52. Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation Among Captain Bettinger and Admiral Miller of the Department of the Navy and the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Snow), Washington, May 13, 1958, 10:55 p.m.1


  • Nixon Trip—Despatch of Naval Vessels

Mr. Snow asked if Capt. Bettinger were familiar with the Venezuelan situation and he replied that to a certain extent he was. Mr. Snow read him a copy of the clear cable to Embassy Caracas regarding the movement of airborne and marine units to Guantanamo and Ramie.

Mr. Snow went on to say that this had been drafted by Mr. Snyder of the Defense Department and himself under instructions from higher authority and that it had gone out, resulting in a certain flurry in Venezuela. We had now received a message from the Vice President and Mr. Rubottom regarding an AP wire they had heard of indicating that a Naval vessel was on its way to Venezuela and that the Venezuelan Government, which is rather shaky, was filled with consternation and thought this might cause the overthrow of the Government if it were true. Mr. Snow said that he had to send an answer back and that he had heard nothing from any source that the Navy Department was sending a war vessel in that direction. The State Department had put a routine evacuation alert message into circulation that afternoon simply to enable the Embassy to plan and draw on funds without further orders; that in such a procedure various Naval offices are on the routing list and Mr. Snow feared that someone outside had heard of this, and had started speculating about ship movements.

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Capt. Bettinger said he had been directed to refer such requests to the Flag Representative because the latter had whatever information could be released.

Mr. Snow said that he needed to know if a Naval vessel was on its way to Venezuela; that he had to send a message down there and was hoping that he would be able to say that no such vessel had been despatched.

Capt. Bettinger promised to check with the Flag Representative and call back.

Admiral Miller returned Mr. Snow’s call at 11:15 p.m. Admiral Miller said that Naval vessels had been despatched from Guantanamo but that technically the answer was no, since no Naval vessel was on its way “to Venezuela”. Their orders were not to go within sight of land so that their movements would not be known.

Mr. Snow wanted to know how the AP could have obtained this information but Admiral Miller did not know the answer. He said that the information had been carefully guarded by the Navy but that evidently someone had said something. Mr. Snow mentioned the movement of troops to areas in the Caribbean but said that no mention of Naval vessels had been made. Admiral Miller said that this was merely routine—a precautionary movement placing the ships closer to Venezuela should evacuation be necessary but that their orders were not to go within sight of land.

Mr. Snow again referred to the message from the Vice President and Mr. Rubottom, saying that if the report were publicly confirmed that a Naval vessel was on its way to Venezuela it might be enough to cause the downfall of the present Government and no one wanted that to happen. Admiral Miller agreed and said he did not know how anyone could know what orders the ships had—that they could be going on exercises. Mr. Snow said this was fine if only the AP had not said that a Naval vessel had been despatched to Venezuela. Admiral Miller said this was not true, and Mr. Snow replied that that is what he wanted to be able to tell Mr. Rubottom so he can deny it. Admiral Miller stated that he could deny that “a Naval vessel had been despatched to Venezuela”.

Mr. Snow said that in his cable he could say “No repeat no Naval vessel has been despatched to Venezuela” and Admiral Miller approved, stating that this is one of those things where you can on a technicality deny an allegation.2

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Mr. Snow hoped that whoever was handling this would keep the ships out of sight of land and Admiral Miller replied that those were strict orders.

Mr. Snow asked whether this movement was in conjunction with the evacuation scheme and Admiral Miller replied that it was—that should evacuation be necessary they did not want to have to run any farther than necessary. He said he thought Mr. Snow was perfectly safe on this. Mr. Snow said that he wanted to be safe on this—that the Vice President and his party were there and not due out for another 27 or 28 hours. He went on to say that the complete party was in the Embassy Residence and planned to stay there until departure and that our latest communication with them was at 9:15 p.m. They were still o.k. and the Vice President had rather set his mind on sticking it out. Mr. Snow said that he was going to tell them that the Department wished they would advance their departure. There are reasons which make this seem advisable although they are not clearly established.

Both agreed that an early departure from Venezuela would be advisable. Admiral Miller said that no ship will go in there and Mr. Snow said that at least there are no orders from the Embassy for that now, but if the evacuation plan goes into effect, that is a different matter. Admiral Miller confirmed that the ship will not go in without the concurrence and consent of the State Department, and Mr. Snow said that concurrence of the Venezuelan Government would be necessary, or lacking that the highest level clearance in Washington would be necessary.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 033.1100–NI/5–858. Official Use Only. Drafted by Bariums on May 22.
  2. In his telegram to Rubottom, Snow stated that the source of press reports that one or more U.S. Navy ships had departed from Guantanamo for Venezuela was unknown, but that Naval vessels had departed from Guantanamo for the coast of Venezuela in response to an evacuation alert transmitted that afternoon. Since the ships had orders to avoid cruising within sight of land, it was technically correct, in Snow’s view, to claim that no U.S. Navy ships had been dispatched to Venezuela. If the evacuation plan had to be implemented, however, the vessels would be in position to act. (ibid., ARA Deputy Assistant Secretary Files: Lot 61 D 411, N–Vice President Nixon’s Trip to South America)