FAS Note: The following statement on U.S. covert action in Bolivia during the Johnson Administration was coordinated by the High Level Panel and approved for publication by its member agencies-- the CIA, the State Department and the National Security Council. It was published in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, vol. XXXI, in September 2004.
147. Editorial Note
Covert financial assistance was a key element of U.S. foreign policy toward Bolivia during the Johnson Presidency. CIA documents have characterized the overall goals of the U.S. Government’s covert action programs in Bolivia during this period as follows:
"The basic covert action goals in Bolivia are to foster democratic solutions to critical and social, economic, and political problems; to check Communist and Cuban subversion; to encourage a stable government favorably inclined toward the United States; and to encourage Bolivian participation in the Alliance for Progress. The main direction and emphasis of C[overt] A[ction] operations is to force Communists, leftists, and pro-Castroites out of influential positions in government, and to try to break Communist and ultra-leftist control over certain trade union, student groups, and campesino organizations."
Covert action expenditures in Bolivia between fiscal year 1963 and fiscal year 1965 were as follows: FY 63-$337,063; FY 64-$545,342; and FY 65-$287,978. The figure for FY 65 included funds to influence the campesino movement, for propaganda, to support labor organizations, and to support youth and student groups. The FY 66 program also allocated funds to support moderate political groups and individuals backing General Barrientos for President.
When he took office in November 1963 President Johnson inherited a longstanding U.S. Government policy of providing financial support for Bolivian political leaders. The policy was intended to promote stability in Bolivia by strengthening moderate forces, especially within the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR) itself, which had a strong left wing under the leadership of Juan Lechin Oquendo, General Secretary of the Mine Workers’ Federation.
In August 1963 the 5412 Special Group approved a covert subsidy to assist the MNR to prepare for the presidential elections scheduled for May 1964. The Special Group agreed in March 1964 that the MNR receive additional financial support. Paz won the election; Lechin (who had been Vice President under Paz) left the government and founded a rival leftist party.
On November 4, 1964, the new Vice President, General René Barrientos Ortuño (MNR), led a successful military coup d’état, forcing Paz into exile. In February 1965 the 303 Committee authorized a financial subsidy to the MNR under Barrientos (who was aware of U.S. financial support to the MNR) to help establish an organizational base for the presidential election scheduled for September. In May 1965 Barrientos responded to growing labor unrest by arresting and deporting Lechin and postponing the election. The 303 Committee, which considered a recommendation to support Barrientos as the best available candidate, agreed in July 1965 and March 1966 to authorize additional funds for MNR propaganda and political action in support of the ruling Junta’s plans to pacify the country and hold elections to establish a civilian, constitutional government.
When the presidential election was finally held in July 1966, Barrientos won easily, and officials concerned with the covert operation concluded that the objectives of the program-the end of military rule and a civilian, constitutional government whose policies would be compatible with those of the United States-had been accomplished.
Source: FRUS, 1964-1968, vol. XXXI, document 147