119. Memorandum From the Deputy Director of the Office of Middle American Affairs (Stewart) to the Public Affairs Adviser, Bureau of Inter-American Affairs (Anderson)1


  • Conflicting Press Statements on Removal of United States Marines from Yateras Water Works in Cuba

On Friday morning, August 1, Admiral Burke was requested by the Department2 to withdraw back to the Guantanamo Navy Base the detachment of United States Marines which had been guarding the Yateras water works since July 28. Shortly after 1:00 p.m. this order was transmitted to the Commandant of the Navy Base by the Navy Department and at 4:15 p.m. the Marines had been retired from guard duty.

Late Friday, the Navy received press inquiries about the retirement of the Marines and the spokesman confirmed this fact, adding that further details should come from the Department of State. As far as the Department is aware, Reuters and the AP, at least, had the story.

Ambassador Smith informed the Cuban Minister of State at 7:00 p.m. on August 1 that the United States planned to withdraw the Marines from the Yateras installation. The Ambassador had been instructed on July 313 to convey this message to the Cubans but because of a communications mix-up the priority telegram was not available to the Embassy until 2:00 p.m. on August 1. After Ambassador Smith informed the Cuban Government of our decision, he was called some hours later by the Minister of State who told him that the Cuban Government planned to reassign Cuban Army guards to the water works, and he read the Ambassador the copy of a proposed press announcement. Ambassador Smith called Mr. Rubottom around 2:30 a.m. to advise him of this move by the Cubans. Mr. Rubottom, who had just returned from the Central American trip with Milton Eisenhower the afternoon before, was unfamiliar with the case and Ambassador Smith was advised to get in touch with Mr. Snow. This he did. On the morning of August 2 the Department prepared a press announcement concerning the withdrawal of the Marines in the light of the proposed Cuban release. As we received it from Ambassador [Page 184] Smith the Cuban Government was to announce that it had taken over again the protection of the water installation, indicating that the United States Government had sent Marines to protect it while the Cuban Government was making a change of its own detachment of troops there. As far as the Department of State is aware, the reason for the withdrawal of Cuban Army troops from the protection of the water installation was based on the necessity of using those forces for another purpose. The decision to withdraw the Cuban troops was made by the local commander in the Guantanamo area and the decision was conveyed to Admiral Robert B. Ellis, Guantanamo Naval Base Commandant, on July 25. After notification the Commandant decided to place Marines at the Yateras installation, in accordance with previous authority given by State, in consultation with the Department of Defense. Apparently the Cuban Army commander received orders from his superiors in Habana to remove the guards.

The Department press release4 on the withdrawal of the Marines was read to newspapermen shortly after 1:00 p.m. by the Departmental press officer on duty on August 2. A background paper5 accompanying the press announcement was prepared but was not used in view of the fact that newspapermen did not request further information. Ambassador Arroyo of Cuba, who had been scheduled to go to Habana on August 1, was instructed to remain in Washington until August 2 so that the Cuban Government announcement of its take-over of guard duty at Yateras could be made here. This announcement was made on August 26 and apparently was the basis for the news stories written on the withdrawal of the Marines and the reassumption of guard duty by the Cuban Army. The Cuban Embassy announcement stated that the Cuban Army would continue its usual protection of the Yateras installation, adding that the custody undertaken by the Marines was done only while the Cuban unit which was carrying out its duties there was being relieved by a new one. The statement went on to say that the Cuban Government desires to lend all possible protection of the water installation in view of the importance of that source of supply to the Base, especially in these moments of acute international crisis.

The statement went on to say that the changing of the military unit having been carried out, the Government of Cuba has notified the Naval Base through the usual channels that it should retire its detachment from the water installation in order that the Cuban forces could continue carrying out this service. The Cuban Army resumed guard duty at 11:30 a.m. on August 3.

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The Cuban statement is at variance with our understanding of the whole question of the retirement of the Marines. The United States Government did not discuss with the Cuban Government anything about the Yateras installation after Admiral Ellis agreed on July 25 to replace Cuban Army guards with Marine personnel on July 28. At least, the Department has no indication that any discussions of this nature were held. It is our understanding that when Ambassador Smith notified the Cuban Government that the Marines were being withdrawn the Cuban Government, some hours later, notified him that it had decided that the Cuban Army guards would be reinstalled at the water works. Furthermore, the Cuban release stated that the Marines assumed the protection of the Yateras installation only during the period that the Cuban Army unit was being relieved by a new one. Our records indicate no such reason advanced by the local Army Commander, who solely conducted negotiations with Admiral Ellis. As far as we know, the only reason given for removing the Cuban Army guards was that of the Army Commander that the troops were needed elsewhere.

As for the final part of the Cuban Embassy press release, the Department is unaware that the Cuban Government ever indicated to Naval Base authorities that the Marines should be retired from the Yateras installation “in order that the Cuban forces might continue carrying out this Service.” Copies of the Cuban Embassy press release, the Department press release and background paper are attached.

  1. Source: Department of State, CCA Files: Lot 70 D 149, Cuba July–Dec. 1958. Drafted by Stewart. Copies were sent to ARA, the Embassy in Havana, MID/C, and to Spencer for Captain Kefauver.
  2. See footnote 5, Document 116.
  3. This message has not been found.
  4. For text of this press release, see Department of State Bulletin, August 18, 1958, p. 282.
  5. Attached but not printed.
  6. An English translation of the Cuban press statement is attached but not printed.