The Secretary of State to the Appointed Ambassador in Cuba ( Welles )

No. 1

Sir: The policy to be pursued by this Government in its relations with the Republic of Cuba must be determined primarily by its rights and obligations as set forth in the first five articles of the treaty between the United States and Cuba signed at Havana May 22, 1903,10 which articles likewise form a portion of the Cuban Constitution first promulgated on May 20, 1902. These articles are as follows:

  • “I. That the government of Cuba shall never enter into any treaty or other compact with any foreign power or powers which will impair or tend to impair the independence of Cuba, nor in any manner authorize or permit any foreign power or powers to obtain by colonization or for military or naval purposes or otherwise, lodgement in or control over any portion of said island.
  • “II. That said government shall not assume or contract any public debt, to pay the interest upon which, and to make reasonable sinking fund provision for the ultimate discharge of which, the ordinary revenues of the island, after defraying the current expenses of government shall be inadequate.
  • “III. That the government of Cuba consents that the United States may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty, and for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the treaty of Paris on the United States, now to be assumed and undertaken by the government of Cuba.
  • “IV. That all Acts of the United States in Cuba during its military occupancy thereof are ratified and validated, and all lawful rights acquired thereunder shall be maintained and protected.
  • “V. That the government of Cuba will execute, and as far as necessary extend, the plans already devised or other plans to be mutually agreed upon, for the sanitation of the cities of. the island, to the end that a recurrence of epidemic and infectious diseases may be prevented thereby assuring protection to the people and commerce of Cuba, as well as to the commerce of the southern ports of the United States and the people residing therein.”

At the present moment, the Government of the United States is forced to view with the gravest concern the situation now existing in Cuba. You are familiar with the developments which have taken place since President Machado first assumed office in 1925.

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While the President at first repeatedly asserted his intention of serving but one constitutional term of four years as President, he nevertheless approved the passage, in the Spring of 1927, of an act by the Cuban House of Representatives, providing, among other things, for the proroguing of his own term for a period of four years.11 It is reported that President Machado, during the course of his visit to Washington, which took place after the passage of this legislation by the Cuban House of Representatives, obtained the tacit approval of the American Government to the general principles embodied in this act.12 Subsequent to President Machado’s return to Cuba, the Congress passed the Constitutional Reform Bill with the provision that the President’s term should be prorogued for a period of two years.

Under the terms of the Cuban Constitution, as promulgated in 1902, amendments to the Constitution proposed by the Congress did not become effective until approved by a constituent assembly specifically elected for that purpose. Consequently, after the project for constitutional reform had been enacted by the Cuban Congress, elections were held for delegates to the constituent assembly and these delegates were elected under a revised form of the so-called “Crowder Electoral Code”,13 the revisions in the code making possible the election of delegates individually selected, in their great majority, by members of the existing House and Senate, and in most instances the Senators and Representatives themselves served as delegates to the constituent assembly. It is obvious that the revision of the Electoral Code made possible at this time the election of delegates favorable to the proroguing of the terms of the President, of the members of the Senate and of the members of the House of Representatives, and that such delegates were by no means elected through the untrammeled vote of the Cuban people themselves.

The constituent assembly so selected convened in the month of April, 1928. Under the terms of the then-existing Constitution, the duties of the constituent assembly were “limited either to approving or rejecting the amendment voted by the co-legislative bodies”. Notwithstanding this clear provision and the clear intent thereof, the constituent assembly revised completely several of the provisions of the project submitted by the Cuban Congress. It would seem that there was a reasonable measure of doubt that the constituent assembly acted “ultra vires”. The Supreme Court of Cuba has, however, consistently refrained from rendering a decision upon this question.

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Among the more important provisions of the amendments made to the former Constitution were the following:

By the terms of Article 66, the Presidential term was extended from four to six years and the President prohibited from serving in that office for two consecutive terms. Whereas the reforms as voted by the Cuban Congress had prorogued for a period of two years the term of office of President Machado, the constituent assembly redrafted this provision by providing for a call for elections in the year 1928, specifying, however, that the first Presidential term to which the provisions of Article 66 above referred to would be regarded as being applicable, would not commence until May 20, 1929. President Machado was thereby rendered eligible for re-election in the year 1928.

Among the other measures provided by the reforms to the Constitution enacted at this time, the tenure of office of Senators was increased from eight to nine years and the total number of all Senators increased from twenty-four to thirty-six; the term of Representatives in Congress was increased from four to six years and the term of both Senators and Representatives actually in office at the time was extended for a period of two years; the office of Vice-President was abolished, and provision was later made in the so-called Emergency Electoral Law of July 11, 1928, that in the event of a vacancy occurring in the Presidential office, the vacancy should be filled from among the members of the Cabinet, the Secretary of State, because of his ranking position therein, to be the First Substitute, the election of a permanent successor to be held within a period of sixty days thereafter. Furthermore, in general, all elective provincial and municipal authorities were to be retained in office for an additional two-year term.

In the elections held under the Emergency Electoral Law which took place in November, 1928, President Machado was the sole candidate and was re-elected for a term of six years, his present term being due to expire May 20, 1935. Due to the pressure of public opinion as expressed through the increasing political opposition to his Administration and, in part, presumably, for purposes of political strategy, President Machado, in December, 1930, agreed to the restoration by the Cuban Congress of the original Crowder Electoral Code without the inclusion of amendments of significance.14

There exists, consequently, in Cuba, at the present time, an electoral code which can guarantee fair elections to the Cuban people, provided, of course, that the Cuban Government and the Cuban people themselves desire free and fair elections.

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Opposition to the Administration of President Machado had already gathered force by the Autumn of 1927, when it became apparent that the President was anxious to extend the term of office for which he had been originally elected. The speculative period, however, and the carrying out of the Government’s Public Works Program, resulted, for a brief period, in economic improvement in Cuba.

The climax of this period was very nearly coincident with the time when President Machado became a candidate for re-election, and the attention of the Cuban people was consequently diverted from political issues, and opposition to the President and to his Administration was temporarily allayed.

With the beginning of the period of depression and with rapidly increasing economic distress, opposition not only became active again, but gradually increased to a degree of bitterness and of animosity to the President’s person hitherto unknown in Cuba. Political opposition has degenerated into a ruthless campaign of violence against the President and against the members of the Administration. Repressive measures enacted by the Machado Administration; the suspension of constitutional guaranties; the declaration of martial law with attendant resort to the use of military tribunals in lieu of civil courts; the imposition of strict censorship; the brutal assassination or imprisonment of the President’s political opponents, have failed to curb the campaign of terrorism resorted to by President Machado’s opponents, Not only all of the political leaders of importance, but a great majority of the intellectual leaders of Cuba as well, have been forced to leave the Republic and most of them have taken refuge in the United States. Due to the unwillingness of the student bodies to endure silently the measures of repression undertaken by the Cuban Executive the University of Havana and the secondary schools throughout the Island have been closed by Governmental Decree for nearly three years, and while some of the students have taken refuge in Europe and in the United States to complete their education, a very large percentage of them are actively engaged in subversive activities, notably through such organizations as the ABC. Many of them have been assassinated by the police authorities and many of them have been imprisoned. It is apparent that under conditions such as these, those groups among the younger generation from whom the leaders of Cuba of tomorrow must spring, are being brought by experience to the conviction that changes in government in Cuba must be effected not by the orderly processes of constitutional government, but by the resort to measures of violence and revolution.

The propaganda of those opposed to the Machado Administration has for many months been very much in evidence in the United States. The American press has given pre-eminence to the Cuban situation. [Page 283] Leading members of the Congress of the United States have very naturally interested themselves in the domestic concerns of Cuba.

It cannot be denied that the existence of such a state of affairs as that existing in Cuba is necessarily a matter which must rightly give the Government of the United States deep anxiety. Its rights and obligations under its treaty relations with Cuba; the close geographical proximity of Cuba to the United States; its desire to enter into negotiations with the Cuban Government looking toward a reciprocal trade agreement which in its judgment would be of the utmost benefit both to the Cuban people and to the people of the United States and which cannot be undertaken so long as this situation of political unrest in Cuba continues, all jointly force it to the belief that its friendly assistance must be tendered to the Cuban people in their effort to see an adjustment of what are fast becoming intolerable conditions.

Under the terms of Article III of its Treaty of 1903 with Cuba,

“the Government of Cuba consents that the United States may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty…”

The Government of the United States now reiterates the interpretation given to that provision by the Honorable Elihu Root, then Secretary of War, on April 2, 1901:

“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 arid the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty.”15

Under this interpretation, it will be evident to you that conditions in Cuba, highly unsatisfactory and even alarming as they may be, do not constitute a just basis for the formal action of the Government of the United States looking towards intervention. On the other hand, the Government of the United States cannot, in the interest of its own citizens, and because of its interest in the welfare of the Cuban people, assume that this interpretation of Article 5 of its treaty with Cuba can prevent it from experiencing grave disquiet while it sees a situation developing in the Republic of Cuba which would appear, perhaps, to result at some time either in the remote or in the near future in open rebellion against a Cuban Government, with consequent destruction of human life and property, and with the probability that there might then well be no government existing in [Page 284] Cuba adequate to preserve life, property, and individual liberty. This Government, on the content feels it obligatory upon it to offer its friendly advice for the purpose of correcting and stemming that course of events and the potential dangers resulting therefrom.

It must be clearly understood, however, that any efforts of the Government of the United States exerted in this direction are not to be construed as measures of intervention. They are, on the contrary, measures intended to prevent the necessity of intervention. They are measures to be taken in view of the responsibilities assumed by the United States under its treaty relations with Cuba, as Cuba’s nearest friend, and for the purpose of assuring the maintenance of Cuban independence and Cuban sovereignty.

1. You will therefore express to President Machado the belief of the Government of the United States that the measures it is now suggesting to him are to be considered by the Cuban Government solely as the representations of Cuba’s closest friend among nations, for the purpose of facilitating an adjustment of the various problems with which the Cuban Government is now confronted, which constitute in themselves, necessarily, a matter of intimate concern to the Government of the United States because of the provisions of the Treaty existing between the two nations.

2. You will point out to President Machado, in the most forcible terms, that in the opinion of your Government, there can be expected no general amelioration of conditions in Cuba until there is a definite cessation of that state of terrorism which has existed for so long a period throughout Cuba, and particularly in Havana. You will explain to him that the continuing reports of the murder of Cubans in all ranks of life by members of the armed forces of the Cuban Government have profoundly stirred public opinion in this country; that public feeling in the United States is in danger of becoming gravely prejudiced against the Cuban Government, with resultant impairment of the high regard which the American people should rightly hold for the people of the neighboring Republic. You should state that this Government makes all due allowance for the need of the Cuban Government to undertake measures of control in view of the nature of the campaign which the opposition factions are waging against it. You will, however, express the earnest hope of this Government that the President will, at the earliest moment, enforce the strictest discipline among the members of the armed forces of Cuba so as to prevent a continuation of such atrocities as those which have so frequently been countenanced in recent months under the provisions of the “Ley de Fuga”, and that the Cuban Government will, in. so far as may be possible, prevent the incarceration, much more the execution, of political or press offenders.

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In concluding your representations upon this matter, you will state that it is the very definite belief of your Government that the essential prerequisite to any basic improvement in Cuba is the speedy cessation both of overt acts against the Government and of extreme measures of repression by the Government.

3. You will express to the President the desire of the United States to offer, in any form deemed most suitable by both Governments, the friendly mediation of the Government of the United States between President Machado and the members of the political factions and other elements opposed to the Cuban Government. The nature of such mediation and the form in which it may be exercised must, necessarily, be left to your discretion. You will, however, regard as your chief objective the negotiation of a definite, detailed, and binding understanding between the present Cuban Government and the responsible leaders of the factions opposed to it, which will lead to a truce in the present dangerous political agitation to continue until such time as national elections can be held in Cuba and the responsible officials of a new constitutional government can be elected under reasonable guaranties of popular suffrage without fraud, without intimidation, and without violence.

4. Coincident with your discussion with the President of Cuba of the questions above set forth, you should express to President Machado the earnest desire of the Government of the United States to assist the Cuban Government in every feasible manner in the consideration of measures intended to ameliorate the distressing economic situation now existing in the Republic of Cuba. You will state that this Government, as a portion of its general policy of negotiating reciprocal trade agreements with other nations of the world, is particularly desirous of considering the bases of a reciprocal trade agreement between the United States and Cuba, which, in its belief, would redound to the advantage of both nations. You may say that this Government is strongly inclined to the view that a speedy improvement in economic and commercial conditions in Cuba would result in an immediate allaying of popular unrest and of political agitation, and that the Government of the United States hopes that the Cuban Government will be disposed to give the consideration of this problem preferential attention. You may likewise point out that the Government of the United States is favorably disposed to receive any suggestions from the Cuban Government as to any other manner in which the friendly cooperation of this Government might be effectively exercised in assisting the Cuban Government in its desire to bring about general commercial and economic improvement.

In conclusion, you will always bear in mind that the relations between the Government of the United States and the Cuban Government [Page 286] are those existing between sovereign, independent, and equal powers; and that no step should be taken which would tend to render more likely the need of the Government of the United States to resort to that right of formal intervention granted to the United States by the existing treaty between the two nations.

I have [etc.]

Cordell Hull
  1. Foreign Relations, 1901, p. 243.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1927, vol. ii, pp. 519 ff.
  3. See memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Latin American Affairs, April 23, 1927, ibid., p. 525.
  4. See ibid., 1919, vol. ii, pp. 1 ff.
  5. See despatch No. 442, November 24, 1930, from the Ambassador in Cuba, Foreign Relations, 1930, vol. ii, p. 673.
  6. See Report of the Secretary of War dated November 27, 1901, Annual Reports of the War Department, for the fiscal year ended June 30, 1901, pp. 7, 48.