130. Memorandum of a Conversation Between the Officer in Charge of Cuban Affairs (Leonhardy) and Ernesto Betancourt, Department of State, Washington, September 19, 19581

Mr. Betancourt visited Mr. Leonhardy today by previous appointment to present his views on the Cuban political situation. He touched upon the following subjects:

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Communism and Anti-US Elements in the Castro Movement

Mr. Leonhardy prompted Mr. Betancourt’s discussion of this by referring to continuing anti-US articles being circulated by the 26th of July Movement in Cuba. He briefly described the nature of these circulars and showed him one2 that had been addressed to the youth of Cuba which almost followed the communist line and which had been reprinted by the communists in their propaganda in Cuba. Mr. Betancourt said he was seriously concerned about anti-US views exhibited by some people in the 26th of July Movement in Cuba and that he had recently forwarded a memorandum to Fidel Castro pointing out the measures the United States Government had taken to embargo arms shipments from this country to the Cuban Government. He said he indicated in his memorandum that Castro should consider pursuing a propaganda line expressing appreciation for such US action and indicating that this represented lack of support rather than US support for the Batista regime. Recently Mr. Betancourt received a communication from Luis Buch of Caracas, presently propaganda Chief in exile for the Movement, indicating his approval of the propaganda line suggested by Betancourt.

In response to a query by Mr. Leonhardy about Fidel Castro not publicly disavowing communists, Mr. Bentacourt replied that this was difficult for Castro because (1) his Movement had often been accused of being rightist because of its middle and higher class support, (2) the Movement had no acceptable social program to sell to the Cuban masses, (3) communist strength in the Movement must recognize the Cuban labor movement, and Castro was not anxious to incur the wrath of the communist labor leaders even though he had refused to accept their support in the April 9 strike.

Mr. Betancourt referred to his previous warnings to the Department that some of our actions were playing into the hands of the anti-US elements in the Castro movement and mentioned specifically our present visa policy toward the more conservative elements in the opposition, such as Dr. Miró Cardona, Dr. Antonio Varona, Dr. Lincoln Rodon, and others. Mr. Leonhardy informed Mr. Betancourt that with constant violations of our laws by Cuban exiles sometimes it was not easy to differentiate between those who were conducting themselves well and those who were not while in this country. He also pointed out that Dr. Miró Cardona, for example, had neglected to approach our immigration authorities before his stay in this country had expired and had placed himself in the position of being illegally here. Mr. Betancourt said that Dr. Miró Cardona might be here next [Page 209] week and would have an opportunity to discuss his parole status with the appropriate US authorities. Mr. Leonhardy replied he would be pleased to discuss his case with him.

Communists in the Labor Movement

Mr. Betancourt said that he was not particularly worried about leftist thinking in the Castro movement as a number of the members were immature and it was typical of Latin youth to be radical. He was confident that they would become more conservative as they matured. His real concern he said was the future of the Cuban labor movement as that movement still has a number of able communists who have had leadership experience. He feels a vacuum will result in the labor movement with the fall of the Batista regime and that there will be no one with organizational ability to fill that vacuum in many of the unions other than communists. The Mujal crowd he claims will be summarily thrown out and most laborers will be reluctant to accept Cofino, Hirogoyen and the like as their replacements as the latter have no better reputations than the former. On the other hand the communist leaders in labor have a reputation for honesty which might give them a general acceptance. The Castro movement has no real experienced labor leaders and must depend on the JOC (Catholic Youth Labor Movement) to try to fill the gap. In some few unions this might be possible Mr. Betancourt thinks.

Withdrawal of Military Missions

Mr. Betancourt said he understood the overriding hemispheric defense aspects of US policy in maintaining military missions in Cuba. He realized how difficult it would be for the US to terminate mission agreements with Cuba and withdraw its missions. Nevertheless, he said he thought that the US should consider that through the controlled Cuban press Batista was taking advantage of the presence of our missions to indicate US support for his regime. By so doing he has built up a tremendous antipathy towards the missions by the Cuban populace. This antipathy is getting to the point that Betancourt feels that we must expect a public clamor in Cuba following the downfall of Batista for a complete removal of our missions in that country. Betancourt feels this would be unfortunate and a blow to hemispheric defense in the area. He also feels we might avoid such an adverse move if we were now to take steps to de-emphasize the role of our missions and through attrition or otherwise gradually reduce the number of personnel serving at the missions. This he concluded might be taken by those in the opposition as a sign of gradual withdrawal of US military support for Batista.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/9–1958. Confidential. Drafted and initialed by Leonhardy. Betancourt was a Registered Agent for the 26th of July Movement.
  2. Not further identified.