Memorandum of Conversation, by the Director of the Office of American Republic Affairs (Briggs)

Subject: Cuba’s Irresponsibility with Respect to Debts; Conversation with Cuban Ambassador Belt on May 17.

Ambassador Belt called at my request. I told him that I wished to express my growing preoccupation over the obstacle to progress in Cuban-American matters represented by the existence of so many outstanding accounts and unpaid debts.6 I mentioned the Lend Lease [Page 768] account, the peanut seed bill, and the debts owing to private American interests. As illustrative of the problem created by Cuba’s failure to take any action to effect settlement I recalled to Ambassador Belt that during the recent visit of the head of the Cuban Navy I had pointed out that while both Navy and State were desirous of collaborating and Navy was entirely willing to place the vessels desired at Cuba’s disposal, the unpaid Lend Lease account was an obstacle to our doing so.7 I said that the situation was the more difficult for us to understand in view of the well-known prosperity of the Cuban economy.

Ambassador Belt made no defense of Cuba’s record. He said that during his forthcoming visit to Habana (he expects to leave May 30 to be absent about 10 days) he hoped to be able to make some progress, mentioning the Stowers case8 and the debt of the Isle of Pines Steamship Company.9

My general impression is that Ambassador Belt is fully aware of all these matters but that until the Cubans are convinced that the United States will not collaborate, or will not grant favors, we can only expect minimum performance, reluctantly furnished.

Ellis O. Briggs
  1. In telegram 418, June 14, noon, to Habana, Acting Secretary Acheson reported on the presentation of an aide-mémoire of June 12 to Ambassador Belt (p. 739) and added:

    “During conversation Belt was again reminded of Depts hope that Cuban Govt will soon take steps to effect settlement of US private and official claims. It was pointed out that Cuba’s failure to liquidate these debts is an obstacle to full cooperation between the two countries. Cited as an example was our recent action in refusing to furnish Cuba with naval vessels and military equipment.” (611.3731/4–2546)

    See also comments by Ambassador Norweb on American claims and property rights in despatch 2160, September 12, p. 746.

  2. For documentation on this subject, see pp. 702 ff.
  3. Property evaluated at $50,000 belonging to John L. Stowers, American citizen, had been occupied by squatters.
  4. This company’s claims against the Cuban Government for freight service between the Isle of Pines and Cuba totalled $178,904.96.