Friendly Reminder: The US Helped Overthrow a Democratic Government in Brazil

We know a lot about the crimes committed by the U.S. government during the Cold War, but there remain areas of Cold War foreign policy almost completely hidden from the public. One of those dark areas is the U.S. role in the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Brazil in 1964.

JFK and Goulart 2Yesterday, the National Security Archive posted transcripts of taped conversations in the Kennedy White House about deposing the Brazilian government. April 1 marked the 50th anniversary of the coup.

Almost two years before the April 1, 1964, military takeover in Brazil, President Kennedy and his top aides began seriously discussing the option of overthrowing Joao Goulart’s government, according to Presidential tape transcripts posted by the National Security Archive on the 50th anniversary of the coup d’tat. “What kind of liaison do we have with the military?” Kennedy asked top aides in July 1962. In March 1963, he instructed them: “We’ve got to do something about Brazil.”

The tape transcripts advance the historical record on the U.S. role in deposing Goulart — a record which remains incomplete half a century after he fled into exile in Uruguay on April 1, 1964. “The CIA’s clandestine political destabilization operations against Goulart between 1961 and 1964 are the black hole of this history,” according to the Archive’s Brazil Documentation Project director, Peter Kornbluh, who called on the Obama administration to declassify the still secret intelligence files on Brazil from both the Johnson and Kennedy administrations.

Revelations on the secret U.S. role in Brazil emerged in the mid 1970s, when the Lyndon Johnson Presidential library began declassifying Joint Chiefs of Staff records on “Operation Brother Sam” — President Johnson’s authorization for the U.S. military to covertly and overtly supply arms, ammunition, gasoline and, if needed, combat troops if the military’s effort to overthrow Goulart met with strong resistance. On the 40th anniversary of the coup, the National Security Archive posted audio files of Johnson giving the green light for military operations to secure the success of the coup once it started.

“I think we ought to take every step that we can, be prepared to do everything that we need to do,” President Johnson instructed his aides regarding U.S. support for a coup as the Brazilian military moved against Goulart on March 31, 1964.

But Johnson inherited his anti-Goulart, pro-coup policy from his predecessor, John F. Kennedy. Over the last decade, declassified NSC records and recently transcribed White House tapes have revealed the evolution of Kennedy’s decision to create a coup climate and, when conditions permitted, overthrow Goulart if he did not yield to Washington’s demand that he stop “playing” with what Kennedy called “ultra-radical anti-Americans” in Brazil’s government.

Once in a while, it serves as a helpful reminder to draw attention to the fact that, during the Cold War, the U.S. felt it had the prerogative to covertly overthrow whatever government they wanted, any time they wanted. It’s a kind of refutation to the picture most Americans have of their freedom-loving, stars-and-stripes government. Much of the U.S. involvement remains secret, but anecdotes about these kinds of deplorable yet routine policies are almost completely unknown to the broader public.

Were these crimes? Yep. Does that matter? Apparently not.

15 thoughts on “Friendly Reminder: The US Helped Overthrow a Democratic Government in Brazil”

  1. During the cold war?? First of all most of it had nothing to do with Russia. Second it continued after the cold war just the same. Obama has overthrown or tried to overthrow at least seven governments, five of them democracies.

    Kennedy/USA got a taste of their own medicine. How’d they like it?

  2. So, it will be 50 years before we get a transcript which says “We’ve got to do something about Egypt.”

  3. Betting you can't relax at a cookout unless it's hosted by Sheldon Richman or Stephan Kinsella.

  4. I remember the years when Nixon was met with burning flags and tires as he toured during Ike years; It took Carter sending his wife as an offering to get the nations south of Mexico to simmer down a bit.
    Us damnednear ran out of coffee and bananas for a couple years.
    Then Regan declared war on Honduras and Nicagua Sandanistas as commies and El Salvador joined the killings as well.
    When has not US been stealing and killing in foreign lands.
    Hell we overthrew the Queen of Hawaii and then we overthrew an elected president and all so mainlanders and military had vacation spot and pineapples between expensive whores and gigolos.
    Speaking of whores and gigolows and their pimps our Congress every year passes bills with lots of money all to be spent killing foreigners.
    The pimps are afraid of maybe being killed by drones on US soil and whores like Feinstein hillary perry andbour elites house they say do not worry they eill monitor the situation.

  5. As an American, nothing brought this home like finding out a dear Brazilian friend of mine had to grow up in a fascist dictatorship because of something Lyndon Johnson thought was a good idea.

  6. But, but …. I thought Kennedy was the good guy, and so handsome …

    Seriously thanks for the info Mr Glaser. Wonder what the motive was, banana republicanism or anti-communism or both or something else.

    1. It would indeed be great to know the motive. No doubt that part is still classified. During the Cold War, an “ultra-radical anti-American” was anyone who refused to kowtow to Washington on demand. Or perhaps one of Goulart's daughters, sisters or nieces rebuffed JFK's sexual advances during a state visit. Hell hath no fury like a horny politician scorned.

      Unfortunately neither this revelation nor 100 more like it will matter to the legions of JFK worshipers, who will continue to swoon when hearing the name "Kennedy" and pray daily before their portraits of "St. John Fitzgerald I." Some people simply never grasp the folly of bestowing demigod status on a flawed, sinful human.

  7. Soviet sympathizer commie Vice-Prez Goulart rose to power as a rightfully elected lunatic Janio Quadros resigned amid a covert attempt to drag military support to curb Congress, as he's delirium tremens dreams of power convinced him that populace would beg for his return in triumph. It never happened. Thus such commie VP legally took office and was implementing both a commie agenda and a terribly dangerous attempt to undermine the Armed Forces' spine – the chain of obedience and command – , through several overtly encouragements of rebellion by low rank officials against high ranked commanders. Horrified Brazilians rallied in several consecutive massive gatherings and DEMANDED the Armed Forces to bring him down. Then after he succeeded in triggering a few rebellions in small battalions, our military definitely had to overthrow him. His populist declared commie agenda was to seize land by force – without due process – and give it away to peasants for agriculture purposes. Unions were his stages to promote general strikes in order to proceed into his REAL TARGET : to bring down the Brazilian establishment and replace it with a soviet style socialist government – which means people DO NOT elect their representatives and are submitted to a totalitarian state. Thanks US, thanks LBJ.

    1. IN TIME : all Brazilian administrations have always been very independent from US policies and requests, both in domestic and foreign policy. Therefore ANY elected local Prez can be targeted with such label of "anti-US", under an imperialistic viewpoint. Da US has always been extremely cautions in their relations with us, they never overtly say anything bad about us, as they need our support to keep the region in peace.

      1. IN TIME 2 : we would bring the damn commie anyway, thus the US help was just a question of a little handy material support, ammo, gasoline, etc. Not bad at all. But though we had all needed weaponry, but not a single shot was fired. Brazilians don't kill Brazilians for a commie. He flew away to neighbor Uruguay, as the very well-equipped 3rd Army marched towards him.

  8. When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government.

  9. They matter for Brazilians since US has done another coup in Brazil and are taking out oil and everything Washington wants.

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