177. Diary Entry by Senator Allen J. Ellender1

[Here follows an account of Ellender’s activities in Cuba following his arrival on December 9.]

Most Americans here in Havana fear that they are in danger. Little can be done by them politically and they are entirely dependent on the Government in power. They cannot openly choose sides for fear of reprisals. Here in Havana, and the surrounding areas, Batista is very strong, although despised by many, I was informed. I was also told that those who profess to be “with” Castro would not necessarily support him to head the Government—that Castro is being used as a tool, in the hope that sufficient sentiment can be created against Batista so as to force him to quit.

The trouble here has been brewing for quite some time and quite a few Americans I spoke with seemed to feel that about all that our Government has been doing is standing on the sidelines and letting the situation worsen. It was the hope of some that the situation might adjust itself.

Much blame is put for some of the trouble at the doorstep of two of our leading American newspapers. I heard it said more than once that Herbert L. Matthews, a writer for the New York Times, made a hero of Fidel Castro, and that he was assisted by Jules DuBois of the Chicago Tribune who, it was said “elbows around” with Castro. I was told that DuBois wrote some very complimentary articles about Castro [Page 286] DuBois, I was informed, is head of the International Press Association. Quite a few persons said he hates Batista to such an extent that he wrote very irresponsible articles about conditions in Cuba. Much of the information was distorted, I was told.

Most of the Americans I spoke to here, as well as many leading Cubans, feel that both the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune acted in utter disregard of the truth when they printed stories favoring Castro, that both newspapers cast their responsibility to the winds and printed unwarranted articles about the situation here.

These articles, I was told, had the effect of making Castro a hero, and thus able to gather more and more strength.

As I mentioned earlier, I believe that few people would choose Castro as a leader; he is used as a symbol of the hate that the Cubans bear against Batista. I was told that Castro has been riding high because of the favorable publicity he received from the American press, but few would trust him to be President and successor of Batista.

I asked about the recent election held for a successor to Batista. Few people, except Batista partisans, would say that the election reflected the will of the people. President-elect Andres Rivero Aguero is pictured as a stooge of Batista. On the other hand, I was told that Castro caused many voters to stay away from the polls. He threatened all eligible voters with trouble if they should participate in the election. There were quite a few riots all over Cuba and no doubt many people were put in fear to such an extent that they did not vote.

If Castro were the only contender, there might be some merit in the contention that he would do more for the country than Batista, if given a chance. The trouble is that Castro does not have the field to himself. While Castro heads the 26th of July movement, he is being opposed by two other factions—one headed by Carlos Prio’s Authentic Organization and another, the Revolutionary Directory headed by Foure Chamount [Fauré Chomón]. All three are vying for power, and I fear more trouble will ensue if any one faction wins out, through a coup d’etat, or otherwise.

Prio is a former President of Cuba and is operating out of Florida, I was told. He is one of the strong men of the day.

What makes it difficult for Batista is, of course, his unpopularity. He is despised to the point where some people would do almost anything for a change. From all I heard about Batista, he has doubtless ruled—particularly in the last two years—with an iron hand. There are many charges of corruption leveled against his government, particularly in Army circles, yet no one is in a position to prosecute the offenders as long as Batista is in power.

Most people I talked with take the position that a change from Batista to Castro, or anyone else, will not result in peace. They feel that corruption will be rampant, as in the past.

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I know nothing of the situation of my own knowledge, but the consensus of opinion seems to be that the Cuban treasury has lost much at the hands of some greedy high Government officials, who took advantage of their positions to make themselves rich. If that is true, it will be rather difficult for any one person to restore dignity and honesty to the Government overnight. It will require time, patience, and honesty of purpose.

Many stated to me that Batista has done a good job, even if there were graft. There is much physical evidence of an improving economy over the last four or five years. It is contended by some, and I am inclined to agree, that Cuba has never been so prosperous as she now is. Cuba had a balanced budget until this year, when arms were purchased at a very high price to maintain internal security.

I asked why it was necessary for such high prices to be paid.

I was informed that the high prices were due to the United States refusal to sell arms to Cuba. Other sellers simply charged as much as the traffic would bear.

A U.S. embargo was placed on armaments early in the year. Why that was done, I could not find out except that we were afraid of siding with the recognized government against factions opposed to Batista, and thus incur criticism from the Russians for interfering with the internal affairs of a sovereign state.

Whatever happened to make us stop, we did stop.

In the meantime, as I previously stated, Cuba has been paying high prices for a variety of inferior weapons from France, Great Britain, Switzerland, and even Israel.

I am not prepared now to say what we should have done, because I do not have access to all the facts, but it strikes me that so long as there was no real civil war prevailing, there was no reason why we should not have sold military equipment to Cuba to maintain internal security.

I was told that if we had lived up to our promise to deliver arms on order, Cuba would not be in the trouble she now finds herself. Many persons were emphatic in stating that the fact the Batista government did not have sufficient arms to restore law and order caused Castro to expand his operations, and with the favorable publicity given to him by the American press, he captured the attention of the people and was thereby able to get more and more followers.

Today I am told, Castro will not permit sugar to move out of Oriente Province, unless he is paid so much “tribute” per bag by the growers. Batista’s government (which is recognized by us) is not able to stop these unlawful acts. Some of the cane growers are willing to comply because of fear of reprisal. I was told that much military [Page 288] hardware is being smuggled from the States to those who oppose Batista. There is no doubt a move to throw Batista out no matter what the consequences may be.

I personally believe that it is risky for us to merely stand by and let these things happen. It is certain that conditions will get worse, and I doubt that a successor to Batista, chosen in the heat of battle, will be any improvement in the long run. If the civil strife now prevailing should be maintained, it may develop into a full-fledged civil war, which would be a tragedy for all parties concerned, including the United States. We cannot afford to merely stand on the side lines.

Now, what to do is the question.

Certainly, since we have recognized the present regime, we should not hesitate to take such steps as are necessary to at least permit that regime to restore law and order and maintain internal security. If a fair amount of equipment, to be used for that purpose, is necessary, we should not hesitate to sell it. No one would expect us to take sides in case of bona fide civil war, and we should not.

I repeat, it would be a tragedy for civil war to break out in our backyard. Since Batista is held in disfavor in so many quarters, it may be possible to persuade him to quit, provided that the Government of Cuba is placed in the hands of a competent and independent provisional commission.

Since it is the objective of the factions that are opposing Batista to oust him and make an effort to restore law and order, all might agree to the selection of a competent commission to govern Cuba for the next few years, until tempers cool. Should that course be pursued, then those opposed to Batista would have won their point by causing him to agree to resign. Castro’s main objective, I was told, is to rid Cuba of Batista, period.

Also, if such a suggestion were accepted it would be a Godsend, in that it would doubtless end the strife that is now going on, and avert an all-out civil war.

Unless such a course is pursued, Cuba’s now thriving economy may be set back for many years. Private capital may cease to flow into the country because of instability.

From all that I have heard, I doubt that peace will come if the President-elect takes office in February. The Batista-haters will by no means be satisfied and strife will unquestionably persist for some time.

The Cubans are good people. They are very sensitive and easily aroused, but I have a feeling that they would listen to reason. The Cubans look upon us as big brothers. The masses would welcome actual intervention by us, but of course that is out of the question. Since conditions have been allowed to deteriorate to such an extent, all [Page 289] that we can now do is to offer reasonable suggestions along the lines I have submitted, so that the Government can keep on functioning for the good of Cuba and not for the benefit of a chosen few.

Cuba should be “sold” to Cubans. They should be instilled with the great benefits that will accrue to all the people if only stability can be restored to their Government.

Emphasis should be placed on the damage and losses that confront her should all-out war occur. We should appeal to the patriotism of all leaders to end the current strife, avert nationwide civil war, and enter into a cooling off-period so that order can be restored.

A commission, composed of good, honest men should take charge for at least two years. The military should be removed from the picture, except as may be necessary to assure internal security. Once this were done, then free elections could be scheduled and an effort made to elect honest, patriotic, and worthy servants to carry on for the people.

My fear is that if Castro is successful, strife will continue and the military will remain all powerful and will actually rule the country—that one dictator will merely be replaced by another.

[Here follows Ellender’s description of his departure from Cuba.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 033.1100–EL/3–2459. Senator Ellender visited Cuba December 9–14, during which time he met with high-ranking Cuban Government officials, including Foreign Minister Guell on December 10. Ellender also addressed the Directors of the American Chamber of Commerce, visited the Moa Bay Mining Company, and on December 12 gave a press conference in Havana. His conversation with Guell was reported in despatch 608 from Havana, December 11. (ibid., 033.1100–EL/12–1158) A schedule of and brief report on Ellender’s activities is in despatch 636 from Havana, December 17. (ibid., 033.1100–EL/12–1758) A transcript of Ellender’s press conference was transmitted to the Department as an enclosure to despatch 633 from Havana, December 16. The Embassy noted that Ellender had been prodded by certain correspondents “into statements critical of U.S. Government policy toward Cuba, questioning the existence of a civil war in Cuba, and referring to the revolutionary elements as ‘bandit groups’.” The Embassy discussed the varied reactions to Ellender’s comments and concluded:

    “In the rapidly moving Cuban scene it is probable that Senator Ellender’s press interview will have no great or lasting effect. That he spoke out so openly for the Administration and against the rebels at a time when the United States Government was trying to maintain a policy of non-intervention and when the rebels held much of eastern Cuba in their control must be viewed from the Embassy’s standpoint as regrettable.” (ibid., 033.1100–EL/12–1658)

    Text of a public statement, issued by the “Civic Resistance Movement” and highly critical of Ellender’s remarks, was transmitted to the Department as an enclosure to despatch 642 from Havana, December 18. (ibid., 033.1100–EL/12–1858)