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

No. 672

Sir: In order to complete the record of my conversations with various persons regarding the informal negotiations that have been in progress during the past few months for the purpose of exploring the possibilities of reaching an amicable solution of existing political difficulties in Cuba, I have the honor to enclose additional memoranda covering the period from April 22 to April 24, 1931.

In the future I shall, of course, be guided strictly by the views expressed in your confidential and personal telegram No. 61, April 24, 5 P.M.

Respectfully yours,

Harry F. Guggenheim

Memorandum by the Ambassador in Cuba (Guggenheim)

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In the afternoon of April 22nd, I called at the Palace and, after fifteen or twenty minutes preparatory conversation, I told the President the following:

“I have a strong conviction that an attempt to settle the political problems in the Congress without prior agreement on the part of some [Page 57] elements in the opposition will not satisfy public opinion. I believe this because any laws that may be passed in the Congress without previous agreement will be bitterly attacked by the press, and no matter how liberal the legislation may be, public opinion will not be favorably disposed toward it, or have confidence in it. Any legislation passed under these circumstances will be subject to the same criticism that applies to recent legislation, abhorrent to the public, which was railroaded through the Congress.

“Apparently, it is proposed to pass all of the important reform measures demanded by the opposition with the exception of a reduction in the terms of Senators and Congressmen adequate to appease public opinion. An adequate reduction in these terms is vital to a happy solution of the Cuban political problem. Unless reasonable concessions are made at the present time, I feel confident that political troubles will continue in Cuba and that these Senators and Congressmen and those Liberal leaders who are unwilling to relax their political grip on the Republic will not, under any circumstances, enjoy the length of office and power which might otherwise be theirs.

“In the past year, on numerous occasions I have strongly urged that a political agreement be made with certain elements in the opposition so that they may have hope for the future, and that public confidence may be restored. On all these occasions my advice has been partially taken, but not enough of it to accomplish the object desired. However, at a later period, that part of the advice which was discarded was adopted but at a time when it was too late to be effective and satisfy public opinion. I have particular reference to the reorganization of the parties, the restoration of the Crowder electoral code, and the census. When these laws were finally passed, there was no enthusiasm or satisfaction. At the present moment, if laws were passed which include adequate reduction in the terms of Senators and Congressmen and guarantees for honest election in 1932, I believe public opinion will be satisfied. If they are not passed now, I feel very sure that several months hence these same terms will be unacceptable to any elements in the opposition and to public opinion.

“The advice which certain leaders in the Liberal Party have given in the past, with the first thought of their own political fortunes, has been very bad. Several months ago, Congress, instead of reducing the budget, passed an Emergency Tax Law. At the time I pointed out that the hopes of the Government for a large return from these additional taxes would not be realized, and that most of the remaining friends of the Government would be lost by this measure. In answer, I was told that the Compañia Cubana de Electricidad, (the subsidiary of the Electric Bond and Share Company, whose representative in Cuba is Henry Catlin) had been consulted and approved of the tax law. After several months, with the Emergency Tax Law in effect, the Government must now realize that little additional revenue has come in, and also that the law was a very important factor in alienating some of the few remaining friends of the Government.

“At the present time, I understand some of the Liberal leaders are now willing and ready to reduce the budget. This is another instance of a case where the action has been postponed too long. The Government has now lost friends through the tax law and, if they reduce the budget now, which is essential, they will lose more friends [Page 58] who are affected by the reduction in the budget. If this budget reduction had been effected several months ago in place of the Emergency Tax Law, obviously, the Government would have lost the friendship of only those who must necessarily be estranged now. The finances of the Government should be an indication of the necessity of avoiding any further delay in gaining the support of the public and restoring confidence. In the month of March, the expenditures exceeded the revenues by over $600,000.00. The actual cash in the treasury on March 31 to meet future current budgetary obligations was slightly over $140,000.00. On June 1st, a $20,000,000.00 note is due to the Chase Bank.

“In the past, warnings of difficulty have been countered by leaders of the Liberal Party with the prediction that by the first of April sugar would be at 2 or 2½ cents a pound, and all the troubles would be over. I have on all occasions pointed out that no plans could be based on such optimistic hopes, as in all probability it would take many months for the Chadbourne Plan,23 even if successful, to raise effectively the price of sugar.

“At the present time, there is a certain calm in the public mind; there is still hope that a Cuban solution will be found to the political problem. The newspapers have maintained a certain reserve following the reports of a possible Cuban solution and the end of the period of repressive measures. However, there is ample indication in the press that, on the slightest provocation, attacks will take place, and public opinion will be again inflamed against the government. Without the satisfaction of public opinion, agitations and demonstrations can be expected again in the near future. What will the Government’s policy be at that time? If there will not be a renewal of highly repressive measures, how will the Government cope with the situation? The grinding season has about ended; the unemployment problem will be great and Cuba is about to enter a period of economic depression which impartial observers believe will be far worse than anything that she has undergone in the past six years.

“In my opinion, the only salvation in the present great emergency is for the President finally to put himself in a position that I have urged upon him so often—above party politics. He should reach an agreement with as many elements in the opposition as possible for reforms that will satisfy public opinion, which must include guarantees for an honest election in 1932. After such an agreement has been reached, he must convince Congress, which I have not the slightest doubt he can do, that these reforms are necessary, not only for the salvation of the country, but in order to save themselves.”

The President said he had had a meeting in the morning with a group of Senators; that he had told them he would leave the carrying out of the constitutional reforms in the hands of the Congress; that, as far as he was concerned, he was willing to put his own destiny entirely in their hands. I told the President that I feared that leaving [Page 59] this matter entirely to Congress would not bring about the really satisfactory results that he anticipated.

In the course of the conversation he reiterated that the Senators were determined on not reducing their term below eight years—the length of term under the old Constitution. I told him, in my opinion, that would not satisfy the opposition or public opinion. I gave it as my opinion that the public would only be satisfied if there were some guarantees for an honest election in 1932; that these guarantees could be partially found in a national Cabinet including various members of the opposition. The President said that he could not include in his Cabinet every candidate proposed by various elements in the opposition. I agreed with him, of course, that this would be impossible, but that it should be possible to find a Cabinet that would be acceptable to him and to the opposition as well. He asked me who such men were. I told him I had not given the matter consideration, that I agreed it would be difficult, but that I did not think it was impossible. The President said that he would talk with the Senators and see what could be worked out. He asked if I had any objection if he told them of his conversation with me. I replied that he was at liberty to repeat it if he desired; that I was giving him the best advice I had to offer; that he was at liberty to make what use of it he desired.

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The President took occasion to point out what a great friend he had always been to the United States, and also expressed his gratitude for my helpfulness to Cuba in the past year.

Note: In this conversation with the President, it was my intention, not only to urge a final effort in an attempt to pacify as many of the contentious elements as possible in Cuba, but, in case it should become necessary for the Government to carry out by itself the reforms (which has already been anticipated as a probability) to urge that the reforms should be carried out in the most liberal manner possible so that public opinion would be satisfied.

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  1. Sugar stabilization plan; for text (in Spanish) of the so-called Chadbourne agreement, signed at Brussels, May 9, 1931, by Belgium, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Hungary, Java, and Poland, see Republica de Cuba, Boletin Ofioial de la Secretaria de Estado, Junio de 1931, p 321.