837.00/3665: Telegram

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

162. The Secretary of War came to my house at 8 o’clock this morning to tell me that in his opinion the situation was most disquieting; that public opinion was rolling up tremendously against the continuation in office of any national, provincial, or municipal executive or legislative authorities who had held office under the old regime; and that this feeling was shared by the great majority of the younger officers of the Army. During the past 2 days the resignations of certain provincial governors and of the mayors of some of the more important cities have been forced from them or else they have been violently removed from office. He told me that in his opinion if the Government insisted upon replacing the former officials in office by force the Army in many districts would refuse to carry out orders. He also told me that agitation was spreading alarmingly against the Government for having permitted the departure from the country of so many of the officials of the old regime who were connected in the public mind with the atrocities performed by the Machado administration. He urged me to see the President at once and impress him with the gravity of the situation.

I went immediately to see President Céspedes and I told him that I thought he must take immediate energetic action. I suggested that he issue two declarations immediately, after consulting with his Cabinet to the following effect:

That his Government was determined that all of those employees of the prior government who had been guilty of crime or of malfeasance in office should be brought to trial and punishment and that it was his intention that strict justice be done but that his Government would insist upon it that such punishment be administered through legal channels and through the verdict of the courts and could not for one moment permit mobs to take the punishment of guilty officials of the Machado Government into their own hands.
That the prime requisite in benefit of the Cuban people was the immediate restoration of peace and of normality and of the return to work by the Cubans; that for the time being he demanded a definite truce with regard to the removal from office of unpopular officials of the former government and that as soon as normal conditions had [Page 366] been restored his government would proceed energetically to carry out the will of the people through legal and orderly procedure; that for the time being such officials as had been appointed during the past 2 days to replace those who had either been ousted or who had resigned would be temporarily confirmed by the Department of the Interior but that such temporary confirmation would only continue until an orderly manner of obtaining the determination of the Cuban people in this regard had been achieved.

President Céspedes was in the utmost accord with the suggestion which I made and called his Cabinet together at once to take the necessary action, which all of the Cabinet members with whom I have spoken believe will do very much to control conditions. I feel that the prime necessity is to bring about at the first possible moment a restoration of discipline in the Army. Once this has been obtained the Government can count on its orders being carried out. At the present time this is unfortunately not the case. A great obstacle to the speedy control of the Army came about last night in the very serious illness of General Sanguily who had been appointed Chief of Staff by President Céspedes and who had been handling the situation admirably. He has had to undergo an operation and will be incapacitated, if he survives, for several weeks.

Reports from the interior in general today are more satisfactory but if immediate measures such as those indicated above are not taken by the Government to tranquilize opinion it is very difficult to foresee what may result.

The Secretary of War has urged me to leave the Taylor in the harbor here and has also requested me confidentially to advise the Department that in view of the danger which exists in the present situation reenforcements should be at hand both at Key West and at Guantanamo.

I am hopeful and at the present moment I believe that the situation will be controlled by the Government but I do not expect to be able to reach a definite conclusion on this point until several more days have passed.

The exiles who are now returning from the United States are unfortunately doing a great deal to increase agitation. They are taking the attitude that a triumphant revolution has placed the Government in power and that they are consequently entitled to dictate the policies of the Government. Furthermore the student group which is the most pernicious element in Cuban public life is constantly issuing inflammatory proclamations and making speeches of the same character over the radio. The representation of the A.B.C. in the government fortunately will make it possible for the A.B.C. to place itself squarely against the student activities and through the extraordinary organization which it possesses probably to dominate them but at the present [Page 367] moment both the Government, the Army, and the organized political parties or groups of public opinion are all equally afraid of making themselves unpopular and consequently the strong action which is needed to dominate and control the utterly lawless student groups is lacking.