Miller Center

LBJ on Latin American Dictators

In this conversation, President Johnson and National Security Adviser Bundy assessed the tone that should be adopted in an official message congratulating the new Brazilian president, General Humberto Castelo Branco, on his inauguration. The difficulty for Bundy, and by extension for the administration as a whole, lay in the means by which General Branco had come to power. Formerly chief of staff of the Brazilian army, Branco had been a leader of a recent coup that ousted leftist Brazilian President João Goulart. The Brazilian Congress subsequently elected Branco to the post of provisional president. The coup, however, had involved the jailing of many Goulart supporters, and Branco's government proved to be the first in a string of hard-line military governments in Brazil. Perhaps not anticipating that the coup would lead to a virtual police-state, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Thomas Mann had described the change in Brazil's government as "the most important thing that's happened in the hemisphere in three years." Although Bundy offered a more cautious assessment of Branco, President Johnson shared Mann's belief that the coup had prevented a slide towards a Communist takeover in Brazil. In a comment that could be seen as disquieting when uttered by the most powerful individual in the non-Communist world, he half-jokingly suggested that "there's some people that need to be locked up here and there, too." The subtle difference of opinion between Johnson and Bundy highlighted broad divisions within the administration regarding the direction of U.S. policy in Latin America.

Date:  Apr 14, 1964
Participants:  Lyndon Johnson, McGeorge Bundy
Conversation Number:  WH6404.09-3025

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