310. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, May 27, 19591


  • U.S. Misgivings With Regard to Cuban Agrarian Reform Law


  • Ambassador Dihigo, Cuban Embassy
  • ARA—Mr. Rubottom, Assistant Secretary
  • Ambassador Bonsal
  • CMA—Mr. Stevenson, Officer in Charge, Cuban Affairs

(Note: On May 26, 1959 Ambassador Dihigo was Ambassador Bonsal’s guest for luncheon and on this occasion Ambassador Bonsal talked with him informally about the various concerns which have been aroused in the United States by the Agrarian Reform Law. Ambassador Dihigo said that he welcomed an opportunity to discuss this subject and would be pleased to come to the Department to receive the Department’s formal views on this matter in order that he might communicate them to his government. With this thought in mind Ambassador Dihigo was asked to come in to talk with Assistant Secretary Rubottom on this date.)

Mr. Rubottom opened the conversation by referring briefly to the course of the revolution to date. He pointed out to Ambassador Dihigo that there has been great interest in events in Cuba in the past months both on the part of the American public and the American Government and Congress. In past weeks he has appeared on various occasions before congressional committees and other groups, many of whose members were critical of developments in Cuba, and on each occasion he has tried to point out that the Cuban revolution is a social revolution which is a very deep and meaningful thing to the Cuban people and that its eventual course is a matter for their decision. However, the recent issuance of the Agrarian Reform Law in Cuba has [Page 513] raised serious questions and affects many interests. The U.S. well understands the desire and need for land reform in many parts of the world. In fact, we have supported sound land reform in various countries, for example, in Japan, India, Korea, and Formosa. In these instances we believe it has contributed to economic growth and political stability. The nature of the proposed law in Cuba, nevertheless, has introduced a question which the United States Government cannot avoid considering; namely, what will be the effect of this law on the heretofore dependable and important supply of sugar from Cuba? Mr. Rubottom said that he understands that an official text of the law has not yet been issued but that from a study of the preliminary version it has seemed to many important figures in the United States Government and in sugar circles that the Agrarian Reform Law, in its present form, raises a doubt that Cuba in future years can supply the sugar which the United States will need.

Ambassador Dihigo commented that an official text of the law had not as yet been issued, but that he is confident that this measure will in no way endanger the ability of Cuba to supply its quota in the United States sugar market. He asked Mr. Rubottom if he had received his questioning reports from technical sources or from other sources. Mr. Rubottom replied that he has received reports from both sources and he added that it is the duty of the Secretary of Agriculture to look several years ahead in order that he may assure the American people of a reliable supply of sugar adequate to meet the American demand. He referred to the recent statement by Fidel Castro 2 that the distribution of 50,000 caballerías of American-owned land would not affect Cuban-U.S. relations (indicating his understanding that this remark by the Prime Minister had been drawn from him by the pressing questions of reporters) and commented that the United States must be concerned for the reason above indicated and also with regard to the question of compensation for the properties to be expropriated.

Ambassador Dihigo said that he would report the U.S. concern on this score to his government immediately and that he would appreciate it if we would furnish him with any reports or observations by technically competent persons on this subject. With regard to the question of compensation he said that he cannot comment as yet because the law is not in final form. Also it is his feeling that it will not be implemented all at once and that in the course of its administration and in the implementing regulations there will be undoubtedly important changes and modifications. He asked if Mr. Rubottom wished to say that the Agrarian Reform Law will affect United States sugar legislation; also, whether sugar legislation might be introduced this year.

[Page 514]

Mr. Rubottom replied that he could not comment at this time on the Department’s position on the question of sugar legislation. It has been difficult for him to understand, however, certain criticisms of the present Government of Cuba with regard to United States sugar legislation and the Cuban share of the U.S. market. For many years he has supported the privileged position which Cuba has in the U.S. market and he does not understand the apparent feeling in Cuba that the present act is prejudicial or unfair to Cuban interests. As a result of the recent Cuban critical attitude numerous Ambassadors representing other Latin American countries have called on him urging that their countries be given a quota in the United States sugar market. In Mr. Rubottom’s opinion it is to Cuba’s advantage to defend its present position in the U.S. market and that this consideration should be an important one as far as any laws which the Government of Cuba may pass which could possibly affect it.

Ambassador Dihigo remarked that he is sure that his Government is aware of the importance of its present preferred position but that Cuba in recent years has suffered cuts in its share of the market. Also, it has not been a one-sided question of a privilege granted to Cuba; Cuba has been a special and reliable source of sugar to the United States in critical times of war and has refrained from gouging the United States on prices during these periods. Mr. Rubottom said that the Department is well aware of Cuba’s special contributions on this score but that there are many sugar producers, both domestic and foreign, who are continually pressing for a share of the U.S. market-also that public opinion working through our Congress plays an important part in influencing the eventual legislative action which may be taken.

Ambassador Bonsal asked if he might bring to Ambassador Dihigo’s attention another fact of importance with regard to the present tentative land reform law. He reviewed briefly the points which Mr. Rubottom had made with regard to the future of Cuba as a secure and certain source of supply and the doubts raised with regard to compensation and suggested that a third important factor is that important and reliable American firms in Cuba who have continued to operate there in good times and bad, and have effectively cooperated in defending the Cuban position in the U.S. market, feel that the present legislation threatens to destroy the value of investments built up over many years; and that it will seriously curtail their production. Also these firms believe that they should be permitted an opportunity to present their case, to have a hearing, before they are faced with, in their opinion, an extremely drastic measure. Consideration should be given to the probability that their reaction in this case may well have an adverse effect on the plans for private foreign investment in Cuba in many fields other than agriculture.

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Ambassador Dihigo said that he would immediately inform his Government of the substance of this conversation and that he hopes Mr. Rubottom will feel free to call upon him at any time to discuss any matters which are of concern to the U.S. in its relations with Cuba.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 837.16/5–2759. Official Use Only. Drafted by Stevenson.
  2. See Document 308.