810.20 Defense/13½

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

Dear George: You may remember that when you were in Washington we talked about the desirability of undertaking secret military and naval conversations between the appropriate authorities of the United States and the Governments of the other American Republics. This matter was first broached in a conversation which I had with Colonel Batista when he was in the United States a year and a half ago.32 In a recent conversation which I had with Martínez Fraga I told him that we would soon be ready to move in this regard and, in a subsequent conversation, the Ambassador told me that the Cuban authorities would be ready at any time to commence these conversations.

I have now secretly arranged for conversations of this character to be undertaken in the immediate future in all of the more important Latin American capitals, and, accordingly, two American officers, one naval and one military, will arrive in Habana on June 7. They will carry special passports as diplomatic couriers and will be instructed to get in touch with you immediately after their arrival.

I should assume that the proper people for them to see would be Colonel Batista and Colonel Pedraza33 and that the smaller the number of people in Cuba who participate in these conversations or who know of their existence, the better it will be. As you will understand, if there is any publicity with regard to what is going on, the German propagandists will immediately seize it as an indication that we are planning to go into the war and are forcing the other American Republics to sacrifice their sons in our behalf.

Colonel del Valle, one of the officers appointed to go to Cuba, and his companion will be instructed as follows: 1. Any conversations they hold are to be solely in your presence and under your auspices. [Page 95] 2. They are to make it entirely clear that the holding of these conversations in no way implies that the United States is getting into the war, that it desires a military alliance or that any military or naval commitments are envisaged. 3. They are to make it equally clear that all that is in mind is to make it plain just what every one of the American Republics could do in the way of cooperation in the event of any aggression against the continent so that if an emergency arises there will be no duplication nor confusion. 4. What we particularly need so far as Cuba is concerned is the construction of adequate airfields (which we would be prepared to finance although they would, of course, be entirely under the sovereignty of the Cuban Government), utilization of Cuban ports in time of need and adequate protection and vigilance by Cuba of her own coastal waters and of alien activities within the Republic.

I think it might be well, before the officers arrive, for you to have a preliminary conversation with Colonel Batista along these lines so that he may not have any mistaken impression of the exact nature of the conferences which are to take place.

My best regards [etc.]

Sumner Welles
  1. Fulgencio Batista, then Chief of Staff of the Cuban Army, visited Washington in November 1938 and at that time conferred with officials of the Department of State. No record of these conversations has been found in Department files.
  2. José Pedraza, Chief of Staff of the Cuban Army.