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

No. 8585

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Department’s instruction No. 4763 of December 20, 19442 with further reference to the post-war use of military air bases in Cuba.

During a prolonged conversation which I had with President Grau and Ambassador Belt3 on December 28, 1944, to discuss the many matters which are pending between this Embassy and the Cuban Government, I took occasion to mention the desire of my Government to reach an agreement looking to the post-war use of the air bases at San Antonio de los Baños and San Julián. I had already mentioned this subject a few days earlier to Ambassador Belt in order to prepare the President for my conversation with him.

Grau was definite and positive on two points:

The provisions of the existing Agreements4 for the construction and use of these bases shall be carried out—i.e., they must be turned over to the Cuban Government six months after the establishment of peace between the United States and the Axis Powers.
The Cuban Government on taking over these bases will forthwith assume the obligation to maintain them in good condition and will make them available for use, in the defense of the continent, by all the American Republics, but especially by the United States.

It is therefore clear that, as anticipated by the Embassy, President Grau, as a matter of sovereignty, is adamant on the proposition that there shall not be a lease of the bases to anyone. Moreover, in this stand, I believe, he accurately reflects the majority of Cuban public [Page 897] opinion. When I expanded on such points as the number and type of personnel we might have on the bases; the guarding of our planes; the weather, communication and other facilities; the question of free entry; and use of these bases by commercial aircraft, Grau evaded the issue on all points except the last two by saying that we could draft an agreement or treaty on all these details. He seemed, at first, disposed to leave the concluding of an agreement “on all these details” until after the termination of hostilities but then with reticence acceded to my point that we could not afford to leave such matters for subsequent disposal but must be ready to go ahead without delay upon the termination of hostilities since we do not know what may then be facing us.

With respect to free entry, the President again referred to his desire to put all such matters, even for Cuban governmental agencies, including the Army, under a strict control which would require special permission each time that free entry is to be granted. He assured me, however, that he would never think of any United States agency or organization paying duty; however, we would be required to obtain special permission for each importation.

With respect to the use of the bases for commercial aircraft, he agreed with my thesis that they should be kept almost entirely for military use. (I assume, however, that the War Department would have no objection to the bases being used for emergency landing purposes in the event of bad weather at the regular commercial airports or in the case of engine trouble on planes flying near the bases. I believe that this is the present situation at many of our bases.)

I told the President that I fully appreciated the points made by him and that I would inform my Government in the premises. I told him that I would request further instructions and would advise him so soon as I receive word from the Department.

I feel that President Grau has taken the only stand which could be taken by the Chief of State of Cuba under existing circumstances. We have entered into Military Agreements with the Cuban Government which have given us special privileges for the duration of the present war and until six months thereafter. It is my conviction that any Government which tried to prolong these special privileges beyond the period specified in these Agreements would immediately run into serious, not to say insurmountable, political difficulties. The Department, in this connection, will recall the articles written by Dr. Portell Vila as a result of the rather innocuous statements made to the New York Times by Dr. Grau shortly after his election (see my despatches No. 7592 of August 4, 1944, and No. 7689 of August 16, [Page 898] 9445). The Cubans are particularly sensitive on the matter of sovereignty and while, in general, they accept the special arrangements made many years ago with respect to the United States Naval Operating Station at Guantánamo Bay, it is abundantly clear that no Government of Cuba could now grant to a foreign power the lease of any Cuban territory for military purposes.

It should be appreciated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, however, that we shall probably be able to obtain, in practice, much of what they desire, although it will be difficult, if not impossible, to get this or any other Government of Cuba to sign a treaty or other agreement granting these special privileges, unless and until a state of affairs arises when the Cuban Government, in its anxiety to obtain some special favor from us, will be willing to meet our desires on this and/or other matters in return for some special privilege or assistance which they desire. It is conceivable, however, that our efforts might be materially aided were we authorized to inform the officials here as to what use we intend to make of these bases in the post-war era and to support our requests with potent arguments as to why they would be needed and how Cuba would benefit thereby. As the Department is aware, the Embassy is uninformed in these particulars and therefore is unable to advance more than general reasons as to why we need these facilities.

In the light of the aforedescribed developments, the Embassy awaits further instructions from the Department.

Respectfully yours,

Spruille Braden
  1. Ibid., p. 903.
  2. Guillermo Belt, Cuban Ambassador to the United States.
  3. Agreement for Military Cooperation, signed at Havana, June 19, 1942, Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. vi, p. 267, and Agreement for Military and Naval Cooperation, signed at Havana, September 7, 1942, ibid., p. 283.
  4. Neither printed.