256. Editorial Note

On February 16, newly-appointed Ambassador Philip Bonsal met with President Eisenhower at the White House from 10:50 to 11 a.m. (Eisenhower Library, President’s Daily Appointments) No record of the conversation has been found, nor does Bonsal describe the meeting in his memoirs.

Bonsal’s meeting with the President had been recommended in a memorandum of February 13 from Acting Secretary Dillon to the President, in which Dillon stated:

“Ambassador Bonsal believes it would be most useful to be received by you as it would underscore your personal interest and support of his mission to Cuba. He considers that this would have a particular importance at this time in view of the fact that a new administration, whose leaders have been openly critical of past United States policy and other important factors in U.S.-Cuban relations, has recently taken office in that country.” (Department of State, Central Files, 123–Bonsal, Philip W.)

Bonsal flew to Cuba on February 19 to take up his new position. The Embassy reported as follows on the reception accorded Bonsal and his wife:

“They were greeted at the Habana airport on February 19, 1959 by a sizable contingent of press representatives, including international wire services and television. The Ambassador, speaking in Spanish, was cordial and pleasant. He left an impression of sincere friendliness and interest in the Cuban Government and people. His arrival, and remarks to the press, were carried on television within hours, and covered in all local papers the following day. The fact that the Ambassador speaks flawless Spanish was and has continued to be the subject of much favorable comment both by the press and the public.” (Despatch 997 from Havana, March 11; ibid.)

For Bonsal’s recollection of his arrival, see Philip W. Bonsal, Cuba, Castro, and the United States (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971), page 38.

On February 21, Bonsal paid an official call on Minister of State Agramonte. Bonsal described their conversation as follows:

“I was received most cordially. After the initial courtesies and some discussion of mutual friends in Spain and elsewhere, the conversation turned to the Minister’s warm and cordial sentiments for the United States. He described his father’s years in the United States as a political exile prior to Cuban independence and spoke at great length regarding the hospitality granted him and the friendship which the Minister had in consequence always felt for our country, I contributed some reminiscences of the active interest of my own parents in the Cuban cause. Our conversation became quite warm and emotional on this theme.”

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“At this point, I took the opportunity to refer to Fidel Castro’s recent television program in which he advanced a conception of United States-Cuban relations over the last 60 years quite at variance with the one on which the Foreign Minister and I seemed to be in agreement. I said that I thought our conception was the one which corresponded most closely to historical facts. The Minister did not comment on this observation except to say that he looked forward to my first meeting with Fidel Castro, that he was sure I would find him ‘very simpatico’ and that we would have much to discuss.

“The remainder of our conversation dealt with conventional topics and was most cordial”. (Despatch 939 from Havana, February 25; Department of State, Central Files, 123–Bonsal, Philip W.)

On March 3, Bonsal presented his credentials to President Urrutia. The texts of the exchange of remarks on that occasion were sent to the Department of State as enclosures to despatch 970 from Havana, March 4. (ibid.)