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

No. 2160

Sir: I have the honor to set forth below a summary of my impressions of the evolution of our relations with Cuba during my first year as Ambassador—a year which, as it happens, corresponds almost exactly with the first year of peace following World War II. This circumstance has had a marked bearing both on the nature of the problems arising between our two countries and on our respective attitudes towards such problems. By and large both sides have tended to become more demanding, to raise the ante, as it were, on the issues at stake. Also by and large, to pursue this analogy, the chips have been with the Cubans, but on the whole have not over played their hand too much.

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American Claims and Property Rights

Perhaps the sorest point of our current relations, and certainly the one fraught with the most irritating repudiations of specific official promises, is the question of claims arising from inter-governmental commodity contracts (peanut seed), compensation for squatter-infested American property (Stowers case)67 and the wide range of substantiated private claims of American nationals dating back to the turn of the century. This whole mass of aggravation, with Lend-Lease thrown in, could be eliminated by a ten or twelve million dollar appropriation by a Government which is now receiving, over and above record normal revenues, some $20,000,000 from the proceeds of sugar crop sales in the open market and is contemplating seizure of many more millions which would accrue to the sugar industry from price increases resulting from rises in our cost-of-living or foodstuffs price indices. But instead of a comprehensive and equitable solution involving little strain on the Cuban fiscal position, we seem destined to an endless case by case bickering with corresponding decline in political and commercial confidence and adverse side effects. The American business community here is seriously concerned over both the claims and squatter issues, and if the coming session of a Congress now completely under Administration control does nothing towards a solution, there will be unpleasant repercussions. I feel that in the [Page 747] matter of justifiable private claims, such as those of the Isle of Pines Company,68 and elementary property rights, such as Stowers’, we shall gain no compensatory goodwill by displaying magnanimity or tolerance in the face of delays and false promises by the Cuban authorities. If there is a place for hard bargaining based upon a really workable and specific quid pro quo, this is it, rather than the Lend-Lease issue.69

Commercial Policy and Business Relations

However we may sugar-coat it, the pill of our prospective reduction or complete elimination of the bilateral tariff preferences is going to be a bitter one for Cuba to swallow. Of course, if our Congress next year should by any chance take action towards increasing the Cuban share in the United States sugar market, much of the adverse effect would be offset, but even so there would still remain many problems of adjustment. The successful outcome of the forthcoming Preliminary Trade Meeting is therefore of great importance to Cuba, but even more important from our viewpoint is the task of educating the Cubans away from their current narrow economic nationalism, which has resulted in ever-increasing violations of the letter and spirit of the present Trade Agreement. This process has now been ably begun by a special mission from the Department aided by the Embassy’s economic staff, and it is to be hoped that by the time the multilateral conferences of major trading nations are held Cuba will understand that her own best long-range interests lie in full cooperation with our proposals for liberalizing the whole concept of world trade.

The American business community, too, is having to adjust itself in this postwar reconversion period to a new concept of Cuba as an independent economic partner rather than a protected dependency. As in the case of other long-entrenched special privileged groups, the transition will not be an easy one, and there have been many headaches during the past year over the increasing inroads and demands of the Cuban Government and of newly organized labor. Where grievances have been legitimate, as in the case of certain claims and property rights mentioned above, or where intervention or harassment has occurred in disregard of Cuban law or in violation of treaty rights, the Embassy has firmly, if not always successfully, supported the American complainant. But little can be done constructively until a broad Treaty of Commerce and Navigation, backed by goodwill and mutual understanding of the changing relationships, has been negotiated. [Page 748] Much has been done during the past year in tripartite spadework by the Department, the Embassy and the American Chamber of Commerce in preparing a draft of such an agreement for submission to the Cuban Government.

Cooperation in World Policy

When President Grau (at the recent elaborate testimonial dinner tendered me as a tribute to the freeing of the Philippines) said that Cuba was devoutly thankful that the United States, rather than any other power, possessed the effective secret of atomic warfare, he gave voice to what I believe is the sincere feeling of the great majority of Cuban, as well as other Latin American, people. Coming from the Cubans, who know us so intimately, the tribute is all the more real, and the implied rebuke to the minority of Cubans who implacably hate us—the Communists—is very clear. This spirit of basic confidence, despite all our minor differences, has characterized Cuba’s attitude during the past year in the whole broad range of our world and hemisphere policies.

We counted on, and received, Cuban support at Chapultepec and San Francisco;70 Cuba has followed the Anglo-American policy on Franco Spain, despite great internal pressures to the contrary; and in the various new international organizations, such as UNRRA, the International Bank and Fund, and United Nations subsidiary organizations, Cuba has allied herself to our principles, with only such reservations as befit a very self-conscious “little” power. On the tortuous Argentine question Cuba was shrewdly non-committal, preferring, like many others, to suspend judgment, although with respect of the Larreta proposal71 Cuban reception was distinctly reserved. Only in the matter of our World Trade Proposal and in regional radio matters has there been any serious doubt as to the extent to which we may be able to rely on Cuban support in major current issues.

Meanwhile, Cuba has of her own accord intensified good neighborly relations in this hemisphere—notably with Canada, Mexico and Venezuela—and has expanded her foreign representation in general. This increasing maturity and interest in the international field helps to counteract the previously noted tendencies towards accelerating nationalism, and the Embassy has made every effort to foster such development despite a notable shortage of adequate personnel either in the Cuban Foreign Office or its representatives abroad. On the whole, [Page 749] we may be quite well satisfied with Cuba’s progress as a partner in world affairs during the past year.

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As I look back over developments of the past year, I have the feeling that relations between Cuba and the United States may only have been settling gradually to a basis different from that which existed prior to the abrogation of the Piatt Amendment. As Cubans, generally, have become convinced that there is only a very remote possibility of the United States reverting to a frankly interventionist policy, they have had a natural tendency to flaunt their “independence” in small ways—much as a puppy might yelp bravely at a mastiff behind a fence. The “fence” is our own determination that we will not again be lured into “landing the Marines”.

The exhilaration of the “independent” attitude of Cubans now appears to be subsiding and I believe we may expect that the relationship between our two countries will level off on a new plateau—with gradually increasing mutual respect which should mark the relations between neighbors who are “good” in the best sense of the word. This process will inevitably be slow but it can be hastened if we continue in our inclination not to provide gratuitous assistance—except, of course, succor for humanitarian needs—and instead to wait those manifestations of reciprocal cooperation, such as debt payments and other expressions of decent goodwill, which might normally be expected of any neighbor who wishes practical cooperation. The very recent indication that the Cuban Government may finally pay its Lend-Lease account, when faced with our reluctance to sell further war matériel until this payment is made, should encourage us to maintain this attitude in other matters. If we are firm but reasonable, I believe we may eventually expect results. And if we are reasonable, it seems very unlikely that Cuba will be tempted to look farther afield—to some other great Power—for the largesse that we may withhold.

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Respectfully yours,

R. Henry Norweb
  1. Property evaluated at $50,000 belonging to John L. Stowers, American citizen, had been occupied by squatters.
  2. This company’s claims against the Cuban Government for freight service between the Isle of Pines and Cuba totalled $178,904.96.
  3. Marginal handwritten note by the Acting Chief of the Division of Caribbean and Central American Affairs (Barber): “Dept. is pressing for all issues but is at the moment emphasizing L Lease. W.F.B.”
  4. For documentation on the Inter-American Conference on Problems of War and Peace, Mexico City, February 21–March 8, 1945, see Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. ix, pp. 1 ff.; for documentation on the United Nations Conference on International Organization, San Francisco, April 25–June 26, 1945, see ibid., vol. i, pp. 1 ff.
  5. For documentation on the Uruguayan proposal with respect to intervention in the affairs of states through multilateral action, see Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. ix, pp. 185 ff.