319. Memorandum of a Conversation, National Airport, Washington, June 12, 19591
- Raul Roa Discusses Communism, Agrarian Reform and Other Matters in Cuba
- Dr. Raul Roa—Cuban Ambassador to the OAS
- Mr. Henry C. Reed—Deputy Director, RPA
- Mr. William A. Wieland—Director, CMA
Shortly after noon today Francisco Aguirre of the Diario los Americas called me from the airport to inform me that Dr. Raul Roa, Cuban Ambassador to the OAS, was at the airport en route to Habana where he had been summoned to become Minister of Foreign Affairs.2 The Cuban Embassy had replied to our inquiry shortly before that Ambassador Roa had already departed.
I notified Mr. Snow and Mr. Reed of RPA. With Mr. Snow’s approval, I left immediately for the airport accompanied by Mr. Reed to see Ambassador Roa off. The Ambassador appeared sincerely gratified at our presence and referred several times to his appreciation of this courtesy shown him by the State Department. He said that he would see Prime Minister Castro that same night and would make a point of telling the Prime Minister of the understanding which the State Department personnel he had talked with in Washington had of Cuban problems and of the courtesies which had been shown to the Cuban representatives in Washington, and would make specific reference to our being at the airport to bid him farewell as one more example of such courtesies. Ambassador Roa urged Mr. Reed and myself to sit with him despite the presence of approximately a dozen other persons (mostly Cuban) and continued his conversation with us for the next approximately 20 minutes despite my suggesting several times that he might wish to devote some of his time to talking with the other persons present.
Ambassador Roa is an impetuous, almost compulsive speaker. During the course of his staccato remarks, he said the following: He was not anxious to assume the position of Foreign Minister or any other cabinet post. He had been offered various positions in Cuba by Castro before and had refused. He was particularly reluctant to leave Washington at this time because he had made so many friends [Page 527] here and felt that he was gaining extremely valuable experience in his role as Ambassador to the OAS. He has been completely convinced on the imperative need for the OAS and has acquired a new respect for its role in the hemisphere. One of the first things he will propose to Prime Minister Castro is that Cuba authorize the immediate opening of an OAS office in Habana, especially to acquaint the Cuban people with the functions, purpose and effectiveness of the OAS.
He would tell Mr. Castro that the “best bases” for the Cuban revolution were the principles of the OAS.
He considers that his experience here, though brief, would be invaluable to him in carrying out the functions of Foreign Minister in Cuba. He has gained a far greater understanding of international matters and their complexities as a result of his recent activities in Washington and especially as a result of the problems that he has faced here in close consultation with colleagues from the other American countries who, he feels, have become close and highly valued friends.
Speaking from his experience in Washington, he now thoroughly endorses the inter-American principle of non-intervention. He is still a revolutionary and an active opponent of dictatorships whether of right or left but would oppose the utilization of “Cuba as a springboard for a revolution in any other country”. “I think that the dictatorships must be overthrown by the people of each country and they must make their own revolutions if they are to be effective and valid. Cuba should not interfere”.
The cabinet crisis apparently was precipitated by the Government’s need for persons of greater popular prestige in certain key positions. This had been agreed upon at the cabinet meeting of the night before. This problem was discussed “on a very high plane” and Foreign Minister Agramonte, a close personal friend of Roa’s, was himself one of the principal proponents of this position.
Roa’s appointment to the Foreign Ministry would promptly become the subject of acrimonious debate with the Communists in Cuba who would lose no time in attacking him. (In response to Harry Reed’s comment that the Communists may decide to lay low for the present, Roa replied that if they did not attack it would be because he has always been an active antagonist of the Communists. He recalled in fact that this fact had once saved him from arrest during the Batista regime when Major Esteben Ventura, Cuban National Police, with a group of SIM agents, raided Roa’s home, and accused him of pro-Communist activity. The agents found Roa at work on an anti-Communist article and quickly found a number of propaganda attacks by the Communists against Roa in the latter’s possession. Ventura and the police agents thereupon withdrew.)[Page 528]
In response to my question on whether he had read our note to the Government of Cuba on the subject of agrarian reform,3 Roa said he had read it, he considered it dignified, balanced, and constructive. One “saving grace” of the agrarian reform law is that it had not yet been implemented. “I intend to recommend to the Prime Minister immediately that before undertaking to implement the law, the Cuban Government establish a special commission to make a study of the agrarian situation in Cuba and make its recommendations to the Government. The commission should be composed of UN, OAS and Point IV experts.” (Aguirre told me before I saw Roa that he had discussed the agrarian reform program with Roa and suggested that the Cuban Government would do well to listen to United States Point IV technicians. Roa had answered him that he was too much of a practical politician to propose to Castro at this time that he deliver the agrarian program to Point IV but that he would propose that Point IV experts be included with others of the UN and OAS who should be heard by the Government before any rash action is taken that might ruin Cuba’s economy and topple the Castro Government.) Roa said Castro often is impractical and that the agrarian reform law was a crucial issue which could cause the overthrow of the Government and “the downfall of us all”. Roa said he intended to have a talk with Castro before becoming Foreign Minister as “I am not a member of any political party; I owe nobody anything and am nobody’s creature”. “I hope even though I become Foreign Minister I can retain my position in the OAS which I have come to love very dearly. I have told Castro that the OAS is the best sounding board for explaining the Cuban revolution. I hope to lead the Cuban delegation to Quito and meanwhile to maintain my close association with the representatives of the other countries to the OAS, and, when my period of service to this regime is over, to return to the faculty of the University.”
When told that the plane was ready to depart, Roa gave both Reed and myself a typical abrazo and again expressed his appreciation for our presence. He said that he expected to return to Washington to make his farewells at the next meeting of the OAS Council which was scheduled to take place June 17.
Addendum: Two other points made by Ambassador Roa are the following: He was interested in the OAS direct technical assistance program and believed Cuba should take advantage of it. Also, he said he did not believe in distributing land among everyone. He believed that the Communist theory of equal division was a theory of “miseria”. Communism, instead of being the equal division of wealth, was in actual fact the equal distribution of poverty.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/6–1259. Confidential. Drafted by Wieland and Reed.↩
- In telegram 1550 from Havana, June 12, the Embassy reported that after the Cabinet meeting the previous evening, Fidel Castro had announced five Cabinet changes, including Agramonte’s replacement as Minister of State by Roa and Sori Marin’s replacement as Minister of Agriculture by Pedro Miret. (ibid., 737’.13/6–1259)↩
- See supra.↩