110. Memorandum of Conversations Between the Deputy Director of the Office of Caribbean and Mexican Affairs (Little) and the First Secretary of the British Embassy (Benest), Department of State, Washington, February 25–26, 19591


  • Revolutionary Activities in the Caribbean Area

February 25, 1959.

Mr. Benest came in at his request and opened the discussion by referring to my talk with Mr. Muirhead on February 9 regarding the situation in the Caribbean and the question of arms shipments to that area.2

Mr. Benest said that the British Embassy had now received a response from the Foreign Office to the inquiry they had made on the basis of my conversation with Mr. Muirhead. The Foreign Office, he said, welcomed our raising the question with them and would be very glad to participate in an exchange of views with us on these matters. He said that the Foreign Office had also asked for the Embassy’s views as to whether it would be desirable to include the Canadians in any discussion and he said that the Embassy felt that this would be a useful procedure. The Foreign Office, Mr. Benest continued, had prepared a “preliminary assessment” of the situation in the Caribbean in the form of a memorandum3 and had promised to send a “detailed appreciation” to the Embassy here at a later date.4 Mr. Benest handed me two copies of the memorandum and added that he had no idea what the “appreciation” would include.

After discussing several specific points made in the document handed me, Mr. Benest summarized his government’s interest in this question in terms of wishing to know (1) what the United States Government’s evaluation was of the threat of possible activity in the Caribbean, e.g., attempts on Haiti from Cuba; (2) what might be done [Page 361] to prevent any such attempts through such organizations as the OAS and the UN and (3) our views regarding arms policy covering shipments to the area. I told Mr. Benest that we appreciate very much having received the document provided by the Foreign Office, that I noted particularly its frank tone and that I was sure that my superiors would be interested in both the document and the comments which had been conveyed by him orally. I said that we would, of course, wish to study the paper and that I expected that I would be authorized to talk further with him within a very short time. I said that I expected I would be able to call him the middle of next week to pursue the matter further.

February 26, 1959.

Mr. Benest asked to come by to follow up our meeting of February 25. On his arrival he said that his Embassy had had a further message from London on the matters we discussed the previous day and that the Foreign Office was particularly interested in knowing whether the Department was considering making any exceptions in the cases of Cuba and the Dominican Republic, under its general suspension of shipments to the Caribbean area. He said that the Foreign Office had indicated that the question of their making exceptions in the case of these two countries was getting considerably more urgent than they had first thought and Mr. Benest believed this was due to pressures being exerted by British suppliers.

I told Mr. Benest that we were not now thinking of making any exceptions for either Cuba or the Dominican Republic, although there were specific applications on which there could be a good case made for approval and others on which considerable pressure was being felt. I further commented that in view of our having initiated discussions on this question and the frankness with which his government had exposed their position in the memorandum, I felt sure that we would inform the British Government in advance if we were later to make any exceptions to the general position of not authorizing shipments to the Caribbean.

Mr. Benest commented that it could be seen from the memorandum and from the recent message from London that the Foreign Office was considering whether they might be obliged to make exceptions, specifically in the instance of the five Sea Furies and which would, he felt, lead to comparable approval of the four patrol boats requested by the Dominican Republic. He said the matter has obviously become very active in London and he believed that if we were to wish to dissuade the British Government from a decision in favor of making such exceptions as he thought possible, he thought it would be desirable if we were to present any arguments we wished to make as soon as possible since, he added, it is difficult to undo a decision once it is [Page 362] made.5 He said that he would send a message to the Foreign Office today requesting, on the part of his government, that ample warning be given to us if the Foreign Office did decide to make any exceptions to their present policy of embargo of shipments to the Caribbean area.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 720.00/2–2659. Secret. Drafted by Little.
  2. This conversation was held at the Department of State at Little’s request. According to the memorandum of that conversation, February 9, Little asked Muirhead if the Foreign Office had any views concerning the situation in the Caribbean, particularly regarding arms shipments to the area. Muirhead replied that he would be pleased to ask the Foreign Office for a statement of its views. (ibid., 741B.56/2–959)
  3. In the memorandum, a copy of which is attached to the source text, the British Government stated its preliminary view in favor of a general embargo covering all kinds of weapons and armaments for the entire Caribbean area for a period of about 6 months. The only possible exception it might feel obliged to make was in the case of 5 Sea Furies ordered by Cuban President Batista which the new Cuban Government wanted delivered, and a corresponding exception allowing the Dominican Government to place orders for a small number of patrol boats.
  4. Not found in Department of State files.
  5. On March 26, Muirhead informed Little that working-level officers in the Foreign Office had recommended delivery of the Sea Furies paid for by the Batista government. (Memorandum of conversation, March 26, Department of State, Central Files, 741B.56/3–2659) However, in telegram G–665 to London, April 3, the Department informed the Embassy that a British representative in Washington had that day stated that no final decision had been made regarding the delivery of the Sea Furies or the sale of patrol craft to the Dominican Republic. (ibid., 413.008/4–259)