179. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, December 15, 19581


  • Visit of Cuban Ambassador Nicolas Arroyo


  • Ambassador Arroyo, Embassy of Cuba
  • Mr. Rubottom, ARA
  • Mr. Snow, ARA
  • Mr. Wieland, CMA
  • Mr. Stevenson, CMA/C

Ambassador Arroyo had returned on December 13 from an eight day visit to Cuba and requested an appointment with Mr. Rubottom without specifying a topic to be discussed. Mr. Wieland told Ambassador Arroyo that he was sorry that the Department had not been notified of his return from Cuba in order that he might have been met at the airport. The Ambassador replied that he did not wish to put any one in the Department to this trouble.

Mr. Rubottom inquired regarding the Ambassador’s trip and his impressions of conditions in Cuba. The Ambassador replied that he had found the Government to be strong and confident but that civilian elements in and around Habana seemed nervous and worried about the economic outlook. He said that he thinks that this is in part due to speculators who desire an increase in sugar prices and are spreading stories of a possible serious drop in the sugar harvest. He emphasized that this will not be the case. He said that there may be a slight reduction in the overall harvest and a delay in getting the sugar to market; that it is not in the Cuban tradition to destroy the National patrimony, implying that even in the rebel areas sugar will be exported. In any case he is confident that Cuba will be able to fulfill her United States quota.

Mr. Rubottom remarked that even a ten or fifteen percent reduction in the overall sugar exports would be serious for the Cuban economy. Ambassador Arroyo agreed that this would indeed be true but he is hopeful that when Batista finishes his term on February 24, tensions will relax and that Rivero Aguero will have a good chance of bringing about a return of peace to the country.

The Ambassador then turned to the recent visit to Cuba of Senator Ellender whom he had met at a reception given by Ambassador Smith in Habana. He expressed great admiration for the Senator and voiced amazement at his many travels. He said that Senator Ellender [Page 291] had been very favorably impressed with the present administration in Cuba and that the Senator could not understand why it was that the United States had refused to continue the shipment of arms to a friendly government when such arms are needed to put down bandits. He added that the Cuban Government was very pleased to have such a powerful, independent, and influential man to represent these views to the American Government. Mr. Rubottom commented that he has known Senator Ellender a good many years and that he is a remarkable and well traveled man.

Mr. Rubottom returned again to the economic situation and asked if transportation difficulties might not prove a real obstacle to the sugar crop, asking specifically about port facilities. The Ambassador replied that there are many ports through which sugar can be shipped and that almost every important sugar company has its own port. He admitted that many railroad bridges have been destroyed but reiterated that he could foresee only a delay in the marketing of the sugar crop.

Mr. Rubottom told the Ambassador that from the many reports the Department has received it appears that Castro pretty well controls the countryside in Oriente and wondered what the Ambassador thought of Castro’s prospects for taking over the cities. The Ambassador replied that he had had a long talk with his old friend General Cantillo in whom he has the utmost confidence, believing him to be the best of the Generals and a true professional, and that Cantillo told him that he expects an attack on Santiago and perhaps some of the other cities on December 24; that he is preparing for such an eventuality and feels he can dispose of the rebels rapidly once they attack the city. Cantillo said he would welcome such an attack as it would give him a good opportunity to inflict a serious defeat on the rebels. Mr. Wieland remarked to the Ambassador that should the rebels not attack Santiago what would then be General Cantillo’s strategy? To this the Ambassador said he could make no answer.

Mr. Rubottom observed that the situation in Cuba is, of course, one hundred percent an internal problem for the Cubans to settle. However, he said that because of our traditional relations with Cuba and the special importance which Cuba has for the United States, we naturally are following developments there with grave concern. He asked the Ambassador if, in his opinion, the President-elect will endeavor to form a “national” administration, including in it elements from the loyal opposition and making other efforts to obtain the backing of the general public for a peaceful solution to the Cuban conflict. The Ambassador replied that he believes that Rivero Aguero is indeed thinking of a solution along these lines and that he has a good chance of success. He said that Rivero Aguero is a very good man, well educated and intelligent although faced with the difficulty that he is [Page 292] not a well-known public figure. Mr. Rubottom remarked that it would seem to him that Rivero Aguero must soon take steps indicating he intends to follow the above course of action if he is to have any hope of success. The Ambassador agreed and said that Rivero Aguero is now working on his cabinet and that he might possibly announce some names in January. In this connection he remarked that Vice-President-elect, Gaston Godoy, is a man of ability and possessed of a fine general reputation with all elements in Cuba, which should prove helpful to Rivero. He did not rule out the possibility of a change in administration prior to February 24, but said that this would be very difficult as President Batista, although he wants very badly to get out of office and take a long rest of two to three years, will not take any shameful or secret way out. Mr. Wieland asked the Ambassador if he had discussed the above ideas with President Batista to which the Ambassador replied that he had not, as he has always been a non-political technican, even as a Minister, and that he has, therefore, refrained from discussing such highly political matters. He added that Batista is still confident and determined; that English arms are now arriving so that some two thousand recruits who have been drilling with sticks may now be equipped with rifles. Mr. Rubottom said that he hoped with the greatest sincerity that a peaceful solution to the Cuban difficulties may soon be found. He pointed out to the Ambassador that among other things there is still the question of public opinion in the U.S. (which the Department must consider) with regard to arms shipments. The Ambassador commented that he thinks public opinion in the U.S. is now changing and is not so unfavorable to his government as formerly. In this connection Mr. Rubottom complimented the Ambassador for the fine work he has done on behalf of his government.

Comment: It seemed that the Ambassador’s call was not the result of instructions he may have received from his government during his recent visit to Cuba. His very positive expressions of admiration and respect for General Cantillo are of interest in view of several recent reports that General Cantillo may soon be removed from his command because of possible implication in a recent military plot against Batista. It may be noted that in his several references to Batista’s desire to get out of office and take a rest the Ambassador made no mention of any possibility that General Batista might leave Cuba.

  1. Source: Department of State, CCA Files: Lot 70 D 149, Cuba—Political. Confidential. Drafted by Stevenson.