E. Howard Negroponte,
INTERVIEW WITH NATHANIEL DAVIS
INTERVIEWER: This is the continuation of tape number 10844, the beginning of the interview with Mr. Nathaniel Davis. Mr. Davis could you please tell me your full name and some of your career where its relevant to Latin America.
NATHANIEL DAVIS: Well I was at my full name is Nathaniel Davis and I served in Latin America. Actually I should mention that I went down as the Peace Corps director shortly after I joined the Peace Corps and became Sergeant Shriners special assistant in 1962 and then went back to Latin America to Venezuela where I was an Embassy officer in Caracas. And then I went as ambassador to Guatemala from 1968 to 1971 and was then ambassador in Chile from 1971 to 1973.
INTERVIEWER: Mr. Davis what is your perception of the Munroe and its relevance, or was it relevant when the Cold War arrived in Latin America?
NATHANIEL DAVIS: Well I think that President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger had a rather more, what they would regard as strategic view of what was going on in the world and the power of the Soviet Union, and in that sense I'm not
INTERVIEWER: Someone's knocking at the door
INTERVIEWER: You were talking about the Munroe doctrine and its relevance.
NATHANIEL DAVIS: Yes what I would say is that if I understand the way that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger viewed the situation in Latin America, they viewed it as part of a larger context of strategic relationships between the superpowers and I doubt if the fact that the Munroe Doctrine was so important in our history made them view events in Latin America very differently from the way they viewed events in Africa and Asia for example. So that I think that the context thought of our leaders was that here was the Soviet Union and we were engaged in a world wide confrontation in some sense, and that that their concern was that communist power would particularly in Chile that the communist would take power and then there would be a second nation in the hemisphere that was under communist control. That would be a problem to us.
INTERVIEWER: But it was still after all in America's backyard, which do you think there was just a little bit more edge to the fact that it was creeping closer to the American frontier?
NATHANIEL DAVIS: Certainly people were concerned now at one point Henry Kissinger made the rather wry comment that Chile is a dagger pointed to the heart of Antarctica. And what he was saying essentially was that at that point it was a long way away.
INTERVIEWER: Chile in the early 60s when you got there, what was it like, what was the place like?
NATHANIEL DAVIS: Well it was, there was a lotta hope, there was a, this was when I went down I was of course went down to take over the peace corps contingent, this was one of the very first of the, of the peace corps efforts which was established largely as a result of Father Ted Hepsburg's initiative from Notre Dame. And the result is that the Peace Corps volunteers were marvelously enthusiastic and of course Chile is a stupendously beautiful country, and I went all the way through the countryside from North to South and was able to see this, this marvelous country and I made a number of friends there, including a number of young Christian democrats who were at that point very much hoping that Eduardo Freyer would be successful and would take the presidency and that would bring in reforms and great progress.
INTERVIEWER: In what year, could you tell me what year it was in the context of when you went there if you could just say it was in 19.. but also if you could just catch the statement in terms of how long it was before you went back as ambassador.
NATHANIEL DAVIS: Yes well I went to Chile in 1962 and so but I spent the winter there, and there was a number of tasks that I needed to do for the Peace Corps and then went back to rejoin Mr. Sharver and was assisting him and his and his organizing of the peace corps.
INTERVIEWER: The arrival of the Kennedy plan alliance for progress. Do you remember how that affected the continent?
NATHANIEL DAVIS: Well of course that also, my interest in that touches my service in Caracas. Because Theodore Moscoso was my ambassador at the time and he went down to Punta del Este for the founding of the alliance for progress and once again it was a very, it was a very hopeful and optimistic time, we could make a real difference in the hemisphere, and I had a great admiration for Theodoro Moscoso, now I think that it ran into trouble for a number of reasons, one of which was the, the coming on of the Vietnam war. And of course that meant that we seemed, or at least we thought we no longer had the resources to make the alliance for progress into the kind of success it might have been.
INTERVIEWER: It has often been referred to as sort of some part carrot and stick approach. We'll help you if you do this, but we won't help you if you don't do this.
NATHANIEL DAVIS: Well I think that the inspiration for the alliance for progress came after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba and there was a very deep concern in the American government that that leftists would be, would be threatening to take power in other countries of the hemisphere and of course the Kennedy program was not only the economic development embodied in the Alliance For Progress. But also the public safety program and the police academy in Washington and the organization of what Kennedy viewed as the if you wanna call it that that the other half of the program was to prevent urban terrorism from taking over the place.
INTERVIEWER: Talk to me a little about the circumstances that led you to go into Guatemala as ambassador what had happened? And when did it happen?
NATHANIEL DAVIS: Well the, what happened was that first the hand of the American military group and then the American naval group and then the ambassador John Gordon Meen, was assassinated by leftist terrorists in Guatemala. And the result is that that it was, that I went there in circumstances that were somewhat tense. And it is said that the hope of the FAR, the Fuerces armantas rebelles, or the rebel armed forces, was that they could drive the American embassy and the American leadership from the scene. And actually when I was in Guatemala the terrorists also killed the German ambassador and in a sense they almost achieved that, the Germans were absolutely outraged at this attack on Ambassador Von Sprechte who was a wonderful man but I consider one of the greater of my accomplishments in the Foreign Service that this did not succeed in destroying the relationship between the Guatemalan government and the United States.
INTERVIEWER: What was it like then in terms of the political climate, life on the street, life in general.
NATHANIEL DAVIS: Of course Guatemala had a tragedy which certainly was an ongoing tragedy since 1954 and the overthrow of the Arbenz government. That both sides were engaged in a, in a struggle and there was hardly a prominent Guatemalan family that had not lost either a son or an uncle or somebody in the ongoing violence of that country on both sides. And of course as it was on both sides it produced an emotional and psychological sense of hurt, that permeated the society.
INTERVIEWER: Did you consider it as a cold war outpost?
NATHANIEL DAVIS: I'm not sure that I would have described it as a cold war outpost no and now it is true that the, that there are actually two leftist organizations, both called the FAR it is all a little confusing, the Fuercas armadas rebellas and fuercas armadas revolucionaras, and the latter were closer to the Soviet position and the rebel armed forces were closer to Fidel Castro's position. And they did receive some degree of support from the, from both Cuba and to some degree from the Soviet Union, not, not on a large scale. But whether one could call that, Guatemala becoming a focus of the cold war, I'm not so sure it was.
INTERVIEWER: But you then left it for a place that definitely was I think a
NATHANIEL DAVIS: Certainly the perception of president Nixon and Henry Kissinger was that this was a problem in superpower relationships and a set back that in their view required action.
INTERVIEWER: So you went to Chile wheAllende had been in power for I would think 15 months.
NATHANIEL DAVIS: He had been in power for just about a year, in fact a little less than a year. The Salvador Allende the elections were in early September and then there was the developments when it went to the congress and he was elected by the congress and so on and was elected in November as I remember and I arrived in Chile on the 13th of October.
INTERVIEWER: Did you know about the so-called track ones and track twos when you arrived as ambassador. This is something when the congressional hearings later on revealed.
NATHANIEL DAVIS: No, I first learned of track 2 when a an investigator of the Church committee, Senator Frank Church's committee told me about it in Washington about two years after I came home in 1975.
INTERVIEWER: So how was it when you arrived in Chile, what was the situation and tell me about I think when you referred to your time there as your long visit with Mr. Castro. When you arrived, what were your first impressions of life in Santiago, how, what was it like with Allende there?
NATHANIEL DAVIS: I think that first one has to say it was still a free society and the Congress was in session and the congress was powerful. And the once again Chile is a wonderful place to live and the Chileans are a very attractive people, and so that that in that sense, when I arrived there Salvador Allende had of course been had promoted an immense spending spree for consumer goods and so that life was not so bad.