113. Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation Between the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Snow) and the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Irwin), Department of State, Washington, March 18, 19591


  • Military Assistance to the Caribbean

Mr. Irwin called to inform Mr. Snow that Secretary McElroy, during his appearance on the Hill today, had been questioned on why the U.S. continues to supply military assistance to the Caribbean countries. He said that the question was expected to come up again the next day, with special reference to Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. He asked whether Mr. Snow could offer any suggestions as to possible replies.

Mr. Snow replied that this was a recurrent question and that each of the three countries was a different case. Although there is a proposed program for FY 59 and 60, nothing to speak of is being sent forward at present. The U.S. had to deal with governments when negotiating but its basic relations are with the countries rather than with their governments. The whole Military Assistance Program in Latin America has a long-range objective, namely, hemispheric defense. U.S. policy is to keep moving toward this essential objective, even though there are at times interruptions.

The new Cuban Government has not been long in office and no deliveries are going forward currently to Cuba. Military Mission personnel have been withdrawn by mutual agreement, leaving no one in Cuba to handle military assistance in the normal way. The U.S. is reconsidering the program and the Cubans are probably doing the same.

The program in Haiti is a very modest one. The U.S. has found it in its interest to help the Haitians financially and to meet the Haitian request for a Marine training mission. Actual grant military assistance is on a minor scale and involves such things as support of two small Coast Guard vessels. The program is modest and yet the Haitians can make a certain contribution. Haiti is in a strategic spot geographically and it has been felt that there is a definite hemispheric defense value in assisting the Haitians in developing certain capabilities. As far as the Haitian program is concerned, there have not been political reasons to justify canceling it.

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With respect to the Dominican Republic, deactivation of the Air Force MAAG has been agreed to. The Dominican Navy, however, although small, is fairly good and has shown a willingness to cooperate in hemispheric defense. In time of serious trouble, we cannot always choose our allies on the basis of their form of government. The Dominican program amounts to only four hundred thousand a year, which is barely enough to cover spares and training with no new equipment involved.

Mr. Irwin asked about using the statement that the practical reason for military assistance is that if the U.S. doesn’t help, someone undesirable may. Mr. Snow said that it was not considered wise to make such a statement publicly. Even in Executive Session one has to be careful since some of the committees do not like to have deletions made in transcripts of testimony. Rather than count on being able to make deletions, it may be advisable to go off the record on this point.

Mr. Snow reminded Mr. Irwin of the circular instruction on arms exports to the Caribbean which is under discussion. It had not been cleared as yet.2 If it were possible to use the information in the circular, it could be shown that in view of the political unrest in the Caribbean we had virtually suspended the exportation of arms to the area whether under grant or reimbursable aid or deriving from commercial sales. However, without approval of the circular, Mr. Irwin could say that it has been the practice all along to proceed with special care in approving shipments of arms to areas where political tensions exist. This was publicly announced a year ago in connection with Cuba, even though Batista did not like it. We are aware of the tensions in the Caribbean, concerned about them, and watching arms shipments very carefully.

Gen. Hartel spoke with Mr. Snow on March 19 and was also given the above information.3

  1. Source: Department of State, ARA Deputy Assistant Secretary’s Files: Lot 61 D 411, Caribbean 1959. Official Use Only. Drafted by Snow.
  2. See the memorandum infra.
  3. No memorandum of this conversation has been found in Department of State files.