The Ambassador in Cuba ( Welles ) to the Secretary of State
[Received 2:15 p.m.]
186. I was visited yesterday by a delegation of 30 of the most prominent American business men in Cuba. They expressed themselves as exceedingly disturbed by the social and labor unrest which is current [Page 377] in Cuba and certain of them appear to be firmly of the opinion that Communist agitators “under the pay of Russia” are seizing this opportunity through the formation of unions and the promotion of syndicalism to plan the overthrow of the Cuban Government and the installation of a Communist regime.
It is true that during the past 2 weeks labor leaders, some of them foreigners, have been furthering unrest and have been responsible for the epidemic of strikes which have swept the Republic. I do not believe, however, that Communist theories as such have as yet any support among the laboring classes. The present situation, disturbing as it is and increasingly serious as it may become, is primarily due to the fact that the laboring classes have suffered under an absolute dictatorship for the last 3 years; that their leaders have been arrested and frequently assassinated; and that any organization of labor has been made absolutely impossible. Even more important is the fact that for the same period the average laborer on the plantations has been paid less than the minimum amount required to feed himself and his family and the conditions of distress and actual destitution which exist cannot be exaggerated. The field consequently is particularly ripe for agitation by labor leaders and for the formation of labor unions under the control of such leaders. The demands which have been presented on the sugar plantations by the delegates of the newly-formed unions have called for a living wage and an 8-hour day as well as recognition of the unions. In most instances these demands have been granted by the companies although many of the companies frankly state that they may be unable because of their own financial situation to carry out their promises.
In such cases where the demands have not been agreed to unruly mobs, frequently considerable, in size, have been formed and while violence has until now been averted loss of life and destruction of property may take place at any time. The condition is so general that the military forces of the Government can only cope with the situation where the detachments are sufficiently large to inspire respect and as I have already informed the Department the discipline within the Army, while improving, is not yet sufficiently good to give the Government assurance that its orders will be complied with in every instance.
The only sure solution for a situation which otherwise may get beyond control is for the sugar companies to be able to commence work within the near future and offer their laborers sufficient to enable them to live and support their families. This, of course, is contingent upon the determination in the immediate future of the amount of sugar which Cuba can produce during the next crop year. This in turn depends on the agreement which is to be reached in Washington [Page 378] as to the Cuban quota. If some fair adjustment is arrived at in the near future I believe the labor situation on the plantations will solve itself within a comparatively few weeks.
The situation in the cities while still precarious is more satisfactory. The American employers of labor are fearful of the formation of labor unions which the Machado Government made impossible. In certain exceptional cases where American companies have not during the past years cut down wages and have treated their employees fairly the demands now presented by the latter to their employers are preposterous and if insisted upon the companies will have to close their doors. In many other cases, however, the demands formulated are in my judgment reasonable and can be complied with. There is a very strong desire on the part of the Government to regulate the formation of unions by law in the near future so that the Government itself may act as arbitrator in disputes between foreign interests and their employees. This I think should be encouraged and many of the American interests represented here favor it.
While I recognize that a small number of foreign agitators are availing themselves of this opportunity to stir up strikes and labor unrest in general to their own profit and that if this policy is not checked by the Government serious consequences may ensue, I cannot see any indications of the “red menace” which certain Americans doing business here are fearful of. Immediate improvement of economic conditions in Cuba is a sure cure for the situation which now exists and I feel it obligatory for me to state to the Department that if the Government of the United States does not soon render friendly assistance in the determination of a fair sugar quota for Cuba and the formulation of other financing and economic recommendations such as those which I have proposed in previous telegrams to the Department a general chaotic condition throughout the country will probably arise which it will be much more difficult to put down than it would be to prevent.