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

No. 1005

Sir: I have the honor to report on the present political situation and especially at this time to discuss and request your further instructions on our policy in Cuba.

Within the last three weeks, as reported in my telegrams No. 2, January 4, 5 p.m. and No. 4, January 9, 11 p.m.,2 nearly all of the political prisoners have been set free, including all of the leaders of the Opposition. On January 12, as reported in my No. 6, January 13, 10 a.m.,3 an Amnesty Law, with certain reservations, was enacted. These reservations do not affect the political leaders of the Opposition. It should be noted, however, that the provision of the Amnesty Law under which the courts martial are given exclusive jurisdiction over all acts of military persons during the next thirty months is severely criticized as indicating the intention of the executive to continue the use of strong-arm methods indefinitely after the expected termination of martial law and particularly during the next elections. The exclusion from amnesty of all violations of the law of explosives and the provision for the withdrawal from the ordinary courts of all cases heretofore arising against military persons have also aroused strong objections.

The release of the political prisoners was urged upon Machado by Ferrara4 on the ground that this action would strengthen Cuba’s international position, act as a safety valve to relieve some of the accumulated political pressure, and prevent the martyrdom of Menocal and Mendieta from too long a prison confinement. Ferrara worked jointly with Cosme de la Torriente on behalf of this objective, but from this point on, it would seem that their political policies will run along [Page 534] different lines. Torriente informs me that at last the members of the Opposition have united in a single group, and that they will shortly form a new political party, organized in accordance with the provisions of the Electoral Code,5 and direct their activities to normal political channels, provided that they can feel sure of enjoyment of normal political liberties. In my opinion, this is a very important step forward and, if the opposition elements can really form a united front with one presidential candidate who will have their undivided support, it will help to clarify the political situation.… even confidentially whispers a candidate’s name in my ear and, inasmuch as it is not himself, I am inclined to place some credence in the story.

The next point in Torriente’s plan will be a request that the Government appoint a small committee to meet with representatives of the newly consolidated Opposition to draw up a law for changes in the Constitution. It is at this point that Ferrara’s and Torriente’s policies will be at cross purposes. The basis of the Opposition’s proposal for reform will be an election for President under the supervision of a neutral Vice-President, either in November, 1932, or, if there is not sufficient time between now and then for preparations, at least early in 1933.

Ferrara, on the other hand, does not desire a change in the presidential office in the near future. He talks vaguely of the restoration of the Vice-presidency. It should be pointed out that the election of a Vice-President, who would become President, would have all the bitterness of a presidential election and would result in the same indignation and hostility on one side or the other. Ferrara is now planning to return to Washington in a few days’ time. He has hoped to reestablish himself in this country and gain the approval of the many factions of the Opposition by his intercession on behalf of the political prisoners. In this Ferrara may be disappointed, and if he finds he has not won the confidence of the elements in the Opposition, he may be forced to sponsor a programme more constructive than the mere return of political leaders to their homes and to the streets of Habana.

Torriente informs me that at a conference which he had with Machado, Ferrara and Juan Gualberto Gómez, held for the purpose of discussing the question of the release of the political prisoners, Machado emphatically stated that he would not retire before 1935, nor did he care to discuss the question of retirement. Torriente replied that he had not come to suggest this matter to him, which could be [Page 535] properly discussed at some future time, but that they had merely met to discuss the advisability of freeing the political prisoners.

In my opinion, it is Machado’s policy, in which he is encouraged by Ferrara, to make specious gestures of conciliation to the Opposition for the purpose of gaining time until November, 1932, when Machado apparently expects his hold upon the situation to be further strengthened by the election of governors, mayors and representatives (half the membership of the House) belonging to the existing parties. Those parties, as the Department is aware, are at present almost completely under the control of Machado; and if freedom of speech and freedom of the press continue to be restricted to such a degree as to prevent the organization of the proposed fourth party by the Opposition, the President’s expectation will presumably be realized. The fact that over fifty per cent of the entire electorate in five of the six provinces are said to have been enrolled this month in the Liberal Party is cited by the President’s supporters as a demonstration of public satisfaction with the existing regime. It should be borne in mind, however, that a very large part of the enrollment in all three of the existing parties may be accounted for by financial or other inducements which the affiliates could not be sure of receiving from any party not yet established and which could be accepted without prejudice to the right of the affiliates of the existing parties to vote for the candidates of the proposed new party. Machado probably will be appealed to by the Opposition to establish moral peace in Cuba by political compromise. Such a compromise might entail Machado’s retirement in favor of a provisional President until the time of new elections in 1934. I believe that Machado would only accept such a compromise if he felt that the candidate for provisional president was a man who would not use his office to attack the personal interests of Machado and his friends, and would not even accept it then unless circumstances forced him to do so.

Among the factors which would influence his decision would be the attitude of our Government. There are two considerations which lead me to believe that it is of especial importance that neither Machado nor the Cuban people should be left in any doubt of our lack of sympathy with the present direction of Machado’s policies, if we are to continue to avoid unfortunate political consequences from Cuban unrest: first, because following the disregard of our advice, the financial, economic and political situation has become progressively worse; and, second, because the faith of the Cuban people in the ability and disposition of the President to restore moral peace has been wholly lost.

For nearly a year and a half, Cuba has been in a state of disorder. [Page 536] There has been agitation, demonstration, continuous bombing with some destruction of property, and last August the revolution which, though won by the Government, did not end in the reestablishment of moral peace. Intermittently, during this period, there has been a curtailment of freedom of speech or press; at the present time constitutional guarantees are suspended and the country is under martial law. An organization called “El Partido de la Porra” (Bludgeon Party), consisting of strong arm mercenary supporters of the Government, carries on sanguinary reprisals against violent or especially obnoxious acts of opposition groups. The only University of the country and all the higher schools have been closed for more than a year, due to student opposition to the Government. The jails have been intermittently full of political prisoners. In addition to the worldwide depression (and that is the basic cause of Cuba’s economic plight), the lack of confidence in the Cuban Government and the conditions mentioned have helped to bring about a stagnation in business that has added to the misery of the Cuban people.

Unless a political accord can be reached within a reasonable time before the elections scheduled for next November, the present régime will reelect Governors, Mayors, Provincial and Municipal Councilmen, and one-half of the Lower House. This will seriously augment the political discontent in Cuba, which began with the change of the Constitution in 1928, and was enhanced by the emasculation of the Crowder Electoral Code, by which the political machinery of all three parties was placed in Machado’s hand.

It is difficult to detect any improvement or any immediate prospect of improvement in the fundamental conditions of Cuba, if affairs continue along the present course. They are rapidly leading to desperate endeavors to keep the exchequer in funds and the regime in office. Ill-advised and uneconomic tax legislation already has been passed. We can anticipate additional legislation that will be of an extortionate and discriminatory nature. Default on the public debt cannot be postponed much longer, and inflationary measures may follow. This will all result in the financial and economic collapse of Cuba and the loss of her credit for many years to come. Until now this has been postponed, in my opinion, by Machado’s sporadic attempts in the past two years to conform to sound financial and political policies.

On the other hand, even at this late date, the adoption of another course of action might save Cuba from the fate of so many of the Latin American Republics. With the reestablishment of moral peace by political compromise, Cuba’s finances could be reconstructed in such a manner as partially to preserve her credit, her tax system [Page 537] could be reorganized along the lines of Professor Seligman’s report which has just been completed, unsound economic measures could be averted, confidence in a measure would be restored and the country might weather the storm. However, the present attitude of the President is unfavorable to a solution of Cuba’s problems. During my visit to Washington last autumn, I verbally reported a change in the Cuban atmosphere since the revolution of last August. Until that time Machado had given evidence of a desire to pursue a more or less patriotic programme in order to help the country out of its economic and political plight and prepare for a return of stability. Any influence that I have been able to exert to further such a programme has been limited by policy to the often ineffectual appeal to enlightened self-interest where there was more self-interest than enlightenment. Directly after the revolution, Machado, casting aside to a degree the advice of the politicians, sent his reform message to Congress. (See my despatches No. 840 of September 3 [2], 1931 and No. 847 of September 9, 1931.)6 Since then, Machado has had a change of heart. This can be largely accounted for by his growing feeling that the United States Government is not interested in what he does. This is a conception for which I think Ferrara is largely responsible. He has assured Machado that he has intimate contacts in the Department of State at Washington, and I have reason to believe that he has convinced Machado that the Government of the United States has no interest in the question of political liberties in Cuba.…

The conditions outlined above would seem to indicate a new problem to which our policy must adapt itself. At present, we are no longer faced with the problem of an intransigent opposition unwilling to accept reforms and only intent on revolution, but we confront the question of the consequences of a Government intent on perpetuating an unpopular grip on the country. Machado, by renouncing his policy of conciliation and reform in his September message to Congress and by his other acts, has clearly served notice that he is no longer seeking to return to normal constitutional government … but to extend his dictatorship. Our policy has been that of non-interference in Cuba’s internal affairs. This policy was not understood at the beginning and the United States has been accused of supporting Machado and maintaining him in power. Although there is no justification for this accusation, the propaganda carried on [by] the Opposition, the “claim racketeers,” and by Machado himself, as well as the shadow of the United States Government’s policy in the past, undoubtedly have been the cause of widespread belief that Machado has [Page 538] our support. Our strictly impartial attitude during the revolution, as well as the persistent efforts of the Embassy to dispel this false opinion, have to a great extent recently modified this impression in Cuba, although it still persists, I believe, abroad.

I have the honor to recommend that this attitude which avoids any appearance of supporting Machado or of sympathizing with his policies, be continued by the Embassy and reinforced by the attitude of the Department in its relations with the Cuban Embassy in Washington.

As I previously stated, Machado apparently has the impression, given him by Ferrara, that the Department does not care what he does and, under this impression, Machado will be less inclined to accept any political compromise. I therefore have the honor to suggest that the Secretary of State make known to Ambassador Ferrara our lack of sympathy with President Machado’s present policies. This would at least tend to relieve our Government from responsibility for the inevitable consequences of Machado’s persistence in his present course.

Respectfully yours,

Harry F. Guggenheim
  1. Neither printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Presumably Orestes Ferrara, Cuban Ambassador at Washington.
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1919, vol. ii, p. 10, footnote 7; ibid., 1930, vol. ii, p. 650, footnote 4.
  5. Foreign Relations, 1931, vol. ii, pp. 71 and 75.