Cover image for Peru and the United States, 1960–1975: How Their Ambassadors Managed Foreign Relations in a Turbulent Era By Richard  J. Walter

Peru and the United States, 1960–1975

How Their Ambassadors Managed Foreign Relations in a Turbulent Era

Richard J. Walter


$88.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-03631-1

$39.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-03632-8

344 pages
6" × 9"
15 b&w illustrations

Peru and the United States, 1960–1975

How Their Ambassadors Managed Foreign Relations in a Turbulent Era

Richard J. Walter

“This book is an impeccably researched, skillfully constructed, and balanced account of U.S.-Peruvian relations during a particularly difficult period. It emphasizes the respective roles of the ambassadors, who are often overlooked or dismissed in traditional approaches to diplomatic history.”


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The period of 1960 to 1975 was a time when the United States paid more than the usual amount of attention to relations with Latin America, contending with Fidel Castro’s efforts to export the revolution and with Salvador Allende’s efforts to establish a socialist government in Chile, for example. During this turbulent era, U.S. relations with Peru were fraught with tensions and difficulties, too: the Kennedy administration wrestled with the question of how to deal with the military regime that took over by coup in 1962, the administration of Lyndon Johnson tangled with Peru over its expropriation of the International Petroleum Company and its effort to establish a two-hundred-mile limit for its territorial waters, and the government under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford had to contend with the policies of a reformist military regime that took an even harder line on expropriation and fishing rights than its civilian predecessor. Using newly declassified records from the U.S. State Department as well as records from the archives of the Peruvian Foreign Ministry, supplemented by interviews with participants from both sides, Richard Walter provides a nuanced look at the complexities of Peruvian-U.S. relations during this important period, highlighting especially the hitherto neglected role of the ambassadors from each country in managing the relationship and influencing the outcomes.
“This book is an impeccably researched, skillfully constructed, and balanced account of U.S.-Peruvian relations during a particularly difficult period. It emphasizes the respective roles of the ambassadors, who are often overlooked or dismissed in traditional approaches to diplomatic history.”
“Walter’s book is the first close analysis of the diplomacy shaping the Peruvian government’s policies during the first years of the Alliance for Progress through the dynamic but erratic nationalist programs of the military government of General Juan Velasco Alvarado (1968–75). Most notably, Walter makes clear how misdirected U.S. policy undermined the democratic regime of President Belaúnde Terry (1963–68) and opened the door for more than a decade of military rule. An examination of how Washington dealt with the policies with the often pro-Soviet Velasco regime is one of the principal strengths of this important book.”
“Through this rigorously researched book, readers almost eavesdrop on pivotal conversations among U.S. and Peruvian presidents and diplomats between 1960 and 1975. Highlighting the efforts of U.S. and Peruvian ambassadors to retain positive bilateral relations during these tense years, Richard Walter adds a great deal to our knowledge, especially about the controversies over the fates of the International Petroleum Company and other U.S. companies in Peru.”
“Walter’s work is, in sum, the most meticulous examination to date of the contentious nature of the US–Peruvian relationship during these critical years, pending the full opening of the Peruvian archives. It benefits inestimably from the author’s sound analysis, his nuanced assessments and the limpidity of his prose as well as from the publisher’s high production standards.”

Richard J. Walter is Professor Emeritus of History at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of Politics and Urban Growth in Santiago, Chile, 1891–1941 (2005).


List of Illustrations



1 Peru and JFK

2 Belaúnde, LBJ, and the “Mann Doctrine”

3 Belaúnde, the Counterguerrilla Campaign, and the Role of the United States

4 Belaúnde’s Position Begins to Crumble

5 The End of the Belaúnde Administration

6 The Coup and Its Aftermath

7 Velasco and the Nixon Administration

8 Public and Private Negotiations

9 Continuity and Some Change

10 Change, Crisis, and Continuity

11 Nixon and Velasco Exit the Scene





Historically, relations between Peru and the United States have been, as representatives from both sides have frequently stated, “warm and friendly.” As a result, Peru has rarely been a top priority or concern for the United States in formulating and implementing its overall policies toward Latin America. Between 1960 and 1975, however, some notable exceptions occurred. In 1962, a military coup in Peru provided an important test case for the administration of John F. Kennedy in trying to promote civilian democracy in the region as it wrestled with whether to recognize the military government. The ultimate decision to extend recognition had significant repercussions not only for relations between the two nations but also for Latin America. Between 1963 and 1968, the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson tangled with Peru over issues involving the expropriation of a major U.S. investor in that country, the International Petroleum Company (IPC), and Peru’s determination to establish a 200-mile limit for its territorial waters. These matters, as well as a counterguerrilla campaign in 1965 and 1966, attracted a fair amount of U.S. press coverage. Finally, between 1968 and 1975, the administrations of Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford had to grapple with the nationalist policies of a reformist military regime that took an even harder position on issues of expropriation and fishing rights than did its civilian predecessor and which also sought to chart a more independent foreign policy that included establishing relations, both diplomatic and commercial, with the Soviet Union, the Peoples Republic of China, and Cuba.

The general outlines of these developments are well known and have been covered extensively in a variety of essays, articles, and books. Drawing on a wide range of primary and secondary material, especially recently declassified U.S. State Department records, as well as from the Foreign Ministry archives of Peru, I intend in this study to provide a more detailed and nuanced examination of relations between the two nations in these years. Moreover, unlike other treatments of the diplomatic history of these years, I shall try to give equal weight to both sides of the story, the United States’ and Peru’s. Much attention will be on the views and roles of the respective ambassadors of the two nations. Their actions, in turn, will be placed within the context of larger political, economic, and diplomatic developments.

While many studies of U.S.–Latin American relations have emphasized the role of U.S. policy-makers and diplomats, the reverse has been less true. Prominent U.S. ambassadors to the region have written their own extensive memoirs, which usually justify or explain more fully their actions at their posts. Again, this has not typically been the case for Latin American diplomats. By highlighting the role of Peru’s ambassadors to the United States, then, I am attempting again to redress the balance and to provide a fuller picture of the overall relationship. Much of my discussion of the Peruvian ambassadors’ activities in Washington, D.C., comes from their correspondence to the Foreign Ministry in Lima, drawing on material that hitherto has not been used by historians of that nation’s relationship with the United States.

With one notable exception, these Peruvian and North American ambassadors were either career diplomats or persons with considerable experience in living and studying abroad. They were also, mostly, keen observers of the domestic political scene in their respective posts and showed a serious commitment to their responsibilities of representing their nations’ best interests. There was, of course, an asymmetry in their positions. The ambassador of the United States, representing the major power in the hemisphere, if not the world, oversaw an embassy of more than 100 officials and staff and was clearly the most important foreign representative in the country. The Peruvian embassy, however, had officials and staff of between fifteen and twenty persons, representing a mid-level Latin American country, and was overshadowed in significance not only by the diplomatic missions of the major global powers but also by the larger and more influential Latin American nations. As a result, the Peruvian ambassador had only infrequent contact with and access to the president of the United States and met only a bit more frequently with the secretary of state. Most of his major connections and conversations were with the assistant secretary of state for Inter-American Affairs and State Department desk officers. The U.S. ambassador in Peru, however, had much greater access to the president of that country as well as his foreign minister and other important governmental figures. Indeed, on at least one occasion, during an attempt in 1968 to resolve the IPC controversy, the U.S. ambassador was a vital player in the Peruvian government’s actions. Of perhaps greater value to the historian, however, this access allowed the U.S. ambassador to report, often in confidence, back to Washington certain insights into and details about the Peruvian presidents that allow for a much fuller picture of their personalities, their motivations, and their actions than has heretofore been available. Recently declassified material from the diplomatic records also sheds greater light on some of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that took place as both sides addressed the challenges and crises that arose in the relationship.

The four main ambassadors of this period, two for the United States and two for Peru, had the advantage of serving for a significant time. For the United States, Ambassador John Wesley Jones was in Lima from 1963 to 1969 during most of the presidency of Fernando Belaúnde Terry (1963–1968) and the beginnings of the military government of General Juan Velasco Alvarado (1968–1975). His successor, Taylor Belcher, served from 1969 to 1974 until he was followed by another career diplomat, Robert Dean. For Peru, Fernando Berckemeyer had already been in place as ambassador for some time when Kennedy was elected president in 1960, and he served until 1963 and the election of Belaúnde. He returned to his post in 1968 and served until 1974, when he was replaced by Admiral José Arce Larco. Between 1963 and 1968, Belaúnde’s brother-in-law, Celso Pastor de la Torre, was Peru’s representative in Washington. Such extensive service aided their comprehension of the political dynamics in their respective posts (not to say that it was always precise or perfect) and in establishing the necessary personal and professional contacts to advance the policies and the interests of their respective nations.

Using the ambassadors and their actions as a basic framework, a number of questions will be addressed in this study. For example, to what extent did these representatives have an accurate understanding of the larger society in which they operated, and how perceptive were they with regard to political developments in their respective posts? It is often alleged that diplomatic difficulties and strains in relations develop because of a failure of one side to understand or appreciate the position of the other or, in the particular case of the United States, to lack sensitivity to the culture in which its representatives operate. Popularly, they often have been derided as “striped-pants cookie pushers.” Was that the case for the U.S. representatives in Peru? Were failures to communicate common and important in the relationship? On the U.S. side, what was the role of the ambassador and the U.S. embassy in promoting and protecting the interests of the U.S. business community in Peru, especially with regard to the IPC? Was the embassy, as many charged at the time and afterward, simply acting as the company’s advocate or were there also larger concerns at play? What role did personal factors play in this and other aspects of U.S.-Peruvian interaction in these years?

There are other questions to be addressed. What was the role of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Peru during this period? Some assert that agency was active in both the counterinsurgency campaign of the mid-1960s and in efforts to weaken or to encourage the overthrow of the Velasco regime. What does the evidence suggest? Did the CIA intervene directly in the nation’s internal affairs? Moreover, how accurate were the CIA’s predictions about the course of events in Peru in these years?

The actions of the CIA in Peru were usually clandestine, and charges of interference usually lacked hard proof. However, another form of what Peruvians considered intervention and intimidation in their internal affairs involved various amendments to foreign aid bills passed by the U.S. Congress during the 1960s to punish any nation that expropriated U.S.-owned properties without compensation or captured U.S. fishing vessels in disputed waters. While Peru was only one of a large number of nations to which these amendments could be applied, it appeared to be a principal target of them. What role did these amendments play in the overall relationship between the two countries and how effective were they?

In seeking to answer these questions, I will follow a straightforward chronological and narrative trajectory. The chronological parameters have been determined to some extent by this gap in the literature as well as the availability of the documentary evidence. From the Peruvian side, the story begins essentially near the end of the administration of President Manuel Prado y Ugarteche (1956–1962) and ends with the resignation of General Velasco from the presidency in late 1975. From the U.S. side, I start basically from the presidency of John F. Kennedy (1961–1963) and conclude in the middle of the administration of Gerald R. Ford (1974–1977). The major presidential players, however, were Johnson and Belaúnde and Nixon and Velasco. I am also aware that there are many aspects of the relationship between Peru and the United States that had little to do with presidents, secretaries of state, foreign ministers, and ambassadors, and I mention some of these in the conclusion. These factors, including cultural exchanges, investment patterns, and the movement of Peruvians to live in the United States, provide an important part of the larger context in which diplomats and statesmen operated.

This is an attempt to give equal time to the perspectives and actions of both nations during challenges and crises between the two. As such, it may aid policy-makers to avoid some of the misperceptions and mistakes of the past to ensure that U.S-Peruvian relations remain “warm and friendly” in the future.

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