The Ambassador in Cuba (Welles) to the Secretary of State
[Received 6:40 p.m.]
271. I have just finished a secret conversation of 2 hours’ length with Grau San Martín at a friend’s house.
I told him that I had requested Berle to see him last night in order that he might realize how desperately serious the situation had become and how rapidly dangers of every kind were increasing both in number and in extent. I said that in my judgment confidence in his Government was daily diminishing and the attitude now assumed by financial, commercial and agricultural elements in refusing to pay taxes, in closing down or in canceling orders wherever possible to dp so, and in protesting publicly their opposition to a continuation of the present regime must certainly convince him, as it had me, that the Government was not supported by exceedingly important elements in the country. I said that in my opinion lack of confidence was not directed in any sense against him personally nor most of the men with whom he had surrounded himself but in the basic fact that his Government had been installed as the result of a mutiny in the Army which in itself shattered all confidence in authority and in the second place that it was responsive solely to one numerically small group in the country, namely, the student group. I called his attention to the fact that I was constantly receiving accurate information from all over the Republic and that no matter how often his Government might announce that order was being maintained, I knew, and I had no doubt that he knew, that disorders were increasing every moment and that neither the lives nor the property of Cuban citizens at the present time were safe and I was by no means certain that the lives and properties of American citizens or other foreigners were safe except in those ports where American warships were stationed. He admitted this fact quite frankly. I then referred to the official declaration regarding recognition issued by my Government in Washington 4 days ago.58 I told him that in my [Page 444] judgment none of the requisites which he [sic] had mentioned in that declaration existed in his government; that the government did not have the support of the Cuban people other than that of a relatively small group; that public order was most decidedly not being maintained; that the government certainly was not stable and that no government could be considered as carrying out the functions of government when, as I had no doubt he knew, a great number of the provincial and municipal internal revenue offices were now filled by soldiers who were pocketing such few receipts as might come in and when furthermore it was plainly apparent that at the same time that the government did not collect revenues it likewise did not have sufficient funds in reserve to meet the ordinary daily charges upon it for more than an extremely brief period.
At this point he argued with me regarding popular support leaving the other features of my statement uncontroverted. He said that every one in the country would support the government if the United States would accord recognition. I reminded him that our recognition could not in the first place be employed by him as a means of obtaining popular support but was a matter which rested entirely within our own sovereign discretion and that we did not, in justice to the Cuban people, intend to exert that power as a means of attempting to keep a minority group in control of the Cuban government.
I told him that my conversations with the leaders of the really important political groups opposed to his regime had convinced me that they were unanimously in accordance with the main features of the program which he had announced as the ideal of his government and of the student group and that on that point consequently there was no question at issue. I told him, however, that they all felt that the present government had been selected by the students and that the members of his Cabinet were subservient to every whim of the students; and that they felt that no government of this kind could either last or even attempt to carry out the program which it had set for itself. I asked him in the true interest of the Republic in this moment of gravest emergency what possible objection the student group or he himself could have to a government of concentration composed of men who were not active politicians and who were individuals of high standing and reputation who might be indicated by the various opposition groups because of the fact that they had confidence in them which confidence they did not have in most of the members of the present Cabinet.
In his reply Grau San Martín adopted an extremely conciliatory attitude. He said that he believed such a solution was necessary and that he himself favored it. He said he recognized that practical considerations must be taken into account and that at a meeting with [Page 445] the political leaders this afternoon he would maintain that attitude since he did not consider that individuals were of any importance in comparison with the necessity of saving the country. The attitude so expressed to me is, of course, exactly the reverse of what he has previously repeatedly said to the political leaders in past conferences. It was very apparent throughout the conversation that Grau San Martín was extremely apprehensive. When I touched upon the subject of the Army and the conditions in the Army and the imminent danger which I foresaw from the fact that the sergeants and soldiers now felt, quite correctly, that the real control of the country is in their hands and that they can exercise such control whenever they see fit, it was apparent that that question was the cause of his apprehension. He told me that Batista wanted to be President but that he thought that Batista would try to gain popular support for the coming elections among the laboring classes and would not now attempt a further coup d’état in order to install himself in the Palace. He admitted that Batista “had to be handled” and that no orders could be given to him with any expectation of their being carried out. He said there was no alternative whatever to leaving Batista in his present post as Chief of Staff and that if any attempt were made to remove him the Army would at once become unmanageable. I reminded him that in my previous conversations with him he had expressed the opinion that the sergeants and soldiers who had joined in the mutiny were so pure in mind and were so devoted to the ideals of the students that they had no ulterior ambitions. He told me that he was willing to admit that he had been gravely mistaken on this point.
The Department will easily gather from this summary of my conversation how utterly impractical and visionary Grau San Martín is and how little hope of success there can be from a government controlled by him and by the students. The effects of his present apprehension, however, will make a compromise this afternoon more likely. The meeting referred to will be held at 3 o’clock and upon receipt of information as to the result of such meeting I shall telegraph the Department.