162. Memorandum of a Conversation Between the Ambassador in Cuba (Smith) and President-Elect Rivero Agüero, Havana, November 25, 19581


  • Further Discussion with President-Elect Rivero Agüero Concerning his Plans for the New Administration

This luncheon meeting was arranged at the Ambassador’s request at the Embassy Residence to inform Dr. Rivero Agüero of the results of the Ambassador’s consultations in Washington on matters discussed with Dr. Rivero Agüero on November 15, 1958 (see Embdes No. 515 of November 17, 1958).2

The Ambassador informed Dr. Rivero Agüero that he had had conversations both in New York3 and in Washington concerning the [Page 267] latter’s plans for a peaceful solution of the present revolutionary situation and the possibility that Dr. Rivero Agüero might make an informal visit to the United States prior to his inauguration. With respect to the latter point, the Ambassador stated the Department would welcome the visit of Dr. Rivero Agüero once he had been inaugurated as President of Cuba, but that there would be certain difficulties in an informal visit prior to his inauguration. Dr. Rivero Agüero replied that obviously he would not wish to make an informal visit unless it would be welcomed by the Department and that his thought in putting forward the suggestion had been that something useful might be accomplished in promoting even better relations than already existed between Cuba and the United States and in collaborating more closely on problems of importance to both governments.

The Ambassador said that as a purely personal suggestion he believed it would be useful if Dr. Rivero Agüero were to send a personal emissary, in whom he had complete confidence, to Washington to explain to Departmental officials his plans to bring about a peaceful solution of the present impasse.

Dr. Rivero Agüero replied he would consider this suggestion.

The Ambassador then said he had told the Department that for the first time since coming to Cuba he is seriously concerned that the rebel forces may be able to disrupt the Cuban economy through paralyzing transportation and communications to a point where there is danger that the Batista Government may be unable to maintain itself until the inauguration in February. He had further expressed the view that the 26th of July Movement must at length be receiving expert advice on revolutionary tactics, and he had warned the Department of the dangers inherent in a victory of this communist-oriented movement. He said he had also outlined to officials of the Department the plans which had been the subject of their last conversation and that the Department’s reaction had been as follows:

If the new administration were to take steps which would demonstrate its desire to reach an agreement with the civil opposition (in contrast to the revolutionary opposition) and it became apparent that these steps had the result of winning over the civil opposition, then the Department would be in a position to give the new administration meaningful support, However, the Department cannot take the initiative in this matter; it must wait to see how successfully the new regime can compose existing political differences. Hence, the initiative must be taken by Dr. Rivero Agüero and by his associates.

The Ambassador went on to say that certain important Cubans who are friendly to General Batista and to Dr. Rivero Agüero had asked him to make a suggestion concerning what might be necessary to win over the civil opposition. He emphasized that in making this suggestion he was acting solely as an intermediary. He said the [Page 268] Cubans to whom he referred believed that if assurances could be given that President Batista would not form a part of the new regime, the passive support which is being given to the 26th of July Movement by many sectors would cease, and the revolutionary movement would tend to become confined to the comparatively small group of fanatical terrorist followers of Fidel Castro.

Dr. Rivero Agüero said the question of President Batista’s future role depends entirely upon the circumstances with which the government will be confronted when the presidential term ends in February 1959. The civil opposition, including Dr. Márquez Sterling, Dr. Grau San Martín, Dr. Carlos Prío, and the professional groups, are more afraid of the revolutionary opposition than is the Batista Government itself. If between now and February 24 the Army succeeds in eliminating, or at least reducing, the threat of a military victory by the rebels, it will be comparatively simple to reach a negotiated settlement with the civil opposition. If, on the other hand, the military threat from the rebels remains as strong as it is at present, there will be no alternative but to continue the civil war, and the attitude of the civil opposition will obviously be affected by that fact. In such an event also the continued role of the Army will be of paramount importance, and Batista, as leader of the Army, will have to continue to play an active role in the government. This would be contrary to Batista’s desires, since he wishes to retire to private life, but the circumstances mentioned may make this impossible.

Dr. Rivero Agüero went on to say that his own plans for a peaceful solution of the present impasse are contingent upon successful military operations to reduce the rebel threat between now and his inauguration. He said the Army does not yet have sufficient “fire power” and arms to control the situation in Oriente. Recent operations in Camagüey and Las Villas Provinces seemed to him less serious. He expressed the hope that the United States would assist not only with arms but with moral support, since the latter would have a far-reaching psychological impact in Cuba. He said there are some 38,000 communists in Oriente Province, of whom 15,000 to 18,000 are actively collaborating with Fidel Castro, and the balance are lending passive support. In response to the Ambassador’s question as to whether he meant that 15,000 to 18,000 armed communists are supporting Fidel Castro, he said he did not mean to imply armed supporters. He estimated the latter at not more than 2,000 to 3,000. He said a victory for the 26th of July Movement would be the worst thing that could possibly happen to Cuba or to United States interests in Cuba.

The Ambassador remarked that the impression he had gained from his previous conversation with Dr. Rivero Agüero had been that the latter gave first priority to the composition of differences with the civil opposition through the calling of a constitutional assembly, or [Page 269] some other legal device, which might be acceptable to them, but that now he had the impression that Dr. Rivero Agüero is giving first order of priority to a military defeat of the insurrectionists. Dr. Rivero Agüero replied that military action against the insurrectionists has nothing to do with his own plans. This is a matter which General Batista and the outgoing administration must solve. His own order of priority remains as outlined, but he wished to emphasize that unless current military operations are substantially successful, the plans of his government to restore constitutional normality may be seriously obstructed.

Reverting to the suggestion that he send an emissary to the United States, he inquired whether in the Ambassador’s opinion it would be appropriate to do so under the present circumstances. The Ambassador replied that the Department, as he had mentioned earlier, will wish to observe how the situation develops. He said his own attitude is sympathetic to the problems of the new administration and that he would endeavor to report Dr. Rivero Agüero’s views to the Department in as complete and persuasive a form as possible. He believed that it might be useful to reinforce such reports as the Embassy would send by having a personal emissary of Dr. Rivero Agüero present his thinking directly to Department officials in informal conversation. He suggested that Dr. Rivero Agüero might wish to have the Cuban Ambassador in Washington arrange such an informal interview for whomever he designated.

Dr. Rivero Agüero inquired whether in the Ambassador’s opinion Dr. Jorge García Montes would be a suitable emissary. The Ambassador replied he considered Dr. Jorge García Montes eminently qualified because of his known sympathy for General Batista and Dr. Rivero Agüero, because he is well and favorably known to the Department, and finally because of his recognized ability as an advocate. Dr. Rivero Agüero then said that he would recall Dr. García Montes from his vacation in Spain for consultation in Cuba and then make the necessary arrangements for the latter’s early visit to Washington. He added that he would keep the Ambassador fully informed concerning this matter through Dr. Güell.

Dr. Rivero Agüero said in conclusion that he intended to make every effort to restore constitutional normality to Cuba, that he is a civilian, and that his greatest desire is to re-establish peace, but that the Department and the American Embassy in Cuba should realize clearly that there is a distinct possibility that the military operations against the Fidel Castro forces will have to continue.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 737.11/11–2658. Confidential. Drafted by Gilmore. Transmitted as an enclosure to despatch 558 from Havana, November 26.
  2. See Document 154.
  3. No record has been found of Smith’s conversations in New York.