321. Note From Minister of State Roa to the Ambassador in Cuba (Bonsal)1

Mr. Ambassador: I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of Your Excellency’s courteous note2 concerning the Agrarian Reform Law which, in the exercise of the powers and prerogatives inherent in every sovereign state, the revolutionary government of Cuba has just promulgated.

Although in a certain sense the tone of the said note indicates the “understanding” and “sympathy” of the Government of the United States of America, with respect to the cardinal objectives of Agrarian Reform, an over-all impression thereof indicates, on the other hand, a balance of reservations, warnings, and observations regarding the method of carrying out this highly important and irrevocable measure. We do not dispute the right of the Government which Your Excellency so worthily represents to set forth its viewpoint on matters which it deems to be of “profound and legitimate interest to United States consumers of Cuban products and to United States investors in Cuba.” What the Revolutionary Government of Cuba does dispute and take exception to is the validity which it is attempting to give to mere presumptions and the implied reluctance to accept the system of payments which it has been compelled to adopt. It is our hope, nevertheless, that the expression of these important points may contribute to a change in the viewpoint held concerning this matter, since apparently the differences between the two Governments are more adjective than substantive.

Although it is an inalienable right of the Revolutionary Government of Cuba, in the exercise of its sovereignty and in the light of treaties, conventions and pacts of a universal and regional character, to take whatever measures it may deem most adequate to further and ensure economic development with social progress and the democratic stability of the Cuban people, it is cause for much gratification, nevertheless, to note the express acknowledgment which your Government makes of our Government’s right, from the viewpoint of its internal jurisdiction and in the light of the international juridical system, to expropriate the property of United States citizens for purposes of a public nature and of social usefulness, through appropriate indemnification. Such acknowledgement undoubtedly is a source of moral satisfaction to the Cuban people, so often hindered or fettered in the [Page 532] pursuit of their legitimate aspirations by an adverse combination of national and foreign factors. The efforts of the Revolutionary Government are precisely aimed at gradually fulfilling those aspirations and to that end it has, to begin with, tackled the pressing problem of transforming the system of landholding, which is the indispensable prerequisite in every underdeveloped country for its industrial, political, social, and cultural progress.

Unless large-scale landholding is abolished and a fair redistribution of the land is made, Cuba will continue to suffer economic stagnation and an increasing rate of unemployment. These measures are just as essential to the good of the Cuban people as they would have been for the people of the original thirteen American colonies if they had not had available a huge reserve of land to the West, which enabled them to expand their economy every time the exigencies of their development made it necessary. Furthermore, the semifeudal conditions existing in many countries of the Americas, Asia, and Africa constitute so formidable an obstacle to economic progress and are so much a cause of low agricultural productivity and a low living standard that the UN, the OAS, the ECLA, and the OIT have constantly urged the peoples and governments of those areas to study and carry out as soon as possible a transformation in the system applying to rural property. Only a few days ago, the United Nations Economic and Social Council, meeting in Mexico, repeated this recommendation. The attitude of the Government of the United States of America in international organizations with respect to this question has, in fact, been “consistent and unequivocal.”

The fundamental concern expressed in the note under reference—summary and compendium of the reservations, warnings and objections it contains—is the form of payment adopted by the Revolutionary Government of Cuba to indemnify North American citizens whose properties may be expropriated pursuant to the Agrarian reform law. It is true that the constitution of 1940 and the basic law in force provide that the price of expropriations shall be paid in advance and in cash in the amount fixed by the courts. But it is also no less true that the aforesaid form of indemnification is inexorably imposed by events in the public domain: the chaotic economic and financial situation into which the overthrown tyranny plunged the country, and the marked imbalance in the balance of payments between the United States and Cuba, which for us has meant an unfavorable balance of about a billion dollars during the last ten years. It should be noted that, had these events not occurred the Revolutionary Government would have been able to discharge the aforesaid constitutional obligation. As for the defalcation, full responsibility falls on those who used the resources of the public treasury and the reserves of state credit institutions for their illicit personal enrichment and for the unlawful [Page 533] purchase of war matériel for the inexorable extermination of the Cuban people. Furthermore, if it were possible to recover the huge funds that have been taken from the treasury and deposited in foreign banks, the extinction of large landed estates and [then] the Agrarian reform might be accomplished under conditions kinder to the interests concerned. However, between the constitutional obligation to abolish large-scale landholding and carry out Agrarian reform, and the precept of advance cash payment for expropriated lands, the Revolutionary Government, exercising the constituent power vested in it by the overwhelming support it enjoys—the primal sources of its democratic legitimacy—has elected the form of indemnification which, in the circumstances alluded to, it considers most advisable in the best interests of the nation, which interests it places above any others, however worthy of consideration they may be. In a similar manner, before the insuperable force of circumstances, the United States Government, in promoting Agrarian reform in Japan, ordered the transfer of the properties of landowners to their occupants within a period of four months, establishing as the form of indemnification the issuance of Agrarian bonds earning 3.5 per cent interest and payable in annual installments over a period of twenty-five years. Although it may be objected that Japan was then an occupied country, the Revolutionary Government of Cuba can state in reply that it found itself with empty coffers and is proceeding accordingly.

In the gigantic undertaking which has begun to transform the economic and social bases of Cuban life, with a concept of means and ends imbued with generous human feeling, the Revolutionary Government has not ignored nor does it intend to ignore those who have contributed to the expansion of Cuban economy, and it aspires to win not only their loyal cooperation but also their helpful assistance by offering them an opportunity to share in the plans for industrialization already under way or being considered. Now, as never before, the Cuban people need and are grateful for the contribution and support of all those who in the past have been a factor of positive national progress and have adjusted their conduct to the requirements of our legislation. They would therefore be highly pleased if Your Excellency’s Government would induce United States investors affected by the Agrarian reform to help further the over-all development of the Cuban economy in accordance with the planned policy that is being carried out.

The purpose of this creative policy, the cornerstone of which is Agrarian reform, is to increase productivity, encourage investments, raise the standard of living, and eliminate unemployment, which fully ensures the supplying of Cuban products to American consumers. The manner of execution of the plans in this connection, carefully worked out, must ensure the expansion and progress of the Cuban economy, [Page 534] and their complete implementation will bring with them law and order, social well-being, and the strengthening of the democratic regime. The experience of the past shows that economic underdevelopment is the real reason for political instability, social injustice, administrative corruption, and cultural backwardness.

The Revolutionary Government of Cuba has never refused to enter into discussions, nor has it ever failed to read dissenting opinions. It has always listened with attention and respect to the opinions of all, including the opinions of those who may be affected by its decisions and measures and who have used and are using, without hindrance, the right to express them publicly. In the specific case of the Agrarian reform law, all suggestions and comments are heard in a genuine democratic spirit; the right is retained of deciding what it deems to be most in accord with the vital interests of the Cuban people; and it does not accept and will not accept any suggestion or proposal that might in the least impair the sovereignty and dignity of the nation.

In view of the foregoing and bearing in mind the traditional relations of friendship and cooperation that so closely link our peoples, the Revolutionary Government of Cuba has more than sufficient grounds for feeling confident that the Government of the United States of America understands and appreciates the strong arguments justifying the manner in which the Agrarian law will be enforced with respect to compensation, and will communicate them to the American citizens who might be affected, at the same time using its good offices to strengthen still further our historic and economic ties.

I avail myself of the opportunity to renew to Your Excellency the assurance of my highest and most distinguished consideration.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 033.3711/6–2259. a typewritten notation on the source text indicates it is a translation from Spanish.
  2. See Document 318.
  3. The source text is not signed.