122. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rubottom) to the Secretary of State 1


  • Arms Policy with Respect to Cuba


Should the United States resume the sale of arms to Cuba, now that all the Americans kidnapped by the rebel forces have been released?


At the time of the kidnapping of American citizens in Eastern Cuba in late June, the Department’s policy regarding supplying arms to the Government of Cuba was not to authorize shipment of grant combat military equipment to Cuba but to approve selective sales of such equipment whenever it was considered that such a course of action would encourage the Government of Cuba to take effective steps toward a peaceful and constructive solution to their internal political problem. This policy was approved by the Acting Secretary on May 9, 1958 (Tab A2) but no such sales have been authorized to date. A related question is the use by the Cuban Government for internal security purposes of grant military equipment contrary to the terms of the bilateral Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement which specifies that such equipment may be used only for defense of the hemisphere unless the U.S. gives its prior consent to other uses. On [Page 193] June 14, the Government of Cuba was requested to comply with the provisions of the agreement (Tab B3). A third problem is the question of authorizing the shipment of 10 training aircraft to Cuba. Our Embassy at Habana has recommended that the policy on arms shipments to Cuba be reviewed in the light of the kidnappings and of our position with the Government of Cuba. The Ambassador, the service attachés at Habana and the chiefs of our armed services missions in Cuba believe that we should permit the Cuban Government to purchase arms in the United States to enable that Government to take military action to crush the Castro revolt or as an inducement to Batista to hold acceptable elections.

The arguments for and against a resumption of sale of arms to Cuba are indicated at Tab C.4 The principal reasons favoring such a change in policy are that refusal to sell arms weakens the constituted Government of Cuba and that reports from our consuls who negotiated the release of the Americans in Oriente Province indicate possible communist influence in the forces of Raúl Castro. The reasons against permitting sales of arms to Cuba include the considerations that arms shipped to the Batista Government in the past have not permitted the Government to deal effectively with forces weaker than those the 26th of July group can now muster, the bulk of the Cuban people are disaffected from the present regime and Batista is scheduled to leave the office of President next February unless he retains power by force, and open support to the present Government as evidenced by sales of arms would likely harm the United States position in most of the other American republics. On balance, ARA believes that the reasons against resuming arms shipments outweigh those favoring such a course of action.

The question of Cuban Government compliance with the provisions of the MDA Agreement is a difficult one. The fact that MAP matériel has been used in the fight against the rebels is known both in the United States and Cuba and the charge has been made that the Cuban Government is violating the terms of the Agreement. Current policy agreed by the Departments of State and Defense is that use of MAP-supplied equipment for internal security purposes will not be permitted by the United States unless there is clear indication of communist involvement in the opposition forces. The experiences of our consuls in obtaining the release of the servicemen in Oriente Province at least raises the possibility of communist influence in this instance. Owing to this possibility and in order not to further lessen our position in the eyes of the Government of Cuba and our influence with that [Page 194] Government in dealing with such matters as world issues being considered in the United Nations, it is believed that the U.S. should take no further steps at this time to require compliance by Cuba with the provisions of the MDA Agreement.

The sale of ten training aircraft (T–28’s) was promised the Government of Cuba one week before the first kidnappings took place, but shipment was suspended after the American citizens were captured when it was learned that the seizures were staged largely as a protest against the U.S. providing arms to the Batista Government. These aircraft, while intended for training purposes, could be used in combat and the rebel forces would most likely interpret the sale as evidence of our renewing military support to the Batista Government.


In view of the considerations mentioned above, it is recommended that:

There be no change in policy respecting shipment of arms to Cuba as stated in the policy paper of May 6, 1958; approved by the Acting Secretary;
The United States take no further action at this time to ensure compliance by the Government of Cuba with the MDA Agreement regarding the use of grant aid equipment previously furnished to that Government; and
The shipment of the ten training aircraft not be authorized until such time as their delivery would not be a disturbing factor in the internal political situation in Cuba.5

  1. Source: Department of State, Rubottom Files: Lot 60 D 553, Cuba. Secret. Drafted by Little on July 31, with H, P, MC, W/MSC, and G indicated for concurrence. The source text bears no initials or signatures and may not have been forwarded to other offices for concurrence or to the Secretary of State for action, since the memorandum was held for Ambassador Smith’s concurrence during his visit to Washington the following week. (See Document 125)
  2. Tab A is not attached to the source text, but reference is to Herter’s approval of the recommendations in Snow’s memorandum of May 6 (Document 55).
  3. Tab B is not attached to the source text, but regarding the notification of the Cuban Government on June 14, see footnote 3, Document 64.
  4. This undated memorandum drafted by Little is not printed.
  5. There is no indication that any of the recommendations were approved or disapproved.