The Secretary of War (Patterson) to the Secretary of State

Dear Mr. Secretary: Upon overtures of The Judge Advocate General and the Chief of Engineers of this Department, the Assistant Attorney General, Mr. John F. Sonnett, has brought to the attention of your Office of American Republic Affairs the possible impropriety of releasing to the government of Cuba the Batista Airport in that country without prior settlement of their moral obligation to the United States as concerns the Cuban labor problem.

As you possibly may know, suits have been filed in the New York City Court against the cost-plus-a-fixed-fee construction contractor of this project by 2048 Cuban nationals for wage claims aggregating approximately $3,000,000.00. Due to newspaper advertising of Havana attorneys, it is contemplated that many more plaintiffs will join these actions before the trial date is set, and that the amount sued for may well exceed the total cost of the airport (approximately $15,500,000.00). The local United States Attorney and private counsel defending the actions are not hopeful of a judgment for defendant as matters now stand, and the War Department will be legally bound to reimburse the defendant contractor for all its losses and expenses in this case.

These actions arise under a provision of the Cuban constitution which guarantees the Cuban citizens a pay scale equal to that of [Page 709] foreign nationals employed in Cuba on equivalent jobs. Approximately 500 technicians, skilled and semi-skilled workmen from the United States were employed on this project, as well as 11,000 Cubans. All wage rate schedules for locally employed workmen were cleared with the Cuban Department of Labor by the contractor, and it was assumed that approval by that Department precluded any liability by the contractor under said constitutional provision.

I am advised that the Batista Airport is to be released to the Cuban Government on 20 May 1946, as a compromise arrangement, although your advisers have not conceded that you are legally required to do so, since the transfer had originally been agreed upon for a date six months after the end of the war. It was first proposed by this Department, and in turn by the Department of Justice to your Office of American Republic Affairs, that an attempt be made to obtain a commitment from the Government of Cuba whereby it would agree to indemnify the United States for all expenses incurred as a result of these suits, transfer of the field to be held in abeyance in the meantime. It is my understanding that Mr. Ellis O. Briggs of your office deems it inadvisable to postpone transfer of the airport or to press for such a commitment. Nevertheless, I further understand that Mr. Briggs has agreed to an alternative suggestion, and will seek from the Cuban government an official opinion that actions of the construction contractor were not violative of the constitution of Cuba. The issuance of such an edict appears reasonable in view of the previous position of Cuba’s Labor Department, and introduction of same into evidence in this litigation would probably result in dismissal of the actions.

In view of the potential liability of the United States Government in the litigation, I shall greatly appreciate any action that you can take to expedite and make certain of the successful conclusion of this matter.25

Sincerely yours,

Robert P. Patterson
  1. This matter was not concluded in 1946.