The United States Representative on the Council of the Organization of American States ( Dreier ) to the Department of State


Subject: “Quetzal” Case

On December 25, 1951, at 11 p. m., Representatives of Cuba and the Dominican Republic, signed, before the Inter-American Peace Committee, a declaration of non-intervention and mutual respect,1 thus bringing to an end the consideration before the Committee of the so-called “Quetzal” case. The following report is submitted by the undersigned as U.S. Member of the Inter-American Peace Committee.

The “Quetzal” case was brought before the Inter-American Peace Committee by the Government of Cuba in a note dated November 26.2 This note, transmitted in accordance with the Committee’s procedures to the Dominican Government, elicited a reply dated December 7.2 In their reply the Dominican Government stated it would not object to consideration of the “Quetzal” case before the Peace Committee provided opportunity were also given to the Dominican Government to present its complaints against Cuba, particularly the charge that the Cuban Government had violated inter-American agreements by returning the “Quetzal” to Miguel Angel Ramirez, well-known leader of the abortive Cayo Confites expedition of 1947.

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Further communications with representatives of the two countries in Washington revealed that the Foreign Ministers of both countries would come to Washington on or about December 19 for the purpose of consulting with the Peace Committee. A formal meeting of the Committee with Ambassador Gonzalo Guell and Ambassador Luís Thomen representing Cuba and the Dominican Republic respectively, was held on December 18,3 but developed very little substantive information, since both Foreign Ministers were shortly expected to be in town. Following the arrival of the two Foreign Ministers, the Acting Chairman of the Committee, Ambassador Quintanilla of Mexico (who assumed the Chairmanship according to the regulations when the current Chairman, Ambassador Guell of Cuba, stepped down from his post for this case) consulted informally with both, at the request of the Committee, and made arrangements for a formal meeting on December 21. In the meantime, members of the Committee further discussed the case informally with both Foreign Ministers.

At the meeting of the Committee on December 21, a lengthy speech was delivered by the Foreign Minister of Cuba, who offered an impressive amount of evidence to support his contention that the “Quetzal”, engaged in a peaceful voyage and violating no laws, was seized by a Dominican war vessel and brought to the Dominican Republic either by force or fraud. He attacked the jurisdiction of the Dominican courts over the members of the crew of the “Quetzal” in view of the manner in which they had been brought to Dominican territory.

In reply the Dominican Foreign Minister emphasized the long record of revolutionary activity of the “Quetzal” and its owner. It is worthy of note, however, that at no time, either in the formal session of December 21 or in other informal conversations, did the Dominican Foreign Minister offer any explanation of how the “Quetzal” had been brought into Dominican waters. His main defense was the charge that the “Quetzal” had an illegal registry, and was obviously bound on a revolutionary mission, and therefore was properly considered outside the law.

Following the lengthy session of the evening of December 21, the members of the Committee proceeded to hold a series of informal conversations with the two Foreign Ministers separately. Most of these conversations took place at the respective Embassies of Cuba and the Dominican Republic or at the residence of Acting Chairman Quintanilla. It soon became clear that a fair chance of resolving the case was to be found in a formula embracing the following three points:

Liberation of the Cuban members of the “Quetzal” crew by the Dominican Government.
Submission to the Court of two legal points which seemed capable of adjudication: namely, the Cuban charge that Dominican courts lacked competence and jurisdiction in the case of the “Quetzal” crew; and the Dominican charge that Cuba had violated the Habana Convention in turning over the “Quetzal” to its former owner, Miguel Angel Ramirez.
A Declaration by both parties before the Committee of non-intervention in each other’s affairs, restitution and accommodation of diplomatic representatives, abstention from hostile propaganda by either government, and finally, agreement to bring any other outstanding questions that might develop before the Committee.
At first both Foreign Ministers indicated general agreement with the formula outlined above, it being understood that the Committee would make no public reference to the liberation of the Cuban sailors, nor would the written agreement between the parties touch upon that subject. However, the written agreement would not be signed and made public until the Cuban members of the “Quetzal” crew were released.

As the Committee attempted to reduce this formula to satisfactory written terms, however, a major difficulty was encountered. The Dominican Foreign Minister, who had previously emphasized merely the return of the “Quetzal” to its former owner, Miguel Angel Ramirez, as the case they wished to bring before the International Court, indicated that he actually had in mind a broader subject, namely, various aspects of the Cayo Confites incident of 1947. The Cuban Foreign Minister insistently refused to permit any aspect of the Cayo Confites case to be brought up before the International Court, claiming that this subject had been fully aired and dealt with by the Organ of Consultation and the Inter-American Peace Committee in past years. Working day and night—twice until the early hours of the morning—the Committee attempted to find a satisfactory written formula which would accommodate the views of both Foreign Ministers on this subject.

Another serious obstacle to the Committee’s work developed on Sunday afternoon, December 23, when in the midst of a discussion with the members of the Committee the Dominican Foreign Minister and Ambassador Thomen announced that they had just received word that the Guatemalan members of the “Quetzal” crew had been released that day in Ciudad Trujillo. This announcement fell like a bomb in the midst of the Committee which had already made known its fears that any such action by the Dominican Government, while leaving the Cuban sailors in prison, would have a most disturbing effect upon Cuban opinion and would probably render useless any further efforts by the Peace Committee. So strongly did the Committee make known its disappointment over this action of the Dominican Government, that the Dominican Foreign Minister offered to take special measures to obtain assurances that the Cuban members of the “Quetzal” crew would be released immediately, once agreement was reached with Cuba on [Page 983] the other points referred to above. The Committee was also pleased to receive the cooperation of the Cuban Foreign Minister, who delayed his return to Habana in order to avoid having to break relations with the Dominican Republic, as he had intended to do in the event the Guatemalan sailors were freed without similar action on behalf of the Cubans.

The following day, when efforts to produce agreement on the submittal of cases to the International Court proved to be in vain, Ambassador Quintanilla suggested that a happy solution would be offered by the agreement of both parties to drop both of the cases referred to in point 2 above, leaving only point 3 to be included in the written agreement. After some consideration of the merits of this idea, which was backed by other members of the Committee, both Foreign Ministers gave their assent. Final approval of the agreement was therefore made possible at once. The signature was delayed until the late hour on Christmas Day only because of difficulties in obtaining official word from Ciudad Trujillo that the Cuban sailors had in fact been released to the Chargé d’Affaires of Chile, who was at that time representing Cuban interests.4

In connection with paragraph number 3) of the agreements signed on December 25, copy of which is attached, some background is worth placing in the record. The proposal of the Committee to include in the agreement an item on propaganda was inspired by a remark of the Dominican Foreign Minister on this subject early in the negotiations. Before trying to include these topics in their proposals, however, the Committee pointed out to the Dominican Foreign Minister that it was hardly possible to prevent the issuance of anti-Dominican statements by private groups and persons in Cuba. Dr. Díaz Ordoñez said that he fully accepted this fact and that what he had in mind preventing was official or officially-inspired propaganda which the Cuban Government under their constitution was fully empowered to prevent. This view of the Dominican Foreign Minister was made known to the Cuban Minister of State, Dr. Sánchez Arango, by the Committee.

One other point connected with the negotiation of the agreement concerned the restoration of diplomatic representatives by the two countries. The Cuban Minister of State informed the Committee of the report which he had received from the former Cuban Chargé in Ciudad Trujillo, concerning an interview he had had with President Trujillo during which the latter had made various offensive remarks about Cuba and its high officials. Dr. Sánchez Arango said he could not send a new Chargè d’Affaires to Ciudad Trujillo so long as that incident remained on the record without some public denial by a high [Page 984] Dominican source. The matter was taken up with Dr. Díaz Ordónez, who had been present during the interview. It was possible to arrange for an exchange of letters5 between each Foreign Minister and the Chairman of the Committee, in which this incident was erased from the record.

From the remarks made by both Foreign Ministers, and their letters of appreciation6 sent to members of the Committee, it would appear that both of them were genuinely gratified with the outcome of their discussions before the Committee. The Cuban Minister of State informed the Committee that it could consider the “Quetzal” case closed so far as the Government of Cuba was concerned.

John C. Dreier
  1. The declaration is incorporated into the minutes of the meeting of the Inter-American Peace Committee held on December 25; a copy of the minutes in Spanish is attached to the source text, but not printed. For English text, see Annals of the Organization of American States (Washington, 1952), vol. 4, pp. 218–219.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Not printed.
  4. A copy of the minutes of the meeting of December 18 is filed under decimal file number 363.1/12–1851.
  5. In telegram 124, from Ciudad Trujillo, dated December 25, 1951, Chargé Belton informed the Secretary of State that the Cuban members of the Quetzal crew had been released (637.39/12-2551).
  6. Not found in Department of State files.
  7. Not printed.