Wednesday, September 22

The UK’s Unknown Secret Activities to Influence Latin American Politics in the 1960s


The role of the US in Latin America is well documented. Not so much that of the British operatives.

For years it has been known what was the extent of the interference of the intelligence services of the United States in different countries of Latin America during the 1960s.

What was not so clear is the role that the United Kingdom played in the region in the same period.

Now recently declassified files have revealed the British attempts to influence various electoral processes and condition unions in different countries, Professor Rory Cormac of the University of Nottingham explained to the BBC.

In the early 1960s, the UK dramatically increased its covert actions in Latin America, taking what was called “special political action.”

This included propaganda and falsification of documents They were aimed at influencing the public, mainly against communism.


The idea was to counteract the influence of communism in Latin America.

“This is surprising because historians tend to associate UK covert operations with targets in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and assume that the British they left Latin America to the CIA“said the professor.

‘Black propaganda’

After a diplomat named Ronnie Burroughs visited Latin America on behalf of the British Foreign Office and MI6 in 1961, London took the decision to increase covert actions.

In these activities, the role of the country was kept hidden with a particular focus on “black” propaganda, including false material or activities in which the citizens are deliberately misledOs about its provenance.

The region was seen as of growing importance worldwide, but also with signs of being growing lower communist influence, especially after the Cuban Revolution.

The United Kingdom had no particular interest in the region so it left its ally, the United States, to take the initiative as it considered it as part of their “sphere of influence”.

Washington was much more active, but London, says Professor Cormac, got involved in part to gain influence with the United States and also to increase trade with the region.


The UK wanted to increase trade with Latin America and the Caribbean.

“The UK conducted these covert operations for two reasons,” he says.

“First, show that it was United States partner and injecting influence into an increasingly one-sided relationship. Second, the British wanted to take advantage of what they perceived as a loss of U.S. influence in the region to keep part of a market growing, “he explains.

“These two objectives could not always be harmoniously combined.”

The UK increased the number of propaganda staff in the region and MI6 opened new headquarters.

It even reached Chile and Venezuela. A British official called the latter country “a major award.”

“It is a very rich country and its government is an important source of investment capital,” he said.


Caracas in the 1960s was seen as “an important award.”

The main mission was counteract communism using propaganda and working with churches, unions and political parties.

Operations included the creation of a new mass circulation magazine in Colombia and the distribution of brochures in Chile and Bolivia.

I know bribed the producers radio stations to get airtime and messages were produced to broadcast.

One Briton boasted that “if they gave him £ 100,000, Could buy practically all commenters of radio of the Andean region! “.

They also worked with priests in Bolivia to distribute material and counter Soviet and Cuban propaganda.

The same happened in Ecuador.

They sought the help of priests who could mobilize people to act against the President Carlos Julio Arosemena Monroy, whom the British considered someone “completely unprincipled and undesirable”.


President Kennedy received his Ecuadorian counterpart Julio Arosemena, (right) in Washington, in July 1962.

They thought that they could mobilize, if necessary, a “mob” of at least 5,000 people, mostly young Catholics, to the streets of Quito, according to Professor Cormac’s article “The Currency of Covert Action: British Special Political Action in Latin America, 1961-1964” published in the Journal of Strategic Studies

According to the archives, declassified between 2019 and 2020, the UK worked with the unions infiltrating and capturing them or interfering in meetings.

One of his ideas was to develop a forged document against the president Brazilian João Goulart who said that the communists were taking over the unions.

They wanted to make him fear that his position was being undermined within them by the extreme left.


In April 1962, Brazilian President João Goulart went to Washington to meet with John F. Kennedy.

However, this was not carried out and João Goulart was overthrown in a coup, backed by the United States, in 1964.

In some cases, influencing the elections was also considered, particularly in the presidential elections of Chile in 1964.

Intelligence services feared he could win the socialist Salvador Allende.


Salvador Allende ran for president in Chile in 1964 but lost to Eduardo Frei.

“Once in power, it is most likely that Allende will be manipulated by the communists, willingly or otherwise, and that the end product could be a government that follow the cuban model“is read from a file.

But here British efforts were overshadowed by those of The US, which spent around US $ 3 million for two years to influence the same elections.

Overall, Professor Cormac argues that the UK was using covert action in part to “maintain, at low cost, a global role”.

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