362. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, September 18, 19591


  • Our Future Relations with Cuba


  • R.R. Rubottom, Jr., Assistant Secretary
  • Ambassador Bonsal
  • CMAWilliam A. Wieland
  • ARAJ.C. Hill
  • CMAR.A. Stevenson, R.B. Owen

The meeting was called to decide what tactics we should employ in our future relations with Cuba. The following points were raised by the participants.

Mr. Rubottom: We in the Department have hoped that the Cuban revolution would result in changes that would be acceptable and we could continue the same basic relationship with Cuba as previously. We have expressed this view with U.S. business interests and the Congress, but are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain in the face of the complete lack of cooperation on the part of the Cubans. The time is coming when we must find out where Cuba stands and what Cuba wants. We are no better off today in our relations with the Cuban Government than we were on January 1, and perhaps we have erred in not striking back earlier in the face of the provocative statements and acts of many Cuban officials, although we have probably gained respect in the hemisphere by not doing so. However, we are coming to the point where our retaliatory instruments, such as GATT and the sugar quota, are likely to be used. The American public is not accustomed to the widespread anti-Americanism that exists today in Latin America and particularly in Cuba and we will be hard put to explain this. Cuba must know that if it follows a confiscatory policy toward American investments that it cannot hope to receive aid from the United States and it also must be aware that aid will be vitally necessary if the economic objectives of the Cuban revolution are to be reached. This fact combined with the cool relationship between Castro and pro-United States revolutionaries in other countries such as Betancourt and Figueres leads one to speculate whether the Cubans expect aid to come from the Soviet Bloc. We cannot assume that the Cuban Government’s allegations concerning IT&T and American & Foreign Power are necessarily correct and that the companies are [Page 604] wrong, and our best course in these cases is to exert pressure on both sides to reach an equitable settlement as we did in a similar case in Argentina.

Ambassador Bonsal: He has tried to explain to the Cubans on a number of occasions the function of the Executive and the Legislative Branches, particularly with regard to setting the sugar quota and has tried to convince them that the United States Government is desirous of protecting the traditional values in our relationship with Cuba but must have help from the Cubans to do so. A number of factors are more readily apparent on the scene in Cuba than they perhaps are in Washington. (1) That the purely Cuban objectives of the revolution have tremendous support and many of the things that worry us in the situation there are very minor as far as the Cubans are concerned and have little support. (2) The basic question about the Cuban revolution is whether it represents a fundamental change or is merely a temporary phenomenon. Probably it is a bit of both, but it is vitally important that if the revolution fails the failure should only be attributable to Cuban causes, and the United States must conduct itself so that no blame can be attached to us. (3) The attitude of many Cubans toward the United States has changed in recent years owing to our changed position in world affairs and the hemisphere. However, he has personally only encountered a feeling of sympathy and friendship in Cuba, even though the typical revolutionist in Cuba today regards everything that took place under Batista as bad and as a consequence is inclined to be anti-United States, anti-U.S. investments and not anti-Communist. Many members of the Cuban Government in their inexperience appear to be convinced that the proper way to be a big league statesman is to say one thing and do another, and Castro partially for this reason believes that United States assurances of friendship for Cuba mask a deep-seated enmity toward himself and the revolution. A showdown appears to be coming between the group around Felipe Pazos and the elements led by Raul Castro and the outcome of this should be a good indicator of the future course the Cuban revolution will take. We must determine what will be our attitude and role in the specific problems in our relations with Cuba such as the controversy between the Cuban Government and American & Foreign Power. We should also come to a decision concerning Soviet intentions and capabilities with regard to Cuba.

Mr. Wieland: The fact of anti-Americanism in Cuba is not really so important as the apparent movement of the Cuban Government toward the left and indications of the influence of international communism. If the strongly neutralist speeches of Guevara and Raul Castro express the feelings of the Cuban Government then our relations with Cuba are certainly deteriorating, and if they do not the Cuban Government should repudiate them. We have all been staunch advocates [Page 605] of extending the hand of friendship to Cuba and adopting a patient, tolerant attitude, but we cannot continue this policy much longer without some positive achievement to show in its justification.

Mr. Hill: There are indications that if the Cuban revolution is successful other countries in Latin America and perhaps elsewhere will use it as a model and we should decide whether or not we wish to have the Cuban revolution succeed.

There was unanimous agreement that the time has come when we must find out from the Cuban Government exactly what their intentions are. It was also decided that another meeting on the subject should be held.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.37/9–1859. Confidential. Drafted by Owen. Bonsal returned to the United States on September 14. (Telegram 623 from Havana, September 14; ibid., PER)