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


  • Proposed Withdrawal of U.S. Marine Guards from the Yateras Water Plant Near the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo, Cuba


Whether to withdraw the detachment of U.S. Marines from the Yateras water plant which they have been guarding since Monday morning (July 28), and if so, whether to leave the plant unguarded or to accede to the private Cuban water company’s suggestion that it establish a guard of private local police (guarda jurados).


In my memorandum to you of July 30 entitled “Protection of Guantanamo Naval Base Water System”,2 I outlined the problem created by the withdrawal as of 8:00 a.m. last Monday of the Cuban Army troops which have been guarding the Yateras plant for some time. The present memorandum summarizes very briefly the discussion [Page 178] we have just had in your office with Admiral Burke, Deputy Assistant Secretary Irwin and Captain Kefauver,3 and recommends a further course of action.

The discussion just referred to brought out certain facts, questions, and assumptions, as follows:

The Naval Base has a storage capacity for only one day’s normal supply of water. Some twenty thousand people inhabit the Base. No alternative water supply exists except as provided by small distillation facilities and the shipping in of water by sea from Florida or Haiti.
The Frente Civico Revolucionario, which is the newly unified Cuban political Opposition, including the movement led by Fidel Castro and with headquarters in Caracas, has offered to declare the area around the water plant “neutral territory” insofar as the Cuban Opposition is concerned as a means of enabling us to withdraw the Marines. This Opposition coalition contains many responsible Cuban citizens, as well as various other types.
The U.S. Government should not and would not make any commitments to such a group but might choose to be guided in some measure by any assurances the group decided to make.
Admiral Burke was inclined to doubt whether it would be wise to withdraw the Marines, thereby eliminating protection for the plant and, in his view, visibly giving in to pressure from the Castro movement in Oriente Province as well as other Cuban Opposition pressures. This might simply encourage further pressures of the sort in Cuba and elsewhere.
Mr. Irwin asked what action we would recommend in the event that after withdrawal of the Marines the plant or the pipelines were sabotaged one or more times. We said we could not prognosticate.
Admiral Burke, in response to our portrayal of the serious political problem raised by the presence of the Marines on Cuban territory outside the Base, agreed to withdraw them if requested by the Department of State. He is opposed, however, to the idea of having private guards because of their cost, their probable inability to perform any useful service, the likelihood that once they are engaged they cannot be gotten rid of, our inability to select or identify them, etc.

It is my view that even the most friendly segments of Latin American public opinion, including Cubans in general whether or not members of the Opposition, will react against our guarding of the plant because Latin Americans are particularly sensitive to the entry of U.S. armed forces into the territory of any Latin American country even when our legal position seems sound and logical to us and even when the recognized government of the country permits our troops to enter. I believe that the communists in particular and our critics throughout the hemisphere in general will not fail to capitalize strongly on the presence of these Marines on Cuban territory. We stand to lose far more by keeping them there than by withdrawing them even if the [Page 179] water supply should be disrupted in their absence. Moreover, there is at least a reasonable possibility that the plant will not be damaged by the Castros, especially since we consider that the more responsible elements of the combined Opposition will oppose such action.

I favor the use of private Cuban guards because: (a) it would furnish us with a plausible reason for removing the Marines; (b) the plant probably needs some form of protection, however imperfect, against non-Castro attempts, such as by cranks or communists or even government provocateurs; (c) the private guards might give us a slightly better chance of identifying those who might attempt sabotage.


I therefore recommend that the Navy Department be requested to withdraw the Marine guards on the following basis:

A statement by the combined Opposition (Frente Civico Revolucionario), without any commitment from us or public acknowledgement by us, to the effect that no element of the Opposition, including the Castro forces, will disturb the water supply.
The Cuban Government in Habana to be notified of what we are doing, but without any reference to the Opposition’s statement or to any informal contact we may have had with Opposition representatives.
Replacement of our Marines with private Cuban guards hired by the Cuban company which owns and operates the plant.4

If this recommendation is not adopted, I believe we should request withdrawal as above but without requiring the private Cuban guards, in deference to Admiral Burke’s expressed preference.5

  1. Source: Department of State, ARA Deputy Assistant Secretary Files: Lot 61 D 411, Cuba 1958. Confidential. Drafted by Stewart and Snow and concurred in by L/ARA.
  2. Document 114.
  3. This is presumably the meeting whose scheduling is described supra.
  4. The source text bears the following typewritten notation: “No—CAH”.
  5. On the approval line is the typewritten notation: “U—CAH”. In a letter of July 31 to Admiral Burke, Herter said he was confirming, after consultation with Secretary Dulles, “the tentative request I made to you this afternoon that the Marine detachment be withdrawn at your earliest convenience and returned to the Guantanamo Base. As I know you will realize, this request on our part stems wholly from policy considerations of a high order.” (Eisenhower Library, Herter Papers)