188. Memorandum of Discussion at the 392d Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, December 23, 19581

[Here follows discussion of matters unrelated to Cuba.]

In Mr. [Allen] Dulles’ view, the situation in Cuba was worsening. Batista was unlikely to take any action to remedy conditions, short of a desperate military move for which the Army does not appear to have the stomach. The Communists appear to have penetrated the Castro movement, despite some effort by Fidel to keep them out. If Castro takes over in Cuba, Communist elements can be expected to participate in the government.2

[Here follows discussion of matters unrelated to Cuba.]

The President asked whether the Department of State had requested the Department of Defense to study military action which might be necessary in Cuba. Secretary Herter said State-Defense conversations were centering on the possibility of evacuation;3 he did not know of any study of military action. Mr. Quarles believed Castro was the greater of the two evils represented by Castro and Batista. The U.S. should support the lesser of the evils and therefore should move against the bases in the U.S. which support Castro. The Attorney General reported that arrests of Castro partisans in the U.S. were being made when the statutes were violated. The Vice President wondered whether criminal prosecution of persons in the U.S. financing Castro was possible. The Attorney General observed that Castro partisans could be prosecuted more vigorously, if this was desirable from the policy standpoint. [1 sentence (2½ lines) not declassified]

Mr. Quarles felt we should decide what faction we wish to support in Cuba. The Vice President said we would need to follow the law carefully because of the tendency of the U.S. press to favor Castro. The President wondered whether there was any Cuban aspirant for power whom we could support [2 lines not declassified]. Mr. Dulles added that we ought to prevent a Castro victory. The President believed this was the first time that statement had been made in the National Security [Page 303]Council. The Vice President said that on the other hand we could not support Batista in order to defeat Castro. [1 sentence (1½ lines) not declassified]

Mr. Allen wondered why the U.S. should attempt to prevent a Castro victory. Mr. Dulles said there was a feeling Castro was backed by extremely radical elements. The Vice President pointed out it would be undesirable to take a chance on Communist domination of Cuba, which had one of the largest Communist parties in the hemisphere in proportion to population. Secretary Herter observed that opinion as to the undesirability of a Castro regime appeared to be unanimous.

The President believed the U.S. should take a position progressives could support. Mr. Quarles thought there was no “third force” (i.e. a force other than Batista or Castro) to support. The President saw hope of a “third force” growing in strength and influence if it were organized around an able man and provided with money and arms. Secretary Herter felt a contingency paper was needed. In reply to a question from the Vice President, Mr. Dulles said [1½ lines not declassified].4

[Here follows discussion of matters unrelated to Cuba.]

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Prepared by Gleason.
  2. This meeting may be the occasion which President Eisenhower recalled in his memoirs. He refers to a conversation with Allen Dulles at the end of 1958, during which the latter said, “Communists and other extreme radicals appear to have penetrated the Castro movement. ... If Castro takes over, they will probably participate in the Government.” Eisenhower recalls, “When I heard this estimate, I was provoked that such a conclusion had not been given earlier.” (Waging Peace, p. 521)
  3. No memorandum of these conversations has been found, but Herter and Rubottom discussed the issue on the telephone at 5:55 p.m. on December 18. (Eisenhower Library, Herter Papers, Telephone Conversations)
  4. This discussion produced the following record of action (NSC Action No. 2029–b):

    “Noted that the responsible departments and agencies, particularly the Departments of State, Defense and Justice, and the Central Intelligence Agency, are keeping the situation in Cuba under continuing scrutiny with a view to taking appropriate actions in U.S. security interests, and to making necessary contingency plans on the initiative of the Secretary of State.” (Department of State, S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) files: Lot 66 D 95, Records of Action by the National Security Council)