90. Background Paper Prepared by the Officer in Charge of U.S. OAS Delegation Matters (Redington)1

MFM B–2/52



The Caribbean area has had a chronic problem of tensions and disturbances stemming particularly from the agitation of political exiles against the frequently dictatorial governments of their native countries. The coming into power of Fidel Castro in Cuba at the beginning of this year, with his avowed position against the remaining dictatorships of the area, and the influence of his victorious 26th of July revolutionary movement in Cuba, gave great impetus to Haitian, Nicaraguan and Dominican political exile groups and allied elements in the Caribbean, and initiated the present period of heightened international tension in that area. Numerous plots and plans were hatched to overthrow unpopular governments, especially the Trujillo regime of the Dominican Republic and the regime of the Somozas in Nicaragua, through action initiated principally from outside their borders. Pro-communist elements have taken advantage of the situation in infiltrating some of the exile and revolutionary groups and in exacerbating tensions in the area for their own purposes.

There have resulted a series of invasions and invasion attempts by armed revolutionary elements of different nationalities against Panama, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic during the period April–June, 1959. These attempts to promote civil strife in those countries and overthrow their governments all failed, especially in view of the inadequacies of the expeditions and the failure of domestic elements within the countries invaded to support them. Cubans were [Page 323] conspicuous members of most of these enterprises, and Cuban authorities rendered them assistance in most cases, despite official protestations of Cuba’s adherence to its international obligations and its prevention of interventionist activities.

Haiti at the same time has felt itself threatened by invasions from Cuba aimed at the bordering Dominican Republic through Haiti, and Trujillo’s dictatorial regime of the Dominican Republic has prepared a counter-revolutionary force aimed against Cuba. A war of nerves and of propaganda developed between the Trujillo regime on one hand, and Cuba and Venezuela on the other, culminating in the latter two governments breaking diplomatic relations with the Dominican Republic. At the same time Nicaragua has been disturbed by the existence of elements in its neighboring states of Honduras and Costa Rica supporting or sympathetic to the Nicaraguan rebel movement, and has on occasion threatened the possibility of counter-measures against these potential sources of aggression.

The Organization of American States took effective action under the Rio Treaty to help terminate the invasion of Panama at the end of April, but played a more passive role on applying that Treaty in the case of the invasion of Nicaragua in June, for fear of appearing to be intervening in favor of an unpopular government against its internal opposition. A Dominican request for the application of the Rio Treaty, in view of the invasions it had suffered in June, was superseded by the decision of the Council of the OAS, taken on July 13, to convoke a Meeting of Consultation of Foreign Ministers in order to consider ways of resolving the over-all acute problem of tensions in the Caribbean.

Rise in Tensions in early 1959 and Invasion of Panama

The present period of heightened international tension in the Caribbean area dates from the beginning of this year with the overthrow of Batista’s repressive regime in Cuba and the coming into power in that country of Fidel Castro and his 26th of July revolutionary movement. Flushed with the triumph of their cause in Cuba, Castro and his lieutenants predicted the downfall of what they characterized as the remaining dictatorships of the region, i.e., the Trujillo regime of the Dominican Republic and the regime of the Somozas in Nicaragua, and proclaimed their solidarity with the forces seeking to replace those regimes with “democratic” ones. This development gave great encouragement and impetus to Nicaraguan and Dominican exile groups and allied elements in the Caribbean opposed to the governments of the two countries, and stimulated a rash of plots and plans to overthrow those governments through action initiated principally from outside their borders. The present liberal government of Venezuela came into being when President Betancourt took office on February 13, 1959, and it made clear its stand in favor of the forces of [Page 324] democracy against the remaining dictatorships. Caracas became, like Havana, a haven for exiles and a center for anti-dictatorship activity. The “Democratic Declaration of Caracas,”2 signed on February 16 by the head of Betancourt’s Acción Democrática party, by Raul Roa, present Minister of State of Cuba, by José Figueres, ex-President of Costa Rica, and by liberal newspaper editors of various countries, listed the Governments of the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Paraguay as dictatorships, asked for their exclusion from the OAS, and called for a united, free Latin America and a democratic inter-Americanism. Governor Muñoz Marín of Puerto Rico added his voice to the chorus of well-known liberals calling for democratic action and the end of dictatorship in the Caribbean area.

With these developments, the Governments of the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua felt increasing concern over activities and propaganda directed against them, and the Duvalier government of Haiti also became alarmed in view of subversive plots against it being hatched by Haitian exiles in Cuba, which on occasion seemed to enjoy some measure of Cuban support.

The atmosphere in the Caribbean became charged with threats and rumors of invasion of the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Haiti, and finally Panama and there was widespread evidence of subversive plotting against those governments. The professional revolutionary, mercenary and adventurer, types historically indigenous to the Caribbean area, joined with the idealists, and helped swell the ranks of would-be invaders. Efforts to coordinate anti-dictator plotting, however, were hampered by the diversity of objectives and outlook of the various exile groups and differing attitudes toward them by varying sectors of the host governments. In this connection, ex-President Figueres of Costa Rica, well-known liberal and supporter of movements against the Nicaraguan regime of the Somozas, and Fidel Castro broke publicly with each other in March, primarily because of Castro’s extremist policies and tolerance of communist elements of which Figueres did not approve.

Strangely enough, the first Caribbean country to be invaded by armed elements was Panama, whose government was generally considered to be democratic in character. A group of 90-odd men, almost all of whom were Cubans, sailed from Cuba and landed on the coast of Panama April 25. The group had been organized and financed, apparently, by two Panamanian political figures opposed to President De la Guardia’s regime. It is likely that certain Cuban officials knew and approved of the expedition; however, when the invasion was denounced by Panama in the OAS, the Cuban Government also denounced [Page 325] it and took prompt steps to dissuade the invaders from their intentions. With the assistance of an OAS investigating committee, the invasion was brought to an end without bloodshed.

Cuba-Dominican Republic

At the heart of the strained Caribbean situation has been the intense hostility between the Castro and Trujillo governments. The dictatorship of Generalissimo Rafael L. Trujillo, viewed with repugnance by most American states and a major irritant in Caribbean relationships, has been Castro’s principal target and foreign enemy. A war of nerves warfare developed between the two countries, with public figures, the press and radio of both countries indulging in strong vituperative attacks on the regime of the other side. The Trujillo propaganda machine especially characterized the Castro government as communist-dominated. The Trujillo regime, concerned over the possibility of invasion of the Dominican Republic, possibly through Haiti, by a force of Dominican exiles having Cuban assistance, started making large scale arms purchases in Europe, and recruited foreign mercenaries to serve in an “anti-communist foreign legion,” which was to help defend Haiti. By May, Dominican plotting against the Castro government had taken shape and a considerable force of men was developed in the Dominican Republic to be held in readiness to invade Cuba and overthrow Castro. The force was apparently to be headed by ex-General Jose Pedraza, one-time Cuban National Police Chief under the deposed Batista regime, and included Cuban exiles associated with the Batista regime and mercenaries procured in Spain by the Dominican Government, and also in France.

At this juncture, there occurred by air and by sea armed invasions of the Dominican Republic by groups coming from Cuba. Under the command of Enrique Jiménez, a Dominican exile and comrade-in-arms of Fidel Castro, a group of some 60 armed men, mostly Dominicans and Cubans, landed by plane on June 14 in the interior of the country. On June 20, 2 ships carrying about 150 armed revolutionaries, also dedicated to the overthrow of the Trujillo regime, landed on the Dominican coast. Both invasions were crushed by the Dominican armed forces, and there was an apparent lack of local popular support for the invaders.

After these invasions, it was reported that Generalissimo Trujillo was on the verge of launching the force organized under General Pedraza against Cuba, but that he thought better of it, especially in view of the attitude of the United States.

With suspicions, animosity and propaganda warfare at a height between the two countries, Cuba on June 26 broke diplomatic relations with the Dominican Republic, citing, among other things, the latter’s protection of “Batista war criminals,” the sacking of the Cuban [Page 326] Embassy in Ciudad Trujillo, the preparation of a “counter-revolutionary force of 25,000 men” aimed against Cuba, insults against Cuba by the government-controlled press and radio and, especially, attacks by the Dominican air force on its own defenseless civilian population and the “torture and assassination of prisoners” (presumably captured invaders).


Although Haiti has not, at least as yet, been the victim of an invasion attempt, there have been continued reports of preparations in Cuba by a relatively large group of revolutionaries to invade Haiti so as to secure that country as a base whence to launch an attack against the strongly entrenched Trujillo regime in the bordering Dominican Republic. Haiti has found itself in a most difficult position, geographically between the hostile states of Cuba and the Dominican Republic and subject to encroachments from either side. Much concerned over the possibility of invasion from Cuba, Haiti has felt obliged to request military assistance of the United States to defend its coasts and air space.

Venezuela-Dominican Republic

Relations between the Dominican and Venezuelan Governments deteriorated notably in the first part of 1959. The situation was featured by marked hostility between Generalissimo Trujillo and President Betancourt, and sharp attacks by the press and radio of each country against the regime of the other. Venezuelan elements provided hospitality and assistance to Dominican exiled groups, although the government maintained a position of non-interference in the affairs of other states. Finally, Venezuela suspended diplomatic relations with the Dominican Republic on June 12, citing, among other things, the unresolved problem of the Dominicans who had been in asylum in the Venezuelan Embassy in Ciudad Trujillo since January 22, unjustified declarations of persona non grata of Venezuelan diplomatic officials, subversive literature introduced by the Dominican Government into Venezuela, its insults and propaganda attacks against the Venezuelan Government, and Dominican-financed espionage activities to overthrow the present Venezuelan Government.

President Betancourt and his Foreign Minister3 have a deeply emotional attitude against the Trujillo regime, and have stated that only with the removal of the Generalissimo can peace and stability be restored to the Caribbean.

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Puerto Rico-Dominican Republic

The active support by Puerto Rican elements of anti-Trujillo activity, including their participation in revolutionary expeditions aiming at the overthrow of the Dominican Government, and the general sympathy in Puerto Rico for democratic forces opposed to Trujillo, have been an irritant to that Government, which has indulged in harsh verbal attacks on Governor Muñoz Marín. The Dominican Government has complained formally to the United States regarding this situation.

Nicaragua and its Bordering States

A separate and special problem is involved in Nicaragua’s relations with Costa Rica and Honduras. Widespread dislike of the Somoza government in the two latter countries and attendant sympathy for Nicaraguan revolutionaries, as well as the geographic contiguity of both countries with Nicaragua, have made them the natural jumping off place for armed movements against the Nicaraguan Government, not to mention the target of possible Nicaraguan counter-measures. Both the Costa Rican and Honduran Governments have stated their policies of adhering to their international commitments vis-à-vis Nicaragua, including non-intervention in the internal Nicaraguan situation and the prevention of hostile activities in their territories aimed against the Government and civil order of Nicaragua.

In Costa Rica, however, the application of these policies by President Echandi has been made difficult by elements in the country notably sympathetic to the Nicaraguan rebels, including a majority of the Costa Rican Congress and the strong opposition party headed by ex-President Figueres. The latter, traditional enemy of the Somozas, has been a rallying point for Nicaraguan revolutionaries in Costa Rica, whom he has supported in one form or another and who have enjoyed relative freedom during their exile in that country. Under such circumstances, a group of about 110 armed men, almost all Nicaraguans, were able to organize in Costa Rica and invade Nicaragua by air on May 31 and June 1, using a plane of a Costa Rican airline. The operation was carried out without the knowledge of the Costa Rican Government, which took prompt steps to prevent the occurrence of similar incidents. The invading group received no support from Nicaraguan farmers they encountered, and were captured by the Nicaraguan National Guard. Later, on June 16, the Costa Rican authorities discovered at Punta Llorona, an area on the Costa Rican Pacific coast from which the earlier invading group had departed, a new concentration of about 160 well armed men of various nationalities who were preparing for another invasion of Nicaragua. Two members of the Costa Rican Congress [Page 328] were actively collaborating with this group. The situation was a very delicate one for the Government which, however, managed to achieve the peaceful dissolution of the group.

With regard to Honduras, a group of some 60 armed revolutionaries was captured by the Honduran Army on June 24, near the Nicaraguan frontier. This group, which intended to enter Nicaragua in an attempt to overthrow the Somoza government, was under the command of Rafael Somarriba, a naturalized American citizen of Nicaraguan birth, and included Nicaraguans, Cubans and Guatemalans. The guiding force behind the group, which had gathered surreptitiously in Honduras, was a pro-communist group of Nicaraguan revolutionary exiles in Havana, which had the sympathy and active support of Major Ernesto “Che” Guevara, prominent leftist military official of the Castro government. Later, the Honduran authorities captured at the mouth of the Rio Patuca on the Caribbean coast a group of some 20 armed Cubans and their leader, Chester Lacayo, an unaffiliated Nicaraguan exile, who had landed there on a revolutionary mission against the Nicaraguan Government. The group had sailed from Cuba some days before, apparently unknown to the Cuban authorities.

Reports continue to be received of armed rebel groups maneuvering in the Nicaraguan-Honduran and, especially, the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border areas, and thus the possibility of the occurrence of border incidents continues.

Policy and Role of Cuba

After the bravado of their initial declarations against the remaining dictatorships, and since the occurrence of the Panamanian invasion, Castro and his lieutenants have tended to proclaim a correct policy of fulfilling Cuba’s international commitments of non-intervention and of not permitting Cuba to be used as a base to launch expeditions against other states, in accordance with its obligations under the Havana Convention. At the same time, they have expressed Cuba’s moral support of democratic movements against dictatorships and have stated that Cuba would remain a haven for exiles from tyranny.

The record of Cuba’s support of revolutionary activity in the Caribbean has been quite at variance with its declared policy. Cuban authorities have, “under the table”, aided various revolutionary expeditions and activities, notably the pro-communist Nicaraguan exile group in Havana and the related armed group in Honduras under Somarriba, the Punta Llorona force discovered in Costa Rica on June 16, and the groups which invaded the Dominican Republic from Cuba. They have facilitated the provision of men, arms and transport for these groups, and continue to support training camps in Cuba for the preparation of revolutionary forces directed against other governments.

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Despite the foregoing and Cuba’s conspicuous role in the complex of revolutionary expeditions in the Caribbean, Cuba has denied before the Organization of American States many of these facts or otherwise tried to distort them.

Communist Activity

Significant sectors of both the Dominican and Nicaraguan exile groups engaged in revolutionary activities have been pro-communist. The Dominican Patriotic Union, with communist-dominated branches in Venezuela and Cuba, has enjoyed the support of Castro. Enrique Jimenez, who trained and headed the forces which invaded the Dominican Republic, was a leader of the Cuban branch of this party, although evidently himself not a communist or sympathizer.

The most important group of Nicaraguan revolutionaries in Cuba has been the pro-communist one previously referred to. The only Nicaraguan exile organization known to be in Venezuela, the Nicaraguan Patriotic Union, is communist-influenced, if not communist-dominated.

While the possibility of any of these groups succeeding in setting up pro-communist governments in their homelands appears remote, the support they have received from Cuban sources is a matter of significance, as is the fact that their activities contribute to tensions in the Caribbean area and tend to serve communist purposes of fomenting inter-American discord and hostility towards the United States.

Arms Supply

The Castro revolutionary regime, which on coming to power obtained access to Cuban Government arsenals in addition to its own considerable arms stock, has been a principal source of arms and equipment for Caribbean revolutionary movements. Available evidence points to the conclusion that senior Castro lieutenants—probably under Castro’s direction—made available arms and in some cases training facilities and transportation used in most of the recent invasion attempts in the Caribbean area.

There has also been a considerable increase in clandestine arms traffic in the area. The conservative expedition against Nicaragua evidently obtained most of its arms on the Costa Rican black market, and there have been recent attempts of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary elements to obtain arms and transport in the United States (especially Miami).

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Role of the Organization of American States


Dictatorships and Human Rights

Attendant upon Castro’s and Betancourt’s coming to power, pronouncements started to come forth from Cuba and Venezuela calling for the expulsion of dictatorial governments from the OAS, and for collective OAS action against dictatorships and in support of representative democracy and human rights. Cuban officials went so far as to say that Cuba would withdraw from the Organization if the dictatorships were not ejected. At the first meeting of the OAS Council which he attended (in March), the new Cuban representative, Raul Roa (now Minister of State), spoke of the profound distrust the Cuban Government and people had in the effectiveness of the OAS, which had stood idly by when Batista was trampling on the rights of Cubans.

The new Cuban Government, however, became exposed to the facts of life of the OAS, i.e., that there was no provision in the OAS Charter for the expulsion of member states, that all the governments were juridically equal and entitled to similar treatment, that there was no provision or feasible method for qualifying governments as between democratic and dictatorial nor for enforcing the protection of human rights within a state, which most governments would consider a violation of the basic principle of non-intervention. The Cuban position as expressed in the OAS Council, therefore, was watered down to a general call for collective juridical action in cases where human rights were violated and for collective machinery for promoting the observance of representative democracy and human rights. Cuba’s doctrine, as it was developed, seemed, in effect, to sanction interventionist activities in the case of dictatorships, with strict non-intervention to be applied in the case of democratic countries.


Rio Treaty Action

Meanwhile Cuba found itself on the defensive end in a sudden flurry of OAS activity pursuant to its role for the maintenance of peace and security in the Americas. Article 6 of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty) was invoked three times during the April–June period, by Panama, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic (and almost by Haiti). In the first two cases the Council applied the Treaty by convoking the Organ of Consultation and acting provisionally in that capacity, although Panama and Nicaragua had accused no governments in connection with the invasions of which they had been victims.


Panama. In the case of the invasion of Panama, previously described, all the governments approved the Council’s resolution of April 28 convoking the Organ of Consultation and calling for support [Page 331] for Panama.4 An Investigating Committee of the Council went to Panama, and facilitated the surrender of the invaders to the weakly defended government of that country. The Committee, as authorized by the Council, sponsored an air and sea patrol of Panama’s Atlantic coast, observing for reported new invasion craft coming from Cuba. The United States, Colombia and Ecuador provided the units for that operation, which was coordinated by the U.S. Caribbean Command. The Cuban Government denied any knowledge of the invasion expedition, cooperated in OAS efforts to bring it to an end, and asserted that its increased vigilance would not make possible any further such armed enterprises embarking from Cuba.

On terminating the Organ of Consultation on June 18, the Council recommended to the member states that they strengthen, if indicated, their measures to prevent situations such as had affected Panama, and recommended that all governments become parties to the 1928 Havana Convention and the 1957 Protocol thereto.


Nicaragua. Nicaragua requested on June 3 convocation of the Organ of Consultation in view of the invasion from Costa Rica which had just occurred, and of an expedition of armed rebellious elements which, it alleged, had departed in three boats from Cuba to invade Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan representative spoke of the possibility of Nicaragua having to counterattack against further invaders coming from Costa Rica, which might lead to a Nicaraguan-Costa Rican conflict.

This request posed a dilemma for many of the governments, in view of the general unpopularity of the Somoza regime, the fact that the invaders appeared to be essentially Nicaraguans, which gave the matter an internal aspect, and the fear that favorable action on the request might be interpreted as OAS support of the Somoza regime against its own domestic opposition. Cuba and Venezuela vigorously opposed the application of the Rio Treaty to this case, labelling it an internal Nicaraguan matter, and Bolivia also stated its opposition. The United States declared its support of the Nicaraguan request, stating its opinion that the case fell within Article 6 of the Rio Treaty, and that incidents such as these threatened the principles of non-intervention set forth in the Charter and the principles of the 1928 Havana Convention.

The Council then passed a cautious resolution on June 45 opposed only by Venezuela and Cuba, convoking the Organ of Consultation, [Page 332] but reserving judgment on the nature of the facts until a fact-finding committee which it established could gather further information on the case.

The above-mentioned Committee visited Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, while the Cuban Government took the unprecedented step of stating that it would not receive the Committee if it should decide to go to Cuba. It presented to the Council two factual reports6 on its findings regarding the various Nicaraguan invasion attempts, and the Council on July 28 approved a rather vague and pusillanimous resolution7 terminating the Organ of Consultation and recommending to the American states that they reinforce measures to maintain peace, observing the principles of non-intervention. The various Latin American delegations were clearly reluctant to take positive decisions or face up to responsibility in connection with this case, especially with regard to singling out Cuba for its failure to prevent interventionist activities.


Dominican Republic. The OAS member governments were placed in a greater dilemma when on July 2 the Dominican Government suddenly requested the Council to convoke the Organ of Consultation in view of the invasions of the Dominican Republic of some days earlier. The spectacle of seemingly going to the assistance of the Trujillo regime would doubtless have brought a storm of criticism upon the OAS. The Dominican representative charged the Cuban Government with assisting the invasion expeditions, and asserted that some 3,000 men were at the moment being trained in Cuba and 25 warplanes had been supplied by the Government of Venezuela, constituting preparations for new invasions of his country. The Cuban and Venezuelan representatives flatly denied all the allegations pertaining to their respective countries, and vehemently opposed the Dominican request for the application of the Rio Treaty. Raul Roa, both Cuban Foreign Minister and Representative on the Council, launched a harsh attack on Trujillo, whom he accused of preparing an invasion of Cuba. The Nicaraguan representative, on the other hand, indicated his readiness to vote in favor of the Dominican request, and the Haitian representative spoke with concern about the debarkation in Haiti, expected at any moment, of an armed group bent on invading the Dominican Republic through Haiti. It seemed evident, however, that few others would be able to support the Dominican request. The Venezuelan [Page 333] Government felt so strongly with respect to this matter, that it informed other governments that if the Dominican request should be approved by the Council, Venezuela would be obliged to withdraw from the OAS.

During this same period the proposal for a Meeting of Consultation of Foreign Ministers on the whole Caribbean situation was gaining support. In the face of this situation, on July 10 the Dominicans withdrew their request before there was an opportunity for it to come to a vote.

Foreign Ministers Meeting. It became apparent to the United States that these acts of intervention and aggression occurring in the Caribbean area were part of a pattern which required a region-wide approach and needed to be dealt with at a high level, as handling of the problem by the OAS Council on a case by case basis was developing into somewhat of a futile exercise. The United States, therefore, started consultations on June 18 with all Latin American governments regarding this serious matter, and subsequently suggested to them the possibility of convoking a Meeting of Consultation of Foreign Ministers under the OAS Charter to consider the over-all problem of tensions in the Caribbean, both from the standpoint of maintaining peace and non-intervention, and of promoting the exercise of representative democracy and respect for human rights. The United States also expressed its concern to those governments over the evidences of communist infiltration of revolutionary movements in the Caribbean. To generalize the approach to the Caribbean problem as much as possible, three South American countries, Brazil, Chile and Peru, joined with the United States in submitting to the Council on July 10 a proposal for the convocation of the Foreign Ministers Meeting under the Articles 39 and 40 of the Charter. The way was facilitated by the withdrawal of the Dominican request for Rio Treaty action, as mentioned above, and with Cuba and Venezuela apparently finding to their satisfaction that the Foreign Ministers Meeting proposal neither was linked to nor grew out of the Dominican request, the proposal was approved unanimously by the Council on July 13.
  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 560, CF 1418. Confidential.
  2. A report on the signature of this declaration on February 15, 1959, is in item 4 of despatch 718 from Caracas, February 25, 1959. (ibid., Central Files, 731.00(W)/2–2559)
  3. Ignacio Luis Arcaya Rivero.
  4. For text of the resolution, see Council of the Organization of American States, Decisions Taken at the Meetings, January–December, 1959, vol. XII, p. 31.
  5. For text, see ibid., p. 49.
  6. Reference is to reports submitted June 26 and July 28; for texts, see Reports of the Committee of the Council Acting Provisionally as Organ of Consultation in the Case of Nicaragua in Compliance with the Provisions of Paragraph 4 of the Council Resolution Approved June 4, 1959 (OES/Ser. G/IV C–i–419 (English) Rev. 2 Corr.). OES/Ser. G/IV C–i is the series designator for OAS Council committee reports. Copies of these reports are in Department of State, USO AS Files: Lot 72 D 291.
  7. For text of the resolution approved July 28, see Council of the Organization of American States, Decisions Taken at the Meetings, January–December 1959, vol. XII, p. 142.