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Nixon offered Brazil money to undermine Allende, records show

Offer of U.S. help in 1971 came after Brazil's president said his military officers were working with counterparts in Chile, a newly declassified summary of their meeting says.

August 16, 2009|Andrew Zajac

WASHINGTON — President Nixon's determination to eliminate the socialist government of Salvador Allende led him to offer financial support to efforts by the Brazilian military to undermine the Chilean leader, according to a newly declassified summary of a White House meeting between Nixon and the president of Brazil.

"The president said that it was very important that Brazil and the United States work closely in this field. . . . If money were required or other discreet aid, we might be able to make it available," stated the synopsis of Nixon's December 1971 conversation with President Emilio Medici.

The offer of U.S. help came after Medici told Nixon that Brazilian military officers were working with counterparts in Chile and that he thought Chilean armed forces were capable of overthrowing Allende.

The Chilean leader died during a U.S.-backed overthrow of his elected government in September 1973.

The summary was among a batch of records concerning U.S.-Brazil collaboration in opposing left-leaning governments in Latin America in the early 1970s posted Saturday on the National Security Archive website.

"The documents open the door on a new, untold history of efforts to overthrow Allende," said Peter Kornbluh, director of the archive's Cuba and Chile documentation projects. "Very few details about Brazil's role have surfaced."

Medici, a former general, headed a dictatorial, military-backed government in Brasilia from 1969 to '74. He and Nixon also discussed the need to pressure Cuba's Fidel Castro.

"We must try and prevent new Allendes and Castros and try where possible to reverse these trends," Nixon said in the summary.

The two presidents agreed to communicate directly outside regular diplomatic channels. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who wrote the meeting summary, was designated as Nixon's contact with Medici for back channel conversations.

"There's a paper trail on that yet to be unearthed" that could shed more light on U.S. and Brazilian efforts at regional regime destabilization, Kornbluh said.

In response to a question from Medici, Nixon said he would support a Cuban exile effort to overthrow Castro "as long as we did not push them into doing something we could not support, and as long as our hand did not appear."

Nixon and Medici also mulled manipulating the president of Peru, who had been supportive of Castro, by leaking word of his affair and child with a former Miss Peru.

Nixon's desire for secrecy and his efforts to destabilize governments through partners like Brazil made one Brazilian general uneasy; he told a CIA informant that "the United States obviously wants Brazil to 'do the dirty work' and he foresees great responsibilities and some disadvantages in it for Brazil," according to another declassified document.

Historian Robert Dallek, author of "Nixon and Kissinger," said cultivation of Medici fits Nixon and Kissinger's pattern of recruiting conservative heads of state to the U.S. Cold War cause.

But Brazil's role "is not widely known," Dallek said. "It's fresh detail."

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azajac@latimes.com

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