114. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Snow) to the Under Secretary of State (Herter)1


  • Protection of Guantanamo Naval Base Water System


On July 25 the Cuban Army notified the Commandant of our Naval Base at Guantanamo that its troops would be removed from duty guarding the Yateras water supply system for the Base. Admiral Ellis, Commandant of the Base, agreed to take over the protection of the water supply at 8:00 a.m. on July 28. The Secretary agreed on April 1, 1958, that if the Cuban Army guards were withdrawn, United States [Page 175] Marines could be used to protect this vital installation (Deptel 43 of April 1 to Embassy Havana—Tab A2). With some modifications, the Department reluctantly cleared a press release3 to be used by Admiral Ellis at the time of the takeover but indicated clearly that the action of the Cuban Army seemed unnecessary and that it might well cause strong resentment in Cuba, particularly on the part of the forces controlled by Raúl Castro. Castro’s forces are operating in, and have a large measure of control over, the area around the Base.


Reaction on the part of the Cuban opposition has been violent. An officer of the Department received telephone calls4 on the evening of July 28 from exiles residing in Washington and Miami declaring that the placing of United States Marines on Cuban soil was creating immediate resentment among the opposition groups in those cities. The representative of the 26th of July movement in Washington said it was not necessary to station Marine guards at the water works because he could obtain a categorical guarantee from Raúl Castro that his rebel forces would not molest the plant or the pipe line if they were left unguarded or in the care of private Cuban guards. On July 29 additional telephone calls were received from Miami and Washington exiles and it was learned that the Cuban company owning the water works would place private guards at the Yateras plant if the Department wished to make this arrangement. The rebel groups have stated that they will launch a widespread propaganda campaign against the United States if the Marines continue on guard duty.

A [less than 1 line not declassified] report received yesterday from Caracas, where the Cuban opposition is maintaining a headquarters, also indicated that strong protests and manifestations by students and 26th of July supporters all over Latin America could be expected if the Marines continued to guard an installation on Cuban soil (Tab B5).

A discussion was held with Department of Defense officials on July 29. They upheld the right of the Navy to use guards but agreed to consider any alternate plan if it seemed workable (Tab C6).

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Because of the adverse reaction which is already beginning to show itself, the continued occupation of the Yateras water installation is bound to touch off a propaganda campaign against use of United States Marines on foreign soil.

President Batista needs the troops that were withdrawn for duty elsewhere and it appears useless to appeal to him for their return. We would advise the Government beforehand of any new arrangements made for the security of the system.


That the Department urgently reach an agreement with the Department of Defense on a practical plan of action that would permit removal of the Marines from Cuban soil without causing a loss of face. The best plan would be for the water company to hire private Cuban guards, as mentioned above.
Once agreement is obtained, seek assurances that the Guantanamo water supply system will not be molested. We would deal with forces that control the area around the Naval Base in such a manner as not to involve recognition. If assurances are obtained that the installation will not be attacked, discuss with the Cuban owners of the water system the possibility of their providing private guards to watch it.
Urge the Department of Defense in any case to develop forthwith an alternate source of water for the Base, which will remain far too vulnerable without it.7
  1. Source: Department of State, ARA Deputy Assistant Secretary Files: Lot 61 D 411, Cuba 1958. Confidential. Drafted by Stewart and Snow and cleared with Whiteman and G.
  2. Tab A is an undated, unsigned memorandum entitled, “Background on Use of Marines to Guard Yateras Water System,” not printed. The reference to telegram 43 to Havana is an apparent error. The memorandum at Tab A refers to telegram 529 to Havana, March 27.
  3. Text of the cleared press release is in telegram 73 to Havana, July 26. (Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/7–2658)
  4. No record of the July 28 or 29 telephone calls has been found.
  5. Not printed.
  6. This memorandum of conversation among Stewart; Little; Captain Russell Kefauver, Head of the Western Hemisphere Division of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations; and Rear Admiral Robert Stroh, Director of the Politico-Military Policy Division of that office, is not printed.
  7. The source text bears no indication that the recommendations were approved or disapproved.