Memorandum by the Director of the Office of American Republic Affairs (Briggs)19

I telephoned Ambassador Belt this morning in regard to the Seatrain matter, pointing out that according to information from our Embassy in Habana the vessel has been approximately ten miles off Habana for the past two days but hasn’t entered the port because of apprehension on the part of the company lest difficulties (which Ambassador Belt and I discussed last week) should occur. In the meantime the port workers who a few days ago were demanding $20,000 which they alleged was due them from the company, had successively reduced the figure to $10,000 (and yesterday) to $3,000. The position of the company is that it will of course entertain any properly presented request, provided it is formulated in the prescribed legal manner and handled through the established legal procedure. The company is not however prepared to enter the harbor unless and until it has received an assurance in writing from the director General of Customs to the effect that clearance will be given for departure if unloading operations should be delayed or suspended due to circumstances beyond the vessel’s control.

I observed that although the Department has no information concerning the basis for the alleged claim against the vessel, the fact that the workers have not proceeded through established channels, and that the demand has been reduced from $20,000 to $3,000 supports the view that the Communist-dominated union is trying to blackmail the company.

Finally, I stated that the company’s position has been taken on the advice of competent Cuban counsel, and furthermore that the vessel [Page 613] had embarked on the voyage to Habana following our conversation last week—see previous memorandum reporting Ambassador Belt’s assurances from the President.

Ambassador Belt said that he expected to speak to President Grau by telephone during the morning and that he would again take up the matter with him. He said that he would then inform me of the President’s comments.20

Ellis O. Briggs.
  1. Addressed to Assistant Secretary of State Braden and to the Assistant Chief of the Division of Caribbean Affairs (Walker).
  2. Mr. Briggs informed Assistant Secretary Braden and Mr. Walker in a memorandum of May 2 that Ambassador Belt had telephoned him the night before to say that he had just finished speaking with President Grau who, after learning of the further apprehensions of the Seatrain, had asked Ambassador Belt to convey a message to Mr. Brush assuring him on behalf of the Cuban Government that the departure of the vessel from Habana would not be delayed in any way, and should there be any claim on the part of workers against the company, that would be handled through established channels (800.8836/5–147).

    Mr. Nufer reported in telegram 234, May 1, noon, that Seatrain had entered Habana the evening of May 1 and normal unloading operations were commenced: May 2 after Customs officials had given oral assurances the vessel would not be held up (800.8836/5–147).

    In airgram A–559, May 13, Mr. Nufer reported that Seatrain had announced resumption of its regular New Orleans–Habana Service on May 16 (800 8836/5–1347).