The Ambassador in Cuba (Guggenheim) to the Secretary of State

No. 596

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my confidential despatch No. 517 of January 20, 1931, and to advise that Senator Cortina has been confidentially but persistently carrying on negotiations with the President on one side and the Menocalista and Mendietista leaders and other opposition elements on the other side. Cortina has informed me regularly of the vicissitudes in these negotiations, and the President has discussed the subject first a little passively, but latterly enthusiastically in my conferences with him.

The basis for the rapproachment to date is found in proposed changes in the Cuban Constitution which are to effect a “modified parliamentary system”, which is at present in a rather vague and formative state, a strengthening of the power of the Supreme Court, a severe penalization for electoral frauds, and a shortening of the terms of the President, Senators and Congressmen. Certain proposed transitory provisions call for a general election in November, 1932, the new President taking office in May, 1933, and the reduction of the terms of Senators and Congressmen elected last November. Should an agreement be reached along these general lines, it is proposed to call a Constitutional Assembly, which, in accordance with the law, requires a six months’ period to modify the constitution. In the interim, President Machado would appoint a Cabinet composed of elements of different factions in the country.

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This proposed agreement would remove two of the underlying causes of political resentment against President Machado, namely, the extension of terms of office for himself and his party, and the seizure of all political machinery for the perpetuation of the Liberal Party. These acts have already been partly atoned for by the legislation recently enacted for a new census, reorganization of the parties, and return to the Crowder electoral code12 in its pristine state. In addition, the aim of the “modified parliamentary system” is to divest the Cuban President of dictatorial powers and place greater responsibilities on the Cabinet.

At the moment, the reduction in the terms of Senators and Congressmen elected last November is the point at issue. The President by his conciliatory attitude apparently has eliminated the most difficult obstacle to the negotiations, namely, the termination of the Presidential term in 1933. The reduction by two years in the terms of Senators and Congressmen elected last November has been under discussion and, it was thought, would be acceptable to both sides. Menocal and Mendieta13 have recently demanded, as an ultimatum, that the terms of all Senators and Congressmen elected last November should end with the Presidential term in 1933. The practical politics involved in this point which affects eighty-three legislators is obvious. Perhaps these demands of Menocal and Mendieta are offered as a basis for future bargaining in the hope of compromising on something better than a two year reduction. Or, perhaps, this is the first of a series of demands for impossible concessions which the opposition will advance with the intention of obstructing the negotiations. The greatest difficulty in reaching a political accord in Cuba continues to lie in the fact that the opposition is composed of factions which are not in agreement except in their opposition to Machado, and also the elements within the factions themselves are not united under strong leadership.

I hesitate to send this despatch on account of the uncertainty of the negotiations which have been patiently, persistently and, at times, wearily carried on over a very long period. They may have to be discontinued, as has happened for one reason or another in the past, and may come to naught.

Respectfully yours,

Harry F. Guggenheim
  1. See Foreign Relations, 1919, vol. ii, pp. 1 ff.
  2. Carlos Mendieta, leader of the Union Nacionalista Party.