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

No. 529

Sir: The Department has received your strictly confidential despatch No. 1005, dated January 25, 1932, wherein you discuss recent developments in the Cuban political situation and request “further instructions on our policy in Cuba”.

[Page 544]

This despatch has been given careful consideration and your recommendations have been carefully noted. You state that nearly all political prisoners have now been released; that you are informed that 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, and direct their activities to normal political channels “provided that they can feel sure of enjoyment of normal political liberties”. In spite of this, however, you feel that it is President Machado’s policy “to make specious gestures of conciliation to the Opposition for the purpose of gaining time until November 1932” when his hold will be further strengthened through congressional, provincial and municipal elections; that President Machado would only be willing to negotiate a political compromise involving his retirement prior to 1935 under condition that his personal interests would not be attacked by his successor. You likewise feel that the attitude of this Government will be among the factors which will influence President Machado, and 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”. You state that “the financial, economic and political situation has become progressively worse” and that “the faith of the Cuban people in the ability and disposition of the President to restore moral peace has been wholly lost”. You cite various political and economic conditions which you consider to be the results of the President’s policies; and indicate that in your opinion President Machado’s attitude has radically changed since last August, largely because of “his growing feeling”, for which you think Ambassador Ferrara is largely responsible, “that the United States Government is not interested in what he does”.

You refer to “our strictly impartial attitude” during the revolution of last August, and you 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”. In so far as your recommendation relates to the continuance by the Embassy of this “strictly impartial attitude” towards questions of Cuban internal politics, the Department is in accord with you. However, when you recommend that this attitude should be “reinforced” by the attitude of the Department in its relations with the Cuban Embassy in Washington, and when this “reinforcement” is apparently to take the form of your suggestion “that the Secretary [Page 545] of State make known to Ambassador Ferrara our lack of sympathy with President Machado’s present policies”, it seems to me that you are in fact recommending a radical departure from an attitude of “strict impartiality”.

The policy which you recommend would presumably be based on the intimate nature of our relations with Cuba growing out of the so-called Piatt Amendment. As you are aware, the general policy of this Government with respect to that Amendment has been based on the well-known telegram from Secretary of War Root to General Wood,11 then the Governor General of Cuba, containing the following statement:

“You are authorized to state officially that in the view of the President the intervention described in the third clause of the Piatt Amendment is not synonymous with intermeddling or interference with the affairs of the Cuban Government, but the formal action of the Government of the United States, based upon just and substantial grounds, for the preservation of Cuban independence, and the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty, and adequate for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the treaty of Paris.”

You are likewise aware that this statement was made in response to certain fears expressed in Cuba with respect to the purport of the amendment then under discussion. In your letter to me dated September 17, 1930, in which you reported that you had made a study of the Piatt Amendment Treaty and in which you quoted the aforesaid telegram you said:

“I believe that a continuous and thorough study of Cuban economic and political conditions should be made, so that the mission can be in a position at all times to give, when desired and without obligation, unofficial expert advice and assistance to the Cuban Government, in order to help Cuba’s progress. I do not believe that there is any right or duty to go further than this, save in the case of the complete breakdown of the Cuban Government or in case of foreign aggression.”

It is my considered opinion that this Government should continue its policy of refraining from any semblance of intermeddling or interference with Cuban internal affairs. In spite of great pressure during the past two years from opponents of the Cuban Government and their sympathizers in this country, this Government has maintained, as you point out on page 11 of your despatch, this policy of non-interference in Cuba’s internal affairs. The fact that this policy has not always been understood would not appear to affect the propriety [Page 546] or advisability of its continuance. I feel that any indication, such as you suggest, of lack of sympathy with President Machado, either by the Department or by the Embassy, would constitute a marked departure from that policy. It would be tantamount to taking sides on a purely internal political question, a step to be avoided whether on behalf of the “Opposition” or on behalf of President Machado, and one which this Government has hitherto so scrupulously endeavored to avoid. It would further appear to be a step of doubtful efficacy which might justly be resented by the established Government of a State with which this Government enjoys friendly relations.

Cuba is an independent and sovereign nation. In the interest of self-government it should, therefore, endeavor to solve its own problems. In other words, the present difficulties should be met by what you have so frequently and consistently advocated in the past, both in your reports to the Department and in your conversations with Cubans, namely, a “Cuban solution”. Such a solution would, in the Department’s view, be defeated by the course you now suggest.

While this Government does, of course, earnestly desire the reestablishment of what you characterize as “moral peace”, (which you appear to feel can only be accomplished through President Machado’s early retirement), the question of the President’s continuance in office until the expiration of the term for which he was elected, namely May 20, 1935, is not one upon which this Government can appropriately take any position. You will recall that in your informal efforts to bring about a termination of the bitter internal political controversies existing in Cuba you categorically, and very properly, declined to submit on behalf of the Opposition any proposal requiring President Machado to relinquish his office. You will likewise recall that at the time the constitutional amendments were adopted in 1928,12 and the question arose as to the constitutionality of the transitory provision permitting President Machado to stand for reelection in 1928, your predecessor, Ambassador Judah, took the position that the United States ought not “at this time to take the responsibility of maintaining that it and not the Supreme Court of Cuba is the proper interpreter of the constitutionality of the acts of the Cuban Congress, or of the Cuban constitutional convention, or of the candidacy by authority of the exact wording of the amended constitution of any presidential candidate”. In this position the Department concurred. It still feels that the question is one for determination by the Cuban courts and that any departure from this position would constitute [Page 547] an unwarranted interference on our part in the internal affairs of Cuba.

In view of the foregoing I trust that you will refrain from taking any attitude or position with respect to Cuban internal political questions which could fairly be interpreted as a departure from our policy of complete non-interference in Cuba’s internal affairs. The Department will continue to be guided by this policy in its relations with the Cuban Ambassador in this city.

Your despatch under reference terminates with the following sentence concerning your recommended change of policy: “This would at least tend to relieve our Government from responsibility for the inevitable consequences of Machado’s persistence in his present course”. The Department cannot acquiesce in the view that the continuance of its policy of non-interference in Cuba’s internal affairs involves our Government in any responsibility for any consequences of the policies of the Cuban Executive.

Very truly yours,

Henry L. Stimson
  1. Dated presumably April 3, 1901; see House Document No. 2, 57th Cong., 1st sess.: Annual Reports of the War Department on the fiscal year ended June 30, 1901, p. 48.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1927, vol. ii, pp. 519 ff.