11. Telegram From the Embassy in Cuba to the Department of State1

442. Reference: Deptel 413.2 One company of slightly less than 200 men of MAP-supported battalion (First Battalion, First Infantry Regiment) of Cuban Army was transferred to Oriente Province few days after landing there on December 2, 1956 of group led by Fidel Castro. That company remained there until April 1957 when returned to Camp Columbia. In late May 1957 entire battalion of approximately 800 men moved to Oriente and is still there.

This is the crack force of the infantry. From 75 to 90 percent of its officers have received MAP training. Perhaps 3 percent of enlisted personnel have received MAP training as communications specialists, etc. Balance of personnel is trained by Cuban officers. At time of transfer to Oriente about half of equipment of battalion was MAP grant aid. Balance was largely MAP reimburseable aid. Since then [Page 19] most of remaining MAP grant equipment for battalion has been received but has not been sent to battalion. Maintenance and replacement items for battalion have been supplied largely from both MAP grant and reimburseable aid. Precise information concerning duty stations of this battalion and actions in which engaged not available. However, it is generally assumed here that battalion has been actively engaged in fighting with armed rebels led by Castro in Sierra Maestra mountains. Officers of US Army Mission state this it probable, and that in doing so battalion would be engaged in tasks for which it was trained.

There have been unconfirmed reports from time to time that aircraft of Cuban Army Air Force have engaged in operations including bombing and strafing in Sierra Maestra area. Opposition sources maintain that there have been several incidents of indiscriminate attacks by Air Force which have resulted in death and injury to non-belligerent inhabitants of region. Embassy does not have evidence to confirm such allegations. Aircraft engaged in such operations are said to have included B–26 bombers. Officers of US Air Mission say that is possible, but that they cannot state it as fact. They point out that they are not furnished precise information concerning missions performed by Cuban Air Force. However, they add that most, if not all, of the aircraft of the B–26 squadron have been based continuously at Camp Columbia and feel that there could have been few if any occasions on which they could have operated in the Sierra Maestra.

US Air Force Mission points out that many Cuban Air Force planes, particularly transport squadron, have a mixture of MAP grant and reimburseable parts such as engines. The Mission adds that approximately 70 percent of all officers of Cuban Air Force have received MAP training of some sort. Transport squadron is frequently engaged in activities in support of Sierra Maestra operations.

Foregoing information obtained from officers of US Army and US Air Force Missions. They request emphatically that source not be divulged, pointing out that if GOC became aware of the fact their personal effectiveness would be lessened and the future of the missions jeopardized. Embassy concurs in this view.

The Embassy is of the opinion that the activities of the Cuban Military forces in the Sierra Maestra and elsewhere in Cuba as in the Cienfuegos uprising participated in by the naval garrison in that city, constitute legitimate defense of the legally constituted government of Cuba, which has been duly recognized by the United States, against armed and organized rebellion. Whether excesses may have been committed does not alter the basic fact. The laws and other unclassified documents of the US under which both grant and reimburseable MAP aid have been made available to Cuba state that such equipment is intended, among other things for maintenance of internal security.

[Page 20]

Those documents do not limit use of such equipment only to maintenance of security against Communist aggression or the like. Consequently if criticized or queried concerning use of MAP equipment against Castro forces, GOC will undoubtedly firmly maintain that such use is completely proper.

Embassy feels it would be unrealistic to expect GOC, or any other government receiving MAP assistance, to refrain from using that equipment against armed and organized rebellion. Attempt by US to force local government to do so would expose us to charge of open intervention in internal affairs of other country. If we feel that such use of MAP equipment is improper, only way to be sure of avoiding it is to refuse to supply equipment in first place. We are fortunate that GOC has refrained from requesting our permission to use MAP equipment against rebellious groups, since whatever answer we gave would be heavily criticized by one or another group in Cuba as well as portions of US press.

Criticism by any agency of US Government of use made by Cuba of MAP equipment will be interpreted locally as evidence our displeasure with GOC. If made public and accompanied by termination of MAP assistance, or threats of such termination, action will weaken GOC and encourage revolutionary opposition. Such action appears incompatible with recent decisions of Department concerning our policies and objectives in Cuba. (See Department’s telegram 384.3)

Embassy feels that US Government should continue to approve reasonable requests from GOC for MAP military equipment when recommended by our military missions as long as GOC proceeds along lines acceptable to us. In addition, we should not raise with GOC question of use such equipment to date in operations against armed and organized rebellious groups.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 737.5–MSP/2–758. Confidential. Sent by pouch and received on February 9 at 10:37 a.m.
  2. Telegram 413, February 4, noted recent congressional inquiries and requested current information regarding the Cuban Government’s use against the rebels in Oriente province of not only MAP equipment, but also MAP-trained manpower, and what the Embassy’s recommendations were in light of this information. (Ibid., 737.5–MSP/ 2–458)
  3. Document 7.