112. Draft Memorandum Prepared in the Office of Middle American Affairs1



The Cuban Government has publicly announced that elections would be held on November 3 after having been postponed from last June. President Batista’s term of office ends February________, 1959.

[Page 169]

Militating against successful holding of elections are:

(a) A revolutionary movement substantially controls Oriente Province outside the principal cities and towns. Other rebel strongholds have spread in recent months to the broad area comprised by the Sierra del Escambray in Las Villas Province. Within this area, rebel forces under leadership of the Revolutionary Directorate (student movement) recently reinforced by 26th of July rebel troops are threatening Cuban Government control of the central region of the area. Rebel troops here have grown from about 100 to 800 or 900 within the past six to seven months. Embassy reports also indicate that relatively well armed rebel forces have recently penetrated Pinar del Rio Province at the extreme western end of the island. Under such circumstances it is difficult to see how anything approaching even reasonably acceptable electoral conditions can be established in Cuba.

Elections were originally intended to be held in June 1958. They were postponed by the Government in March after political parties willing to participate in the elections had complained that due to the previous suspension of guarantees, the parties would be hampered in making adequate preparations for the election. With the increased intensity of violence by both rebels and Government, the latter this week again declared further extension of the suspension of constitutional guarantees. The new suspension is due to expire at the end of the first week in September, slightly less than two months before November 3, the date set for the elections. This does not seem to warrant any optimism concerning the possibility of “adequate” preparations for Presidential or congressional elections. Furthermore, various revolutionary movements already have announced they would take steps to prevent elections. Efforts have been reported by pro-administration forces to postpone or suspend the elections again. Among the latter are reports emanating from Cuba that the present governmental candidate, Andres Rivero Aguero, may be replaced by either Eusebio Mujal, present Secretary General of the Cuban Labor Confederation and who, with Government support, has eliminated, insofar as possible, labor opposition to the Batista Government, or Rolando Masferrer, pro-Batista Senator from Oriente, presently chief of the so-called “Tigres”, a Batista-supported private army organized to employ unorthodox combat tactics against the revolutionary movement. Mujal is also reported in the press to be attempting to persuade Batista to announce a two-year postponement of the elections in order to retain the present regime during that period. None of this is calculated to increase optimism concerning the possibility for elections in Cuba.2


Present Conditions in Cuba

Constitutional guarantees have been suspended almost continuously since December 1956 when Fidel Castro landed with a handful of men near Niquero, in Oriente Province, and fought his way through government troops into the Sierra Maestra. Since that time, there has been consistent violence to greater or lesser degree in the Republic. There has been terrorism by revolutionary groups, including the Castro forces, and terrorism exercised by the armed forces, including the police with feared SIM. Cuban universities have been closed during the almost two-year reign of violence, and practically all educational activities have ceased in Oriente and have existed only intermittently in other parts of Cuba except the City of Habana. In recent months, judicial procedures have been practically nonexistent with numerous judges and lawyers forced into hiding or exile under threats of violence from armed forces and police (various examples, including Miro Cardona, etc.)

As matters stand at present, there thus appears to be little possibility for anything resembling an acceptable election in Cuba. On the one hand, is the recognized Government of President Fulgencio Batista which has resorted to increasing measures of brutality, and on the other, according to best indications, a majority of the Cuban people bitterly opposed to the present regime and various unorganized, uncohesive oppositionist forces reporting professional and civic groups, and the majority of the Cuban people [sic], with a militant force numbering approximately 6,000 men engaged in active armed combat against the Government and an undetermined number throughout the country actively plotting against the regime or resorting to sabotage.

It appears to be the general consensus of informed opinion on Cuban matters that whether or not elections are held, the Batista Government will terminate, by peaceful or violent means, probably the latter, sometime between now and February 1959. The only possibility apparent at this moment of minimizing a violent transition in Cuba is that of effecting a compromise arrangement between the Batista Government and responsible leaders of an organized opposition. During this past week, the various opposition elements have entered into a so-called “unity pact” intended to effect a responsible leadership of a unified revolutionary movement. There is no indication as yet that this effort will succeed.

Thus, the major danger insofar as U.S. position in Cuba is concerned would appear to be a successful revolution by the forces of the 26th of July movement which, so far, has given no indication of political or moral responsibility although it has been gaining greatly in military strength following a severe setback when it failed completely in a general revolutionary strike called in April this year. In fact, [Page 171] following a government announcement in March that it would crush the 26th of July forces by December, one rebel group under the leadership of Raúl Castro, Fidel Castro’s younger brother and second in command, broke through a military encirclement. The Raúl Castro forces, which in March numbered approximately 150 men, have since grown to an estimated force of more than 2500. This force controls a rich rural area of Oriente Province and exercises almost unchallenged control over a district including numerous American residents and large American interests.


Recommended U.S. Course of Action

Continued non-intervention in the internal affairs of Cuba. To throw our support at this time in favor of the expiring Batista regime would, it is believed, destroy the last remaining faith which the majority of the Cuban people have in U.S. protestations of support for the cause of democracy in a free world. It is also believed that to support the Batista regime would probably undermine the support in the UN, OAS and elsewhere, that this country now receives from some of the other democratic governments in the Western Hemisphere as well as elsewhere (in this connection see memorandum prepared by Honduran President Villeda Morales3 and any other available official Venezuela statements). Editorial opinion in the United States and the rest of the Hemisphere would also be overwhelmingly critical of the United States should it decide to throw its support to Batista. Such a position would be interpreted as active intervention in favor of inspired dictatorship which has been accused of excessive brutalities and of failure to convince the Cuban people of any serious intent to seek a democratic transition of power.


Maintenance of the present policy of suspending all arms shipments to Cuba for serious consideration in view of the existing high political tensions in that country. Seeking appropriate ways and means of attempting to establish, insofar as possible, responsible leadership for the restoration of democratic processes in Cuba by persuading both government and opposition to seek a solution consistent with the best interests of the Cuban people and of American interests in that regard.

Resumption of arms shipments or otherwise indicating support of the present regime in Cuba should not be undertaken without previous careful preparation for evacuation of Americans and otherwise taking all possible steps for protection of American interests in that island. It appears practically certain that any departure from the present position of non-intervention would cause immediate reprisals against American citizens and interests in Oriente Province and would almost certainly lead to further extended reprisals against other American [Page 172] citizens and interests in other areas of the Republic. These reprisals may be anticipated not only from the forces controlled by the Castro brothers, but also from the other revolutionary movements existing in Cuba. In connection with any consideration of possible consequences of revolutionary reprisals against the United States and [in] Cuba, careful consideration should be given to the fact that the next sugar harvest is expected to begin around the end of this year and that numerous important American establishments are completely vulnerable to sabotage and it is impossible to expect the Cuban Government to afford sufficient protection to all of the several thousand American citizens in Cuba. Any large-scale disruptions of sugar production would have considerable effect on the U.S. sugar market.

It is recalled that the prominent Argentine automobile racer, (Fengir?) [Fangio] was kidnapped despite elaborate police precautions in the City of Habana a few months ago with complete impunity.

(See accompanying memorandum on arms policy with respect to Cuba.)4

In view of the obvious inability of the Cuban military to prevent further rebel acts against American citizens and interests in Oriente and in at least some other parts of the Republic, the Consulate at Santiago should be strengthened and Consul Wollam instructed to take whatever measures he deems appropriate to protect American interests in that area. In this connection see attached memorandum of Recommendation concerning the Consulate.4
The present outlook from the U.S. viewpoint is not a satisfactory one by any means. The more time that passes, the more likelihood there is that the 26th of July movement under the apparently immature Castro brothers will emerge as the next dominant force in Cuba, at least for a short time. Against this there is the posibility that the united forces of the revolution who recently signed the abovementioned unity pact in Caracas will attempt to exert a degree of civic, moral and political leadership over the revolutionary movement. Insofar as possible, this development of this type of responsibility should be encouraged. This would put the United States in the position of being able to analyze the respective merits of two polarized forces and their effect on U.S. interest in and relationships with Cuba. This would be a large improvement over the present unhappy outlook of weighing the alternative of dealing with an expiring unpopular regime on the one hand, and an incoherent cluster of revolutionary groups whose total uncoordinated efforts add up to nothing but a vacuum on the other.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/7–2158. Secret. No drafting or clearance information is given on the source text, which was attached to a brief covering memorandum of July 25 from Wieland to Leonhardy and Stewart that reads as follows:

    “The attached memorandum includes some of the considerations which should go into the policy paper we are preparing in MID on the Cuban situation. It should be considered in the light of all available existing reports and the considerations in it taken into account in the drafting of the policy recommendations we are preparing in connection with Cuba.”

  2. The following is written at this point: “(comparison with Perez Jimenez plebiscite)”.
  3. Not found.
  4. Not found.
  5. Not found.