111. Special National Intelligence Estimate1

SNIE 100–3–59


The Problem

To estimate the likelihood of continued US access to military facilities in the Caribbean area3 and in Brazil over the next several years.

[Page 363]


1. In general, we consider it unlikely that US retention and effective utilization of its military facilities in the Caribbean area and Brazil will be seriously threatened over the next several years. However, in virtually all cases the US is likely to be confronted with significant pressure for increased economic benefits and other modifications of existing arrangements.

2. Pressures for modification of existing base arrangements are likely to be strongest in areas where there is political instability as well as strong nationalism. In Cuba, the newly installed nationalist regime of Fidel Castro is sooner or later likely to ask for major increases in the nominal rent now paid for the Guantanamo base, revision of employment practices which appear to discriminate against Cuban workers, and perhaps other changes. (Paras. 14–18) In Panama, where the weak de la Guardia regime has already stiffened its attitude toward the US under strong opposition pressure, the US will almost certainly be confronted with pressures for revision of arrangements on the Canal Zone and with resistance to any extension of US facilities. (Paras. 23–26)

3. The relatively moderate quality of nationalism in the emerging West Indies Federation makes it unlikely that agitation for US withdrawal from the US Naval Station at Chaguaramas or other sites will assume critical proportions. However, there is likely to be considerable pressure, both before and after independence, for modification of the 1941 US–UK Leased Bases Agreement4 through new arrangements taking account of West Indian interests. Dr. Eric Williams, Chief Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, remains unreconciled to US retention of the Chaguaramas Base, and if he is dominant in the federal government when sovereignty is attained, the US base position will certainly be brought under heavy pressure. (Paras. 8–12)

4. Potential difficulties for the US position exist in the Dominican Republic, where the present arrangements depend on the 67-year-old dictator’s retention of power. (Paras. 19–21) In Haiti, any successor to the shaky Duvalier regime would be likely to review critically any facilities agreements made by Duvalier. (Para. 22)

5. We foresee no major threat to US retention of its military facilities in Brazil, although the Brazilians will almost certainly demand additional payments and other benefits in return for extension of the present agreement beyond 1962. (Paras. 27–28)

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I. General

6. US military facilities in the Caribbean area and Brazil include headquarters, posts, bases, training areas, guided missile tracking stations, research centers, and test sites. The arrangements governing the use of military facilities in these areas vary from virtual sovereignty “in perpetuity” in the Panama Canal Zone to the right to maintain a guided missile tracking station until 1962 on a Brazilian island. Except for British possessions, the countries where these facilities are located are linked with the US in a system of collective defense within the framework of the Organization of American States. However, this system is a loose one and in fact its members look upon the US military facilities chiefly as of bilateral concern.

7. Although over-all advantages accruing from the presence of US installations and the economic benefits of association with the US are generally recognized, the growth of nationalism throughout the area will probably result in increased pressure for modification of existing arrangements. Rapidly rising local needs and expectations engender frustrations and, in the case of the Caribbean republics, resentment of economic dependence on the US and of real or fancied US efforts to take political advantage of this dependence. There is, moreover, a tendency for each country to compare what the US gives it for base rights with what other countries are receiving for the grant of similar privileges and to demand increasing quid pro quo. Finally, even though the Communists are not strong enough to represent a serious threat on their own, in several places they are able to exploit strong nationalist and anti-US feelings.

II. The West Indies Federation 5

8. The principal US military facility in the territory of the West Indies Federation is the naval station at Chaguaramas in Trinidad, which is in a partial maintenance status. Other facilities in the area are, for the most part, connected with the Long Range Proving Ground, the Navy Sound Search System, and the LORAN program. The presence of US defense installations in the area was provided for initially by the “destroyers for bases” deal of 1941, under which the UK granted the US 99-year leases on a series of base sites in the Western Hemisphere. The 1941 agreement is still the basis of the US position in Trinidad and Antigua. US rights in St. Lucia are now controlled by the 1941 agreement and a 1956 extension of the Long Range Proving Ground [Page 365] Agreement; in Barbados by the 1956 Oceanographic Research Station Agreement. Of the 65,000 acres (approximately 100 square miles) leased to the US in the West Indies Federation, only about one-quarter is actively used by the US. Most of the remainder has been turned over to the control of local authorities for certain restricted uses, but is subject to a unilateral US right of recall.

9. The formation of the West Indies Federation and the prospect that it will be granted independence within the Commonwealth by 1963 have given rise to local pressures for a renegotiation of US military rights in the area, if only in recognition of West Indian sovereignty. The West Indians had no effective voice in the 1941 base sites agreement and its implementation. They desire some recognition of their interest, ranging from a symbolic display of their flag to such material concessions as the unqualified release of unused land and some quid pro quo for that retained. These issues are negotiable, especially considering the West Indies’ need for and desire to obtain US assistance in the economic development of the area. There is no desire to exclude US military facilities from West Indian territory, but only to get more for them in terms of recognition and material benefits.

10. The one intractable element in this situation is the demand that the US relocate the US Naval Station which is now at Chaguaramas in order to permit use of the site as the capital of the Federation. The US has considered alternative sites for the naval station, but none is as satisfactory as Chaguaramas and the cost of relocation would be prohibitive. The US has therefore stood on its rights and has refused to give up Chaguaramas, but in 1958 indicated its willingness to reconsider its base requirements some time within the next 10 years.

11. The West Indian people and politicians would have been pleased to have Chaguaramas as the site of their capital, but, in general, are not now disposed to press the issue to the point of antagonizing the US and jeopardizing US economic aid. The federal government accepted deferment of the question when it realized that otherwise it would be defeated in parliament and overthrown on the Chaguaramas issue. This deferment is based on anticipation of US aid to the federal government. If satisfactory aid is not forthcoming, the issue is certain to be revived.

12. The threat to the US position at Chaguaramas is a long term and contingent one, depending largely on who is politically ascendant when the Federation achieves sovereignty as an independent Dominion. That could well be Dr. Eric Williams, Chief Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, who is the most effective of the younger West Indian politicians and who remains unreconciled to US retention of the Chaguaramas base. Williams’ animus against the US is personal as [Page 366] well as political and this renders him extremely difficult to deal with. If Williams is dominant in the federal government at the time sovereignty is attained, the US base position will certainly be brought under heavy pressure. Even as a leader of the opposition, he could be expected to keep the issue alive.

III. Other British Dependencies

13. The US has in the Bahamas a variety of military facilities, including guided missile tracking stations, sound search stations, and LORAN stations. We believe that no significant pressures will develop with respect to these facilities during the next several years. In British Guiana the long range political situation is uncertain, but US base rights there are not being exercised.

IV. Cuba

14. The US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay is an extensive installation which includes a naval air station, a supply depot, a hospital, and communications and storage facilities. In peacetime, the base provides training facilities for the Atlantic Fleet; in wartime, a fleet operating base and forward supply point for the Caribbean area. The US acquired the base in 1903 under an agreement calling for an annual rent of $2,000 in gold (now recalculated at $3,403); under a 1934 treaty reaffirming the agreement the US retains its rights so long as it actually maintains the base. There are about 5,000 US personnel including dependents and some 3,000 other employees, mostly Cubans, at the base. The base is virtually self-sufficient except for its water supply, which comes from sources five miles away.

15. The oldest US base on foreign soil, Guantanamo has been accepted virtually without question by Cubans for more than 50 years. This acceptance has reflected the special economic and political relationship which has existed between the US and Cuba. The comparatively remote location of the base has served to keep it out of the public eye and to reduce the possibility of tension. The base is also the largest employer in the area, and the surrounding rural population has come to view it as an established part of the local scene.

16. The future status of the base has recently been clouded by the emergence of Fidel Castro’s provisional government, by resulting frictions with the US, and by political uncertainties within Cuba. Castro is a nationalist with a demonstrated ability for rousing public opinion. He has already attacked the US on a range of issues, partly in reaction to public criticism from the US. Although he has made little reference to the naval base, he has succeeded in obtaining agreement to US withdrawal of its military training missions. Moreover, some of his top advisors are antagonistic toward the US and these can count on support [Page 367] from extreme nationalists as well as from the Communist Party whose over-all prospects have measurably improved in the post-revolutionary confusion.

17. Despite these tendencies, we believe that certain considerations weigh heavily in favor of Cuba’s avoiding serious disruption of its relations with the US over such issues as the base, e.g., Cuba’s economic dependence on the US, especially as a market for its sugar, and, in general, the realities of administering a country closely linked commercially, politically, and historically, with the US. There are already some indications that these considerations are affecting Castro’s attitude toward the US.

18. Nevertheless, Castro will probably display considerable independence and flamboyance in his foreign policy, and find the US a convenient whipping boy in Cuban domestic politics. While he will probably stop short of seeking cessation or major limitation of US use of Guantanamo, it is likely that he will sooner or later ask for major increases in the nominal rent now paid for the base, revision of employment practices which appear to discriminate against Cuban workers, and perhaps other changes in lease arrangements designed to appeal to Cuban amour-propre.

V. Dominican Republic

19. The US has a guided missile tracking station in the Dominican Republic under an agreement signed in 1951 which is binding for a period of 10 years and thereafter can be terminated on one year’s notice by either party. An agreement for the establishment of LORAN transmitting stations was signed in 1957, but has not been implemented for technical reasons.

20. The government of the Dominican Republic, dominated by 67-year-old Generalissimo Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, the Caribbean’s most durable dictator, does not appear to be in any immediate danger. However, there is probably considerable internal opposition to him, though covert and uncoordinated, within the growing professional class, among some military elements, and on the part of various individuals who have fallen from official favor. In recent months the Generalissimo has become increasingly concerned with threats from abroad to his government’s existence, a fear increased by Castro’s encouragement of exile efforts to overthrow Trujillo and other dictators in Latin America.

21. While Trujillo remains in power, no major opposition to the present US military arrangements is likely, although Trujillo, as in the past, will probably use the military facilities issues as a bargaining tool for gaining US cooperation in other fields. However, any government after Trujillo would probably be less inclined to co-operate with the US. A Dominican Government composed of elements currently in [Page 368] opposition would almost certainly be less co-operative with the US on the military facilities issue because of the widespread belief that US support had helped keep Trujillo in power.

VI. Haiti

22. The US has no military facilities in Haiti. While a US Marine mission has been sent to Haiti at the request of Duvalier to train the country’s armed forces, the US has no present plan to establish military facilities in Haiti. The possibility of establishing such facilities was raised at various times during 1958 by Dr. F. Duvalier, Haiti’s arbitrary president. We believe that these offers represent Duvalier’s desire to bolster his unpopular regime, which faces grave economic and political problems and whose survival is uncertain. Any attempt to establish US base rights would be generally unpopular in Haiti and would subject the US to criticism elsewhere in Latin America.

VII. Panama

23. The principal US asset in Panama is the Canal Zone, which the US holds under the original 1903 treaty. This grants to the US virtual sovereignty in perpetuity. In addition to the Canal itself and associated defense installations, the US maintains under the 1903 treaty an air navigation and communications site on Taboga Island, off the Pacific entrance to the Canal. Under [a] separate 1955 treaty the US also has acquired for its exclusive use over a 15-year period, subject to extension, a training area of some 19,000 acres (roughly 30 square miles) known as Rio Hato, located on the coast approximately 65 miles southwest of Panama City.

24. Despite a long history of generally close co-operation between Panama and the US, strains have arisen in recent years. Panama has lost no opportunity to press for a greater share of Canal revenues, increased economic benefits from the Zone, and some form of participation in the management of the Canal Zone. Of late, sentiment for revision of the arrangements covering US occupation of the Canal Zone has become fairly widespread among students, politicians, and the press, as well as with some officials within the government. Alleged US failure to honor fully previous commitments, especially those under the memorandum of understandings attached to the agreement of 1955, has further strengthened the sentiment for revision. Although President De la Guardia is himself generally pro-US and a moderate, his regime is weak and has been subject to increasingly heavy attacks by opposition elements, which have focused popular discontent—largely economic in origin—on the issue of relations with the US. As a result, the administration has felt compelled to take a stiffer stand in its dealings with the US. In response to strong popular [Page 369] pressure, Panama has refused to grant the US additional defense sites, and has recently claimed, despite US objections, Panamanian jurisdiction over territorial waters to 12 miles.

25. Efforts to stir up and exploit anti-US feeling will figure prominently in Panamanian political maneuvering at least through the presidential elections scheduled for 1960. As a result, the US will almost certainly be confronted with recurrent pressures for revision of present arrangements, notably the 1955 treaty in which provision was made for the Rio Hato training area, and with strong resistance to any extension of US facilities. There is also a continuing danger that anti-US feeling may flare up in the crowded population centers adjacent to the Canal Zone, where there is much poverty, unemployment, and resentment against the Zone.

26. Nevertheless, we believe it unlikely that these pressures will develop during the next several years to a point where they would seriously affect US control of the Canal Zone or operations therein. Although the small Communist Party and some extreme nationalists talk in terms of joint control and eventual nationalization of the Canal, nationalist demands have generally centered on increased economic benefits, some participation in management of the Zone, and greater formal recognition of Panama’s sovereignty. Most Panamanian officials and politicians recognize that the Canal Zone, which contributes about $54 million annually, offsetting Panama’s customary heavy trade deficit, is not only the country’s most important asset but also one that Panama can neither defend nor operate itself. There thus continues to be a basic realization that Panama’s economic well-being and defense are intimately linked with the US presence.

VIII. Brazil

27. The one major US military facility in Brazil is the guided missile tracking station on the small island of Fernando de Noronha off the northeast coast. It was established under a five-year agreement which expires in January 1962. In addition, air transit facilities are maintained at Belem and Natal.

28. The signing of the tracking station agreement was vigorously opposed by a vocal Brazilian minority composed of ultranationalists, neutralists, and Communists. Although significant opposition subsided within a few months, there is a continued undertone of restive-ness with US failure to implement certain provisions of the agreement, such as that calling for the participation of Brazilian technicians in the operation of the facility. The Brazilian Army is dissatisfied with its share of the additional military equipment offered Brazil in July 1958, which it considers as part of the quid pro quo of the agreement. While [Page 370] Brazil will probably be willing to extend the agreement, it is likely to demand more local participation in the facility, and a further quid pro quo in the form of additional military equipment.


Bahama Islands

  • Grand Bahama
    • Guided missile tracking station
  • Eleuthera
    • Naval experimental facility
    • Naval facility
    • Guided missile tracking station
  • San Salvador
    • Naval facility
    • LORAN station
    • Guided missile tracking station
  • Mayaguana
    • Guided missile tracking station


  • Island of Fernando de Noronha
    • Guided missile tracking station


  • Guantanamo Bay
    • Naval air station
    • Naval base

Dominican Republic

  • Sabana de la Mar
    • Guided missile tracking station


  • Canal Zone
    • Caribbean Command (Army, Navy, Air)—Quarry Heights
    • Headquarters, US Army, Caribbean—Fort Amador
    • Headquarters, 15th Naval District—Fort Amador
    • Naval degaussing station—Fort Amador
    • Naval stations—Coco Solo and Rodman
    • Naval radio stations—Farfan, Galeta Island, and Summit
    • Naval communications station—Balboa
    • Albrook, France, and Howard Air Force Bases
    • Headquarters, Caribbean Air Command—Albrook Air Force
  • Base
  • Taboga Island
    • Air navigation and communications site
  • Rio Hato
    • Army training area

Puerto Rico

  • Roosevelt Roads (Rodas Roosevelt)
    • Naval station
  • San Juan
    • Headquarters, US Army Forces, Antilles
    • Headquarters, Commander, Caribbean Sea Frontier
    • Headquarters, 10th Naval District
    • Naval communications station
    • Naval station
    • Naval radio station
  • Sabana Seca
    • Naval radio station
  • Ramey Air Force Base (near Aguadilla)
  • Mayagüez
    • Guided missile tracking station

West Indies

  • South Caicos
    • LORAN station
  • Grand Turk
    • Naval facility
    • LORAN station
    • Guided missile tracking station
  • St. Christopher (St. Kitts)
    • LORAN station
  • Antigua
    • Naval facility
    • Guided missile tracking station
  • St. Lucia
    • Guided missile tracking station
  • Barbados
    • Naval facility
  • Tobago
    • LORAN station
  • Trinidad (Chaguaramas)
    • Naval station
    • Naval air station
    • Experimental early warning radar facility

[Here follows a map showing selected U.S. military facilities in the Caribbean area.]

  1. Source: Department of State, INR Files. Secret. Special National Intelligence Estimates (SNIEs) were high level interdepartmental reports presenting authoritative appraisals of vital foreign policy problems on an immediate or crisis basis. According to a note on the cover sheet, the Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Joint Staff participated in the preparation of this estimate. The United States Intelligence Board concurred in the estimate on March 10. “Concurring were the Director of Intelligence and Research, Department of State; the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army; the Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Intelligence, Department of the Navy; the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF; and the Director for Intelligence, The Joint Staff. The Atomic Energy Commission Representative to the USIB, the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, Special Operations, the Director of the National Security Agency, and the Assistant Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, abstained, the subject being outside of their jurisdiction.”
  2. Supplements SNIE 100–10–58, “Threats to the Stability of the US Base Position in Selected Overseas Localities,” 21 October 1958. Except for the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the areas discussed in the present estimate were also considered in a lengthy report to the President by Frank C. Nash (“United States Overseas Bases,” November–December 1957), which remains the basic study in this field. [Footnote in the source text.]
  3. The Bahamas, British Guiana, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Panama, and the West Indies Federation. [Footnote in the source text.]
  4. Reference is to the Agreement signed at London, March 27, 1941, and entered into force on the same date; for text, see 12 Bevans 560.
  5. A federation of 10 British West Indian colonial units, viz: Jamaica, St. Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla, Antigua, Montserrat, Dominica, St. Lucia, Barbados, St. Vincent, Grenada and Trinidad-Tobago. [Footnote in the source text.]