837.51 Cooperation Program/160

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Acting Secretary of State

Participants: Señor Dr. Aurelio F. Concheso, Cuban Ambassador;
Cuban Minister of Finance;
Cuban Secretary of the Presidency, Dr. López Castro;
Mr. Welles, Acting Secretary.

The Cuban Ambassador called this afternoon accompanied by the Minister of Finance and by the Secretary of the Presidency, Senior López Castro.

[Page 292]

Señor López Castro said he was the bearer of a message of a personal character for me from President Batista. He said that President Batista had agreed to conclude negotiations for the $25,000,000 credit because of his belief that the various projects which would be carried out under the terms of this credit would be highly beneficial to the people of Cuba. He emphasized particularly the repair and the widening of the Central Highway, the construction of feeder roads by the Department of Agriculture, the new water systems in Santiago and Guantánamo, and finally the construction of four hospitals, two of them to be completed in the two cities last mentioned, upon which the heart of President Batista was particularly set. He said that he had only two years left of his presidential term and that he felt a moral obligation to the people of Cuba to complete these hospitals before he left the Presidency.

President Batista continued by saying that public opinion was overwhelmingly in favor of the conclusion of this credit arrangement but that, knowing the Cuban people as I did, I would realize the serious situation which would be created for him if after this credit arrangement had been concluded none of the material from the United States required for the construction of these projects was received because of the lack of the necessary priorities.

President Batista therefore wanted me to know that he did not consider that he could conclude the negotiations unless he felt that I was personally interested in seeing that the material required reached Cuba and unless because of my personal interest the question of the priorities involved would be dealt with in other than the ordinary routine way.

I asked Señor López Castro to reply in my name to President Batista in these terms: I said that as he knew, I had always been greatly interested in the extension of this credit to Cuba because of the fact that when the negotiations commenced Cuba appeared to be heading into a very serious economic situation and I felt that the assistance which would be given to Cuba’s national economy by this credit would be enough to relieve the situation almost entirely. I said that I believed that the projects the Cuban Government had in mind were all of them desirable and of long term, highly beneficial, permanent value. I said that consequently there was no question but that my own personal interest was involved and that for reasons of high policy, it would remain the desire of this Government to see that as much of the material called for was sent to Cuba as could be sent under our present situation in the United States.

I stated, however, that if the President’s message implied some commitment on my part that priorities would be granted for such material to be shipped, it was utterly impossible for me to give such [Page 293] commitment. I said that this country was involved in the most desperate war in which we had ever been engaged and that the people and the Government of Cuba were at our side as our allies in that war. I said that obviously, if the material required for the carrying out of these projects in Cuba was required for our war effort or for military or naval purposes, it would be fantastic to assume that reasons of high policy, even a policy involving our Cuban ally, could dissuade the President and the military and naval authorities of the United States Government from utilizing these materials for our war needs rather than for the construction of these projects in Cuba.

I said I wanted to speak with complete clarity and with complete precision as I had always attempted to do in the past to my Cuban friends so that there would be no possible misunderstanding in the future: If our war needs and the needs of our general hemispheric policy made it possible, it would be the desire of this Government to see that the necessary priorities were granted but that I must emphasize the tremendous demands which were increasingly being made upon us for our war needs and for the requirements of our hemispheric policy and I could, therefore, give no assurances of a more positive character to the President of Cuba.

The Cuban Ambassador and the two cabinet ministers stated that this was all they expected to obtain from me in the way of assurances and the Cuban Ambassador asked if he could not also assume that Cuba would have some preferential position with regard to these priorities in connection with the requirements of the other American Republics.

I replied that it was impossible for me to give such assurances and that I had already indicated that the requirements of our hemispheric policy covered not only what we felt it necessary to give in a spirit of fairness on terms of equality in the way of export allocations to our neighbors in the rest of the hemisphere, but that also obviously some of these priorities granted the other American Republics had a direct and immediate connection with our war requirements and with the defense requirements of the rest of the hemisphere. For example, I said, it might well be that priorities for a governmental steel mill in Brazil would be regarded as having a more direct connection with hemispheric defense than the granting of priorities for the pipe required in the aqueduct in Santiago.

I reiterated that all that I could possibly say was that these priorities to Cuba were regarded with sympathy and with particular interest, but that no assurances whatever, for the reasons above stated, could be given that priorities would be forthcoming.

S[umner] W[elles]