215. Editorial Note
On the evening of January 4, the Department instructed Ambassador Smith to come immediately to Washington for consultations. (Telegram 440 to Havana, January 4, 6:05 p.m.; Department of State, Central Files, 123–Smith Earl E.T.)
That evening Smith learned that the rebel forces in control of Camp Columbia were planning to execute General Cantillo. Together with Brazilian Ambassador da Cunha, Smith went to Camp Columbia the following morning and persuaded rebel commander Cienfuegos to postpone Cantillo’s execution. No documentation has been found regarding Smith’s intercession on behalf of Cantillo, but for Smith’s reminiscences, see The Fourth Floor, pages 200–203. Cantillo was later tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
At the Secretary of State’s Staff Meeting at 9:15 a.m. on January 5, Rubottom made the following report:
“Mr. Rubottom reported that 1972 Americans had been evacuated by Sunday evening [January 4] and the Embassy had handled the entire matter extremely well. The general strike is ended and regular air and ship service should resume shortly. Urrutia is flying to Havana today and Fidel Castro will proceed by land. The provisional Cabinet is drawn largely from the 26 July movement, which is causing dissatisfaction among other anti-Batista elements, but it seems to be of reasonably good composition from our viewpoint. Mr. Rubottom said that a telegraphic request to the Secretary from an official acting on behalf of Urrutia requested US recognition of the Rebel regime.” (Department of State, Secretary’s Staff Meetings: Lot 63 D 75, January 1959)
The message to the Secretary of State has not been further identified.[Page 343]
On the evening of January 5, a committee of Ambassadors, consisting of the Papal Nuncio; Ambassador Smith; and the Ambassadors of Spain, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile, called on Foreign Minister Agramonte to protest attacks that had occurred the previous evening on the Colombian and Portuguese Embassies. Agramonte, along with President Urrutia and Prime Minister Miro Cardona who were also present, promised to provide the necessary protection to all diplomatic missions. Although there were many photographs taken of the group and Urrutia, Smith reported to the Department that he had been obliged to attend only to lend his moral authority and everyone present had made it clear that the visit had nothing to do with recognition. (Telegram 749 from Havana, January 5, 11 p.m.; ibid., Central Files, 601.0037/1–559)
Also on the evening of January 5, Rubottom telephoned Acting Secretary Herter to report that Smith was remaining in Havana for a day and would “take another look” the next day before deciding about returning to Washington. (Memorandum of telephone conversation, January 5, 5:50 p.m.; Eisenhower Library, Herter Papers, Telephone Conversations) Smith left Havana on January 6 at 9:45 a.m. and was scheduled to arrive in Washington that afternoon. (Telegram 751 from Havana, January 6; Department of State, Central Files, PER)
On January 6 at 2:25 p.m., Herter called Presidential Assistant Wilton B. Persons to discuss Smith’s return to Washington. According to a memorandum of their conversation:
“CAH phoned Mr. Persons re Cuba. The Ambassador there will be in Washington this evening and the Secretary has agreed that he ought not go back to Cuba permanently as Ambassador. The Secretary would like CAH to tell the Ambassador to return to Cuba and, if the Government agrees to fulfill the third condition of recognition, viz., fulfillment of international obligations, he should submit his resignation. We are afraid if he does not do this the Cuban Government will declare him persona non grata. Mr. Persons asked who he was. CAH told him his name is Earl Smith; that he is a thoroughly nice fellow—not what you would call a skilled diplomat. He has done an excellent job of getting Americans back. Mr. Persons asked if we had a replacement in mind for him. CAH said we were thinking of a career man, who is presently our Ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Bonsal. He served in Colombia and was thought of as a great man. He speaks Spanish and knows Cuba well. This is such an explosive situation that we should not get someone new to go there. Mr. Persons asked if we had thought of a successor to Bonsal. CAH said we had not. He suggested that Mr. Persons talk to the President about this. He said the Secretary has agreed to all this and would welcome a call from the President at home if he cared to discuss it with him. Mr. Persons said he would take this up with the President. He also asked CAH to let him know the outcome of his talk with Ambassador Smith.” (Eisenhower Library, Herter Papers, Telephone Conversations)
Within an hour, Persons called Herter back about the Cuban situation. According to Herter’s own memorandum of their conversation, which took place at 3:10 p.m.;
“In response to my earlier request, General Persons telephoned to say he had spoken to the President about our requesting Ambassador Earl Smith to resign his post in Cuba, and our appointing Philip Bonsal as Ambassador there. General Persons said the President raised the question of why it wouldn’t be better to ask the new Government whether Ambassador Smith would be acceptable, and General Persons had told the President we wished to avoid possible embarrassment for all concerned should the new government say no. The President said he would accept the State Department’s judgment on this and that the proposed shift was all right. The President does, however, want to be sure it is done in such a way that it will not cast reflections on Ambassador Smith. I told General Persons we shared this desire; that Ambassador Smith had done a good job and a wire of commendation had been sent to him. In addition, we want Ambassador Smith himself to say to this new Government that he is asking to be relieved so there can be no interpretation that he is being removed. General Persons said this was good and that, if Ambassador Smith wanted something else, he felt we should try to get it for him. I told General Persons we would discuss this whole situation very frankly with Ambassador Smith this afternoon and that I would keep General Persons advised.” (ibid., Miscellaneous Memos)
The message of commendation referred to is telegram 451 to Havana, January 6. (Department of State, Central Files, 120.13/1–659) The text of the message is printed in Smith, The Fourth Floor, page 193.
At 6 p.m. on January 6, President Eisenhower telephoned Herter. According to Herter’s memorandum of their conversation:
“The President telephoned to say he was concerned still about the situation with Ambassador Earl Smith. The President said he feels Smith has always done a very good job and the President would hate to have it look like we were firing him. The President asked why we couldn’t keep Smith around on some temporary assignment for a couple of months while we try to find something else for him. I agreed that Ambassador Smith had clone a creditable job despite a couple of ‘bloopers’ which were not too surprising in view of the complexities. The President said Smith had certainly done his job with a calm temper. I explained we had had to do this same thing in Iraq when a new government took over and that we have a similar situation in Cuba. The President said he realized this, but reiterated the suggestion that we bring Smith back on temporary duty, leaving a Chargé in Havana, while we see if something can’t be worked out for Smith.” (Eisenhower Library, Herter Papers, Telephone Conversations)
When Smith returned to Washington that evening, he met at an undetermined time with Herter and Rubottom. No memorandum of their conversation has been found, but Smith recalls that Herter told him that the U.S. Government wanted to recognize the new Cuban Government immediately. He was to return that night or the next [Page 345]morning and deliver a formal note of recognition. Smith was also told that he was being replaced as Ambassador. After Rubottom and apparently others had left, Herter told Smith that the President had authorized him to offer Smith another Ambassadorial post, which Smith refused. (Smith, The Fourth Floor, pages 195–196) Herter later told Persons that Smith had been “extremely understanding & nice about this whole matter and plans to tell the Prime Minister or Foreign Minister he is giving thought to his own personal plans and hopes to discuss it further in the next day or so.” Herter also said that he had told Smith “we would try to find another place for him but he didn’t seem to want anything else now.” (Memorandum of Herter’s telephone conversation with Persons, January 7, 10:55 a.m.; Eisenhower Library, Herter Papers, Telephone Conversations)