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

No. 133

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the secret Agreement for Military and Naval Cooperation entered into by Cuba and the United States on September 7, 1942, and to present certain considerations which have now become of urgent interest and concern by reason of the termination of formal hostilities in the Pacific.

Article VII of the agreement provides that its authorizations and stipulations for military and naval wartime cooperation shall remain in force for the duration of the present war and until six months after [Page 907] the restoration of peace between the United States and all the foreign powers with which it is at war (“… durante la presente guerra y hasta seis iheses despues de la restauracion de la paz entre los Estados Unidos y todos las Potencias extranjeras con las cuales se encuentra en guerra.”) The definition of the point at which the “restoration of peace” is reached is thus clearly a function of the United States in this instance, and I presume that it will be made by Congress shortly after the signing of a surrender document by the enemy powers in the Pacific.

At the termination of the agreement all the fixed installations of every kind placed within the Republic of Cuba by the Government of the United States or in its name, during the life of the agreement, shall be left in place and shall become without cost the property of the Government of Cuba.

Air bases established in Cuba would thus revert to the Government of Cuba. Among them the air base at Batista Field, San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba, is of extraordinary value, and the manner in which it will continue to be administered after the termination of the agreement is of great importance to the United States.

I consider that the time has now come when the question of the future administration of this base, and the manner of its operation to the best advantage of Cuba and the United States, through agreement between the Governments of the two countries, should be made the subject of discussions with the Cuban Government.

The Embassy has in the past reported the internal Cuban political sentiment which will certainly prevent President Grau from assenting to continued exclusively American jurisdiction and control over the base subsequent to the termination of the original agreement, and which may oblige him to insist upon a formal and absolute cession of the base to the Cuban Government, in pursuance of the agreement’s terms, prior to the conclusion of any convention governing its future administration. I see no reason, however, why informal conversations should not in the meanwhile be conducted with a view to acquainting each of the Governments with the desiderata which the other has in mind, and with the maximum concessions which the other will be in a position to offer in such an eventual convention. I shall hope shortly to receive instructions defining what the United States Goverment wants with regard to the base and other bases within Cuba, on what terms, and for what period of time.

The military advantages to the United States of access to the Batista base, at the very least on conditions permitting unlimited use at all times during the life of the convention, are of course very [Page 908] great. I have been informed that Batista Field is regarded by Army flyers as being the outstanding military airport in the Caribbean region, far surpassing in present utility and in possibilities for economical and extensive expansion, such as would suit the heaviest bombers now contemplated for future use, all others in the neighborhood and especially those to which we are so fortunate as to have access on ninety-nine year leases.

It is not our own advantages, however, which we will have to explain to the Cuban Government. The supporters of the present administration entertain widely the sentiment of extreme nationalism and independence of foreign and especially American capital, management control, and even technical assistance. This sentiment regrets the conditions under which we have leased the Guantanamo Naval Operating Base;18 it will certainly produce vehement arguments against any American participation in the control or operation of air bases in Cuba.

It must be offset through the presentation of overwhelming counter-inducements, founded on a sound demonstration that any future convention will be in no way derogatory or limiting to Cuba’s sovereignty and developed along such lines as the following:

The value of the base to Cuba in connection with its own immediate defense needs and with defense policies of the American republics as a group.
The value of the base to Cuba economically, and most especially to the region immediately surrounding it. (In this connection Colonel Wade,19 the Commandant, estimates that the base as contemplated for the postwar period will be paying between one and two million pesos annually in wages to Cuban civilian labor, and will furnish the principal economic support of the surrounding towns, particularly that of San Antonio de los Baños.)
The greatly diminished value of the base to Cuba if American financial support in its operation, conditional upon a share in operation and control, is rejected. (Here Colonel Wade points out that the base now costs about $600,000 a year to run, an expenditure which current or prospective Cuban military budgets are unlikely to cover, and also that the base must be operated as a unit, reduced scale operations not being, in his opinion, practicable. He also refers to the reverse of point 2 above—that were the base to be permitted to decline [Page 909] through lack of American financial support, a very serious economic problem would be created for the immediately surrounding region, a fact which he says is fully clear to General Genevevo Perez, the Cuban Chief of Staff.)

Thus the decision regarding the base’s future, which the present agreement places in Cuba’s hands, must be one that is palatable to Cuba. We must shortly let the Government of Cuba know not only what proposals we have in mind for the future of the base, but also why we feel that acceptance of these proposals would be so strongly to Cuba’s advantage that the highly sensitive, personal, and nationalistic administration can afford to confront its more extreme supporters and critics with a plan for future cooperation between the United States and Cuba calling for at least unlimited American military use of the base and, if we are fortunate, for a certain measure of American administration and control as well.

I realize that the Batista base is only one of a number of similar problems in various American republics, the solution of which depends on the formulation of general policies now being explored and studied with energetic application. It is, however, a base of outstanding importance through its location, its suitability for use by the heaviest bombing planes of today and its capabilities for prompt and cheap expansion to meet the needs of the foreseeable future. Success in the conclusion of a satisfactory agreement here would probably be of great service in bringing about the acceptance of similar conventions elsewhere. For this reason, as well as those cited further above, I shall await with particular interest the Department’s instructions as to the course which I should follow with regard to discussions of future arrangements relating to present American base installations in Cuba.

Respectfully yours,

R. Henry Norweb
  1. Agreement between the United States and Cuba for the lease to the United States of lands in Cuba for coaling and naval stations, signed at Habana by the President of Cuba February 16, 1903 and by the President of the United States February 23, 1903, Foreign Relations, 1903, p. 350; and lease to the United States by the Government of Cuba of certain areas of land and water for naval or coaling stations in Guantanamo and Bahia Honda, signed at Habana July 2, 1903. ibid., p. 351.
  2. Leigh Wade, Commandant of the United States Army Air Forces base at San Antonio de los Baños, within which Batista Airport was located.