185. Editorial Note

On the evening of December 17, Ambassador Smith held a long conversation with Foreign Minister Guell and President Batista.

The approach was apparently made under instructions from the Department of State. On the evening of December 12, the day he returned to Havana, Smith talked by telephone with Deputy Assistant Secretary Snow. No record of that conversation has been found, but in telegram 604 from Havana, December 13, Smith alluded to the conversation and noted that since his talk with Snow he had received no telegraphic instructions from the Department. Smith said that because it would appear odd for him to wait any longer before contacting Guell, he planned to do so that afternoon to set up an appointment, presumably with Guell and Batista, for December 14 or 15. Smith also noted: “The danger, which we must always bear in mind, is that any action taken on our part to weaken Batista—without setting up a [Page 299] strong replacement backed by US—would automatically strengthen Castro in the reverse ratio and thereby benefit the Communists.” (Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/12–1358)

In his memoirs, Smith recalls that he received instructions from Rubottom in the early morning hours of December 14. According to Smith, he was told to disabuse Batista of the notion that the U.S. Government would support Rivero Agüero. Smith indicates that he immediately met with Guell and requested an appointment with Batista. He told Guell: “It is my unpleasant duty to inform the President of the Republic that the United States will no longer support the present Government of Cuba and that my government believes that the President is losing effective control.”

In his conversation with Batista and Guell on December 17, Smith elaborated on the U.S. position. In particular, Smith noted:

“The State Department’s estimate of the situation was that a crisis was impending which most likely would create prolonged civil disorders with much loss of life. If he would act promptly, the State Department still believed that there were Cuban elements which could salvage the rapidly deteriorating situation. It would be necessary to obtain their support and co-operation for a broadly based government, which would be capable of carrying out constructive measures for a national solution.”

Smith urged that Batista not remain in Cuba “beyond the time necessary for an orderly transition of power” and suggested that Batista and his family take up residence in Spain. In their discussion of the possible formation of a junta, Smith stressed that he had not been permitted to discuss specific solutions or personalities. Batista asked whether the U.S. Government was willing to stop the fighting. According to Smith, “When I replied that the American government could not intercede or mediate, he told me I was now mediating on behalf of the Castros.” (Smith, The Fourth Floor, pages 169–174) For Batista’s recollection of the December 17 conversation with Smith, see Fulgencio Batista, Cuba Betrayed (New York: Vantage Press, 1962), pages 96, 138–139. No record has been found in Department of State files of Rubottom’s instructions to Smith, Smith’s subsequent approach to Guell, or the December 17 meeting.