Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Caribbean Affairs (Walker)

Participants: Señor Guillermo Belt, Ambassador of Cuba
Assistant Secretary of State Braden (A–Br)
Mr. Ellis O. Briggs, Department of State (ARA)8
Mr. William W. Walker, Department of State (CRB)

Ambassador Belt, at Mr. Braden’s request called at the Department this afternoon. Mr. Braden said that he wanted to discuss with the Ambassador in an unofficial but friendly and frank manner certain issues which have created a great deal of ill will against Cuba. By way of example, he referred to several remarks made by a group of Republican Congressmen who attended a meeting of the Wednesday Night Club last month. They had heard about the Seatrain issue,9 Mr. Braden stated, and asked him what the State Department was doing about it. They stated quite frankly that unless this problem were resolved, Cuba would certainly not receive favorable consideration with regard to sugar quotas, tariffs, etc. In this connection, Mr. Braden called the Ambassador’s attention to the fact that despite any efforts made by the State Department, the Department of Agriculture or any other agency of this Government to assist Cuba in getting a more equitable share of the sugar quota, it is most unlikely that Cuba would receive favorable consideration in view of its record regarding the Seatrain matter and claims of U.S. citizens.

Mr. Braden informed the Ambassador of the assurances which he received from the Minister of Finance (Supervielle) and President Grau when he was Ambassador to Cuba in 1944, that in accordance with an agreement which they worked out, the claims of the Isle of Pines Steamship Company10 would be paid. He also informed the Ambassador [Page 607] of repeated assurances on the Stowers claim.11 The failure of the Cuban Government, he said, to carry out these commitments cannot be satisfactorily explained. Mr. Braden then referred to other claims, most of which have been either adjudicated by the Cuban Supreme Court or acknowledged by administrative agencies of the Cuban Government. The Cuban Government, he said, has been urged on a number of occasions to settle the adjudicated and recognized claims and to establish a mixed claims commission for those claims concerning which there may be some doubt. These matters, Mr. Braden stated, are causing much unfavorable comment which will inevitably prejudice Cuba’s position so far as sugar legislation is concerned.

The Ambassador stated that he understood that these conditions were harmful to Cuba’s best interests and that he had on a number of occasions urged President Grau to settle some of the outstanding claims. He explained that arrangements for the payment of the Lend-Lease debt12 were difficult and required considerable effort on his part. With regard to the Seatrain matter, he said that he had discussed it with Representative Bradley13 and Admiral Smith, Chairman of the Maritime Commission, at luncheon today. When Congressman Bradley asked him about labor conditions in Cuba, he stated that he replied that they were better than in the United States. He mentioned that in discussing the Seatrain matter with Mr. Falck (Assistant Chief, Shipping Division) last January, he had suggested that if the Seatrain would continue operations for a period of two months, he would go to Habana and arrange with President Grau for the conclusion of an agreement which would be satisfactory to both the Seatrain and the [Page 608] government. He added, however, that since Mr. Falck appeared disinterested in this suggestion, nothing was done.

The Ambassador stated that he was planning another trip to Habana within the next few weeks and that he would endeavor to resolve some of the problems.14

. . . . . . .

  1. Ellis O. Briggs, Director of the Office of American Republic Affairs.
  2. The Seatrain Lines Inc. (a special steamship service, transporting goods in railroad cars, between the United States and Cuba, in operation since 1929) had suspended operations at the end of 1946 as a result of Cuban customs regulations which made it impracticable to continue operations. The Department of State, in a note delivered to the Cuban Ambassador on January 7, 1947, protested against these regulations as restrictions upon international trade. (800.8836/4–2646)
  3. This company’s claims against the Cuban Government were for freight services between the Isle of Pines and Cuba.
  4. An American citizen, John L. Stowers, sought compensation for his property which was overrun by squatters whom the Cuban authorities regarded it as impolitic to dislodge. According to despatch 4331, September 8, 1947, from Habana, Mr. Stowers had on that date informed the Embassy that he understood the Ministry of Public Works had prepared a check to his order for the amount of $34,900, the sum which the Council of Ministers appropriated in order to bring about the purchase of his property by the Cuban Government (837.52/9–847).

    Ambassador Norweb reported in airgram A–347, March 19, 1948, as follows: “Stowers has just informed this Embassy that he today received 34,690.88 Cuban pesos, the proceeds of the Government check in payment of his claim. While he indicated that the bulk of this amount would be needed to pay expenses and his outstanding debts, he expressed his deep appreciation of the assistance he had received from the Embassy.” (837.52/3–1948)

  5. On February 26, 1947, the Cuban Government had made a payment of $2,400,000 on its Lend-Lease account.
  6. Representative Fred Bradley, Chairman, Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, House of Representatives.
  7. In airgram A–593, August 18, the Department informed the Embassy in Cuba that a check for $103,488.94 in payment of the 1943 peanut seed debt had been received from the Cuban Embassy on August 12 (837.613/8–1847). For documentation regarding the Cuban peanut seed purchase, see Foreign Relations, 1943, vol. vi, pp. 223 ff.