U.S. Realpolitik in Latin America

Let’s talk realpolitik. At 9:40 on the morning of November 6, 1970, President Nixon convened the National Security Council to discuss ways of deposing the recently elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende.

This meeting is important because it demonstrates in great detail how the United States feels about Latin America in general.

So, who’s at the meeting?

  • The President Richard Nixon
  • The Vice President Spiro Agnew
  • Secretary of State William P. Rogers
  • Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird
  • Director of Emergency Preparedness George A. Lincoln
  • Attorney General John N. Mitchell
  • General William Westmoreland, Acting Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms
  • Under Secretary of State John N. Irwin II
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Robert A. Hurwitch
  • Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry A. Kissinger

…and other important people. I’m listing the participants to make a point. This is a meeting of the most important persons in the U.S. government which all will agree, without question, on what needs to be done in Latin America.

Let’s dive in:

The President opened the meeting by asking Director Helms to brief.

Director Helms read from the briefing paper which is attached at Tab A. The President interrupted to review what Director Helms said about the makeup of the Allende Cabinet. He wished to emphasize the degree to which the Cabinet ministries were controlled by Marxists.

The President then asked Dr. Kissinger to brief.

Dr. Kissinger: All of the agencies are agreed that Allende will try to create a socialist State.

Secretary Rogers: Private business and the Latin American countries believe that we have done the right things up to now. If we have to be hostile, we want to do it right and bring him down. A stance of public hostility would give us trouble in Latin America. We can put an economic squeeze on him. He has requested a debt rescheduling soon—we can be tough. We can bring his downfall perhaps without being counterproductive.

The Christian Democratic Foreign Minister thinks we are doing the right thing. He sees two possibilities: that his economic troubles will generate significant public dissatisfaction, or second, that his difficulties will become so great that there will be military moves against him. I think the U.S. military should keep in contact with their Chilean colleagues and try to strengthen our position in Chile.

Secretary Laird: I agree with Bill Rogers. We have to do everything we can to hurt him and bring him down,

Mr. Irwin: The problem is how to bring about his downfall. I would question our capability to do it. Internal forces in Chile are the only way. The question is how best to influence the internal forces to create the conditions for change.

Here’s my favorite part:

The President: It is all a matter of degree. If Chile moves as we expect and is able to get away with it—our public posture is important here—it gives courage to others who are sitting on the fence in Latin America. Let’s not think about what the really democratic countries in Latin America say—the game is in Brazil and Argentina. We could have moves under the surface which bring over time the same thing.

I will never agree with the policy of downgrading the military in Latin America. They are power centers subject to our influence. The others (the intellectuals) are not subject to our influence. We want to give them some help. Brazil and Argentina particularly. Build them up with consultation. I want Defense to move on this. We’ll go for more in the budget if necessary.

Our main concern in Chile is the prospect that he can consolidate himself and the picture projected to the world will be his success. A publicly correct approach is right. Privately we must get the message to Allende and others that we oppose him. I want to see more of them; Brazil has more people than France or England combined. If we let the potential leaders in South America think they can move like Chile and have it both ways, we will be in trouble. I want to work on this and on the military relations—put in more money. On the economic side we want to give him cold turkey. Make sure that EXIM and the international organizations toughen up. If Allende can make it with Russian and Chinese help, so be it—but we do not want it to be with our help, either real or apparent.

We’ll be very cool and very correct, but doing those things which will be a real message to Allende and others.

This is not the same as Europe—with Tito and Ceaucescu—where we have to get along and no change is possible. Latin America is not gone, and we want to keep it. Our Cuban policy must not be changed. It costs the Russians a lot; we want it to continue to cost. Chile is gone too—he isn’t going to mellow. Don’t have any illusions—he won’t change. If there is any way we can hurt him whether by government or private business—I want them to know our policy is negative. There should be no guarantees. Cut back existing guarantees if it’s possible.

No impression should be permitted in Latin America that they can get away with this, that it’s safe to go this way.

And there you have it. No conspiracy theories needed. Latin American belongs to the United States. More importantly, Latin American militaries are power centers which can be controlled and influenced to do the bidding of the U.S.

This is the American realpolitik.

Any questions?

Thanks for reading,



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