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Lyndon Johnson and the Dominican Intervention of 1965 — National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 513 — (and the “very completely pro-American guys in PR”)


Abe Fortas: I’m sorry to bother you, sir, but I thought I’d better report this to you. At first, I . . . [former Governor of Puerto Rico Luis] Muñoz[-Marin] is still in New …


Transcript of Tape No. 2: They don’t think Bosch is [a communist]. They think he’s just a
stooge for the deal. But nobody thought Castro was either.
April 28, 1965 | 10:20 PM | LBJ and Abe Fortas | WH6504.06–7373 | LBJ Library
[Footnotes added]

LBJ: Hello?

President Lyndon Johnson bends into the personal space of his loyal advisor and later nominee to the Supreme Court, Abe Fortas.

Abe Fortas: I’m sorry to bother you, sir, but I thought I’d better report this to you. At first, I . . .
[former Governor of Puerto Rico Luis] Muñoz[-Marin] is still in New York. I reached [Roberto]
Sánchez Vilella, who is the present Governor, and I told him that I was concerned about the
developing situation in the Dominican Republic and that I thought that it would be a good idea if
we got somebody out to sit with Juan Bosch and try to talk to him and persuade him to keep calm
and not say anything.
We talked about who it ought to be. Sánchez, the Governor, suggested [Jorge] Font Saldaña,
whom I know and who is Secretary of Treasury, but a very, very level-headed, a very completely
pro-American guy. And thank God he got out there and talked with Bosch, and he’s with him
right now. And after the news was announced on the radio–
LBJ: Wait just one second–
In the background can be heard a TV broadcast of a segment of Johnson’s remark
of the swearing-in of Raborn and Helms earlier in the day. The section he listens
to is:
” … and as an inspiration to his coworkers and as a dedicated patriotic man
himself that gave America the great strength of the Polaris missile. His genius
was proved in that task.”1
LBJ: Go ahead.

A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Fortas became a law professor at Yale University, and then an advisor for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Fortas worked at the Department of the Interior under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and during that time President Harry S. Truman appointed him to delegations that helped set up the United Nations in 1945.
In 1948 Fortas represented Lyndon Johnson in the hotly contested Democratic Senatorial Second Primary electoral dispute, and he formed close ties with the president-to-be. Fortas also represented Clarence Earl Gideon before the U.S. Supreme Court, in a landmark case involving the right to counsel.
Nominated by Johnson to the Supreme Court in 1965, Fortas was confirmed by the Senate, and maintained a close working relationship with the president. In 1968, Johnson tried to elevate Fortas to the position of Chief Justice, but that nomination faced a filibuster at least in part due to ethics problems that later caused Fortas to resign from the Court. Fortas returned to private practice, sometimes appearing before the justices with whom he had served

The news broadcast can still be heard in the background, wrapping up the story
on the new CIA leadership and switching to the U.S. Marines in the Dominican

“Remarks at the Swearing In of Admiral Raborn and Richard Helms as Director and Deputy Director, CIA,”
Public Papers of the Presidents: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office,
1966), doc. 209.
Fortas: Then after the news came over on radio here I called Jaime Benítez, chancellor of the
University [of Puerto Rico], and got him to go into his house. Juan Bosch and Font Saldaña are
in the chancellor’s summer house, which is about 100 yards away.
And I talked with Benítez. He said … I’ll get, read my notes to you: in Bosch’s judgment this
move is dynamite but that Benítez thinks that it was inevitable. He thinks it would have been
better if the United States had gotten OAS [Organization of American States] concurrence before
doing it. He says that Bosch is surprisingly calm about it, that Font Saldaña is talking to him and
doing a very good psychiatric job on him. On the other hand, Bosch is getting all sorts of crazy
stories. This is Benítez talking. For example, Bosch has been told that there was complicity
between the U.S. embassy and [General Elias] Wessin y Wessin, the general down there.2 And
that they have what it purports to be a message from our embassy down there that Wessin would
have to bombard the city or all would be lost. Benítez says that he, Benítez, believes that this is
false and has so told Bosch.
I asked him what Bosch was going to do and what position he was going to take. First, Benítez
said that he thought that Bosch would … he had planned to do what Benítez advised him to. That
as of the moment Bosch takes the position as follows: that the constitutional forces, meaning the
Bosch forces, have 17,000 men in the Dominican Republic. But that Bosch thinks that a truce
should be produced. He says that if Wessin y Wessin could be prevailed on to cease fire, that
Bosch would be willing to get his group to do likewise. That Bosch favors OAS intervention and
a return to constitutionality–that is to say OAS coming in and then elections later on. Bosch says
that he wants to go back to the Dominican Republic, but if it were necessary as part of a truce,
that he would be willing to stay out until after the new elections were held. That he, Bosch,
wants to exhaust every possible type of appeal for support of constitutionality. What he has done
is what Benítez called an appeal to Latin American conscience. And that he has thus far received
messages in support of him, Bosch, from Venezuela, Costa Rica, Peru, and Chile. He says that
Bosch is willing to go to Washington to present his case to the Organization of American States
or do whatever else is necessary. Benítez volunteered the statement that Bosch is totally and
completely anti-Castro. Benítez asked me if I had any suggestions to make to him, Benítez, as to
what Bosch ought to say or what attitude he ought to take. I said I did not, that I was really
calling him just as a matter of my own information to find out what the situation was, and that if
anything else occurred to me I would call him back.
LBJ: Wait just a minute–
Fortas: Yes, sir.
The news report has moved to Johnson’s statement ordering the Marines into the Dominican
“I reported the decisions that this Government considers necessary in this
situation in order to protect American lives.

2 Air Force General Wessin y Wessin was Chief of the Armed Forces in the Dominican Republic and commander of
the right-wing forces. Fortas pronounces his name as Westin.
“The members of the leadership expressed their support of these decisions. The
United States Government has been informed by military authorities in the
Dominican Republic that American lives are in danger. These authorities are no
longer able to guarantee their safety and they have reported that the assistance of
military personnel is now needed for that purpose.
“I have ordered the Secretary of Defense to put the necessary American troops
ashore in order to give protection to hundreds of Americans who are still in the
Dominican Republic and to escort them safely back to this country. This same
assistance will be available to the nationals of other countries, some of whom
have already asked for our help.
“Pursuant to my instructions 400 Marines have already landed. General Wheeler,
the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has just reported to me that there have
been no incidents.”3
The news then turns to developments in Congress.
LBJ: Go ahead.
Fortas: Well, he just wanted to know what–whether I had any suggestions to make to him as to
what Bosch ought to do or say. And Bosch is right there in the chancellor’s summer house.
So I … we have got that means of communication if it’s useful. And I’ll just stand by and wait if
anybody wants me to use it.
LBJ: Good. I’ll talk to [Secretary of State] Dean [Rusk] and [Under Secretary of State for
Economic Affairs] Tom Mann in the morning. We have about 2[00] or 300 of them out of there
already. Well, they have about 900 more to go. They’ve had no problems; there are no incidents.
And they’re moving them rather quickly, and there’s no firing. And both sides have quietened
down. We don’t know–we haven’t had an answer from them to our appeal for a ceasefire in my
statement, but the [unintelligible] it’s having the same effect. We … our hope [is] they could get
them out tomorrow pretty early.
We notified the OAS through the ambassador, and we didn’t think, though, and I didn’t think I
could wait 20 seconds for the OAS to get all their group together to try to determine, when I had
two wires from the ambassador [William Tapley Bennett Jr.] within the hour—[unintelligible]
and he’s a very calm, sober, judicious career man—to just not act on it.
I had [U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations] Adlai [Stevenson] in and [Senator J. William]
Fulbright [D-Arkansas] and all of them and we went over it and I took out … I put in a strong
statement on OAS and then put in … cut out anything that might be interpreted as aligning them
with the communists and stuff like that, which our people tell us they are. They don’t think

“Statement by the President Upon Ordering Troops Into the Dominican Republic,” Public Papers of the
Presidents: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, (Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1966), doc. 212.
Bosch is. They think he’s just a stooge for the deal. But nobody thought Castro was either. And
so we’ll just take a look at it, and I sure do appreciate your call.
Fortas: Yes, sir.
LBJ: Thank you.
Fortas: Thank you, sir.


http://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/index.html |


The Original Archive Docs







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