79. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rubottom) to the Acting Secretary of State2

SUBJECT

  • Possible Action by the Organization of American States regarding the Caribbean Situation

Discussion:

[less than 1 line of source text not declassified] sources and Panamanian officials have reported to the Department plans apparently being carried out by one or more groups of revolutionaries in the Caribbean area to launch an attack on Panamanian territory for the purpose of overthrowing the present Government of Panama. An invasion force of Cuban, Argentine, Panamanian and other mercenaries was reported as planning to sail from Cuba on April 15 in two vessels bound for the Panamanian coast. The Panamanian Government has been seriously concerned over this situation, and has informally discussed it with members of the Council of the OAS in Washington, and especially with United States officials. On our urging, the Panamanians have taken the matter up with the Cuban Government under the Inter-American Convention on Duties and Rights of States in the Event of Civil Strife,3 to which both states are parties, and as a result Cuba has [Page 288]stated that it would make every effort to stop the two vessels from leaving its shores. If such efforts are successfully made, this situation would seem to be on its way towards alleviation.

However, the broader problem of tensions in the Caribbean area remains. Since the Castro victory in Cuba, other governments, particularly the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, have been threatened with armed attacks by international revolutionary groups aimed at overthrowing the governments of those countries. At the same time, Cuba has been urging that the Foreign Ministers of the American Republics meet to consider the problem of existing dictatorial regimes and their continued violation of human rights. The United States as a member of the OAS should, therefore, be prepared with a position as to how the OAS might best deal with the Panamanian or any other incident in the Caribbean area, should it flare up any time, and as to what role the OAS might have with regard to the present unstable Caribbean situation as a whole.

The Council of the OAS does not of itself have the authority to take cognizance of a threat to the peace. However, the following courses of action are open to the OAS:

1.
If the integrity, sovereignty, or political independence of an OAS member state should be affected by a given situation threatening the peace, the OAS Council could convoke the Organ of Consultation (a meeting of Foreign Ministers) under Article 6 of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty) (Tab A).4 In the more serious and rare instance of an armed attack of one state upon another, Article 3 of the Rio Treaty would apply. In past instances of these convocations, the Council acting provisionally as Organ of Consultation under specific authority of the Rio Treaty has generally been able to deal adequately with the situation, without necessitating the actual meeting of the Foreign Ministers. Invocations of the Rio Treaty, however, with its provisions for the taking of concrete measures to assist the affected state, should, in the United States view, be reserved for serious threats or acts of aggression, such as have not yet been proved to exist.
2.
The OAS Council could, at the request of a member government, convoke a Meeting of Consultation of the Foreign Ministers under Article 39 of the OAS Charter (Tab B),5 which may be held “to consider problems of an urgent nature and of common interest to the American States.” Such a meeting, although not having the “teeth” of the Rio Treaty, would at least demonstrate the firm purpose of the OAS to face up to the problem of international tensions in the Caribbean area and to alleviate them over both the short and long term.
3.
In the event that Panama or another state confronted with a movement against it should present its case to the OAS Council, presumably in the form of a request for the convocation of a Meeting of Consultation of Foreign Ministers either under the Rio Treaty or the OAS Charter, and should the Council then decide, after general discussion, that the case was not such as to warrant convocation of a Foreign Ministers’ meeting, it might be possible for the Council, as an alternative, to pass a resolution in which it would take note of the situation and decide to keep the matter under observation for possible reconsideration in case OAS action might seem desirable at any time in the future. Such an action would have the beneficial effect of a warning to disruptive elements in the Caribbean region that the OAS was watching developments with a view to fulfilling its role for the maintenance of peace and security in the hemisphere, and thus it could have a generally calming influence.
4.
Another possible course of action, which has been suggested by OAS Secretary General Mora, would be the holding of an informal meeting of Foreign Ministers (such as was held last September in Washington on the invitation of Secretary Dulles) to discuss the Caribbean problem. While such a meeting would not take formal binding decisions, it could result in a common resolve to reduce tensions, prevent international revolutionary movements designed to overthrow governments and, at the same time, promote democratic principles of government.

It may be noted that if an individual Foreign Minister should not be able to attend a Meeting of Consultation, he may be represented by a special delegate.

Various prominent persons, including Senator Mansfield and Senator Smathers, have urged OAS action in the Caribbean situation. It should be realized that there has already been informal discussion of this situation among various governments, and among their representatives on the OAS Council in Washington. The United States has played an active part in these discussions which have probably had some beneficial effect. We should now be prepared to support formal OAS action along one of the foregoing lines in the manner and to the extent which the developing situation may seem to require.

Recommendation:

That you authorize United States support of action by the OAS in the present Caribbean situation along one of the lines indicated above, as may, in the opinion of ARA, seem preferable in the light of developing circumstances.6

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 741B.00/4–1859. Confidential. Drafted by Redington with concurrences by Murphy, Whiteman, and Walmsley. The following handwritten notation by Walmsley appears on the source text: “I would lean to alternatives 2 or 3.”
  2. Signed at Havana, February 20, 1928; for text, see 2 Bevans 694.
  3. Not printed here; for text of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, signed at Rio de Janeiro, September 2, 1947, and entered into force for the United States, December 3, 1948, see 4 Bevans 559.
  4. Not printed here; for text, see 2 UST (pt. 2) 2394.
  5. Murphy initialed his approval of the recommendation on April 18.