364. Memorandum From the Ambassador to Cuba (Bonsal) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rubottom)1


  • Cuban-American Relations

The purpose of this memorandum is to itemize current problems in Cuban-American relations and to define in the form of recommendations and of questions the policy aspects involved from our point of view. Basic to this approach is the belief that we should maintain our attitude of understanding of and sympathy with the broad aspirations of the Cuban Revolution and that such an attitude is consistent with the furthering of American interests both public and private in Cuba. It is also my belief, although this point is beyond the scope of the present memorandum, that our alleged failure during the past five or six years to take a more positive attitude toward the problems of economic development in Latin America is responsible for some of the unhappy aspects of our relations with the Castro Government and with other governments and groups in the hemisphere. The more positive approach we are now taking to these problems has not as yet [Page 612] changed the prevailing negative impression and, of course, the gap between our thinking and that of the Cuban Government on this subject remains very wide.

Broad Cuban Government Attitudes Toward U.S. and Free World. These attitudes are summarized in Roa’s address of September 24th to the U.N. General Assembly.3 This is a formal official statement as distinguished from press conferences and television appearances. Should we take issue with the Cuban position and, if so, how? Perhaps a further speech by us in the U.N. or a letter from Secretary Herter to Roa might make the following points:
So far as we are concerned, Cuba has been a fully sovereign nation since repeal of the Piatt Amendment in 1934. Roa says freedom began only on January 1, 1959.
We are unaware of any “campaign of falsehoods” against Cuba in this country. On the other hand, the repeated attacks on the United States by Cuban officials and by the press of the July 26th movement have been deeply resented by official and and public opinion in the United States as constituting willful misinterpretations and misrepresentations of our relations with Cuba. These attacks have built up a dangerous and undesirable reservoir of ill will here.
USG is making every effort to see that our laws against arms traffic, etc. are complied with. We welcome any information GOC can furnish on this score and we have formally requested such information.
Inclusion of Guatemala as an illustration of the use of “compulsive force” with Hungary and Tibet appears shocking to U.S. and surely to other free world opinion. (Perhaps we should suggest, if necessary, that the Guatemalan Government raise this issue with Roa.)
With regard to allegations that small countries were ignored in EisenhowerKhrushchev talks,4 we should recite steps we have taken to keep Cuba and other OAS countries informed.

With regard to the reiteration of Castro’s thirty billion dollar program, we should express appreciation of the breadth and generosity of Castro’s motivation at the same time explaining again the nature of the burdens being borne by the U.S. on behalf of the free world.

A letter of this kind could be useful in confirming the views expressed orally at different times by different U.S. officials to Castro, Roa, etc.


Possibilities of Economic Cooperation with Cuba. Although the timing will have to depend on developing circumstances, the Department should positively explore the following possibilities: [Page 613]

Assistance from international or U.S. sources to Cuba for balance of payment purposes. Such assistance might be in the form of a stabilization loan to maintain confidence in the peso. Department should discuss this with IMF and Treasury with a view to achieving positive posture as soon as possible.
Assistance from international or U.S. sources for Cuban industrialization and agricultural diversification. It is highly desirable for us to develop a positive approach here even though we may have no applications from Cuban sources. We must make every effort to show a constructive attitude in this matter in which we as a Government and U.S. private interests in Cuba have a vital interest.
Further exploration of a PL–480 agreement. The current exchange crisis would seem to justify some such agreement covering such products as wheat, flour, and corn. The counterpart funds would be helpful in guiding the direction of Cuban investment and perhaps also in insuring cooperation therein of American firms.

We should be ready, under suitable circumstances, to act promptly in response to Cuban requests which we should encourage if and when the general climate of relations between the two countries improves.

Tensions in the Caribbean Area. We should reiterate to Castro and to Roa our awareness of the contrast between Cuban actions and Cuban statements in this area and our intentions, in the event of a repetition of Cuban sponsored activities, to join with other countries in denouncing these activities publicly. We should endeavor to get other countries to make similar statements through diplomatic channels, i.e. without publicity. We should, of course, make clear that our policy regarding attempts to invade Cuba would be similar.
Arms Embargo. We should push the current review of this policy which has not prevented the Cuban armed forces from greatly stepping up this capacity for mischief in the area through the purchase of 26,000 semi-automatic rifles and ammunition from Belgium. When this review is completed, we should explain to the Cubans and to other interested governments the policies which we and our NATO partners have agreed upon. The present policy has been misinterpreted by the GOC. Regardless of the broad policy decided upon, we should endeavor to see that the GOC gets the T–28s which it has bought and paid for but which are being held in Miami. (Were the two T–28s recently sabotaged in Miami covered by insurance?)
Agrarian Reform. For the moment the following actions are open to us:
A reply to the Cuban note5 on this subject in which we would reiterate our position on the international law aspects of compensation [Page 614] and on our governmental responsibility for insuring an adequate flow of products currently imported from Cuba for the benefit of the American consumer, the production of which may be diminished.
While this reiteration of the USG position on compensation may have a salutary effect, all concerned on our side are presumably under no illusions as to the preferability, if at all possible, of finding a reasonable solution of the problem as between the GOC and the interested parties through direct discussion between them rather than of resorting to the time consuming and hazardous diplomatic claim procedure. We should therefore encourage and facilitate, as appropriate, bilateral discussions between the interested parties and the GOC. It seems reasonable to expect that a firm attitude on our part regarding the international law aspects will be a helpful catalyst here though it would be hoped that the lawyers of the American interests would leave their client under no illusions as to the delays and uncertainties of resort to diplomatic claims.
Many American interests are apparently being made the victims of capricious extra-legal activities by agrarian reform authorities especially in the provinces. The Embassy should, as appears desirable in each case, show an awareness of the law and facts involved through aide-mémoires left with the Cuban Ministry of State.

Telephone Company Case. Pending the outcome of forthcoming conversations between the GOC and the interested parties, there is little we can do in this case. We should, however, follow it closely and, without expressing a view on the merits, we should continue, as appropriate, to state orally to Cuban officials that delay in handling this case and the continued exclusion of the managers representing the owners is prejudicial and should be terminated as soon as possible.

The Department should also:

see whether there are any capabilities within our own Government, i.e. through the Federal communications Commission or through a suitable state regulatory commission, to reach an opinion as to the merits of the current controversy regarding telephone rates, and
see whether there is any suggestion the Department can offer as to an acceptable arbitral procedure for resolving the issues.

The Electric Company Case. The Embassy and the Department should continue to express dissatisfaction with the manner in which the company has been treated by the Cuban Government, i.e. the cut in rates without any opportunity for the company to discuss the government’s investigation report. We should follow current bilateral discussions carefully. And, in addition, the Department should:
see whether there are any capabilities within our own Government, i.e. through the Federal Power Commission or through a suitable state regulatory commission to reach an opinion as to the merits of the current rate controversy, and
explore possible suggestions as to an acceptable arbitral procedure for resolving the issues.
Nicaro Mine. With regard to this property, owned by the U.S. Government, we have two problems:
The sale of the property to private owners. An announcement of a willingness to receive bids was made on September 15th by the General Services Administration without notifying the Cuban Government. It is my assumption from our talk with Messrs. Floete and Holz that GSA will consider no bid unless the bidders have the approval of the Cuban Government. This understanding should be confirmed and I should be authorized to communicate it to the Cuban Government.
The Housing Problem. I understand GSA has taken the position that it cannot contribute to the solution of this problem but will support a joint State–GSA endeavor to get the necessary three or four hundred thousand dollars out of White House special funds. ARA has not yet expressed a view on this. The matter is one of considerable urgency.
Renewal of the Sugar Act. Under the circumstances and in part because of the issues discussed above, the pressures to revise sugar quotas in a manner unfavorable to Cuba will be very great. Many of the quota areas are most anxious to increase their deliveries. It is obvious that the responsibility of the U.S. authorities to insure an adequate flow of sugar at reasonable prices must be discharged. Although it appears highly unlikely that Agrarian Reform could be operated so as to drive Cuban production below the amount needed to fill Cuba’s U.S. quota, nevertheless there would seem to be no objection to giving our executive discretion to prepare for and to meet such a contingency. But even to contemplate in our legislative the possibility that our executive might cut the Cuban U.S. quota for punitive or retaliatory reasons connected with domestic Cuban legislation would, in my judgment, prove disastrous not only to our relations with Cuba but also to our relations with other Latin American countries. In effect, we would be permanently diminishing the resources of the entire Cuban people and would open a wound which would be a long time in healing. Regardless of how the legislation comes out, it seems to me most important that the Administration strenuously defend the Cuban quota as long as Cuba is able actually to deliver. A traditional relationship involving a broad mutuality of interest is involved here.
Tariff Negotiations. The Embassy is urgently in need of further instructions on this subject. We must know to what extent we can accommodate ourselves to the Cuban drive for restored and increased protection for balance of payments, industrialization, and diversification purposes. We should be able to give the Cubans some idea at an early date of the reciprocal impact on our own duties of the broad increase in theirs which they are proposing. Also we need to reach decisions on the date and place of negotiations and on the composition of our negotiating group.
Miscellaneous Matters on Which the Department’s Views Would be Appreciated.
Possible content of a statement to be made by the Ambassador on arrival at Habana.
Resumption of naval visits and of liberty parties from Guantanamo Naval Base.
Possibility of using ASTA conventions as an occasion for expression of broad views on Cuban-American relations. Television appearances by Ambassador?
Possibility that Ambassador Romulo’s forthcoming visit to Cuba where he will present his credentials as Philippine Ambassador in Cuba could be useful to us.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/9–2559. Confidential.
  2. Although the source text bears the handwritten date “11/59”, it was probably prepared in late September 1959, and no earlier than September 25, during Bonsal’s visit to Washington.
  3. For text, see U.N. doc. A/PV. 806.
  4. Khrushchev visited the United States September 15–27. Documentation on his visit, including his talks with President Eisenhower, is scheduled for publication in volume X.
  5. Document 321.