Introducing the marvelous new world of Death
excerpted from the book
by William Blum
When the leading members of the US diplomatic mission in Brazil
held a meeting one-day in March 1964, they arrived at the consensus
that President Joao Goulart's support of social and economic reforms
was a contrived and thinly veiled vehicle to seize dictatorial
The American ambassador, Lincoln Gordon, informed the State
Department that ' a desperate lunge [by Goulart] for totalitarian
power might be made at any time."'
The Brazilian army chief of staff, General Humberto de Alencar
Castelo (or Castello) Branco, provided the American Embassy with
a memorandum in which he stated his fear that Goulart was seeking
to close down Congress and initiate a dictatorship.
Within a week after the expression of these concerns, the
Brazilian military, with Castelo Branco at its head, overthrew
the constitutional government of President Goulart, the culmination
of a conspiratorial process in which the American Embassy had
been intimately involved. The military then proceeded to install
and maintain for two decades one of the most brutal dictatorships
in all of South America.
What are we to make of all this? The idea that men of rank
and power lie to the public is commonplace, not worthy of debate.
But do they as readily lie to each other? Is their need to rationalize
their misdeeds so great that they provide each other a moral shoulder
to lean on; "Men use thoughts only to justify their injustices,"
wrote Voltaire, "and speech only to conceal their thoughts."
The actual American motivation in supporting the coup was
something rather less than preserving democracy, even mundane
as such matters go. American opposition to Goulart, who became
president in 1961, rested upon a familiar catalogue of complaints:
US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara questioned Brazil's neutral
stand in foreign policy. The Brazilian ambassador in Washington,
Roberto Campos, responded that "neutralism" was an inadequate
term and explained that "what was involved was really a deep
urge of the Brazilian people to assert their personality in world
American officials did not approve of some of the members
of Goulart's cabinet, and said so. Ambassador Campos pointed out
to them that it was "quite inappropriate" for the United
States "to try to influence the composition of the cabinet."
Attorney-General Robert Kennedy met with Goulart and expressed
his uneasiness about the Brazilian president allowing "communists"
to hold positions in government agencies. Bobby was presumably
acting on the old and very deep-seated American belief that once
you welcome one or two communists into your parlor, they take
over the whole house and sign the deed over to Moscow. Goulart
did not see this as a danger. He replied that he was in full control
of the situation, later remarking to Campos that it was as if
he had been told that he had no capacity for judging the men around
The American Defense Attache in Brazil, Col. Vernon Walters,
reported that Goulart showed favoritism towards "ultra-nationalist"
military officers over "pro-U.S." officers. Goulart
saw it as promoting those officers who appeared to be most loyal
to his government. He was, as it happens, very concerned about
American-encouraged military coups and said so explicitly to President
Goulart considered purchasing helicopters from Poland because
Washington was delaying on his request to purchase them from the
United States. Ambassador Gordon told him that he "could
not expect the United States to like it".
The Goulart administration, moreover, passed a law limiting
the amount of profits multinationals could transmit out of the
country, and a subsidiary of ITT was nationalized. Compensation
for the takeover was slow in coming because of Brazil's precarious
financial position, but these were the only significant actions
taken against US corporate interests.
Inextricably woven into all these complaints, yet at the same
time standing apart, was Washington's dismay with Brazil's "drift
to the left" ... the communist / leftist influence in the
labor movement ... leftist "infiltration" wherever one
looked ..."anti-Americanism" among students and others
(the American Consul General in Sao Paulo suggested to the State
Department that the United States "found competing student
organizations") ... the general erosion of "U.S. influence
and the power of people and groups friendly to the United States"...
one might go so far as to suggest that Washington officials felt
unloved, were it not for the fact that the coup, as they well
knew from much past experience, could result only in intensified
anti-Americanism all over Latin America.
Goulart's predecessor, Janio da Silva Quadros, had also irritated
Washington. "Why should the United States trade with Russia
and her satellites but insist that Brazil trade only with the
United States?" he asked, and proceeded to negotiate with
the Soviet Union and other Communist countries to (re)establish
diplomatic and commercial relations. He was, in a word, independent.
Quadros was also more-or-less a conservative who clamped down
hard on unions, sent federal troops to the northeast hunger dens
to squash protest, and jailed disobedient students. But the American
ambassador at the time, John Moors Cabot, saw fit to question
Brazil's taking part in a meeting of "uncommitted" (non-aligned)
nations. "Brazil has signed various obligations with the
United States and American nations," he said. "I am
sure Brazil is not going to forget her obligations ... It is committed.
It is a fact. Brazil can uncommit itself if it wants.''
In early 1961, shortly after Quadros took office, he was visited
by Adolf Berle, Jr., President Kennedy's adviser on Latin American
affairs and formerly ambassador to Brazil. Berle had come as Kennedy's
special envoy to solicit Quadros's backing for the impending Bay
of Pigs invasion. Ambassador Cabot was present and some years
later described the meeting to author Peter Bell. Bell has written:
Ambassador Cabot remembers a "stormy conversation"
in which Berle stated the United States had $300 million in reserve
for Brazil and in effect "offered it as a bribe" for
Brazilian cooperation ... Quadros became "visibly irritated"
after Berle refused to heed his third "no". No Brazilian
official was at the airport the next day to see the envoy off.
Quadros, who had been elected by a record margin, was, like
Goulart, accused of seeking to set up a dictatorship because he
sought to put teeth into measures unpopular with the oligarchy,
the military, and/or the United States, as well as pursuing a
"pro-communist" foreign policy. After but seven months
in office he suddenly resigned, reportedly under military pressure,
if not outright threat. In his letter of resignation, he blamed
his predicament on "reactionaries" and "the ambitions
of groups of individuals, some of whom are foreigners ... the
terrible forces that arose against me."
A few months later, Quadros reappeared, to deliver a speech
in which he named Berle, Cabot, and US Treasury Secretary Douglas
Dillon as being among those who had contributed to his downfall.
Dillon, he said, sought to mix foreign policy with Brazil's needs
for foreign credits. (Both Berle and Cabot had been advocates
of the 1954 overthrow of Guatemalan President Arbenz, whose sins,
in Washington's eyes, were much the same as those Goulart was
now guilty of.) At the same time, Quadros announced his intention
to lead a "people's crusade" against the "reactionaries,
the corrupt and the Communists''.
As Quadros's vice president, Goulart succeeded to the presidency
in August 1961...
Goulart tried to continue Quadros's independent foreign policy.
His government went ahead with resumption of relations with socialist
countries, and at a meeting of the organization of American States
in December 1961 Brazil abstained on a vote to hold a special
session aimed at discussing "the Cuban problem", and
stood strongly opposed to sanctions against the Castro government.
A few months later, speaking before the US Congress, Goulart affirmed
Brazil's right to take its own stand on some of the cold-war issues.
He declared that Brazil identified itself "with the democratic
principles which unite the peoples of the West", but was
"not part of any politico-military bloc".
Goulart, a millionaire land-owner and a Catholic who wore
a medal of the Virgin around his neck, was no more a communist
than was Quadros, and he strongly supported the United States
during the "Cuban Missile Crisis" of October 1962. He
offered Ambassador Gordon a toast "To the Yankee Victory!",
perhaps unaware that only three weeks earlier, during federal
and state elections in Brazil, CIA money had been liberally expended
in support of anti-Goulart candidates. Former CIA officer Philip
Agee has stated that the Agency spent between 12 and 20 million
dollars on behalf of hundreds of candidates. Lincoln Gordon says
the funding came to no more than 5 million.
In addition to the direct campaign contributions, the CIA
dipped into its bag of dirty tricks to torment the campaigns of
leftist candidates. At the same time, the Agency for International
Development (AID), at the express request of President Kennedy,
was allocating monies to projects aimed at benefiting chosen gubernatorial
candidates. (While Goulart was president, no new US economic assistance
was given to the central government, while regional assistance
was provided on a markedly ideological basis. When the military
took power, this pattern was sharply altered.
Agee adds that the CIA carried out a consistent propaganda
campaign against Goulart which dated from at least the 1962 election
operation and which included the financing of mass urban demonstrations,
"proving the old themes of God, country, family and liberty
to be as effective as ever" in undermining a government.
CIA money also found its way to a chain of right-wing newspapers,
Diarias Associades, to promote anti-communism; for the distribution
of 50 thousand books of similar politics to high school and college
students; and for the formation of women's groups with their special
Latin mother's emphasis on the godlessness of the communist enemy.
The women and other CIA operatives also went into the rumor-mongering
business, spreading stories about outrages Goulart and his cronies
were supposed to be planning, such as altering the constitution
so as to extend his term, and gossip about Goulart being a cuckold
and a wife beater.
All this to overthrow a man who, in April 1962, had received
a ticker-tape parade in New York City, was warmly welcomed at
the White House by President Kennedy, and had addressed a joint
session of Congress.
Depending on the setting, either "saving Brazil from
dictatorship" or "saving Brazil from communism"
was advanced as the rationale for what took place in 1964. (General
Andrew O'Meara, head of the US Southern [Latin America] Command,
had it both ways. He told a House committee that "The coming
to power of the Castelo Branco government in Brazil last April
saved that country from an immediate dictatorship which could
only have been followed by Communist domination."
The rescue-from-communism position was especially difficult
to support, the problem being that the communists in Brazil did
not, after all, do anything which the United States could point
to. Moreover, the Soviet Union was scarcely in the picture. Early
in 1964, reported a Brazilian newspaper, Russian leader Khrushchev
told the Brazilian Communist Party that the Soviet government
did not wish either to give financial aid to the Goulart regime
or to tangle with the United States over the country. In his reminiscences-albeit,
as mentioned earlier, not meant to be a serious work of history-Khrushchev
does not give an index reference to Brazil.
A year after the coup, trade between Brazil and the USSR was
running at $120 million per year and a Brazilian mission was planning
to go to Moscow to explore Soviet willingness to provide a major
industrial plant. The following year, the Russians invited the
new Brazilian president-to-be, General Costa e Silva, to visit
the Soviet Union.
During the entire life of the military dictatorship, extending
into the 1980s, Brazil and the Soviet bloc engaged in extensive
trade and economic cooperation, reaching billions of dollars per
year and including the building of several large hydroelectric
plants in Brazil. A similar economic relationship existed between
the Soviet bloc and the Argentine military dictatorship of 1976-83,
so much so that in 1982, when Soviet leader Brezhnev died, the
Argentine government declared a national day of mourning.
It was only by ignoring facts like these during the cold war
that the anti-communist propaganda machine of the United States
could preach about the International Communist Conspiracy and
claim that the coup in Brazil had saved the country from communism.
For a typical example of this propaganda, one must read "The
Country That Saved Itself," which appeared in Reader's Digest
several months after the coup. The innumerable lies about what
occurred in Brazil, fed by the magazine to its millions of readers,
undoubtedly played a role in preparing the American public for
the great anti-communist crusade in Vietnam just picking up steam
at the time. The article began:
Seldom has a major nation come closer to the brink of disaster
and yet recovered than did Brazil in its recent triumph over Red
subversion. The communist drive for domination-marked by propaganda,
infiltration, terror-was moving in high gear. Total surrender
seemed imminent- and then the people said No!
The type of independence shown by the Brazilian military government
in its economic relations with the Soviet Union was something
Washington could accept from a conservative government, even the
occasional nationalization of American property, when it knew
that the government could be relied upon to keep the left suppressed
at home and to help in the vital cold war, anti-communist campaigns
abroad. In 1965, Brazil sent 1,100 troops to the Dominican Republic
in support of the US invasion, the only country in Latin America
to send more than a token force. And in 1971 and 1973, the Brazilian
military and intelligence apparatuses contributed to the American
efforts in overthrowing the governments of Bolivia and Chile.
The United States did not rest on its laurels. CIA headquarters
immediately began to generate hemisphere-wide propaganda, as only
the Agency's far-flung press-asset network could, in support of
the new Brazilian government and to discredit Goulart. Dean Rusk
concerned that Goulart might be received in Uruguay as if he were
still Brazil's president on the grounds that he had not resigned,
cabled the American Embassy in Montevideo that "it would
be useful if you could quietly bring to the attention of appropriate
officials the fact that despite his allegations to the contrary
Goulart has abandoned his office."
At the same time, the CIA station in Uruguay undertook a program
of surveillance of Brazilian exiles who had fled from the military
takeover, to prevent them from instigating any kind of insurgency
movement in their homeland. It was a simple matter for the Agency
to ask their (paid) friend, the head of Uruguayan intelligence,
to place his officers at the residences of Goulart and other key
Brazilians. The officers kept logs of visitors while posing as
personal security men for the exiles, although it is unlikely
that the exiles swallowed the story.
In the first few days following the coup, "several thousand"
Brazilians were arrested, "communist and suspected communist"
all. AIFLD graduates were promptly appointed by the new government
to purge the unions. Though Ambassador Gordon had assured the
State Department before the coup that the armed forces "would
be quick to restore constitutional institutions and return power
to civilian hands," this was not to be. Within days, General
Castelo Branco assumed the presidency and over the next few years
his regime instituted all the features of military dictatorship
which Latin America has come to know and love:
Congress was shut down political opposition was reduced to
virtual extinction, habeas corpus for "political crimes"
was suspended, criticism of the president was forbidden by law,
labor unions were taken over by government interveners, mounting
protests were met by police and military firing into crowds, the
use of systematic "disappearance" as a form of repression
came upon the stage of Latin America, peasants' homes were burned
down, priests were brutalized ... the government had a name for
its program: the "moral rehabilitation" of Brazil ...
then there was the torture and the death squads, both largely
undertakings of the police and the military, both underwritten
by the United States.
... the US Office of Public Safety (OPS), the CIA and AID
combined to provide ... technical training, ... equipment, and
... indoctrination ... in Brazil. Dan Mitrione of the OPS, ...
began his career in Brazil in the 1960s. By 1969, OPS had established
a national police force for Brazil and had trained over 100,000
policemen in the country, in addition to 523 receiving more advanced
instruction in the United States. About one-third of the students'
time at the police academies was devoted to lectures on the "communist
menace" and the need to battle against it. The "bomb
school" and techniques of riot control were other important
aspects of their education.
"Tortures range from simple but brutal blows from a truncheon
to electric shocks. Often the torture is more refined: the end
of a reed is placed in the anus of a naked man hanging suspended
downwards on the pau de arara [parrot's perch] and a piece of
cotton soaked in petrol is lit at the other end of the reed. Pregnant
women have been forced to watch their husbands being tortured.
Other wives have been hung naked beside their husbands and given
electric shocks on the sexual parts of their body, while subjected
to the worst kind of obscenities. Children have been tortured
before their parents and vice versa. At least one child, the three
month old baby of Virgilio Gomes da Silva was reported to have
died under police torture. The length of sessions depends upon
the resistance capacity of the victims and have sometimes continued
for days at a time."
"Judge Agamemnon Duarte indicated that the CCC [Commandos
to Hunt Communists, a death squad armed and aided by the police]
and the CIA are implicated in the murder of Father Henrique Neto.
He admitted that .. the American Secret Service (CIA) was behind
Jornal do Brazil
Chief of Staff of the Brazilian Army, General Breno Borges
Forte, at the Tenth conference of American Armies in 1973:
"The enemy is undefined ... it adapts to any environment
and uses every means, both licit and illicit, to achieve its aims.
It disguises itself as a priest, a student or a campesino, as
a defender of democracy or an advanced intellectual, as a pious
soul or as an extremist protester; it goes into the fields and
the schools, the factories and the churches, the universities
and the magistracy; if necessary, it will wear a uniform or civil
garb; in sum, it will take on any role that it considers appropriate
to deceive, to lie, and to take in the good faith of Western peoples."
In 1970, a US Congress study group visited Brazil. It gave
this summary of statements by American military advisers there:
" Rather than dwell on the authoritarian aspects of the
regime, they emphasize assertions by the Brazilian armed forces
that they believe in, and support, representative democracy as
an ideal and would return government to civilian control if this
could be done without sacrifice to security and development. This
withdrawal from the political arena is not seen as occurring in
the near future. For that reason they emphasize the continued
importance of the military assistance training program as a means
of exerting U.S. influence and retaining the current pro-U.S.
attitude of the Brazilian armed forces. Possible disadvantages
to U.S. interests in being so closely identified with an authoritarian
regime are not seen as particularly important. "