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

No. 840

Sir: I have the honor to report further in regard to my telegrams No. 132, August 25, 3 [4] PM, No. 143, September 1, 4 PM, and No. 144, September 2, 4 PM.33

On August 24, I called on the President to discuss with him the present Cuban crisis. I congratulated the President on his successful campaign against the revolutionists and on the efficiency and loyalty of the Army which, under his direction, had undoubtedly checked a movement which might have ended in most disastrous consequences for Cuba. I pointed out to him that although physical conflict had apparently been halted, at least for the moment, there still remained the far more difficult task of establishing moral peace without which, Cuba, in its present state of economic, political and financial exhaustion, could not recover. I took occasion to refer to the fact that in the past I had advised him to carry out certain political and financial policies—that some of the advice he had accepted—and that some that he had rejected, he had later wished to carry out, but, by that time, it was too late to be helpful.

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I then asked him if he would state frankly to me, so that I might be helpful in this crisis, exactly what his personal ambitions and desires might be. He assured me that he had no further political ambitions or any desire to influence the appointment of his successor. I asked him whether it was his desire to supervise the proposed elections in November, 1932. He replied that it was not; that his sole desire was to reestablish peace and normality in Cuba. I told him that, under these circumstances, he had a final opportunity to save his country from collapse, to leave office with the good will of his fellow-citizens, and to assume a place in history as the greatest of Cuba’s Presidents; that this would only be possible if he rejected the counsel of those political associates who are presidential aspirants, and whose advice in the past year had resulted in his failure to avert the present crisis. I recalled my advice to him upon my return from the United States a year ago, namely, that he put himself above politics. I recalled that he professed agreement with this advice and promised to carry it out. I suggested that, perhaps, on account of political considerations he had been unable to do so in the past, but that the situation had completely changed now and, at the moment, he could accomplish anything that he might desire, provided that it was in harmony with public opinion.

I pointed out that the opposition politicians, who were imprisoned, were out of the picture; that for the moment they enjoyed neither martyrdom nor popularity; also that the government politicians had neither the support nor the confidence of the people. The Army had just demonstrated its strength and the people had respect for it even though the government victory is unpopular throughout the country. I stated that he had the ability to impose his will on the politicians and bring about sweeping reforms that the awakened consciousness of the people is demanding and would acclaim. I told him that the formula, in my opinion, was nothing short of enacting the constitutional reforms, including the modification of the Congressional immunity provision, the choice of a Vice President by the Supreme Court with certain safeguards to prevent the appointment of a partisan, and the appointment of a Supreme Electoral Board with full powers to supervise elections. (See my despatch No. 830 of August 28, 1931.)34 In addition to all this, and in view of his declaration that he did not desire to supervise the coming election, I told him that in order to restore confidence, the Vice President should assume the presidency two months before the elections, or September 1, 1932. I told him that the carrying out of such a program would, in my opinion, not only be a triumph for him; it represented the only way [Page 73] in which the present Liberal Party officeholders could retain their positions. They must appeal to the people in new elections. Without the carrying out of this program in good faith, there could be no moral peace in Cuba. Without moral peace, there could be no recovery from the present economic, political and financial crisis. Without this recovery, the present officeholders, who will be held accountable for the nation’s difficulties, would lose office with the inevitable collapse of the government. With moral peace, these Liberal officeholders might be considered the deliverers, instead of the despoilers, of their country, and, on account of their strong political organization, they would have a fair opportunity to return to office. The carrying out of these reforms would discredit that portion of the opposition known to be office seeking politicians who rejected the reforms and plunged the country into revolution, and the President would be able to realize what he had told me was his dominant ambition—to tranquilize and make possible the return of prosperity to his country and retire from office.

The President professed agreement with everything that I had told him, and said that he was prepared to carry out this program. He said that it must be distinctly understood that this would not be done in the way of compromise, or by way of negotiation with the opposition. I told him I fully concurred in this viewpoint, and that the success of this plan depended upon his carrying it out in strength and not in weakness. We agreed that this plan should be disclosed to no one with the exception of the Secretary of Justice—Averhoff—whom he promised to send to me to work out the full details of this plan.

Doctor Averhoff and I conferred on the necessary projects of law, and I drafted a suggestion for the appropriate presentation of this program to the Cuban people, which would take the form of an address by the President to representatives of various industrial, financial, political and scientific organizations, as well as workmen’s organizations and the Press, who we planned should be invited to the presidential Palace for the purpose.

I saw President Machado again on September 1, after his return from a short holiday. He was in a very aggressive mood and disavowed that he had been in agreement in regard to announcing at this time his intention of retiring in September, 1932. He said that, although he had every intention of so doing, he could not see his way clear to make the announcement; that immediately he would lose the support of the Army and his friends. We discussed the matter at some length, and I firmly impressed the President with the fact that I saw no way of establishing confidence at this time by half-measures. On the other hand, if he knew of some way to accomplish this and [Page 74] put it into effect, the result would be awaited with great interest and applauded, if effected. I suggested to him that he consult with General Herrera, the Chief of Staff of the Army, and get his opinion on this subject. He agreed to do so, realizing that I was unable to change my opinion, and stating that he would defer his response to me.

This morning, General Herrera, who is a friend of long standing, asked for an interview with me. He did not refer to the fact that the President had discussed our conversation with him, or that he had been sent by the President to see me. He told me that the country needed, more than anything, a return to moral peace which was not dependent upon politicians, but on a financial and economic reconstruction. He expressed himself as entirely out of sympathy with the desires of the politicians at present in control to maintain, through unrighteous means, their grip on the country. He made a plea that I should help the President to have the reforms passed and bring about a return to normality. I told him that I agreed with his analysis of the political situation. However, I could see only one possible solution in the present crisis; perhaps there might be others, but I did not know what they might be. I pointed out to General Herrera that for the past year the country had been in a state of perturbation; that the public unrest, heightened by incident after incident, had terminated in the revolution, during which the Army had behaved with the greatest efficiency and tact in dealing with the revolutionists; that, at the present time and during the period of a year, there had been suppression of liberties of press and of speech. The high schools and University had been closed. There had been incessant agitation and demonstration, nightly bombings and destruction of property; that at the present time the jails were full of political prisoners; that business had steadily diminished and was now virtually at a standstill, and that the financial collapse of the government could not be long postponed; perhaps, within a period of a few months, the Army and police would not be paid, and interest and amortization on the foreign debt would have to be defaulted. General Herrera told me that he fully recognized all these facts. I then rehearsed at length my last two conferences with President Machado. At the conclusion, General Herrera told me that he entirely agreed with my advice and that, in his mind, it represented the only salvation for Cuba, and that I must urge and help the President to carry out this plan. I told General Herrera that he must fully realize that my plan included the announcement at this time of the President’s retirement in September, 1932. He said that he understood this and, in reply to my specific inquiry, said [Page 75] that he did not consider as a real danger the fears of the President of making the announcement at this time. In reply to my inquiry as to what course should be followed if the politicians refused to pass the reforms under these conditions, he answered that in an emergency of this kind, in which the life of the country is at stake, the politicians must be forced to pass these reforms.

After my conference with the President tomorrow, I shall report further to you.

Respectfully yours,

Harry F. Guggenheim
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