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301. Memorandum of a Conversation, Buenos Aires, May 2, 19591

PARTICIPANTS

  • Dr. Fidel Castro, Prime Minister of Cuba
  • Dr. Boti, Minister of Economy
  • Mr. Rubottom

During the plane trip from Washington to Buenos Aires, I told Ambassador Enrique Perez Cisneros, Cuban Representative to IA–ECOSOC, that Mr. Mann and I would like to take Fidel Castro to lunch or dinner or have an opportunity in some way to talk with him when we were in Buenos Aires. He said he would inform Minister of Economy Boti, head of the Cuban Delegation to the Committee of 21 Meeting. Due to the thrice-postponed arrival of Fidel Castro and his shortened stay in Buenos Aires, I had concluded that it would not be possible to talk with him privately.

During the Venezuelan reception tonight, Dr. Boti brought Fidel Castro, and a coterie of followers, to the place where I was standing with Mrs. San Santa Maria, wife of the Colombian Ambassador to Brazil. Dr. Castro and I conversed for two or three minutes while photographers were taking pictures from in front of us and on both [Page 501]sides of us, and while several people were leaning over the heads of the crowd to try to overhear what we were saying. After I had bid the Prime Minister good-by, Dr. Boti came back to me to say that the Prime Minister wanted to talk to me alone and handed me the keys to his room at the Alvear Palace, saying that they would meet me there in five minutes.

Drs. Castro and Boti arrived on time. I made a statement along the following lines to the Cuban Prime Minister:

The United States desires to be friendly with the new Cuban Government, in keeping with its traditional friendship with the Cuban people. The United States has an understanding of some of the revolutionary objectives of the Castro Government, and applauds their efforts to bring about honesty in government and to restore to the people their voice in the affairs of government.

Friendship and cooperation between governments and peoples must be a two-way street. If the Cuban Government wants the good will of the United States Government, the United States will not be found lacking.

I had heard with great interest several of the declarations made by the Prime Minister while he was in the United States. I had heard his speech before the Committee of 21 today.2 I agreed with several of the points that he had made, but felt that he had been unduly critical of the United States. The United States can supply only a small part of what is needed for the economic development of a country. The people of Cuba, like any other country, through hard work and even sacrifice and through increased productivity, joined by their government which must follow sound policies, are principally responsible for economic development. The United States stands ready to offer its part to Cuba, or any other country in Latin America, and there are several examples, like Argentina and Colombia, where this joint effort is moving forward. Without hard work by the people and sound policies on the part of the government, any United states assistance is short-lived and simply adds to the debt burden of future generations and also quickens the inflationary spiral which is present in so many countries.

The United States takes strong exception to his statement that foreign investment creates problems for the host governments. Many years ago there were cases of irresponsible investors, but hard lessons have been learned through the years, and practically all of the companies operating abroad today recognize that they must be responsible citizens of the host countries. I recalled his reference to “climate” in his speech this morning, and then told Dr. Boti that it reminded me of my conversation with him in Washington.3 I said that the climate for business, while important to foreign investors is even more important to domestic investors and that no country can hope to achieve economic development without a satisfactory business climate. In the case of labor disputes, to which he had alluded in his speech, these companies [Page 502]do not ask for special treatment, nor does the United States Government make any claims on their behalf. All they want is fair treatment like that given to the domestic industries.

The United States, more than 25 years ago, voluntarily forsook its special status in Cuba, and embarked upon the policy of non-intervention in all of Latin America. This policy has paid rich dividends for the entire hemisphere. We do not want to be a country isolated from our Latin American friends, nor do we want to see twenty Latin American countries united in a bloc against the United States. This would be a tragic thing.

Castro listened carefully, with Boti nodding over his shoulder most of the time, and he interrupted only occasionally. He seemed to be slightly injured that I interpreted his speech as critical of the United States, saying that he had striven mightily to avoid criticizing the United States. He declared that frankness was called for, and I fully agreed. I said that some of our policies could very well be criticized, and that we hoped that the criticisms would be constructive. I said that we would probably find grounds to criticize some of the things done in Cuba, and might make a statement during this conference, replying to some of his own.

Boti said that he was sure that we would be able to find mutually agreeable solutions to our problems, although there might be some cat-and-dog fights in the search for them. (He told me the same thing in Washington.)

I inquired of Castro whether he was satisfied with developments in Panama. He looked rather crestfallen and answered affirmatively, adding that this had been a real stab in the back which he had stood up to in the strongest possible way. I said that the United States stood firmly on all the principles of the inter-American system, none of which were more important than juridical equality of states, nonintervention, consultation on problems, and mutual security as expressed in the Rio Treaty. He nodded agreement with these principles.

Castro said that he was tired, and he looked it. He said that he still had to stop in Montevideo and Rio de Janeiro before returning to Habana. He had many problems at home and he was anxious to get back to them. I suggested that he rest whenever he could and commented that many people had expressed admiration for his team of economic advisers who should be a great source of strength to him.

He dwelt at length on the problems faced by the people in Latin America, just as he did in the speeches in the United States and his speech before the Committee today. He thinks that the United States must help find solutions to the problems of the people. I said that we agreed with his statement that some new ideas are needed to solve old problems, but that we could not discard all of the old ideas which are based on experience and trial and error in the past.

[Page 503]

He commented on the weakness of the Argentine Government and his desire to get away fast in order not to be held responsible for any incident that might occur while he is here. He said that the Argentine Government’s policy on oil was widely criticized and harmful to the Government. I asked him whether he knew anything about the new policy on oil which had actually been completely nationalized but which, under a new formula in the form of a contract, permitted outside capital to help Argentina develop her oil resources much faster than otherwise could have been done. I pointed out that the problems which the Argentine Government was facing were the problems which any government would have to face if it hoped to overcome more than a decade of mismanagement. He seemed seriously preoccupied about the possibility of a military coup d’état in Argentina, and predicted that this would produce a bloody civil war, if it should happen. (There is no question but that he had Argentina in mind in his speech before the Committee today when he spoke about the instability of many of the new constitutional governments where there still exists the lurking danger of military dictatorship.)

Dr. Castro asked me when I was coming to Cuba. I said that I hoped to come some time during the next few months but that I had no definite plans. He expressed the hope that I come, so that we could continue our conversation.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/5–259. Drafted by Rubottom, although a handwritten note at the end of the source text indicates that the memorandum was “dictated but not read by Mr. Rubottom.”
  2. A summary of Castro’s speech, in which he urged that the United States launch a program of $30 billion in economic assistance to Latin America over a 10–year period, was sent to the Department in telegram 1658 from Buenos Aires, May 5. (ibid., Central Files, 363/5–559)
  3. Not further identified.