126. Letter From the Consul at Santiago de Cuba (Wollam) to the Officer in Charge of Cuban Affairs (Leonhardy)1
Dear Terry: The following contains some thoughts on the local situation. If you think this should be developed in despatch form, please let me know.
It had been previously noted that there seems to be an increasing amount of anti-Americanism in Oriente. This has been commented on by Cubans and Americans. Some of the comment is for propaganda effect, but it is believed that some of it is valid. It is new to most.
The anti-American feeling is principally from the opposition elements and is stirred up by the Communists who have found common ground. Not all of it is Communist, however, and it is difficult to draw a line on where the responsibility lies.[Page 199]
It is to be expected that in a civil war situation all sides will attempt to make the most of propaganda. With a large majority of the local people at least emotionally linked to the opposition, the Consulate receives principally one side of this picture, namely that of condemnation of the United States for “supporting” the government of President Batista and other so-called dictatorships. The number of persons affected, however, is cause for concern. On the positive side, the traditional close ties between the United States and Oriente probably do something to keep the impact from being as heavy as it might be in other areas under the same circumstances.
United States “support of the government” is deduced from various things in the emotional thinking of many opposition elements. These include the supplying of arms (there is no distinction made on MAP or sale), the rockethead transaction, the use of the Naval Base at Guantanamo to fuel and arm combat missions, various military missions to Cuba, protocolary military functions in Habana, the decoration of Cuban military leaders by the United States, apprehension of arms shipments to the rebels, and from other imagined evidences of “support”.
The United States is blamed for being ignorant of or condoning the excesses for which the opposition condemns Cuban military and police authorities.
There is no doubt but that the United States policy is generally unknown or misunderstood in Oriente, a fact that gives the Communists an additional opportunity. Because of censorship the majority of the people see only:
- What they deduce as evidences of U.S. support to Batista, since the government gives ample publicity to any official Cuban-American associations. Most of this is based on emotional reaction rather than the facts of the case.
- The second field of information for many is the clandestine publications of the 26th of July and, to a lesser extent, that of the Communists. The type of anti-American propaganda circulated with the kidnapping effort is an example of this. Communists have apparently eagerly grabbed on to this ready-made opportunity to “cooperate”.
In the present atmosphere of Oriente these two types of information have a double impact and serve to complement one another in the eyes of the opposition.
Under censorship, the United States has little means of defending or advancing its policy locally except in a limited manner through discreet personal contact. Relations with a friendly host government could easily be jeopardized by any indiscreet effort to publicize what is common knowledge in interested United States circles.[Page 200]
At the same time the Government of Cuba is undoubtedly irritated since efforts at non-involvement have in effect aided the opposition. In Oriente, the United States appears to receive no credit from either side.
Many Americans both here and also apparently in the United States are not informed on where and how the United States stands with respect to efforts at non-involvement in Cuban internal affairs. In the highly emotional local atmosphere they are inclined to side with the opposition in being critical of their concept of U.S. policy. This again is partially because of censorship which limits information received here. Most Americans are aware, however, of the necessity of remaining aloof from local politics.
With increasing unrest and the possibility that the political situation could possibly be subject to change either through elections or otherwise, any increase in anti-American feeling becomes a subject of more concern. In many minds the United States will automatically be linked with Batista as was the case to some extent in Venezuela.
There appears to be no easy solution to this delicate local problem. Consular officials and informed Americans can accomplish a little on a discreet personal basis, but there is not much else that can be done within the limits of consular functions.
It would seem, however, that the possibility of the Communists advancing their position through the anti-Americanism should be a source of concern to opposition leaders. One thing that might be suggested would be an effort to enlighten and inform opposition leaders in the United States as well as exiles and Cuban residents in general of the United States position. It is not known whether this is feasible, or in what form this might be done. If this could be accomplished it is possible that some of it might come through to local elements. Selected opposition leaders might be shown Communist anti-American propaganda regarding Cuba and other countries.
Perhaps something more for the record regarding U.S. efforts at non-involvement could be prepared for use should the occasion arise or for publishing in some magazine. The questions and answers which were prepared in MID for interested parties in the United States2 would provide most of the material and it could always be brought up to the minute.
There may be other ways of getting the favorable aspects of our policy across, although it is a delicate proposition in a situation such as this.[Page 201]
This may pertain only to Oriente, but it is a problem here. Any suggestions you have would be helpful.3
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.37/8–2558. Confidential. A copy was sent to Bowdler.↩
- Not further identified.↩
- No reply by Leonhardy has been found. Leonhardy showed the letter to Smith, who wrote the following comment in the margin of the first page: “TGL: This is a tough one. If USIS were to try to give out pamphlets regarding our impartiality in Cuban domestic politics, the GOC would undoubtedly object, especially in view of arms policy. EBS”↩