837.00/3512: Telegram

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

43. I had yesterday 2–hour conversation with the Secretary of State and this morning a conversation of equal length with the President of the Republic.

At the outset of my conversation with the President I indicated in general terms the policy of the Government of the United States towards Cuba. I stated that my Government reiterated the interpretation of its responsibilities under the Piatt Amendment in the sense laid down by Secretary Root in 1901, namely that the right of intervention was not construed as being synonymous with intermeddling in the domestic or political concerns of Cuba. I further stated that my Government believed that the prime requisite to insure the permanent welfare of Cuba was the maintenance of constitutional government and the fortification of the tradition of orderly procedure in constitutional government; and that to secure those ends the Government of Cuba could count on the friendly cooperation of the United States in every appropriate manner.

I stated that my Government had been caused very grave disquiet by the long-continued political agitation which had existed in Cuba and that public opinion in the United States had been very frequently shocked by acts of terrorism committed by the opponents of the administration of President Machado and as deeply shocked by acts of cruelty and oppression on the part of the military authorities of the Cuban Government. I said that it was our desire to offer our unofficial good offices for the purpose of putting an end as soon as possible to this state of political agitation with all of its inherent evils both because of our abiding interest in and sympathy with the people of Cuba as well as because of our well-founded belief that steps toward any permanent basic economic improvement in the Republic of Cuba could not be taken with complete success until poIiticai quiet once more existed.

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I continued by saying that it was my hope that President Machado would find it possible to carry out a program of conciliation leading towards the holding of absolutely fair and uncontrolled national elections in the autumn of 1934 and that for this reason it seemed to me highly desirable that the Cuban Government adopt, at as early a moment as the President deemed appropriate, certain measures providing for the gradual return to the Cuban people of their constitutional guarantees. I said that to my mind an essential prerequisite to this would be a decree by the President imposing penalties in the future, to be determined by a special tribunal, for any illegal acts committed by military or police, whether of killing by ley de fuga procedure, of torture or of unlawful [apparent omission]; the gradual relaxation of censorship and of the prohibition of free speech; and the raising of martial law as soon as possible.

In concluding this summary I said that my Government was disposed to enter into the consideration of the bases for a reciprocal trade agreement with the Cuban Republic and that I was under the very positive impression that not only the eventual benefits to be derived from such agreement but also the turning of the attention of the general public from political agitation to questions of economic interest to every Cuban citizen would have a markedly beneficial psychological effect.

The President was very obviously impressed with the declarations which I made to him. He said that he found himself not only in full accord with the suggestions I had offered but deeply appreciative of the attitude taken by the United States Government. In considerable detail he went into the nature of the political agitation against his administration. He said that the leaders of the Opposition had neither a constructive program to present nor any recommendations to offer other than the overthrow of the constituted Government of Cuba. He said that it was his most earnest desire to take with the utmost rapidity every measure tending towards a return to normal constitutional procedure. In this connection he referred to the fact that military censorship of the press had been lifted 2 days ago and that the very great majority of political offenders had been freed from imprisonment during the past week. He emphasized the fact that not only all of the political leaders who had previously been arrested but the individuals as well who had attempted to assassinate him had been released from prison and were now at liberty either in the United States or in the Republic. He said that not only would he accept but that he welcomed as the only sure held [help?] in the crisis through which Cuba was now passing the unofficial good offices of the Government of the United States for the purpose of providing a political truce in Cuba which would make it possible for all parties to go to the next national elections with complete assurance that the candidate desired by the majority [Page 289] of the Cuban people would be the next President of the Republic. He declared emphatically that not only would he not under any conditions whatsoever be a candidate himself for a future term, and what to my mind was perhaps the most striking of the assurances given me was the definite intimation that in order to assure the Cuban people of all factions that the coming national elections would not be controlled, the President himself would not be averse at an appropriate moment before the electoral period began to resign his office either temporarily for the duration of the electoral period or permanently until the next constitutional term commenced.

I seized the opportunity of discussing in some detail the various plans which had been under consideration in Washington before my own departure providing for an improvement of our commercial relations’ with Cuba; I stated that at the present time it was impossible to give any definite assurances as to what form these plans would eventually take but that I felt able to say that my Government would be prepared to consider a fixed allotment for Cuban sugars; an increase in the existing preferential [tariff?] covering such allotment; and that it held the belief that under such conditions the anticipated stabilization of the price of sugar in the American market at a fair figure would be of the utmost benefit to the Cuban people as a whole. I was given the positive assurances that were the United States to negotiate on such a basis a reciprocal trade agreement with the Cuban Government, the Cuban Government in turn would grant us a practical monopoly of the Cuban market for American imports, the sole reservation being that in view of the fact that Great Britain was Cuba’s chief customer for that portion of sugar exports which did not go to the United States the Cuban Government would desire to concede certain advantages to a limited category of imports from Great Britain. The Secretary of State was particularly emphatic in amplifying this statement by declaring that the Government would be willing to agree to abolish, as regards American imports, those consumption and other taxes which have in so many instances seriously restricted American importations during the past few years.

I hold the very strong belief that the policy to be pursued in Cuba under present conditions should be as follows:

The economic benefits to be derived from a fair commercial agreement between the United States and Cuba and even the negotiations’ leading towards such an agreement will assist in part in distracting public attention from politics;

By acting through and with the present Cuban Government, which is well aware of the fact that it could not for long remain in power were the support of the United States to be even negatively withdrawn from it, it may be possible to carry out a program of constitutional [Page 290] and electoral reform which will make it possible for fair national elections to be held in 1934;

If the present acute bitterness of feeling against the President and the members of his Government persists or becomes intensified during the coming year it would in all probability be highly desirable that the present chief executive be replaced at least during the electoral period by some impartial citizen in whom all factions have confidence. I do not feel, however, as a practical question that any attempt should be made to anticipate such a change. President Machado is able to preserve order joined with unquestioned loyalty and discipline of the Cuban Army. If some other individual replaced him the loyalty of the Army would be questionable; the Opposition would be as it is now, divided into factions which have absolutely no common ground other than that of desiring the removal of the President. Under such conditions general chaos might well result during the course of which the first objective on the part of malcontents would be the desire to bring about intervention by the United States through the destruction of American property.

I am hopeful that by a series of concessions which the President may make to public opinion and by the continuance of negotiations for commercial agreement agitation may be kept relatively quiet until such time as the Cuban Congress can make essential amendments to the electoral code and approve the needed reforms to the existing constitution, which would be later voted by a freely elected constituent assembly.

Finally, the negotiation at this time of a reciprocal trade agreement with Cuba along the lines above-indicated, will not only revivify Cuba but will give us practical control of a market we have been steadily losing for the past 10 years not only for our manufactured products but for our agricultural exports as well notably in such categories as wheat, animal fats, meat products, rice and potatoes.

It will be this policy that I shall attempt to carry out unless I am instructed to the contrary.

I beg to request that a copy of this telegram be sent to the President for his information.