379. Editorial Note

On October 26, the Cuban Government staged a mass rally in front of the Presidential Palace in Havana.

During the rally the Embassy in Havana submitted to the Department a series of telegraphic situation reports. These reports dealt with the mood of the crowd being assembled, the volume of automobile and truck traffic around the Embassy, the degree of security being provided the Embassy by the Cuban authorities, and the tone and content of the various speeches delivered at the rally. Among the first speakers were David Salvador, former Foreign Minister Roberto Agramonte, and President Dorticos, followed by the Chief of the Army Camilo Cienfuegos, who made a “definitely inflammatory speech.” Che Guevara spoke next. The Embassy considered his speech “not inflammatory,” but “exceptionally provocative toward the United States.” The Embassy called a subsequent speech by Raul Castro “inflammatory” and noted that it had stirred up “considerable feelings.” The final speaker was Fidel Castro, whose speech the Embassy described as follows:

“Speech was highly inflammatory and pro-revolutionary. By same token as strongly anti-American as anything he has ever done. He listed virtually all local American interests as items which were not [Page 643] in the interests of Cuba. He talked of controlling utilities and of new mining and petroleum laws. He got approval From audience for re-establishment of revolutionary tribunals. He got approval of execution of Matos and others. He repeatedly mentioned Cuban people fighting to last man in caves and tunnels if necessary to repel foreign invasion. He worked on theme of unreasoning fear of United States Government and people of communism. He displayed his mastery in speaking and in controlling audience to exceptional degree.

“Crowd was with him to the last man in his exhortations to continue work of revolution, which intended to achieve the good life for all Cubans regardless of opposition and attacks.”

Following the rally, the Embassy reported that there were no signs of crowds near the Embassy building or hostile demonstrations and that it had received reports from Santiago and Guantanamo that all was quiet there. The Embassy forwarded its preliminary estimate that trouble was unlikely. These situation reports were combined into an unnumbered telegram from Havana, October 26. (Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/10–2659) In telegram 930 from Havana, October 26, Bonsal briefly summarized the proceedings at the rally and stated that there was no necessity to change either the text of the proposed note to the Cuban Government or his plans for presenting it to Dorticos and Roa the following day. (ibid., 611.37/10–2659)

On October 27 at 12:10 p.m., Secretary Herter telephoned Julian Baird of the Department of the Treasury, in the absence of Secretary of Treasury Anderson and Under Secretary Scribner. According to a memorandum of their conversation:

“Secy said he just wanted to express his personal concern about what is going on from Florida to Cuba. Secy said Treasury people have been most helpful. Baird asked if there was anything further Customs or the Coast Guard could do to be helpful and Secy said he felt they were doing everything they could. Baird said if there was anything further that could be done to just let them know and they will activate the necessary action.”

At 12:30 p.m., Herter called White House Press Secretary Hagerty to say that, with respect to Cuba, “we have taken a good many steps in this country, altho we may have to review our laws to permit tighter controls.” Herter also expressed his hope that in his press conference scheduled for the following day, the President could “go very strong in saying we have mobilized all our resources to stop this.”

At 12:35 p.m., Herter discussed the matter with Attorney General Rogers. A memorandum of their conversation reads:

“[The Secretary] said we certainly ought to use every facility we have to control the situation, and Secy said the President will probably be asked about this in his press conference tomorrow. Secy said he thinks we ought to study our present laws on this. Rogers said from the standpoint of the criminal law now on the books, there is nothing we can do since there was nothing inflammatory in the leaflets. Rogers, [Page 644] said, however, there may be some aviation regulations which he has violated and the FA A could prevent this. Rogers said we could issue a warning statement that any plane used for this purpose would be seized by the Government. Rogers said what he had in mind was a statement worked out between State, FAA, Customs and Justice which would be a warning to anybody else trying this and then President could indicate we have done all we can. Rogers said he was really not enthusiastic about taking legal action for past things, but, if we serve warning and then take action against future infractions we are on solid ground. Rogers said for instance this fellow actually telephoned and asked about regulations which might be violated if he did this and was told there were no regulations which he would violate. Rogers said most criminal law requires that a person willfully violate the law and that he could argue he had inquired about regulations and were told there were none. Rogers suggested State get in touch with Yeagley in his office to work out a warning statement.”

At 12:40 p.m. Herter called Ambassador Dreier and asked that he contact the Department of Justice regarding the flights to Cuba. Their conversation continued as follows:

Dreier said we are, of course getting out the Bonsal statement. Secy expressed surprise that this was being done automatically since Secy felt it should be reviewed by the President before it is put out. Dreier said Rubottom had told them it was to be released as soon as Bonsal saw the President. Secy said it was probably too late to stop it now, but President should certainly be alerted to this and that the President should have known about it before it was released; Secy said he had only seen it himself last night.”

Fifteen minutes later Dreier called Herter to say that Bonsal was then meeting with President Dorticos. Herter asked for a summary of the statement which he could show to President Eisenhower when he met with him later that afternoon. Memoranda of all these telephone conversations are in Eisenhower Library, Herter Papers, Telephone Conversations.

The text of the statement made by Bonsal to Dorticos and Roa on October 27, which was subsequently released to the public, is printed in Department of State Bulletin, November 16, 1959, pages 715–718. The statement was summarized in a memorandum of October 27 from Herter to President Eisenhower, which, according to a handwritten marginal notation, Herter himself carried to the White House. According to the memorandum, the purpose of the statement was as follows:

  • “(a) To clarify for public opinion in the United States, in Cuba, and Latin America that the responsibility for deteriorated Cuban-United States relations lies in a deliberate, concerted effort on the part of the Castro regime to stimulate anti-American feeling despite this Government’s correct and restrained policy.
  • “(b) To answer charges and distortions which Castro has made vociferously in Cuba, e.g. that United States officials support or countenance clandestine bombing raids over Cuba.
  • “(c) To encourage and give leadership to the more responsible elements in Cuba who oppose Castro’s extremism.” (Department of State, Central Files, 611.37/10–2759)

Shortly after 3 p.m. on October 27, Herter met at the White House with President Eisenhower, Under Secretary Merchant, and Major John S.D. Eisenhower. According to Major Eisenhower’s memorandum of the conversation, the subject of Cuba was discussed as follows:

“Mr. Herter then brought up the matter of Cuba, which is extremely uncomfortable at this time. Justice, Defense, and State are working together, attempting to stop the activities of counterrevolutionaries working out of Florida. These efforts are handicapped by the fact that private planes fly out of 200 airfields in the State of Florida alone; furthermore, our laws on this subject are weak and it is nearly impossible to obtain convictions. He pointed out that the Air National Guard and Governor Collins of Florida are being very helpful. Collins does not desire that Florida develop a reputation as a hotbed of counterrevolutionaries. The President thought we could take some measure such as stationing inspectors at all major airfields, but admitted it was impossible to police them all. He questioned why the Cubans don’t just shoot the airplanes down. Mr. Herter said the Cubans have been behaving very badly, particularly in connection with the Lanz case. Bonsal is talking to President Dorticos today. Bonsal cannot obtain an audience with Castro who, in the Secretary’s opinion, shows signs of increasing mental instability. Whenever Castro gets into trouble, he solves his problem by holding a violent mass meeting. Mr. Herter showed the President a statement which Bonsal will use in his discussion with Dorticos. The President read the statement and said this matter may come up in press conference tomorrow.” (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, DDE Diaries; the memorandum is also published in part in Declassified Documents, 1981, 2221.)

At his press conference on October 28, President Eisenhower was asked to comment on Fidel Castro’s behavior. The President replied that the history of U.S.-Cuban relations “would seem to make it a puzzling matter to figure out just exactly why the Cubans and the Cuban Government would be so unhappy when, after all, their principal market is right here, their best market. You would think they would want good relationships. I don’t know exactly what the difficulty is.”

Later in the press conference, the President was asked whether he had ordered any Federal agency to try to stop the illegal flights from Florida to Cuba. The President replied: “I’ve gone through the civil angle rather than the military angle. The Attorney General doesn’t just have orders, but he is really using every kind of reinforced means he can to make sure that there is no violation of this kind.” He noted how difficult a task it was to monitor private airfields and airplanes and [Page 646] indicated that the State of Florida was cooperating in the effort. (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1959, pages 751 and 753)