278. Despatch From the Embassy in Cuba to the Department of State1

No. 1159


  • Growth of Communism in Cuba


Under the benevolent tolerance of Fidel Castro and sheltered by his unfriendly attitude toward the United States and his drastic program of social and economic reform, Communism is growing in Cuba and sucessfully infiltrating various sectors of public life. The Communist Party (PSP) is functioning openly, and a number of publications and radio-TV programs are carrying its message. Main centers of Communist strength are in the Revolutionary Army and the labor unions. Various courses are suggested which the United States Government might usefully take in order to win the confidence of the Revolutionary Government, strengthen the anti-Communist elements in the country, and weaken the Communist influences.


Communist Party

The Partido Socialista Popular (PSP, Cuban Communist Party) was founded in 1925 and registered as a political party in 1939. It was deliberately encouraged by the first Batista Government. The Party probably reached its peak in 1948 when 150,000 voters registered their preference for it. In 1953, when it was declared illegal upon Batista’s return to power, its probable voting strength was about 70,000. During its years of clandestinity the Communist Party was reduced to a hard core of from eight to twelve thousand disciplined members. The Batista government made perfunctory efforts to suppress these, but very few Communists were ever arrested and the Party propaganda mechanisms operated efficiently. Communist leaders such as Juan Marinello, the president, Blas Roca, the secretary-general, and Luis Fajardo, the financial secretary, went into hiding but probably never left the city of Habana. Other leaders such as Joaquin Ordoqui, Lazaro Peña, and Nicolas Guillen operated from abroad.

With the fall of the Batista Government on New Year’s Day 1959, the PSP emerged from hiding to achieve a semi-legal status which will probably become fully legal as soon as political parties register. The [Page 459] Party has increased its membership during these past three months by at least 3,000 and still growing. Offices have been opened in every section of Habana and in most of the towns in the interior.


Infiltrations in Armed Forces

Much of the strength of the Communist effort in Cuba is directed toward infiltration of the Armed Forces. La Cabaña appears to be the main Communist center, and its Commander, Che Guevara, is the most important figure whose name is linked with Communism. Guevara is definitely a Marxist if not a Communist. He is a frequent guest speaker before the Communist front organizations. Political indoctrination courses have been instituted among the soldiers under his command at La Cabaña. Material used in these courses, some of which the Embassy has seen, definitely follows the Communist line. Guevara enjoys great influence with Fidel Castro and even more with the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Revolution, Commander Raul Castro, who is believed to share the same political views as Che Guevara.

The Communist infiltration at La Cabaña is aided by such highly placed Communists as Captain Antonio (Dr.) Nuñez Jimenez, Major Armando Acosta Cordero, and Captain Pablo Ribalta Perez. Two other Communists charged by the PSP with infiltrating the military are Luis Fajardo Escalona and Fidel Domenech Benites.


Communist Infiltration in the Government

Fidel Castro, undisputed head of the Revolutionary Government, has shown a benevolent tolerance toward Communism. In the early days of January Castro said that he would not deliver the Revolution into the hands of the Communists, but in recent speeches he has taken a more liberal attitude toward them, comparing them to such non-political groups as the Masons and the Catholics, and stating that he would not “persecute” them. The question of recognition of the Soviet Union has not been directly confronted by the Government yet, but such statements as have been made by responsible leaders indicate that recognition is likely to come about in due course. The Communists are allowed to operate openly, and it seems probable that whenever political activities are resumed, preparatory to elections, the Communist Party will be permitted to campaign like any other political party.

There are no Communists in the Cabinet although two or three of the Ministers, notably the Minister of Education, Dr. Armando Hart Davalos, are believed to have extreme socialistic tendencies. The party is attempting to place some members in each department who will be able to seize control of their offices if a state of political chaos should occur.

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A number of drastic economic and social measures have been promulgated which could be the result of Communist influence but are more probably the product of revolutionary fervor. The similarity of Communist and revolutionary objectives at this juncture favors Communist efforts, and in the tolerant atmosphere prevailing, the Communist movement is growing in strength and influence.

Perhaps the most serious Communist gain to date is reflected in the tendency of the top revolutionary leadership to adopt an intermediate or neutral position in the East-West conflict. Ex-President Figueres posed the issue in his speech in Habana on March 22, when he urged on the Cuban Revolutionary Government the need to place itself firmly on the side of the United States and the free world. This position was rejected by Fidel Castro, who angrily took issue with Figueres, and by David Salvador, acting secretary general of the Confederacion de Trabajadores Cubanos (CTC), who interrupted Figueres to interject that the struggle of the United States with the Communist world was no concern of Cuba’s. Salvador’s rude conduct and remarks on this occasion were heartily commended by Raul Castro.


Infiltration of Labor Movement

The labor movement was the Communists’ first target, and the one in which they have probably achieved their most substantial success thus far. In the first reorganization of the CTC after January 1, the Communists gained 5 out of the 22 positions in the top directorate. In the revision of the directorate which followed soon afterwards they lost these positions, and their presence is now felt more at the lower and middle levels than at the top. They are particularly strong in Las Villas and Oriente Provinces and control the labor organizations in many companies, including a number of the sugar centrals. Since there are over 1,800 unions in Cuba, it is difficult to determine the exact number which are Communist controlled. The new Government deposed all the former union leaders and replaced them, supposedly, by 26th of July adherents; but the 26th of July Movement did not have many trained labor leaders; so, many Communists masquerading as 26th of July members were able to assume control of unions. Union and federation elections are to be held in the next few months, and it can be expected that the Communists will retain and possibly increase their present strength in this sector. Because the current Party tactic is complete support for the measures of the new Government, the Communists will obtain many votes from naive persons unable to distinguish between the Communist candidates and the true revolutionaries.

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In Habana the Communist labor representatives are resisted by the Catholic labor youth organization (JOC) but outside Habana this organization has little strength. ORIT and ICFTU have made no progress with the revolutionary Cuban labor movement, and there are no ties presently between the CTC and the AFL–CIO.

David Salvador, head of the Cuban labor movement, was formerly a member of the Communist Party and may still be one. As already mentioned, he has publicly advocated a neutral position for Cuba in the cold war. The CTC is reported to be purging its ranks of any members who had associations with the United States Embassy.


Influence of Communism in Public Information Media

The Government appears to be moving in the direction of a takeover in the key area of public information, and there is considerable evidence of Communist infiltration. The Communist newspaper Hoy went into publication immediately after January 1. Revolucion, the new newspaper which appears to reflect Government policy more than any other and which has the best access to Government thinking and official releases, shows a disturbing similarity to Hoy at times, even using identical photostats to those of Hoy. Revolucion’s Monday magazine of April 6, which was devoted to the history of revolution, strongly emphasized Communist writings and included the Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx. Carlos Franqui, editor of Revolucion, has been suspected at times of being a Communist, and in any event seems definitely to share many Communist ideas.

Other Commmunist publications such as Mella, the Communist magazine, and Fundamentos are being distributed, and in new and larger editions. Carta Semanal, the clandestine weekly during the Batista days, has not been suspended as was announced in Hoy, but is still published. Carta Semanal is now, however, an internal party organ rather than a propaganda vehicle. The Communists now have two daily radio programs in Habana and are said to be trying to purchase a radio station.

The linotype operators, the press shops, the press rooms, and the administration departments of the newspapers have been controlled by Sindicato Artes Graficas, a Communist-directed organization. Elections are presently going on which will determine whether the Communists will continue in the saddle or the 26th of July people will take over. The financial base of the papers can be threatened at any time by walkouts or by exorbitant wage demands.

Most of the responsible press is unsympathetic to Communism, but anti-Communism has been so successfully identified with pro-Americanism, which at the moment is unpopular because of Fidel Castro’s continued attacks on the United States, that even anti-Communist writers hesitate at taking a strong stand on Communism. Moreover, because of many similarities between the Communist program [Page 462] and the revolutionary program, critics of Communism risk being called counter-revolutionaries and thrown into prison, and few of them wish to be heroes. Carlos Franqui exercises a kind of unofficial censorship over the press. On recent occasions when some newspaper has published an article against Communism it has been taken to task therefor by Franqui and by Revolucion, as well as by Hoy. Franqui is reported also to be calling the turn on wages and salaries to be paid to writers. The going wage for writers will be $300 per month, with a renewed promise from the Government to increase Government advertising to cover the deficit.

Radio and TV stations are also shying away from strongly anti-Communist or pro-U.S. programs. Channel 12, a Government station, is run by a reported Communist, Paco Alfonso. There is a fear among other stations that since frequency allocations are at the mercy of the Ministry of Communications, they may be intimidated to tie-in to specified programs over Channel 12, Radio COCO, Radio CNC (which is Radio Rebelde), and Radio Union (controlled by David Salvador). This could be ruinous to shows which have been the biggest money-earners.

There are definite indications that leaders in the information field, Bohemia, and stations CMQ and Telemundo, would come out flatly against Communist infiltration and Government-imposed self-censorship if given sufficient moral support. They look particularly to the American Embassy for assurances that our anti-Communist position is made clear to leaders of the GOC.


Communist Activities in the Cultural Field

The Communists have been traditionally strong in the field of cultural activities, and were not eliminated therefrom even during the time of Batista. The major national cultural group in Cuba—the Instituto Nacional de Cultura—is headed by Dra. Vincentina Antuña, who is considered a fellow traveller. The Governing Board of the Institute has not yet been selected. Its composition will presumably indicate the political coloration of this organization.

The Cuban Minister of Education has appointed a Commission to rewrite Cuban history texts. On this 9-man commission are Dr. Antonio Nuñez Jimenez, generally reported to be pro-Communist, and Dr. Elias Entralgo, considered in the fellow traveller category.

The Communist-front cultural organization “Nuestro Tiempo,” which was underground in the 1957–58 period, has become active since January 1, 1959. Among its first speakers was Comandante Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

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Cultural programs at La Cabaña Fortress have included literacy education and an injection of Marxism, as well as poetry readings by Nicolas Guillén, noted Cuban Communist poet. Before the troops Guillén read his poem on Little Rock concerning racial discrimination in the United States.

Evidence of Communist activity among University of Habana students is still sparse. At a student mass meeting some eight weeks ago, a Communist-line speech was delivered by one of the students. The extent of Communist activity at the University may become clear when students return to the campus and when, presumably in the next few months, the Student Federation (FEU) holds elections.

There are two new film groups in Cuba: 1) the Cine Club-Vision, which, to our knowledge, has had only one meeting and at which the pro-Communist Cuban geographer Dr. Antonio Nuñez Jimenez spoke; and 2) the Cine-Debate program, which consists of the screening of a film followed by a discussion of the film by the public. Admission is usually twenty cents. One of the first programs was held in the Santos Suarez workers section of Habana. While no evidence of Communist activity has been reported in the Cine-Debate, it is understood that this technique is one sometimes used by Communists.

Dr. Juan Marinello, intellectual leader of the Cuban Communists, was authorized to return to his position as a teacher in the Habana Normal School in January. Shortly thereafter he flew to Moscow, where, among other things, he is reported to have given a talk about José Marti.

Two recent television shows have been devoted to debates between Communists and Catholics—additional evidence of the respectability of the Communist doctrine as doctrine today.

More tenuous than the foregoing points is the general atmosphere among intellectuals of reluctance to express anti-Communist sentiments; for fear that they may be accused of being counterrevolutionary. The theme of anti-Communism as part and parcel of the Batista line and as a counterrevolutionary element was sounded by Juan Marinello in an editorial in Hoy early in January.


Attitude of Minor Revolutionary Groups

In the smaller revolutionary groups Communism has made less headway than in the 26th of July Movement. The Directorio Revolucionario is traditionally anti-Communist, but Faure Chomon in his March 13 speech stated that he favored recognition of the Communist countries. The Organizacion Auténtica has also been strongly anti-Communist in the past, and it does not lack members experienced in dealing with Communism; but this Party at present commands no positions of importance in the Government, is short on funds, and is biding its time. Gutierrez Menoyo, leader of the Segundo Frente de Escambray, publicly assumed an anti-Communist position not long [Page 464] ago, but this has not been followed up in any practical way so far as known, and the Segundo Frente is a relatively small military and non-political organization, with little following in the general public.


Attitude of the Church

The Catholic Church has taken an active interest in resisting the spread of Communism, but except where the JOC is concerned, has not been particularly effective. This is due principally to the difficulty of separating the Communist activities from the genuine revolutionary activities, and the unwillingness of important elements in the Church to challenge the revolutionary program. A Church program of religious instruction in various Army camps was recently terminated by order of Raul Castro.


Reasons for Communist Successes

It seems clear that in the present situation Communism has made alarming headway in Cuba in many fields. This seems to be due to a number of reasons, among which the following are important: (1) the Communists did cooperate to some extent with other revolutionary groups in overthrowing the Batista regime and thereby won the right to exist openly after January 1; (2) the Communists have not had to oppose the Castro regime on any fundamental issue to date; Castro has attacked the United States as much as even they could have wished, and his radical social and economic program parallels Communist objectives in many respects; (3) the Communists were ready with trained people to move into many of the vacuums created by the overthrow of Batista, especially the labor field.


Suggestions for Combatting Communism in Cuba

The U.S. Government should take a positive, friendly line toward Cuba, Castro, and the objectives of the revolution, but an unyielding attitude toward Communism in Cuba as elsewhere. The Communists are trying to drive a wedge between the revolution and the United States.
Embassy officers and leaders of the American business community should make a concerted effort to develop friends within the Government ministries and agencies. Sympathy could be expressed with the basic aims of the Government, such as the agrarian program, elimination of corruption, industrialization, etc., but at the same time politely but firmly getting over the idea that the growth of Communism is something that should not be tolerated since in the end it will destroy the revolution and bring untold grief on the Cuban people.
Try to isolate Castro from Communistic influences around him. A press campaign could be stimulated which would throw the spotlight on Communists in positions of importance.
Expose local Communist activities in the press of Cuba, the United States and the free world.
Strengthen existing anti-Communist elements in their efforts against Communism. Targets: [Page 465]
  • Government
  • Armed Forces
  • Labor unions
  • Press, and individual writers; radio and TV, political parties and action groups
  • Church
  • Students
Study Communism and 26th of July objectives and methods for the purpose of discovering any important differences between them. For example, the efforts of the 26th of July to capture all important labor positions to the exclusion of other groups is a particularly sore point with the Communists. This and other differences could be played up and magnified.
Try through unattributed methods to build up local and international esteem and prestige for responsible non-Communist figures such as Felipe Pazos, Rufo Lopez Fresquet, Justo Carrillo, Ramon Barquin, and others, in an effort to increase their influence in Cuban Government policy and with Fidel Castro.
Provide background material of an attributed and unattributed nature on the international Communist conspiracy to friendly editors and editorialists, with emphasis on recent Communist plots in Mexico and Argentina.
Have prepared, to give to Castro at a suitable time, a relation of Communistic developments in Cuba and of known Communists and fellow travelers. Prepare also a collection of Castro’s own sayings on Communism and contrast with his attacks on United States.
Try, through OAS, local Latin American diplomats, and discreet publicity, to get Cuban Government to confirm its adherence to the Bogota, Washington, and Caracas Resolutions on Communism.2
The trip to Washington, if it goes off well, may take some of the sting out of Castro’s anti-Americanism. If he comes back a little less anti-American and a little more disposed to see more realistically Cuba’s place in the international scheme of things, this may well create a point of friction with the Communists, a situation of which we should take full advantage.
Expand greatly the program of leader grants in order to provide some of the new leaders with a more accurate picture of the United States than that portrayed by the Communists and fellow travelers.
Help anti-Communists to get U.S. visas.
Individual officers of the Embassy should try to place USIS literature and books on the subject of Communism in the hands of key officials of the ministries who may be otherwise only superficially concerned with the threat of Communism.
Expand USIS efforts in provinces by establishing a reading-room at Santa Clara and by improving the reading-room at Santiago. In both instances work toward the eventual establishment of bi-national centers in each city.
Bring down anti-Communist specialists to study the analogy of GOC actions to the Communist line and to brief anti-Communist groups.

For the Ambassador:
Daniel M. Braddock
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 737.001/4–1459. Confidential. Drafted by Braddock, James A. Noel, Francis J. Donahue, and Bethel.
  2. Resolution XXXII, “The Preservation and Defense of Democracy in America,” adopted at the Ninth International Conference of American States, Bogota, Colombia, March 30–May 2, 1948 (Final Act of the Ninth International Conference of American States (Washington: Pan American Union, 1948), pp. 46–47); Resolution III, “Inter-American Military Cooperation,” adopted at the Fourth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of American States, Washington, D.C., April 7, 1951 (American Foreign Policy, 1950–1955: Basic Documents, vol. I, pp. 1294–1295; “Declaration of Solidarity for the Preservation of the Political Integrity of the American States Against International Communist Intervention,” adopted at the Tenth Inter-American Conference, Caracas, March 28, 1954 (ibid., pp. 1300–1302).