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

No. 1441

Sir: I have the honor to inform the Department that it is reported that on the afternoon of December 6, 1932, an unsuccessful attempt was made by three or four young men on the life of Major Arsenio Ortiz, former military supervisor at Santiago de Cuba, whose alleged exploits in suppressing opposition to the Machado Administration in the spring of 1931 have been the subject of frequent reference in the Embassy’s despatches.

… His arrest on various charges was ordered by the civil courts, but the general staff of the Army repeatedly refused to surrender him to their jurisdiction. He was confined to quarters at Camp Columbia for several months and all charges against him were finally quashed by the operation of the political amnesty act in January 1932. Subsequently, he is reputed to have directed the activities of the “porra” in Habana and to have resumed in that capacity his acts of “repression” against members of the opposition. He is undoubtedly one of the most bitterly hated men in Cuba and it was known that his life was in danger. The fact that the Government did not permit him to be punished for his conduct in Santiago or did not at least dispense with his services has been one of the principal objects of criticism against the President and against the Cuban Army.

According to the official version of the incident, Ortiz was on his way to visit his two sons at Belen College. While approaching his destination he noticed that his automobile was being pursued by a Ford in a manner which aroused his suspicions. As his automobile was about to turn into the road leading to the college, a bystander shouted to him, “Shoot them, Major. They are armed with machine guns.” Ortiz and his two bodyguards thereupon opened fire with their revolvers. The occupants of the Ford returned the fire and endeavored to make their escape. In making a turn their car upset and the shooting continued until three of its occupants were so badly wounded that they had to submit. It is reported that one of them escaped amid the confusion. The three who were captured are said to be of the student type. Two of them are in a critical condition. Major Ortiz and his companions were uninjured.

It is possible that this incident may be cited by the Government as an excuse for delaying the promised restoration of constitutional guarantees in Habana Province. It will be recalled that guarantees were reestablished in the other five provinces on December 1, 1932, [Page 565] and that all district military supervisers were previously withdrawn, as reported in my telegrams Nos. 121 and 126. This was followed by the demilitarization of the police in the provinces outside of Habana, by the removal of all but four military supervisors in the executive departments and by the announcement that guarantees would be reestablished in Habana as soon as the necessary arrangements could be carried out for the transfer of certain cases pending before the military tribunal to the jurisdiction of the civil courts. If the Government desires a pretext for further delay, it would seem now to have been furnished an adequate one.

The effects of the release of Mendieta and Méndez Peñate and of the partial restoration of normal political conditions have not been such as to encourage the hope that the Government and its adversaries are any nearer a settlement of their differences. A meeting of leaders of the Unión Nacionalista were held a few days ago at the house of Juan Gualberto Gomez, after which Colonel Mendieta issued a statement to the press in which he declared that the Union would continue its labors, which were of a national rather than of a political character and which were aimed at a total transformation of the present régime in Cuba.

The Government organ, Heraldo de Cuba, recently gave scare head publicity to a statement by Juan Gualberto Gomez that there was no reason why the opposition should refuse to negotiate with the existing Government which, although illegal, was nevertheless an administration de facto and in control of all official activities.

In the meantime, messages from prominent Cuban oppositionists in the United States, such as General Marío Menocal, Miguel Mariano Gómez and Domingo Méndez Capote have sought to minimize the significance of the Government’s recent actions as evidence of honest conciliatory intentions.

Respectfully yours,

Harry F. Guggenheim