

But Nixon's obsession with secrecy prevented their public release for decades after he left office in 1974. Nixon fought throughout his lifetime to maintain control of the 3,700 hours of tapes recorded during his tenure and it was not until 1999 that the National Archives began to open them chronologically.

Archivos Abiertos wanted to know what the Nixon tapes could tell us about Mexico. Accordingly, we listened to every conversation that mentioned Mexico or a Mexican leader - portions of 169 tapes in all. The centerpiece of the recordings lies in the encounters between Nixon and Echeverría, on June 15 and 16, 1972. Those meetings are discussed here. Transcripts of many of the most interesting conversations and a few of the original recordings may be found on this Web site.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Richard Nixon and Luis Echeverría shared a common vision - and some common problems. Each considered himself a true world leader, not merely a head of state. When they met, Nixon was fresh from ground-breaking talks with the leaders of China and the Soviet Union, meetings that led to the "opening" of China and the first disarmament agreement between the United States and the Soviets. Echeverría, who used foreign policy during his sexenio as an actor uses the stage, was at the start of a grand American tour, with stops scheduled in cities that hosted large Mexican-American communities. Before that he was in Latin America where he met with heads of state, including Chile's President Salvador Allende. He, too, would later travel to Peking and Moscow.

Both men were waging secret wars. In 1969, the Nixon administration had begun the covert bombing of Cambodia, while Echeverría fought a clandestine "dirty war" against his own people. And each man wrestled with popular dissent - across the United States, nation-wide protests were at a fever pitch against the war in Vietnam, and in Mexico Echeverría faced growing demands for democracy and justice.

It is clear from the tapes that Richard Nixon felt a great affinity with Echeverría. He referred to him warmly in a dozen different conversations with White House aides as "bright, energetic," "a vigorous fellow," "a very attractive guy," and told his CIA Director Richard Helms, "he's strong, he wants to play the right games."

The two Presidents, speaking through a translator, barely touched upon the bilateral issues that normally crop up between the United States and Mexico, such as drugs, immigration or trade. They were too busy talking about geopolitics. Echeverría spent much of his time discussing communism's threat to the region. Latin America was in imminent danger, he told Nixon, beset by poverty and unemployment and bombarded by Soviet propaganda touting Fidel Castro's Cuba as the answer to the hemisphere's problems. The solution, he insisted, was private capital. Echeverría urged Nixon to promote American business investments in Mexico and the region.

Echeverría: Tell Mr. President that in the speech that I will deliver to the joint session of Congress within the hour, I will reiterate my principals of the Third World vis-á-vis the great powers of the world. Because-
Nixon: [Interrupting] The Echeverría Doctrine.
Echeverría: Yes - because if I don't take this flag in Latin America, Castro will. I am very conscious of this.
Echeverría: We in Mexico feel - and I sensed this also when I was in Chile and it can be felt in Central America, and among young people, among intellectuals - that Cuba is a Soviet base in every sense of the word, both militarily and ideologically, and that this is going on right under our noses.
Echeverría: [. . .] We are also aware of the fact that Dr. Castro and Cuba are instruments of penetration into the United States itself, not to mention Mexico and the other countries of Latin America. They are unceasing in their efforts, using one path or another.
Echeverría: And I believe, Mr. President, that it's obvious that with the large subsidies he receives [from the Soviets] and his very deep complicity, he seeks to project his influence into groups within the United States and Latin America. And if we in Mexico do not adopt a progressive attitude within a framework of freedom and of friendship with the United States, this trend will grow. I have sensed this not only in Latin America, but in certain groups within the United States as well.
Echeverría: He has had no scruples whatsoever about sacrificing his own country and eliminating all freedoms there just to be a tool of Soviets; at this very moment he is making a grand tour of many of the smaller socialist countries in Eastern Europe.
Echeverría: And this poses a huge problem for all of Latin America, in this time of population growth, unemployment and social tensions aggravated by international communism. That's why I believe that it is extremely important - and this is something of great personal concern to me - that we take their flags away from them by making real efforts to cooperate at the highest levels of government, as well as with private initiatives and technology.

Not only did the thrust of Cuba and the Soviet Union into Latin America threaten the stability of the region - Echeverría warned Nixon that it was already having an effect among leftist organizations inside the United States. Echeverría disclosed to Nixon that his aides had gathered intelligence on U.S. groups planning to protest the Mexican government in the American cities he would be traveling to.

Echeverría: This problem in Latin America is reflected within American society itself in the Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans and other racial minority groups. Therefore either we find balanced economic solutions to these issues or [the communists] will gain ground in Latin America and that will have repercussions inside your own borders.
Echeverría: There is no doubt whatsoever that President Nixon's meetings in China and Russia were great successes, but at the same time anything that China and Russia can do to cause problems, they will do - and in Latin America we feel that directly. I have observed this in Mexico, I saw it in Chile directly and in every Latin American country in one form or another.
Nixon: Well I think that, ah - first, the President's analysis is very perceptive about the problems of the hemisphere. And second, I appreciate the fact that he is taking the lead - speaking up not only for his own country, which of course is his first responsibility […] - but he's taking the lead in speaking up for the whole hemisphere. Because Mexico, as he said earlier, provides not only the U.S. border with Mexico but the U.S. border with all of Latin America. And Mexico also, you could say, is the bridge - the bridge between the United States and the rest of Latin America. I think for the President of Mexico to take a leading role in speaking about the problems of the hemisphere is very constructive. [. . .]
Echeverría: When I was about to leave from Mexico for this trip, Mr. President, I was informed by my various people that groups of Mexicans had been in touch with friends of Angela Davis [a well-known Black activist at the University of California in Berkeley] in this country. And that we were aware of the plans of the organization that Angela Davis heads to mount a key demonstration in San Antonio protesting the existence of political prisoners in Mexico. All of this is connected to people in Chile, with people in Cuba, with the so-called "Chicano" groups in the United States, with certain groups in Berkeley, California - they're all working closely together.
Echeverría: As soon as the plan existed that she would go to San Antonio to a demonstration in protest of internal affairs of Mexico with this idea of saying that "all political prisoners in every country should be released," we were immediately informed.
Echeverría: They are working very actively - and again, these events that take place in Latin America have repercussions within the borders of the United States.

Nixon told Echeverría that he agreed in principle that increased investment was crucial, but said that before U.S. business would commit to Latin America, they needed to be confident that countries could protect private enterprise and ensure stability: "stability without the fear of violent takeover or expropriation." He asked Echeverría to carry that message to the leaders in the region, and to warn the rest them of the perils of going down the path of socialist Chile. By spreading the word about the dangers of communism and the importance of private capital, Nixon said, Echeverría would become the hemisphere's most important leader.

Nixon: [. . .] I think one thing that would be very helpful for the President to emphasize in his statements in Latin America would be the fact that there is a responsibility to provide stability in government, and some guarantee for the protection of the right kind of private enterprise, such as is the case in his country. Now this is a very delicate matter. I do know this: nobody in the United States can say that because then it looks as if we are interfering in Latin America and trying to tell them what kind of government they should have. On the other hand, I think if the President of Mexico speaks out on this subject, […] he could simply say that [. . .] he finds a readiness, a willingness of American private enterprise to come in on a partnership basis to Latin America. But there must be on the other side responsibility in governments in the Latin American countries to provide stability for that kind of investment.
[Translation into Spanish]
Nixon: For example, the President has been to Santiago. I do not know President Allende, and I do not judge him, I don't know what his plans for Chile may be in the future. But on the other hand, as the President well knows, at the present time all foreign capital is fleeing Chile, trying to get out. And no new capital is coming in. Now that's their choice. But if the Chilean experiment is repeated in varying degrees in other Latin American countries, there's no chance that the big corporations […] will put their money there. Because there are other parts of the world - for example, countries like Indonesia, Thailand, in Asia and countries in Africa, even, where they think there's a better chance for their investments to survive. What I am saying to the President is not directed to his country. I'm using his country as an example - if more countries in Latin America could follow the example of Mexico, I think you'd see a tremendous boom in investment from the United States and from Europe and Japan. […]
[Translation into Spanish]
Nixon: But I want to tell the President that […] he can count on me to urge the American business community to invest in Latin America. I think it's vitally important for the United States that we not allow the Cuban tragedy to infect the rest of the Caribbean and eventually the rest of Latin America. And frankly, to be quite candid, I think it would be very detrimental to all of us to have the Chilean experiment spread through the rest of the continent. It will be a very unhealthy hemisphere if that will be an element - the wave of the future.
[Translation into Spanish]
Nixon: I would also like to say one other thing to the President, without treading on any of Mexico's traditional attitude toward maintaining an independent policy. I think it's very helpful that Mexico take a greater leadership role in the OAS in matters like this. I am not thinking now that Mexico should take this role as any agent of the United States. But I think that Mexico is in an ideal position to do so. And otherwise the leadership role will be taken by other leaders in the continent who cannot speak as effectively as can the President of Mexico.
[Translation into Spanish]
Echeverría: Tell him that I agree with his analysis.
Nixon: In other words, let the voice of Echeverría rather than the voice of Castro be the voice of Latin America.

But if Nixon liked the man, he was indifferent to the country the man represented. The American President saw himself as a protagonist in the great geopolitical questions of his day - and Mexico was not one of them, as he told his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, after his first meeting with Echeverría.

Nixon: After you've dealt in two summit meetings - one in Peking and the other in Moscow - with major subjects, it is really terribly difficult to deal with even a country as important as Mexico. And frankly, for that matter, you could say the same for the British, the French, the Italians and the Germans. You know what I mean? There are certain countries that matter in the world and certain countries that don't matter in the world at the present time.

Despite Echeverría's plea for a "new American partnership" with Latin America, U.S. policy toward Mexico did not change perceptibly during the Nixon administration. Indeed, the rhetoric of a new partnership has continued throughout the present day, with few new results. Personalismo did not translate into policy then, nor does it today.

Whatever Nixon may have thought of Mexico and its President, Luis Echeverría - who completed his term in office in December 1976 - outlasted his American counterpart. On June 17, 1972, the day after the two leaders met for a second time in the White House, five burglars were arrested breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate apartment complex in downtown Washington.

It was the beginning of the end; Nixon's White House tapes would later prove his downfall. He resigned in disgrace on August 9, 1974.

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

The audio clips featured below are Windows Media Audio (.wma) files and should be opened using Windows Media Player.

Transcripts and Audio Clips

Transcript 1

May 6, 1971
10:28 - 10:58 am

Conversation No. 493-7
Cassette No. 585
Oval Office

President Richard Nixon meets with Clifford M. Hardin, Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, Clark MacGregor, Harold Royce Gross and Jack R. Miller. Dr. Borlaug - the principal speaker in this excerpt - was Director of the National Wheat Program in Mexico, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and a pioneer of the so-called "Green Revolution," a scientific movement to boost crop yields in developing countries around the world. Borlaug talks about problems in world food production, and the danger Mexico faces due to its unchecked rise in population.


Transcript 2

May 13, 1971
Approx. 10:04 - 10:30 am

Conversation No. 498-3 (Click here to listen to this clip)
Cassette No. 612
Oval Office

The President calls Mexico an excellent investment in a conversation with Dr. Merlin K. DuVal ("Monty"), Assistant Secretary of Health, and describes his personal views of Mexican people.


Transcript 3

June 2, 1971
4:38 pm - 5:42 pm

Conversation No. 510-5
Cassette No. 707
Oval Office

John B. Connally, Secretary of Treasury, tells the President of his ambivalence about creating an economic union with Latin America and Canada.


Transcript 4

June 4, 1971
12:22 pm - 1:15 pm

Conversation No. 512-16
Cassette No. 715
Oval Office

In a meeting with the President and Pennsylvania politician Arlen Specter, Attorney General John N. Mitchell mentions joint anti-narcotics programs in Mexico.


Transcript 5

June 4, 1971
1:18 pm - 1:42 pm

Conversation No. 512-18
Cassette No. 716
Oval Office

The President and his chief of staff, H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, talk about the imminent trip by National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger to China, commenting that Mexico is unsafe.


Transcript 6

June 11, 1971
3:11 pm - 4:11 pm

Conversation No. 517-25
Cassette No. 743
Oval Office

The President meets John Ehrlichman, chief domestic policy advisor to the White House, and discuss how to pressure countries to curtail their drug trade by threatening to cut U.S. assistance.


Transcript 7

June 29, 1971
2:50 pm - unknown

Conversation No. 63-5
Cassette No. 59
Cabinet Room

In a meeting between the President and a group of U.S. businessmen, labor leaders and economic policy advisors, an unidentified labor leader complains about U.S. corporations moving to Mexico for cheap labor.


Transcript 8

September 4, 1971
10:09 - 10:47 am

Conversation No. 567-9
Cassette Nos. 1082 and 1083
Oval Office

The President meets with Carlos Sanz de Santamaría, Treasury Minister of Colombia, and NSC official Arnold Nachmanoff. He calls Mexico, a relatively wealthy country in the hemisphere, a better trading partner than the poorer Latin American nations.


Transcript 9

September 9, 1971
3:58 pm - 5:06 pm

Conversation No. 568-9
Cassette No. 1088
Oval Office

A conversation between the President, H.R. Haldeman and John Connally begins with a discussion of the international economy. Connally muses on long-term economic and trade strategy, suggesting the United States should make alliances with Latin America, Japan, Africa comparable to the European Economic Union in order to gain a competitive edge.


Transcript 10

September 15, 1971
12:37 - 12:39 pm

Conversation No. 9-21
Cassette No. 1038
White House Telephone

Angry over a State Department statement on U.S. aid to undemocratic governments, the President queries Alexander M. Haig, Jr., his deputy national security advisor, which nations in the world can truly be called "democratic" and which cannot.


Transcript 11

September 16, 1971
10:43 - 10:57 am

Conversation No. 278-51
Cassette No. 1063
Executive Office Building

Meeting with Henry Kissinger, the President continues his discussion of U.S. assistance and democratic governments. Mexico is not one of them, he points out.


Transcript 12

September 20, 1971
9:52 - 11:27 am

Conversation No. 576-8
Cassette No. 1126
Oval Office

John Connally talks with the President about the possibility of lifting a ten percent surcharge - imposed on all imports by the administration in August 1971 - for selected countries, such as Canada and Mexico.


Transcript 13

September 20, 1971
Unknown time between 1:40 - 2:59 pm

Conversation No. 577-8
Cassette No. 1132
Oval Office

The President and Henry Kissinger discuss the international economy, the International Monetary Fund and other related matters. Nixon repeats to Kissinger his conversation with Connally lifting the surcharge, but suggests keeping it for Third World countries that aren't cooperating with American interests.


Transcript 14

September 22, 1971
12:55 - 1:50 pm

Conversation No. 279-14
Cassette No. 1063
Executive Office Building

The President and H.R. Haldeman discuss a new presidential appointee, Romana Acosta Banuelos, named by Nixon to be treasurer of the United States. Banuelos is the first Mexican-American woman to hold a senior government position. Nixon and Haldeman approve of promoting Mexican-Americans; they are more grateful than Blacks.


Transcript 15

October 5, 1971
8:56 - 9:02 am

Conversation No. 10-40
Cassette No. 1047
White House Telephone

President Nixon and Secretary of State Rogers discuss a possible state visit to Latin America.


Transcript 16

October 7, 1971
10:32 - 10:58 am

Conversation No. 10-116 (Click here to listen to this clip)
Cassette No. 1049 and 1050
White House Telephone

A conversation between the President and Daniel Patrick Moynihan - then the U.S. representative to the United Nations - on the ability of Blacks, Latin Americans, and others to lead nations.


Transcript 17

October 17, 1971
6:13 - 6:26 pm

Conversation No. 11-105
Cassette No. 1166
White House Telephone

The President and William P. Rogers, Secretary of State, discuss the impending United Nations vote on the "Important Question": whether or not a simple majority of member countries should be permitted to decide if Taiwan can retain its seat in the General Assembly. (The United States wanted to require a two-thirds majority in the vote.) The two men wonder out loud whether or not they have a hope of convincing Mexico to vote their way.


Transcript 18

October 20, 1971
9:28 am - 12:20 pm

Conversation No. 597-3
Cassette No. 1293
Oval Office

President Nixon and H.R. Haldeman talk about how little Congress cares about Latin America.


Transcript 19

October 23, 1971
9:18 - 9:35 am

Conversation No. 601-6
Cassette No.1300
Oval Office

The President drafts his text with Haig in preparation for a phone call to Mexican President Luis Echeverría about the Important Question.


Transcript 20

October 23, 1971
Unknown time between 11:19 and 11:31 am

Conversation No. 12-103 (Click here to listen to this clip)
Cassette No.1176
White House Telephone

The President talks with President Echeverría by phone about the Important Question.


Transcript 21

October 25, 1971
12:20 - 12:31 pm

Conversation No. 12-111
Cassette No. 1176
White House Telephone

As U.S. lobbying efforts over the Important Question continues, Rogers and Nixon talk about the UN vote and express annoyance at Third World countries not voting with United States.


Transcript 22

October 25, 1971
3:01 - 3:11 pm

Conversation No. 12-116 (Click here to listen to this clip)
Cassette No. 1177
White House Telephone

Rogers and Nixon talk again about efforts to sway the upcoming UN vote on Taiwan, and the Secretary mentions the comments he made to the Mexican foreign minister.


Transcript 23

October 25, 1971
7:27 - 7:34 pm

Conversation No. 12-126
Cassette No.1177
White House Telephone

Nixon tells Alexander Haig how Rogers has pressured the Mexicans to vote with United States on the Important Question.


Transcript 24

October 29, 1971
Unknown time between 10:45 - 11:34 am

Conversation No. 13-36
Cassette No. 1180
White House Telephone

Richard Nixon and Nelson A. Rockefeller, Governor of New York and the author of an influential 1969 report to the President on Latin America, discuss lifting the ten percent import surcharge for Latin American countries.


Transcript 25

March 27, 1972
7:51 - 8:04 pm

Conversation No. 22-34
Cassette No.1820
White House Telephone

The President and Henry Kissinger discuss ideas for a trip by President Echeverría to the United States. Nixon calls Echeverría a very attractive guy.


Transcript 26

June 14, 1972
9:00 - 10:04 am

Conversation No. 733-2
Cassette No. 2238
Oval Office

The President and H.R. Haldeman discussed the imminent arrival of President Luis Echeverría Alvarez.


Transcript 27

June 15, 1972
10:31 am - 12:10 pm

Conversation No. 735-1 (Audio: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4)
Cassette Nos. 2246-2248
Oval Office

This is the recorded conversation of the first meeting held between President Nixon and President Echeverría. Also in the room are Alexander Haig and translator Donald F. Barnes. After a long discussion of the salinity problems of the Colorado River water flowing into Mexico, Echeverría and Nixon spend most of their time together discussing the spread of communism in the hemisphere. The Mexican President insists that the only way to combat the subversive activities of Fidel Castro and the attraction of Chilean President Salvador Allende is with increased private investment from the United States into Latin America. Nixon counters that the only way to promote increased investments is through "stability," and cautions Echeverría that American business fears the growing trend toward nationalist economic policies in the region and the accompanying threat of expropriation.


Transcript 28

June 15, 1972
3:47 - 5:25 pm

Conversation No. 736-1
Cassette No. 2252
Oval Office

Nixon and Haldeman talk about table arrangements for that evening's State dinner with Echeverría, whom Nixon calls "an awfully nice guy."


Transcript 29

June 15, 1972
5:25 - 6:43 pm

Conversation No. 736-2 (Click here to listen to this clip)
Cassette No. 2253
Oval Office

Still talking with Haldeman, Nixon complains about how hard it is to focus on the interests of a country like Mexico after meetings in Peking and Moscow, where he discussed the pressing affairs of the world.


Transcript 30

June 16, 1972
11:22 am - 12:26 pm

Conversation No. 737-4 (Audio: Part 1 - Part 2)
Cassette Nos. 2255-2257
Oval Office

The President meets for a second time with President Echeverría, and talks at length about the significance of his summit meetings in Chin and the Soviet Union. Also present are Mexican Foreign Minister Emilio Rabasa Mishkin, Alexander Haig and translator Donald F. Barnes.


Transcript 31

June 16, 1972
12:30 - 12:33 pm

Conversation No. 25-71 (Click here to listen to this clip)
Cassette No. 2176
White House Telephone

The President talks with CIA Director Richard M. Helms about Helms's upcoming meeting with Echeverría.


Transcript 32

June 21, 1972
10:40 am - 12:30 pm

Conversation No 739-6
Cassette No. 2263
Oval Office

Conversation with Arthur Burns, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, about what Burns should be prepared to discuss with foreign leaders during his upcoming trip to Latin America.


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