154. Memorandum of a Conversation Between the Ambassador in Cuba (Smith) and President-Elect Rivero Agüero, Havana, November 15, 19581
- Plans of President-Elect Andrés Rivero Agüero
This luncheon meeting was arranged at the Ambassador’s request at the Embassy Residence to afford an opportunity to discuss with Dr. Rivero Agüero certain aspects of the present political situation.
The principal topics touched upon in the three-hour meeting were Dr. Rivero Agüero’s plans for a solution of the present revolutionary situation, the possibility that Dr. Rivero Agüero may make an unofficial visit to the United States, GOC military capability, and his general attitude toward the United States.[Page 253]
1. Dr. Rivero Agüero’s Plans for a Solution of the Present Revolutionary Situation.
In response to the Ambassador’s questions Dr. Rivero Agüero stated that in the very near future he intends to announce publicly the intention of his government to call a constitutional assembly to consider the steps which should be taken to restore full constitutional government to Cuba. He said that ever since the coup d’etat of March 10, 1952, the legitimacy of the present regime has been questioned by the political opposition, and that the elections of 1954 did not serve to terminate this debate because they were considered to have been held under the auspices of a regime which had not come into power by constitutional means. He drew a parallel between the present situation and that which prevailed following the overthrow of President Machado in 1933. In the latter case full constitutional government was not restored until the constitutional assembly of 1940. In his opinion Cuba must follow the same course at this time. He said he would hope to call such an assembly within the first year of his term and at that time it would be decided whether to hold new elections and whether to shorten his four-year term of office. He said this plan has the support of Dr. Márquez Sterling and of Dr. Carlos Prío, but that the attitude of Dr. Grau is uncertain. The latter made an unexpectedly poor showing in the elections and because of his advanced age is subject to vagaries which make his reactions unpredictable. However, it is probable that a majority of Grau’s supporters will favor the plan.
The Ambassador commented that were the political and legal oppostion to give their full support to the plan to hold a constitutional assembly, it would appear that the revolutionary oppostion would be very much weakened. He explained that in his view the distinction between the “political” and the “legal” opposition is that the former actively supports a constituted opposition party, whereas the latter represents a mass of voters who, while desirous of a peaceful change in administration, are not active participants in the existing opposition parties. Dr. Rivero Agüero replied that in his opinion 90 percent of the people of Cuba desire a peaceful solution and would support his plan. The remaining 10 percent comprise subversive elements linked with communists, plain bandits, and other groups who thrive on disorder. The Government must redouble its efforts to eliminate this disruptive minority. Otherwise it may interfere with the plan to convene a constitutional assembly and, through intimidation of prospective participants, may have the effect of diminishing its national standing. Dr. Rivero Agüero went on to stress the impossibility of reaching any negotiated settlement with Fidel Castro, whom he characterized as a sick man (he mentioned that he has a syphilitic inheritance) consumed by an overwhelming ambition to overthrow the Government by force. [Page 254] Castro, he said, realizes that for him to join in any negotiated settlement would amount to his political suicide, since he has no following among the moderate elements in the country. The outcome of the elections has redounded to Castro’s benefit because he can now say that Rivero Agüero represents a mere continuation of the Batista regime and that the rebels are thus justified in continuing their violent resistance. If Dr. Márquez Sterling, or another opposition candidate, had won, Castro would have been considerably embarrassed because, while he would have insisted upon continuing his present violent course, many of his supporters would then have favored a negotiated settlement. He stated that Fidel Castro must be either killed or captured.
Dr. Rivero Agüero emphasized that he has no particular interest in serving his full term and that his primary objective is to restore peace and full constitutional government to Cuba.
The Ambassador said the Department is interested in being informed as to whether Dr. Rivero Agüero had made any pre-election announcement of his plans to hold a constitutional assembly. He replied that he had made such an announcement during the course of the campaign, stressing two main points, (1) the desirability of taking all possible steps to encourage investment, primarily from the United States, and economic development in Cuba, and (2) the desirability of convening a constitutional assembly at an early date. He had also announced that if elected his government would give sympathetic consideration to any alternative solutions for the present impasse which might be suggested by the political oppostion. He emphasized again, however, that the only means of restoring full constitutional government is through a new constitutional assembly.
2. Possibility that Dr. Rivero Agüero May Make an Unofficial Visit to the United States.
Dr. Rivero Agüero explained that he has traveled widely in the United States and that it has been his custom for the past few years to spend the Christmas holidays and New Year’s in New York. He said that since his election he has been discussing with President Batista the feasibility of making such a visit prior to his inauguration. He feels there would be a number of advantages in such a visit. As a former publicist he believes that he understands the conduct of press relations better than does General Batista and he would welcome an opportunity to have face-to-face discussions with the editors of some of the influential dailies and magazines. He mentioned the New York Times, the Washington Star, the Washington Post, and Time Magazine. He would not visit the United States in his capacity as President-elect and would not expect to be extended an official invitation. However, he feels that it would be useful to have an opportunity to explore problems [Page 255] of common concern to the Governments of the United States and Cuba in direct informal conversations with the appropriate officials of the Department of State. He emphasized the strong mutuality of interest that Cuba and the United States have in finding a solution to the present situation. American investments in Cuba are very substantial; there is a large American resident community; incidents such as that recently at Nicaro2 and the seizure in the air of the Viscount belonging to Cubana with resultant loss of American lives, must be prevented. In his view these are examples of the importance of seeking mutual solutions for Cuba’s present problems. He added, however, that he was not inviting intervention in Cuba’s internal affairs.
President Batista, on the other hand, has reservations concerning the advisability of such a visit at this time. He feels that the possibility exists that there would be hostile demonstrations by Cuban exiles, and certain other groups in the United States, which might create possible problems of police protection which would be of embarrassment to the United States Government. He prefers not to be in a position therefore of asking us to take steps, such as protection, which might be construed as endorsement by the United States of Dr. Rivero Agüero.
The Ambassador commented that he believed General Batista’s fears concerning the possibility of hostile demonstrations may be justified (he mentioned that threats of picketing the forthcoming Charity Ball at the Waldorf Astoria, which he and Mrs. Smith are sponsoring,3 have been received), and that it would be difficult for Dr. Rivero Agüero to disassociate himself from the fact that he is President-Elect of Cuba. Dr. Rivero Agüero said that no definite decision had been taken but that he had wished to explore the possibilities of such a visit tentatively with the Ambassador and that he would inform the Ambassador later whether he desired to pursue the matter further. The Ambassador replied that upon hearing from Dr. Rivero Agüero he would informally obtain a reaction from the Department. With reference to Dr. Rivero Agüero’s suggestion that he might during the course of such a visit have discussions with Departmental officials concerning mutual problems, the Ambassador said he is personally in sympathy with the aims which Dr. Rivero Agüero had expressed; that he believed that the Department at this time is primarily interested in knowing Dr. Rivero Agüero’s plans for a peaceful solution of the present impasse and the methods he proposes to pursue in order to [Page 256] achieve it; that the Embassy would of course report fully to the Department the views which had been expressed in this conversation; and that he hoped it would be possible to have a further discussion with Dr. Rivero Agüero on this subject in the near future.
3. GOC Military Capacity.
The Ambassador inquired whether Dr. Rivero Agüero considered that GOC can eliminate the revolutionary forces of Fidel Castro before the inauguration in February. Dr. Rivero Agüero replied that with the present equipment of the Cuban Army he did not think this would be possible. He then referred to a press report of November 15 to the effect that the United States Department of Defense is requesting a 15 billion-dollar special appropriation to re-equip with advanced weapons U.S. military and NATO forces overseas. He said if this plan is to be carried through, he would like to suggest that if Cuba could purchase some small part of the arms to be discarded in the process, it could then eliminate the rebel forces. The Ambassador repeated, as he had said before, that at this time he believed the Department is mainly interested in being informed of the plans which the new Cuban Government will follow for a peaceful solution of the impasse and the methods it proposes to employ in this connection.
4. General Attitude Toward the United States.
At various points in the conversation Dr. Rivero Agüero talked at length of his past contacts with American officials and expressed great admiration for the United States and for Americans. He said because of the sincerity and good-will of most Americans, he had no fear in attempting to explain Cuba’s situation to American public opinion.
In closing the interview Dr. Rivero Agüero reiterated that as far as he is personally concerned, his main and only aim is to restore peace and constitutional government to Cuba. He is indifferent as to whether his term of office shall be long or short. He will return to his law offices gladly when these objectives have been accomplished, and the thing that he values most is that when he returns to private life, people will regard him as having been a “good public servant.”
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 737.11/11–1758. Confidential. Transmitted as an enclosure to despatch 515, November 17. Drafted by Gilmore. In telegram 503 from Havana, November 14, Smith asked the Department for guidance in his conversations with Rivero Agüero and Batista planned for the following day. He asked: “If President Elect Rivero Agüero is willing to compromise and is willing to take whatever steps necessary to bring about a peaceful solution in Cuba, will the Department support the new administration?” (ibid., 611.37/11–1458) In telegram 264 to Havana, November 14, the Department said that Smith in his conversation with Rivero Agüero should not go beyond referring to Rivero Agüero’s stated willingness to seek a peaceful solution and asking him for details as to how he planned to achieve this. The Department concluded: “We believe we should know what these concrete plans are and chances for success in ending internal strife in order be able determine desirability any possible revision current policies.” (ibid.) The Department apparently furnished no instructions as to what Smith should say to Batista.↩
- Reference is to the temporary seizure by Cuban rebels in late October of the Nicaro nickel plant and evacuation by U.S. transport ship, which began on October 24, of 55 dependents of Americans employed there.↩
- In telegram 495 from Havana, November 12, Smith said that if the Department had no objection, he was planning to leave Havana for New York on November 17 to be present at a ball given there to raise money for scholarships for Cuban students. He planned to stay in New York for 5 days. (Department of State, Central Files, PER)↩